The value of Washington Post coverage of Israel-related Middle East news varied widely around the November 27 Arab-Israeli conference in Annapolis. For example:
* "A Time to Kill, And a Time to Heal," a sympathetic yet confused news feature dominated the Sunday, November 25 front page. In a report subtitled "In his job as an Israeli pediatrician, Yuval saves the lives of Palestinian children. But the father of three also takes Palestinian lives as an attack helicopter pilot patrolling Gaza," staff writer Laura Blumenfeld wrote descriptively about an Israeli attack helicopter pilot who also happens to be a pediatric surgeon.
The headline highlighted The Post's recurrent moral confusion regarding Israelis and Palestinian Arabs. It might have read: "A Time to Kill And a Time to Heal; In his job as an Israeli pediatrician, Yuval saves the lives of Palestinian children. The father of three also saves those of Israelis when, as an attack helicopter pilot, he kills Gaza terrorists."
The headline reflects the newspaper's too frequent perplexity about or indifference to cause-and-effect when it comes to Arab aggression and Israeli response. The post-modern "each side has its own narrative" literary argument becomes an excuse for journalistic inaccuracy. Especially so since the Palestinian "narrative" often is taken at face value but the Israeli story subjected to reportorial scrutiny. George Orwell, reading The Post, might have observed that "all narratives are privileged, but some are more privileged than others."
Nevertheless, Blumenfeld illustrates the ostensibly contradictory lives of Yuval the doctor and Yuval the pilot. She conveys the newsworthy stresses on him, his family, and the Arab parents of some of his patients - the latter sometimes residents of neighborhoods Yuval the pilot patrols, if not relatives of terrorists he or other Israelis have attacked. Her dispatch humanizes Israelis in a manner The Post more typically has used for Palestinian Arabs, including terrorists (who become "militants" or "fighters").
Blumenfeld, it should be noted, is a staff writer, not one of The Post's foreign correspondents.
* In the same edition, the lead editorial "Appointment in Annapolis; The latest U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace process is looking shaky," gave proper attention to news items the foreign desk largely discounted. Noting limited "confidence building" gestures by Israel and the Palestinian Authority just before the conference, the commentary pointed out that "the response of the 'mainstream' Arab governments that [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice hoped to marshal has been even more disappointing.
"Saudi Arabia, which claims the Palestinian cause is a top priority, has persistently declined to support the new U.S. effort, either through substantial support for [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas's government or overtures to Israel. Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal announced his attendance at Annapolis only on Friday - and then only after making clear that he would not speak or shake hands with Israeli attendees."
"Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel, will attend the meeting but has recently played a distinctly negative role, allowing Hamas to smuggle large quantities of weapons and other supplies into Gaza."
For the past two years, Post editorials like "Appointment in Annapolis" often have dealt with Arab-Israeli hard news that the paper's foreign desk has downplayed.
* Still in the Sunday, November 25 edition, The Post's weekly "Outlook" (commentary) section included a full-page photo feature on Rasha Zayoun, a 17-year-old Lebanese girl who lost a foot to an Israeli cluster bomblet apparently left over from the 2006 war against Hezbollah. Six black-and-white photographs, including one as a "teaser" from the section's front page, and four paragraphs of text, all by Post photographer Jani Chikwendiu, document Zayoun's suffering. They also amount to a one-sided advocacy piece.
The only quoted source besides Zayoun in 'I Thought It Was a Toy' is "Marc Garlasco, Human Right's Watch's senior military analyst". Garlasco's self-contradictory and perhaps unobjective views were on display in the 2006 case in which seven members of a Gaza family were killed by an explosion of uncertain origin on a beach in the Strip. He backtracked on, then reasserted claims that Israeli shelling had caused the blast crater and the civilian deaths; more experienced Israeli analysts said Palestinian terrorist munitions more likely were to blame. The Post's Chikwendiu takes Garlasco at face value.
The text cites U.N. estimates "that the Israeli military dropped 1.2 million to 4 million cluster bomblets on southern Lebanon ---- 90 percent of them during the last 72 hours of the conflict ...." It is silent on the fact that Hezbollah terrorists often based themselves in southern Lebanese villages like Zayoun's, and that they fired many of the more than 1,000 rockets launched at Israel (primarily at civilians) from positions close if not adjacent to Lebanese non-combatant locations.
The article erroneously states that the war "began after Hezbollah fighters seized two Israeli soldiers in a July cross-border raid." The war began, as The Post has been reminded on several occasions, when Hezbollah terrorists staged an illegal cross-border raid, killed three Israeli troops, kidnapped two others under the cover of an illegal rocket barrage, then killed five more sent to rescue them. This after several cross border infiltrations and terrorist murders in preceding years, and after Hezbollah's failure to disarm in accordance with U.N. resolutions.
The piece seemed to have been timed to advance HRW's agenda. It concludes: "In early December, delegates from more than 80 countries are scheduled to meet in Vienna to work on the text of a new treaty to ban cluster bombs. The United States is not expected to participate."
If The Post wanted to use Zayoun's case to support an editorial position against cluster bombs - it posted the feature and more photos and audio on its Web site - Chikwendiu's work should have appeared on the editorial page. As it was, it amounted to covert, tendentious commentary.
* In "Annapolis Talks Prompt Much Doubt, a Few Jokes, in Mideast" (November 29), Post foreign service reporters Scott Wilson and Ellen Knickmeyer wrote, without attribution, that "Hamas rejects Israel's right to exist and has labeled Abbas a 'collaborator' with the Israeli occupation for attending the Annapolis meeting. The radical Islamic group, which favors armed attacks over negotiations to force Israel to conceded land, release thousands of Palestinian prisoners and give rights to refugees, was not invited."
Favors armed attacks over negotiations? Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, is - as its charter and spokesmen make clear - dedicated to a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy over all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Israel. In scores of "armed attacks" it has murdered hundreds of Israelis (mostly non-combatants) and visitors. That's why the United States government, the European Union, Israel and others have designated it a terrorist organization. It does not want "to force Israel to concede land," it wants to destroy the Jewish state. It does not want "to give rights to [Arab] refugees" - there being no "right of return" in the relevant U.N. resolutions - it wants to destroy the Jews' right to return and live as a sovereign people on their own ancestral land. Wilson and Knickmeyer put "collaborator" in quotation marks as Hamas applies it to Abbas. They do not do so for the Israeli occupation even though by "occupation" Hamas means Jewish control of Israel, not only its position as legitimate military authority in the West Bank. To be comprehensive, why not report as well that, pending final negotiations, Judea and Samaria are disputed territory, not to mention legitimately occupied by Israel as a result of a war of self-defense?
Again, The Post's language is Orwellian.
* So too was a Wilson formulation in "Israel Takes Steps to Attract Arab States to Peace Talks" (November 20). Referring to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the Jerusalem bureau chief writes "he also promised not to build new settlements in the West Bank, which the United Nations considers illegal under international law." This is an apparent reference to the 2004 U.N. International Court of Justice opinion regarding Israel's West Bank security barrier. If so, then the article also should have informed readers that a) the court had no jurisdiction in the matter and its conclusion was merely advisory, without the force of international law; b) Israel cites international law to support its view that Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are legal; and c) a succession of U.S. administrations purposefully has not termed the settlements illegal. The Post's wording is one-sided, polemical, and misleads readers.