Media myths about Gaza – Op-Ed in iAfrica co-authored by Ben Friedman and Rolene Marks

This op-ed currently appears in iAfrica.com

http://mobi.iafrica.com/news/2014/09/03/reader-letter-media-myths-about-gaza/

A neutral observer reading recent media reports on the Gaza conflict could be forgiven for believing that Israel was deliberately targeting the Palestinian population. After all, the media reporting for the most part lacked context, truth and balance.

It was reported as fact that most of the Gaza casualties were civilians, as reported by Palestinian sources without any verification from Israel. According to Israeli sources, at least 1000 Hamas fighters were killed. After all, if after thousands of Israeli airstrikes, one would have expected many more civilian deaths if they had been deliberately targeted.

Hamas are an internationally recognized terror organisation and an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. It rules Gaza by terror and brooks no political opposition and does not uphold basic human rights. By its own admission it supports an “industry of death”, seeing “martyrdom” and suicide bombings as a tactical weapon against Israel. It has also executed alleged collaborators with impunity and bears a striking resemblance to Islamic State.

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Journalists who have left Gaza have documented how Hamas has used the civilian population as human shields, firing from mosques, schools, hospitals, private homes and abusing United Nations facilities to store rockets. This claim has been made on many occasions by Israel, who have observed strict rules to avoid civilian casualties, including warning civilians of impending attacks by phone calls, text messages, dropping of pamphlets and releasing low-charge explosives on roofs as a warning of an impending attack. Just for comparison, Sri Lanka – in its war against the Tamil Tigers – killed 40 000 civilians in the last four months of the war alone. Even Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas now admits that Hamas is to blame for the death and destruction in Gaza.

Then there is the myth of the seige and blockade of Gaza. Both Egypt and Israel have borne the brunt of terror from Gaza. Egypt keeps its Rafah border crossing tightly controlled. Even during the war, Israel was supplying food and medicine in regular convoys to Gaza through its border crossings, except when they came under Hamas fire. Israel, unbelievably, supplies Gaza with much of its water and electricity. The only reason for the land and sea border controls is to prevent Hamas from obtaining weapons and materials to be used for attacks against Israel.

That is why the key to future peace and redevelopment of Gaza is a Gaza free from Hamas rule or completely demilitarized. Even now after a crushing defeat, Hamas proclaims that the truce is merely a means to recoup their strength and continue their objective of “liberating” Jerusalem and all of “Palestine”.

All of the above begs the question: why does the media put such a negative spin against Israel’s legitimate defence against the onslaught of 4500 rockets and missiles against its civilian population in this operation alone?

Yehuda Avner, in his book The Prime Ministers, records the story of former Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin, on his first official visit to Margeret Thatcher of Britain. On arrival he was surrounded by a hostile press and was asked: “Mr Begin, there are those in Britain who would describe you as a terrorist. What do you say to that?”

Begin replied: “I see here in Britain many leaders from your former colonies who fought Britain bitterly in order to gain their independence. Today they are received here with pomp, ceremony and respect. Do you ask your question because I am Jewish?”

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Where have all the flowers gone?

It is the accessory that ignited a firestorm. When King David Victory Park’s (A Jewish high school in Johannesburg, South Africa) Deputy Head Boy, Josh Broomberg, donned a Palestinian scarf, it ignited a storm and outpouring of emotions and opinion I have seldom seen on other more serious issues.  It must be mentioned that Broomberg is captain of South Africa’s National Debating Team. 

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In a statement of apology to the understandably upset South African Jewish community, Broomberg stated:

While I apologise for the hurt we seem to have caused, I do not apologise for standing with Palestine on this issue. This is not because I do not believe in Israel or its people. I do believe in Israel, and I take this stand because I can love and support the state of Israel but still reject and criticize some of its actions. In fact, I consider it my duty to contribute to the growing worldwide discussion surrounding the desperate need for a quick end and lasting solution to this pernicious conflict.

