Friday, July 21, 2006

Report from Israel. And maybe why Martin Fletcher should be demoted to police beat in Podunk.

While there's plenty of press coming out of the Hezbollah situation and Israel's response, it sometimes pays to read what the people who live there have to say.

In this case, the information includes allegations of what at best is sloppy reporting by two of the "name" news reporters who are broadcasting about Israel -- one of whom can't even seem to find out where the seat of government is located. They misreport. You decide. Alas.

Below, a report from Joseph Hochstein, a resident of Tel Aviv.

1) The family in Tel Aviv and I are fine. There's plenty of worry and
confusion about personal safety, but so far the Hezbollah has refrained
from missile attacks on Tel Aviv. More about Tel Aviv below, but first a
few words about the war.

2) I won't try to write about the unfolding events. They move too fast
for that, and news media are covering them.

3) I do want to write the following caveat. Anyone who wants to know
what is going on here should bear in mind that hyperbole, emotion, lack
of information, and a huge amount of spin accompany the reporting of
this war. It's not only politicians and ideologues who are trying to
play with your head. Some reporters and news organizations came to this
story with points-of-view which they now need to promote or defend,
whether or not they realize they are doing it. Nor are many foreign
reporters familiar with the background that brought us to where we are.

4) Examples, in general. Very little hard information is available, so
reporters have to work with other material. A story that purports to
tell you which side is suffering more should be suspect. Ditto for
stories that profess to reveal a sinister secret Israeli plan of one
kind or another. They may contain the words "agenda" and "pretext."
Other terms that can betray bias or spin include the words "homemade,"
"crude" and "rudimentary" to characterize Hamas rockets, or
"inaccurate" to describe Hezbollah missiles, or "disproportionate" to
describe Israel's response (unless the writer can tell the reader what a
proportionate response is). A backgrounder on Hezbollah that does not
account for the roles of Syria and Iran looks like a result of ignorance
or possibly spin-by-omission. So does an analysis of Hamas policy that
neglects to mention that the movement's charter envisions a general
slaughter of the Jews on Judgment Day.

5) An example, in specific. On "Meet the Press" (July 16) the veteran
NBC correspondent Martin Fletcher said he thought Israel was looking for
a chance to eradicate the Hezbollah. He commented, "they'll never say
that publicly." This became a basis for anti-Israel spin by Danny
Schechter, an award-winning television producer who is executive editor
of the foundation-supported, Schechter treated the NBC
correspondent's remarks as "a bombshell" revealing "a pre-meditated
Israeli war plan just waiting for a pretext to implement." Actually, the
NBC correspondent had revealed nothing. Mainly, he reviewed publicly
known highlights of the Israel-Hezbollah conflict since Israel withdrew
from Lebanon in 2000. His hint that he was telling his viewers something
which Israelis wouldn't say in public may have been a touch of tv hype,
or maybe he hadn't been watching Israeli television lately or reading
the Hebrew press. Neither Meet the Press nor critic Schechter mentioned
that Israel supports United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559,
which in effect would destroy the Hezbollah as an armed force.
Schechter, by the way, refers to the Jerusalem-based Israel government
as "Tel Aviv," a pretty good clue to where he stands.

6) Back to Tel Aviv. Not long after the rockets started hitting Israel,
our army confirmed that Tel Aviv is in Hezbollah range. Among the more
than 12,000 rockets which the Hezbollah announced it had acquired are
longer-range Iranian weapons that are said to be able to hit not only
Tel Aviv but Beersheva in the south. The existence of these weapons in
the Hezbollah arsenal had been reported for some time, but the army's
confirmation in wartime gave the information immediacy which isn't
necessarily felt at other times.

7) Shortly after a Hezbollah rocket killed eight people in Haifa on July
16, the army's Homefront Command issued a warning to Israelis all the
way south to Tel Aviv. The army instructed us to be alert. It is
unlikely that anyone outside the Homefront Command knew what the army
meant by "alert." For the next day or so, representatives of the
Homefront Command had to spend a lot of time answering questions from
the public about the meaning of "alert."

8) Basically, being alert means figuring out the safest place to take
cover when you are at home or at work, or whenever you move to a new
location. You should pick a place as far as possible away from windows
and exterior walls. You should avoid northern walls, because the
missiles come down from the north. A rocket will penetrate a roof, so
you should seek cover on lower floors or in stairwells. If an incoming
missile catches you outdoors, you should lie flat on the ground, to
avoid shrapnel. The Hezbollah rocket that killed eight people in a Haifa
railroad shed on Sunday contained little metal balls. A radio
broadcaster referred to them as "Syrian balls," indicating the weapon's

9) Homefront Command representatives explained Monday that sirens will
sound in the event of a missile attack, giving us one minute to take
cover. This was a relief, as the tension comes mainly from not knowing
when an attack may be on the way. A day or two later we learned that we
won't necessarily get the warning. Sometimes the sirens sound after the
rockets have hit.

