We live in a country whose people don’t agree with each other on anything. And yet one activity—besides bickering—comes close to uniting everyone: watching the news. Israelis want all the information, all the time. This is true even on a normal, calm day, if such a thing truly exists in the Middle East. The combined ratings of the evening news broadcast on the three main networks—Channel 1, Channel 2, and Channel 10—reach 40 percent, meaning four out of 10 people in the country tune in to the evening news. Brian Williams and Scott Pelley would kill for those numbers.
The war in Gaza turned all three Israeli networks into 24-hour news channels. Television was the main source of information while rockets were flying toward Israel, and no one turned it off. What was once an hourlong evening news program mutated into an ongoing, seemingly endless broadcast. The country’s national pastime became an obsession.
As a matter of fact, the 24-hour news cycle began almost a month before Operation Protective Edge: It all started June 13, after three young Israelis were kidnapped on their way home from a rabbinical seminary by Hamas terrorists. The continuing newscasts, fueled by politicians’ vague messages regarding the situation of the youngsters, created the false hope that Israel could capture the kidnappers and release the hostages alive. Eighteen broadcast days later, when the bodies were found in an open field near Hebron, the public attitude was one of shock, mourning, and calls for revenge. And when a few days later Hamas began the barrage of rockets targeting Israel, the national mood and the media platform were equally prepared for war.
During the 50 days of the war in Gaza, Israelis, and the rest of the world were watching two completely different wars. In Israel, the country was under attack and it was all happening on live television: The camera leaped between different cities being targeted—showing the rocket’s trajectory from the Gazan border, the subsequent sirens, and civilians taking shelter in Israel and, often, the rocket’s interception by the Iron Dome anti-missile system several minutes later—moments of deep anxiety, followed by relief, over and over, throughout the day. Israeli networks co-operating with the IDF’s Home Front Command aired banners clearly stating which region was under attack, and in some areas where the sirens weren’t loud enough, this turned out to be life-saving information.
It might be difficult for an outsider to understand, but when your child is spending their summer vacation running to find shelter—with merely a 15-second warning in the south, 90 seconds in Tel Aviv—one has limited emotional capacity to see what is happening to the children on the other side. When you add to that the fact Hamas controlled all data and information coming from Gaza—and banned Israeli reporters—you see the juxtaposition emerging. The world showed the war in Gaza, and its effect on Gazans, while on Israeli television Gaza was a sidebar.
Thus, while the world castigated Israel for using excessive force, on Israeli television the prime minister was upbraided for not doing enough—lengthy studio discussions brought forth the opinions of former generals and, astonishingly, sitting cabinet ministers, saying more could and should be done. Indeed, television was the only place the phrase “we should reconquer Gaza” was stated over and over again, while in reality no one in the Israeli government even came close to contemplating such a move (although when asked about it in interviews, even left-wing ministers made sure to stress that “all options” were on the table).
Ten days into the war, when Hamas rejected a cease-fire offer and sent terrorists through a tunnel into Israel, the IDF’s ground operation began. Here, too, it is important to note the disparity: The international media sees Israeli soldiers as legitimate military targets, while to Israelis they are quite literally “our boys”—who are sent off at the age of 18 into mandatory military service. In this war Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon’s close friend lost his son, the grandson of a prominent left-wing politician was severely injured, and every anchor or reporter knew someone who was fighting in Gaza. In Israel there is often only one degree of separation.
Not only were Israelis watching a different war on television, but the pictures they saw were embedded in a different narrative that, in a nutshell, was this: We left the Gaza Strip, dismantled all settlements, completely retreated to the 1967 lines, and the outcome was that Hamas took over Gaza and we got rockets, which at any moment might strike our homes. The world, in contrast, heard the story of Israel bombing innocent civilians in an Israeli-made prison—and saw pictures of the devastation inflicted by our military might.
Our purpose is not to declare who’s right and who’s wrong but rather to point out the enormous and continuing gap between how the Gaza war was perceived in Israel and how it was generally represented elsewhere in the world. This difference in perception will in turn deeply affect the likely outcome of Operation Protective Edge. The worldwide conviction is that the only realistic solution to the gruesome pictures of destruction and death that were broadcast on TV is to step up efforts to negotiate a two-state solution—an effort that seems even more pressing now than it did before the war. Israel, on the other hand sees a dark reality in which a piece of land that was evacuated and turned over to the Palestinians became a haven for terrorists who shot missiles into homes and dug tunnels into communities in order to launch further attacks. Good luck to anyone trying to convince Israelis to withdraw again.
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