“Children of the War”: Washington Post’s Big, Empty Photo Spread

Nice try? “A” for effort? What were you thinking?


Describing The Washington Post’s full-page photo spread, “Children of the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas” (Dec. 14, 2014) poses difficulties. It consists of 8 black-and-white photos of children between six and 14 years old—four Gazans, four Israelis—three introductory paragraphs plus one direct quote from each of seven children. Readers hear from the eighth, the six-year-old, partly in her own voice, partly that of her teacher.


Photos and reporting both are by Max Becherer/Polaris Images for The Post. The spread presents all eight children individually and, in a sense, as equivalent images constituting a group composition—children of the war. Unfortunately, in fashioning a simulacrum of journalistic balance with images and text, The Post omits completely another journalistic requisite, context.


The spread (online posting omits the three introductory paragraphs) tells us that in last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas “hundreds of children were killed, almost all of them Palestinians. Many more were wounded on both sides, and the emotional scarring is widespread. … Whether Israeli or Palestinian, the children reflect on their experiences in similar terms of fear and loss. Some have lost loved ones. Others have lost their homes. All have lost their innocence.”


Yes, but why? The Post never tells us.


Who, what, when, where, why and how—the building blocks of journalism. Without the why, readers don’t learn, or aren’t reminded, why “hundreds of children were killed, almost all of them Palestinians” or why “many more were wounded on both sides, and the emotional scarring is widespread.”


The reason the war took place, the reason many Arab children in the Gaza Strip died, the reason countless young people in both Gaza and Israel suffered emotional scarring was widely reported at the time, including by The Post. In June, three Israeli teenagers went missing. To disrupt the search for them Hamas and other terrorist groups including Palestinian Islamic Jihad intensified mortar and rocket fire into Israel. 


The bodies of the Israeli teens were found later, the trio having been kidnapped and murdered by Hamas members. War erupted on July 7 and by the time fighting ended, Palestinian terrorists had fired approximately unguided 4,600 projectiles at Israel, each launch a war crime. (Hundreds reportedly fell short, exploding inside Gaza.)


Expunging Hamas’ responsibility
All four Israeli children shown live in Sderot, a town of 20,000 just two miles from the Strip. Three of the four Arab children live in Shejayya, an urban neighborhood near the Israeli-Gaza armistice line and not far from Gaza City.


Neither in the text nor the children’s comments do readers learn that Shejayya was a Hamas hub with tunnels—some of which led into Israel for planned mass kidnappings and murders—operational posts and launch sites. Israel’s repeated bombing and infantry attacks in Shejayya targeted sources of Hamas aggression.


But one Arab child, aged seven and sounding like one subjected to Hamas children’s television, alleges “the Zionists invaded our house and demolished it over our heads. … They fired on the children, women and elderly.” Another states, “when I fled my house I was bare-footed. I stepped through glass and over a 6-year-old body. I slipped on the blood and had blood all over my face and in my mouth. I became immediately sick.” 


The Israeli children recount unpleasant experiences also. But because Israel, responding to Hamas-provoked combat in December 2008-January 2009 and November, 2012, built an alarm system for rocket attacks, constructed shelters and developed the Iron Dome anti-missile system, its young people endured less destruction and death. So their stories are much less compelling.


A poster from the Vietnam era simplistically stated the obvious: War is not healthy for children and other living things. The Post’s photo spread, in a generically similar, simplistic way, tells readers the same thing, which they already knew.


What it does not do is connects dots so large they should be inescapable. Hamas used—as it did in 2008-2009 and 2012—what Alan Dershowitz, Harvard University law professor emeritus, has called the “dead baby” strategy. It held its own people, adults and children, as human shields between its aggression and Israel’s retaliation. It counted on media images of the consequent destruction and death to tar Israel.


No doubt the anguished recalled by “Children of the 50-day war” moved most readers. But why the children suffered, and why those in Gaza suffered more—Hamas’ pursuit of its genocidal anti-Israel, anti-Jewish mission, the fate of Palestinian Arabs be damned—was neither pictured nor told.


The paper’s photo spread did serve a useful purpose, however. It reminded those whose knowledge of the conflict extends beyond such coverage in The Post of the late Gold Meir’s observation. The one-time Israeli prime minister averred that “we will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” Hamas and its supporters aren’t there yet.   

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