In my eyes, this criticism is not a betrayal, but actually the only honest and true way to show my patriotism and commitment to Israel, as well as my belief in human rights and the entitlement of all citizens of all countries to those right. To improve, we must criticise.

The same student has a history of criticism of Israel including accusing a speaker at Yom Hazikaron who was a first responder to the Park Hotel massacre in Netanya as “photoshopping the pictures as an account of the Israeli Government”.

Wearing the Palestinian scarf makes a very strong political statement. The scarf is not a symbol of “humanity” and the map of Palestine “from the river to the sea” pictured on the garment will attest to that.

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“Scarfgate” as you can well imagine, created a lot of controversy. A petition was started calling for Broomberg to be stripped of his honours as he had signed a code of conduct detailing how he should represent the school. Unfortunately not only did this action bring out the worst in some who hurled vile insults at the 18 year old and attention from the press, salivating at yet another Jewish/Israel focused story they could trot out on the front pages of newspapers, online publications and of course radio and television but has also seen members of the community turn on each other. Once again the media microscope is on the Jewish community who are already exhausted with a biased media coverage that is seeping with venom.

We can debate the issues around this ad infinitum and everybody has but is this an isolated incident or symptomatic of a greater problem?

Who is responsible for the Zionist education of our youth? Is it the school? The youth movements? The parents? Have we failed as Zionist educators? Have we prepared our youth enough to face a world that is growing more and more hostile towards Jews by the day?

I don’t know if I would like to be a teenager or university student right now and for those who are making the case for Israel on campuses around the world, I salute you. You are lions! University campuses, once the bastions of free speech and debate, have become battlefields and many young Jewish students prefer to go unnoticed rather than wear their identities proudly. It is not because they don’t feel connected, it is because they fear for their safety.

What about the student that considers him/herself Zionist but may have a contrary opinion to the establishment? Is there enough room in the tent to accommodate debate? Ironically, Israelis have never met a debate or discussion they did not like. It is our national sport and one we take great pride in. It is healthy, democratic and good for the blood pressure to get your concerns off your chest. Above all, we don’t take it personally if we agree to disagree. Why is this something foreign to others?

In my recent experience interacting with students many have expressed that there are no safe spaces for debate, may expressed that they feel increasingly isolated. Many feel that they have to do something radical to start a discussion and instead of a healthy riposte they are castigated, cast out, ostracized. Opponents on the other side are standing waiting with open arms to welcome them. Are we losing some of our children because of our reluctance to listen? Does the fault lie with us?

For many of our youth, the old ideals of Zionism are not relevant today. Israel is a successful thriving country and they tend to see all conflicts and issues wrapped up in the language of human rights. We who are educated with the facts need to listen and respond in a way that takes cognizance of their concerns. We need to dialogue with our youth. This means listening carefully to what each other has to say.

In my opinion, Scarfgate has brought an uncomfortable wound to the surface that needs to be healed. Don’t let us get to the point where we wonder where have all the flowers gone?

http://www.enca.com/media/video/king-david%E2%80%99s-principal-speaks-out-student-victimisation

Israel standing tall

This post currently appears in The Times of Israel:

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/israel-standing-tall/

The summer in Israel started out all about the Rolling Stones and Justin Timberlake, start-up acquisitions and celebrity spotting. And then it all changed.

This past month and a half has probably been one of the most traumatic and difficult in Israel’s recent history. We hoped with all our hearts for the safe return of our three kidnapped boys and then wept with untold grief as we mourned their brutal slayings. We were plunged into war by a ruthless and relentless enemy, who hold both their civilians and us hostage with their terrorist intentions.

But Israel, despite all that she is enduring, is standing tall.

I am in awe at my fellow citizens and the calm and proactive way everyone is handling this situation. Instead of cowering or spewing hate invective, we have adopted  a “all hands on deck” approach and everyone is doing their bit to help each other and our soldiers.  Every citizen wants to show our soldiers our gratitude for their service, for fighting for our freedom and defending our beloved country. Each soldier is our child and the least we can do is show our appreciation.

