Two Washington Post reports covering Israel’s “Operation Rainbow” — the mid-May effort by Israel Defense Forces to uncover smuggling tunnels along the Egyptian-Gaza Strip border and strike terrorist groups operating there — deserve praise. “Israelis Kill 19 In Gaza Raids; Rafah Hospital Overflows During Major Offense,” page A-1, May 19, and “New Rift in Mideast’s Great Divide; Israelis, Palestinians Cling to Separate Accounts of Assault on March,” page A-18, May 23, both by Post Foreign Service correspondent Glenn Frankel, rest on straight-forward coverage.
While the May 19 report substituted the paraphrase militant for terrorist, in typical Post practice, the reader begins with a generally well-rounded introduction:
Israeli troops backed by helicopter gunships, tanks and bulldozers went street by street and house by house in one of the most densely populated neighborhoods of this city [Rafah] and adjacent refugee camp Tuesday, seeking to root out Palestinian fighters and weapons. Local hospital officials said 19 Palestinians were killed and dozens were injured.
The fourth paragraph adds that:
By nightfall, officials at Najar Hospital, the main medical center in Rafah, reported receiving the bodies of 19 dead Palestinians, including a young brother and sister, along with 62 injured, 25 of them seriously. The Israeli army reported no casualties among its troops and said that 17 of the 19 dead Palestinians were militants.
The Arab’s side description of casualties is followed by the Israeli Army report noting that all but two of the fatalities were combatants. While the report substituted the paraphrase “militant” for terrorist, in typical Post practice, the reader begins with a generally well-rounded introduction.
A Palestinian Arab quoted as promising retaliation is aptly identified “as a commander of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Gaza, a Palestinian group responsible for many suicide bombings inside Israel.”
Frankel notes United Nations and European Union criticism of “Operation Rainbow” and associated home demolitions. He also includes Israeli officials who “said international criticism was based on the misconception that the army was on a mission to demolish the homes of innocent civilians.” Government spokesman Avi Pazner is cited, pointing out that “we have no policy of destroying houses …. You have in Rafah now an industry of terror. We want to stop that for our good and also for the good of the population of Rafah who are being terrorized.”
In addition, Frankel quotes an Israeli cabinet minister who mentions the hundreds of Iraqi civilian casualties caused by U.S. and British troops in Iraq, and adds, “I guess we are at least as careful as those who are trying to tell us how we should protect our people.”
Continuing to let both sides speak, Frankel includes contradictory accounts of Israeli forces stopping Palestinian ambulances. An Arab paramedic, lamenting delays and searches before his ambulance could enter the area of fighting to rescue casualties, was followed by an IDF spokesman who said “all ambulances are subjected to security checks because gunmen have used them to launch attacks and smuggle arms.”
The article ends with a paraphrase of Israeli Army Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, who said that three houses concealing tunnels used for weapons smuggling had been demolished overnight and that the operation might take several more days.
“New Rift in Mideast’s Great Divide,” on May 23, shows similar balance. Frankel’s second and third paragraphs give each side’s version of violence at a protest march:
Each side has its own detailed account of how it happened that an Israeli helicopter gunship and a tank opened fire as a procession of Palestinian demonstrators passed through here Wednesday afternoon, killing eight people and wounding dozens more.
Two senior Israeli commanders contend that soldiers were in danger of being cut off from the main force and surrounded by a Palestinian mob sprinkled with armed militants. Soldiers fired a series of warning shots and flares that were ignored by the demonstrators, then four tanks shells, also meant as warnings, one or more of which may have ricocheted and inadvertently killed protesters, the said.
But a Palestinian leader who helped inspire and plan the march insisted that all of the participants were unarmed civilians who hoped to call world attention to the plight of their beleaguered neighbors in Tel Sultan and were deliberately cut down by soldiers.
This is followed by IDF charges that Palestinians use Rafah as a base for weapons smuggling, invade civilian homes and use them as snipers’ positions:
The militants use women and children as human shields and booby-trap roads and houses, the Israelis contend, then wage propaganda war against Israel when it seeks to root out the gunmen.
The Palestinian leader alleging an Israeli massacre of civilians is identified as a member of Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement).
Throughout the story about two sides’ conflict accounts, Frankel makes sure both sides speak for themselves to the points at issue. In this way he provides context so readers can begin to understand the news.
Why Mention It?
Since Frankel in both stories was doing what reporters are supposed to do, why highlight his performance? Because in making sure that his dispatches were as comprehensive as possible, given the pressures of daily news from a combat zone, in making sure Israelis and Palestinian Arabs speak in context and not simply reiterating the latter’s allegations, Frankel has illuminated a chronic flaw in the stories of The Post’s resident Jerusalem correspondents, Molly Moore and John Ward Anderson.
Write to Foreign Editor David Hoffman at [email protected] and Assistant Managing Editor for Foreign News Philip Bennett at [email protected] and commend this balanced, factual coverage. Copy Ombudsman Michael Getler at [email protected]. Question why this approach is often lacking in Moore and Anderson’s stories.