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For Journalists in Israel, a Sense of Déjà vu

Third Gaza conflict in six years leads to some familiar-sounding news stories

Ben Hartman
July 11, 2014
A convoy of Israeli Merkava tanks roll near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on July 11, 2014. (MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
A convoy of Israeli Merkava tanks roll near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on July 11, 2014. (MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s easy to picture the screenplay: Bill Murray is a foreign correspondent who finds himself once again covering the rocket strikes on the southern Israel town of Sderot and the residents in the line of fire, only to awake the next morning, time after time, to live the same story again.

That’s the scenario Al Jazeera English’s Gregg Carlstrom faced in real life last Thursday, prompting him to tweet: “writing a story about Sderot and southern Israel, realized I started with exact same lede I used in 2012. This place is like Groundhog Day.”

As ‘Operation Protective Edge‘ entered its third day, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict tragically—and a somewhat farcically—reached a degree of predictability that is confusing reporters, dismaying its many reluctant participants, and providing perversely rich fodder for satire.

On Tuesday, Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson predicted a slew of articles that would run in the Israeli press in the coming days, including some that later appeared in rival newspaper Yediot Aharonoth.

“Israelis watching the World Cup in a bomb shelter” was the one of the 10 expected articles he listed on Facebook. His list, like some of the coverage that followed, included a sentimental story about a commando whose courageous wife overcomes her fears and sends him to battle despite the risks, saying “the IDF gets the job done”; an interview with a real-life Eitan Tzuk, (which in fact appeared in Yediot and Yisrael Hayom the next day—he says he supports the operation) whose name is the inverse of the Hebrew translation of Operation Protective Edge, the name the IDF gave this military operation; a letter from a little girl in the south to Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, complete with heart-warming spelling mistakes; and a profile of a soldier from the south who works on an Iron Dome anti-missile battery, “protecting his home town.”

Everyone in Israel knows these reporting clichés from the major escalations in the south or in the north in recent years. Each time the IDF gives the operation a bizarre name and the public sees the Defense Minister and the military correspondents trade out their dress attire for leather jackets that stay welded to their torsos till the cannons go silent (this time, being summer, we missed out on this), along with images of Israelis picnicking on the hilltop near Sderot watching the Israeli Air Force bomb Gaza, couples worried that no one will come to their weddings in the south, and in the last two rounds, since Tel Aviv became a target of long-range rockets, story after story asking “has the Tel Aviv bubble burst?”

It’s hard not to get cynical, for journalists and citizens alike.

In a moment of what may end up to be prophecy, Ofer Friedman, whose profile lists him as the owner and manager of a music school in Netanya, wrote a lengthy Facebook status this week that made the rounds in Israel, offering what could very likely turn out to be an accurate prediction of the timeline of this latest operation.

Addressing those who “don’t have the patience to watch the media over the coming month,” Friedman wrote that over the first nine days, the IDF will hit sites from its “bank of targets,” and on the 10th day threats of a land invasion will intensify. On day 11, “reservists who were called up already on day 6 complain that they were called up for no reason and ask why they haven’t been sent in,” and on the same day, “Roger Waters attacks Israel and Jews in general in a Facebook post.”

According to Friedman’s timeline, on the 28th day, following two weeks of familiar scenes, a ceasefire will be reached, shortly after a massive barrage of rockets from Gaza and IDF strikes in Gaza. Casualties will befall both sides. And like always, both sides will claim victory.

“We’ll meet again in two years, the next round, in the North or the South. You are welcome to keep this summary; it will be relevant then too,” Friedman concluded.

What would surprise a public that has become so inured to conflict, strife, and violence? One scenario might be if somehow the conflict merged with those currently underway in Syria and Iraq. Another would be a devastating strike by Hamas—though this seems unlikely at the moment. Yet another would be if Egypt became more involved, on either side. The doomsday scenarios are endless. So far, for better or worse, it’s been much the same.

Ben Hartman is the crime and national security reporter for the Jerusalem Post. He also hosts Reasonable Doubt, a crime show on TLV1 radio station in Tel Aviv. His Twitter feed is @Benhartman.