10) I checked our neighborhood shelter. It takes more than a minute to
get there, so it is not useful under the current assumptions. The last
time it served as a shelter was 1991 when the scud missiles from Iraq
were hitting Israel. Then, the warning was five minutes. Anyway, the
shelter is locked.

11) I was curious about the shelter because on July 13, less than 24
hours after the Hezbollah attack began, I noticed a shelter-maintenance
truck parked alongside. This was the first sign of activity I have
noticed at the shelter in years. The padlocks on the shelter look new
and shiny. The place will stay padlocked unless the Homefront Command
orders Tel Aviv residents to enter shelters. Such an order is not

12) I have scouted my surroundings for cover. As my apartment is on the
top floor, it does not meet the army's guidelines for adequate cover. I
have picked out a nook in the building's stairwell, two floors down from
where I live. If a siren sounds, I will run downstairs to my spot.

13) We have discussed these considerations among the immediate family,
and everyone has an idea of where to seek cover in a hurry.

14) As I was typing this, a news bulletin interrupted the radio
broadcast that is playing in the background. Four rockets had landed in
Haifa, and people were injured. While the bulletin was still in
progress, I got a telephone call from Haifa. The caller was a friend who
said a rocket had just exploded less than 10 yards from him. This friend
is a Muslim Arab from the Galilee, and I point this out by way of noting
that the Party of God has been hitting places where it is likely to kill
not only Jews but fellow Arabs.

15) Life in Tel Aviv seems to go on as usual --- traffic jams, lots of
people in coffee houses and restaurants, stores and sidewalks full of
activity, swimmers at the beach, business almost as usual. The other
night I went out to a park where members of the folk and blues community
were making music. About 100 performers took the stage during four hours
and the war seemed almost forgotten. Toward the end a visitor from the
Carmiel folk club announced that they would be having their regular
performances the next night, and if anyone wanted to come up to Carmiel
to perform there were some open spots on the program. Laughter. Carmiel
is in the Galilee, and some rockets have hit there.

16) The other morning I walked down to Banana Beach, where a poster
advertises a concert by Ziggy Marley, son of the great Bob Marley.
Originally, the concert was scheduled for the Banana Beach branch up
north in Achziv, and we had been talking about celebrating a family
birthday at the concert and staying over in Achziv. When this war
started, it became clear that they could not hold a concert at Achziv,
which is close to the border and not far from Nahariya, which has been
hard hit by rockets. I wanted to find out if they had set an alternate
location for the concert.

17) At Banana Beach, I found a man who seemed to be in charge. I asked
if he knew what was happening about the Ziggy Marley concert. I told him
I understood that the Achziv performance has been cancelled. In the span
of a few seconds, he proceeded to demonstrate Three Qualities That Keep
Israel Going.

18) They wouldn't cancel the concert, he told me. I told him I had heard
that the concert had been cancelled. He repeated that they wouldn't
cancel a concert. This is Quality #1: Denial.

19) Continuing, he said we are not a people who give in to threats. We
are a strong people. We will not give in. This is Quality #2: Pride in
the People.

20) I told him I was nonetheless pretty sure that there would not be a
concert in Achziv on July 28. He told me not to worry. Maybe the crisis
will be over in time for the concert, he said. Quality #3: Hope That
Things Will Be All Right Anyway

21) Summing up Three Qualities That Keep Israel Going:
--- Denial
--- Pride in the People
--- Hope

22) At this writing (Friday, July 21) there have been many reports that
the fighting will have to stop in the middle of next week, because
that's what outside parties including the United States have decided.
Who knows? Anyway, it could change.

23) For now, a good overview of the Israel side of the situation is this
article from today's Haaretz by Yoel Marcus, "A race against the clock."

24) One doesn't hear much discussion yet about what happens after the
war is over. A friend here told me he thinks Israel should offer to help
rebuild Lebanon after the war. He is not a bleeding-heart lefty like
some of us, and in fact he probably would place himself more than a tad
to the right of center, and that is his idea. It is a sensible idea,
which is one or two strikes against it.

25) Why the Hezbollah hasn't attacked Tel Aviv is anyone's guess among
Israelis. One theory is that this won't happen until a later stage. Some
people think it could happen as an act of desperation if the Hezbollah
sees it is losing. Or, it could happen as part of a strategy to weaken
the Israeli homefront later in the war. A friend says the war will come
to Tel Aviv, no matter what. If not by rockets, then by human bombers,
she says. But no one can be sure of this, either.

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