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We have cooked tens of thousands of meals, bought out entire stocks of underwear, deodorant and every conceivable thing a soldier (and a well fed army) would possibly need.  We have converged on hospitals to visit our injured soldiers, bearing cards, gifts and of course, food. We have made our lone soldiers part of our collective family, doting over these brave warriors who come to serve and don’t have the families here to support them. Children from as far as South Africa have joined our in drawing pictures and making cards, and our bereaved families have been held tenderly in our collective arms as we hold them through their grief.

We have formed prayer chains and vigils, evacuated terrified citizens from Southern communities and gently tried to coax children out of shelters. We know that the massive task of post-traumatic stress management will start as soon as this operation is over and to organisations like WIZO who are standing by to listen and love, we thank you.

And we have lined the roads to bury our fallen warriors. Just when I thought I could cry no more, the loss of another brave son tears a fresh wound. Thousands have attended funerals to accompany our warriors to their eternal rest. We may not have known them personally but our love for them and our deepest gratitude at their sacrifice overrides acquaintanceship. May their memories forever be blessed.

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Loss of our brave young warriors is almost too much to bear. Their handsome, vibrant faces, filled with the promise of life haunt me as I know that they were cut down in their prime, defending our country and our freedom. From a grateful and heartbroken nation, we thank you.

We know that what happens in our neighbourhood impacts on our Diaspora communities, many of whom are facing a tsunami of anti-Semitism we have not seen since the 1930’s. Please know that we stand shoulder to shoulder with you and your love gives us strength. We have faced a barrage of bias from the international media who in my opinion are complicit in civilians casualties as their skewed facts give impetus to the grotesque Hamas death factory of human shields. And they are complicit in flaming the fires of anti-Semitism.

This tiny country who has faced wars and intifada, calls for boycott and slander by people delirious with hatred stands heads and shoulders above the rest. My beautiful country and your inspiring citizens, you have demonstrated dignity and grace and they can sling their arrows of venom towards us but we will never be broken.

Our strength is each other, our faith unbreakable. We punch above our weight in every sense of the word. As we observe Tisha B’Av and the countless tragedies we have endured, let us remember the rallying cry that has helped us triumph over centuries of tragedy – AM YISRAEL CHAI.

The people of Israel live.

An open letter of apology to the media:

My letter to the world media:

This is currently featured in The Times of Israel:

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/my-letter-of-apology-to-the-world-media/

A letter of apology.

Dear Editor

Please allow me to apologise on behalf of all the citizens of the State of Israel. I humbly apologise to you and your readers and to the world for our leaders defending our right to live. Here in Israel, we consider living a basic human right.
The indignation of journalists, commentators and your readership has prompted them to spew forth some of the most vile invective we have seen other than that of Der Sturmer circa 1940’s and the letters and op-eds posted in your publication have educated me in a new level of hatred.
I apologise that it is left up to our army to make sure that the citizens of Gaza are evacuated from dangerous zones safely through pamphlets, text messages and roof knocking. I guess my text message and pamphlet were lost due to Hamas being on strike. Literally.
I apologise that we have not racked up those large numbers of Israeli casualties you were hoping for. I apologise for a government who values my life and those of my fellow citizens so much they do anything in their power to protect it. Whatever internal squabbles we may have or policies we agree or don’t agree on, life is valuable. I am sorry for our defense forces, made up of representatives of all sectors of Israeli society, who both prepare us and defend us with their lives. I am sorry for our Iron Dome batteries that intercept the rockets aiming for our death and destruction. For those of you calling Israel an Apartheid state, Iron Dome makes no distinction between Jew, Christian or Arab. We are all targets.
I apologise that our government has made sure that we are equipped with bomb shelters and know how much time we need to take cover. I am sorry that Hamas prefer to build weapons smuggling tunnels instead of protecting their citizens but the “death industry” (their words not mine – google it yourself) has proven more lucrative than saving lives.
Most of all, I am sorry that this upsets you so much that in countries across the world you choose to take out your frustration on members of the Jewish community, attacking people physically, in the media and in barely disguised hateful press releases.
Please accept my humble apologies for any inconvenience we may have caused you.

