WASHINGTON POST-WATCH: Balanced Work at the Washington Post

Balanced Work

CAMERA’s WASHINGTON POST-WATCH regularly criticizes Washington Post coverage of Arab-Israeli news. But the paper’s September 11, 2003 edition, which published five major stories relating to contemporary Israel, and a sixth on ancient Jerusalem, deserves praise.

Page One

The front page story, “Instead of a Wedding, a Double Funeral in Jerusalem; Doctor and Daughter Killed in Café Bombing Buried Side by Side,” by Jerusalem correspondent Molly Moore, related the deaths of David Applebaum, 50, and his daughter, Naava, 20 – along with five other people – in the September 9 terrorist bombing of the Café Hillel. The long feature, illustrated by four color photographs, presented a detailed portrait of a remarkable father and daughter, their family, friends and co-workers, and gracefully conveyed some sense of the loss.


“Instead of a Wedding, A double Funeral in Jerusalem” continued on page A-14. Three other related stories took the rest of the page, which carried no advertisements.

Across the top was “Israel and India Draw Closer; Sharon’s Shortened Visit Yields Cooperation on Terrorism, Other Areas,” by John Lancaster of the Post‘s foreign service. It was illustrated by a two-column color photo of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with Indian security agents. The article provide a balanced look at the first visit by an incumbent Israeli prime minister to India, growing Israeli-Indian relations, concern by Pakistan, and some Indian opposition.

“Bush Backs Pressure on Palestinian Militants,” by Post staff writer Glenn Kessler, detailed President Bush’s call “for an aggressive crackdown on Palestinian militant groups, saying the dismantlement of those groups is ‘probably the most important condition for peace to prevail’.” The report erroneously used the term “militant” when reporting on Israeli targeting of leaders of the terrorist Hamas (Islamic Resistance Organization). However, it made plain the White House view that the onus is on the Palestinian leadership “to wrest control of the Palestinian security services” from Yasir Arafat and, in Bush’s words, “unleash those security forces against killers.”

“Bomber Took Revenge for Palestinians, Mother Says,” by Post foreign service correspondent Andy Mosher recounted the words of the mother and other family members of Ihab Abed Qader Abu Salim, 19, a suicide bomber who murdered eight Israeli soldiers at a bus stop near Tel Aviv a few hours before the Cafe Hillel massacre. Weakest of the five reports, it fails to distinguish between cause and effect (Israeli checkpoints, for example, exist in response to previous acts of Arab terrorism and to help prevent new ones, not, as the Palestinians complain, unjustified Israeli affronts). It also fails to pinpoint responsibility (alleged harassment apparently justifies killing among those interviewed). Nevertheless, Mosher’s report illustrates the narrow, self-justifying attitudes adopted by Palestinian Arabs to deny responsibility for their own circumstances and for mass murder.

“Israeli Jet Bombs Home of Hamas Leader, Killing 2; Group’s Co-Founder Among 30 Injured,” by Jerusalem correspondent John Ward Anderson, illustrated by one large color photograph and two maps, takes the top half of page A-13, first of the “World News” section. Several erroneous usages weaken this otherwise detailed story. Mahmoud Zahar, target of the attack, is referred to a “political leader” as if Hamas was a party instead of a terrorist organization. A statement vowing attacks on Israeli homes is said to come from Hamas’ “military wing.” Again, an organization whose hallmark is murdering civilians does not possess a “military wing.” Nevertheless, although buried, information that Israel might have failed to kill Zahar and, in an earlier attack, Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin, because it used smaller bombs to lessen civilian casualties, and that Israel held Zahar responsible for planning terrorists attacks and preaching incitement also appears.

“Scientists Confirm Ancient Date of Jerusalem Conduit; Siloam Tunnel May Have Been Planned to Offset Siege,” by Post staff writer Guy Gugliotta, with a large black-and-white photograph, smaller satellite photo and map takes the top half of page A-3. It reports new research that “confirmed what a majority of scholars had long believed — that the tunnel was built about 700 B.C. and is almost certainly [King] Hezekiah’s ‘conduit,’ mentioned in II Kings 20:20 and further described in II Chronicles 32:3-4.” Newsworthy in its own right, the report also helps rebut a school of new Bible critics who alleged that Jewish history before the Babylonian exile — and, by implication, early Jewish claims to nationhood and to eretz Yisrael — are based on myth or legend.

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