Early in Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” against Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, considerable news coverage was focused on Palestinian casualties without explaining that many of the noncombatant deaths were a consequence of Hamas purposely placing missiles among mosques, hospitals, and schools. USA Today’s reports were more balanced than those of many other outlets.
For example, the paper’s military and security affairs reporter, Jim Michaels, noted the change in the terror group’s ability to “get a Syrian-made rocket, called the M-302, which can reach up to 100 miles, representing a ‘huge improvement on their capability’ (“Hamas boosts rocket range, reaching deeper into Israel”, USA TODAY, July 10, 2014). Highlighting the greater danger Israelis face today from Hamas, Michaels cited Yossi Alpher, a military analyst and former Israeli intelligence official who pointed out “[t]wo years ago, they were not able to fire north of Tel Aviv.”
USA Today also reminded readers that the latest Gaza fighting was not between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs of the Strip in general. Rather, there are many jihadist parties involved bent on destroying Israel and replacing it with an Islamist state. Iran is one of those actors and Michaels quoted Jeffrey White, a Washington Institute for Near East Policy analyst and former Defense Intelligence Agency official:
“Iran generally supplies the weapons to Hamas at no cost.” Additionally, Michaels informed readers that the weapons involved were not only those manufactured in Gaza but also more advanced models previously smuggled through tunnels from the Sinai Peninsula before Egypt destroyed many of the underground passages.
Depicting the conflict solely or primarily as between Israel’s advanced military and Gaza’s mostly civilian population, which some in the media did, omitted context. The bigger picture showed an Israel that has sought to coexist among often-hostile Arab neighbors. Today a stronger religious element has been added to the anti-Israeli Arab nationalism with many Islamist groups eager to wage jihad against Israel.
Putting Israeli civilians in the picture
USA Today‘s Special Correspondents Miriam Hamed and Michele Chabin reported the hardships Israelis were facing during the latest fighting. They quoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasizing “[t]he operation will expand and continue until the fire toward our towns stops and quiet returns.” (“Israel Warplanes Pound Gaza Strip”, USA Today, July 10, 2014).
Balanced coverage helped readers understand why Israel launched Protective Edge. Often, media focus on Palestinian casualties without providing much background to Israeli military operations. Hamed and Chabin reported the plight of residents in southern Israel. They told readers, for example, about “Odelia Ben-Porat, a mother of six in Sderot, a small Israeli town near the Gaza border under almost-constant rocket fire [who] said she doesn’t let her children play outside because the time between a rocket’s launch and landing is about 15 seconds, which is not enough time to reach a shelter.”
Sderot has suffered from frequent mortar and rocket attacks since Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip in 2005 and it was taken over by Hamas in 2007. The town, as an example of Israelis in the southern part of the country, often received disproportionally little media attention—at least until the latest barrages from Gaza.
Hamed noted Israeli asserted that Hamas “is firing a rocket into Israel at rate of about one every 10 minutes. Israel’s military arrived at the figure based on its claims that Hamas has fired more than 400 rockets at Israel in less than three days” (“Israel airstrikes fly up; death toll rises”, USA Today, July 11, 2014). Palestinian victims of Hamas-initiated violence received considerable coverage, though not always with the clear implication that their loses were imposed by their leaders’ actions. Chabin also informed her audience about some of the traumas many Israelis endure because of Palestinian aggression. She quoted Sderot school principal Etti Azran who said “[v]irtually every child in the town is traumatized. How could they not be?” (“Kids center offers play, protection”, USA Today, July 11, 2014).
Israelis who live in more northern cities in the countries had the “luxury” of having 90 seconds to seek shelter rockets launched from Gaza, but those in the south only have 15 seconds, a fact Chabin does not miss. She further notes a study by Sapir Academic College that found “75 percent of Sderot residents suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.”
As CAMERA has noted before, though it lacks the foreign bureaus of the New York Times or Washington Post, USA Today’s coverage of Arab-Israeli often holds its own if not exceeds in specifics and balance that by more resource-rich media.