Rolene Marks
Modiin
Israel

Rain of Terror

By the time you finish reading this blog post, sirens would have sent Israeli citizens running for safety into their bomb shelters. Hamas terrorists have been firing hundreds of rockets into Israel and every civilian is a target. In the 15 seconds it took you to read these few sentences, citizens of our southern communities had to run for cover. Imagine living your life in 15 second increments. Think about what you can do in 15 seconds….

It has probably taken you a minute or so to read the whole paragraph. This is how much time those of us in Modiin, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and surrounds have to get into our shelter. Sobering isn’t it? This is a conflict we do not want, invited on us by Hamas terrorists who are hell bent on the destruction of Israel.

Yesterday Israel launched its military campaign to end Hamas rain of terror on Israel. Dubbed “Operation Protective Edge” the IDF are targeting Hamas’ terror infrastructure which is largely sponsored by Iran.

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Hamas have no compunction of hiding their missiles and rockets amongst their civilian population. Using Mosques, schools and apartments as launching pads, these cowardly terrorists hide behind their civilians who unwillingly become human shields.

Enough is enough. Hamas don’t only hold Israelis hostage with incessant rocket fire but also children in the Gaza Strip who are caught in the line of fire. The IDF tries to minimize as many casualties as possible by releasing leaflets and phoning residents, warning of impending attacks. Guess my leaflet from Hamas must have gotten lost in the mail…?

Many, especially those in the international press moan that Israel uses “disproportionate response” or “collective punishment”. Um, excuse me? What would be proportionate response and isn’t firing rockets that cover the whole of Israel “collective punishment”? Many deride Israel’s lack of casualties. This is not a zero sum game and here are some of the fundamental differences:

• Hamas use their civilian population as human shields. If you don’t believe me, listen to Hamas leader, Ismail Haniya boasting about this:

• Israel builds shelters for her civilians. Hamas build weapon smuggling tunnels. As part of this Operation, IDF soldiers uncovered a tunnel where terrorists were working with explosives for a planned attack against Israel. They were dispatched to the next world . Perhaps instead of castigating Israel for Gaza fatalities, the world should hold Hamas accountable for endangering their civilians?

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• Israel does everything possible to protect and prepare her citizens. Well briefed and prepared by our IDF Home Front Command, Israelis know where to go and what to do and how to help our most vulnerable citizens. In the clip below, children are taught in a song what to do when they hear the Code Red siren.

These are difficult times for Israel as we face yet another conflagration with our neighbours. Israelis are a people who value life above all else, they may fire at us but we are strong, resilient and we will prevail. They may try to break us but will never succeed. They may try to destroy us but we will survive and thrive. We will continue to build, innovate, revolutionize, inspire and help those who need assistance.

Rockets may rain and sirens might wail but we remain strong.
We are Israel and I couldn’t be more proud!

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Our Shattered Hearts

This blog post is currently featured in Israel Forever:

http://israelforever.org/interact/blog/our_shattered_hearts/

Where do I even begin to find the words to describe what we in Israel are feeling right now? We are in shock. We are angry. We are grief stricken. Our collective heart is broken. We are demanding vengeance.

It has been almost three weeks since Eyal Yifrach 19, Gilad Shaar 16 and Naftali Frankel 16, were kidnapped by Hamas terrorist on their way home from yeshiva. Today, our worst fears were confirmed. Two Hamas terrorists (not militants, fundamentalists or extremists but TERRORISTS) kidnapped these three boys, two who were still minors and shot them to death within minutes of their abduction and hid their bodies under a pile of rocks in an empty field.

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For almost three weeks we have hoped and prayed that these three boys would be returned to the bosom of their families.  How to we even begin to imagine or understand the pain that these families are feeling?  They have been beacons of strength, dignity and unity for all of us and we have taken succour from their example. On many occasions they have spoken of feeling like they are being held in a tight embrace by all of Israel.  Today we embrace you even tighter, we grieve with you, we mourn your loss. Tonight Israel weeps.

For almost three weeks we have been a nation united in solidarity and hope. Today we are united in grief.

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We have come to know Eyal, Gilad and Naftali personally. Over the last three weeks we learnt that Naftali was a good student and taught himself to play guitar. Eyal volunteered with children less fortunate than himself and was committed to advocating for the release of former kidnapped soldier, Gilad Shalit .  Gilad was a youth counselor who loved to bake and spend time with his grandparents.

These three young men had no vengeance in their hearts. These three young men for the last weeks have become our brothers, our family, our sons. These three young men we hoped with all our might would return home safely.

We ask why but we know the answer. The oldest hatred in the world.  The oldest hatred in the world does not know an age limit or a border.  What kind of monster slaughters children like this? Our Jewish children.  In Israel, children belong to all of us and these monsters know that we value our children above all else. These monsters know that to hurt our children rips at our very core. We are our Brother’s Keeper.

Eyal, Gilad, Naftali. You represented the best of us. You united us in hope and now we unite in our grief for you.  We will hold your families in our tight embrace. We pray they are comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. We will never forget you.

Eyal. Gilad. Naftali. May your memory be a blessing.

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Bring Back our Boys!

This post is currently featured in the SA Jewish Report:

http://www.sajr.co.za/news-and-articles/2014/06/15/massive-idf-hunt-for-3-kidnapped-israeli-teens

Gilad Shaar (16) Naftali Frenkel (16) Eyal Yifrach (19), are just like every other Israeli teenager. They are concerned about school, play sports and have the same issues. Except that Gilad, Naftali and Eyal are not like every other Israeli teen. While most students are trading World Cup soccer cards, thinking about what mischief they can get up to during the long summer break, Eyal, Gilad and Naftali have been kidnapped.  They have been taken by terrorists to an unknown destination.

Once again Israelis feel the icy grip of worry and fear on our hearts as we are all too familiar with this scenario. It brings back painful memories of Nachshon Wachsman and the tragic outcome of his attempted rescue. Across solemn Shabbat tables in Israel this weekend, we kept Eyal, Gilad and Naphtali in our prayers and thoughts. Children are being hugged a little tighter, watched a little closer.

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The IDF and security forces are conducting a massive manhunt.

Hamas and the Palestinian Authority formed a unity government in the hopes of ending internecine fighting. Hamas celebrated this deal by calling for continued “armed resistance and the kidnapping of Israeli civilians.” If anyone guessed for half a second that Israel would EVER have any kind of negotiating partner with this Unity Government, think again. After the arrest of several high ranking Hamas member, it is official. Hamas are responsible for the kidnapping of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali.

This is the same Hamas whose members Israel had to release from prison as part of yet another painful concession for peace. This is the same Hamas who have fired rockets, blew up cafes and buses, killed individuals, kidnapped soldiers and civilians and who have a charter that advocates the destruction of Israel.

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This is the same Hamas who use their civilians as human shields, build tunnels to smuggle in weapons of destruction and who send their children to summer camps to feed them a continuous education of Jew hatred. No doubt their kidnapping will be justified by anti-Zionists who will rationalize that because they lived or studied in disputed territory, they are fair game. It remains to be seen how the international media will cover this event – one major network referred to them as “three men”. Men? Two 16 year old boys, not legal to vote and a 19 year old?

Eyal. Gilad. Naftali. They are our children. Our collective heart aches for them and their families.

Eyal. Gilad. Naftali, please keep them in your thoughts and pray for their safe return.

What you can do:

* Posting these pictures to your/organisations Facebook page with the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys

* Tweet these pictures with the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys

* Share on your instagram accounts.

Please don’t forget to share this with your mailing lists. Stand in solidarity with Israel as we ask #BringBackOurBoys.

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