Headlines tell a far different story about freed hostages

Berl Falbaum

A hypothetical:

In April, 1980, President Jimmy Carter approved an attempt, code named Operation Eagle Claw, to rescue 53 Americans (embassy staff) held hostage in Tehran.

The operation failed because of a sand storm at a landing site, Desert One, about 200 miles from Tehran. Also, helicopters experienced mechanical difficulties with one colliding with a transport aircraft, killing eight servicemen.

But let us assume the rescue succeeded, with hostages freed and flown back safely to the U.S.

However, during this rescue, some 100-200 civilians were killed in exchange of gunfire with the Iranians holding the Americans.

Would the American media — indeed, the world media — have focused on the collateral damage? Would their stories have centered on civilian deaths, as regrettable as they were? Would they have totally ignored the culpability of the terrorists?

Unlikely. Highly unlikely. Nay, not likely at all.

Yet, that is exactly what happened when Israel freed four hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. Here are some of the headlines, the first being my “favorite” from The Washington Post:

• Israel Rescues Hostages from Gaza Leaving Trail of Death and Destruction

(Can you imagine a headline, “U.S. Leaves Trail and Destruction in Rescue of Hostages in Tehran”?)

• Israel Rescues Four Hostages from Hamas Captivity, While At Least 94 Palestinians Are Killed During Fighting in Gaza — PBS.

• Israel Forces Rescue Four Hostages During Raid in Gaza Where Officials Say Scores of Palestinians Were Killed —NBC News

• Israel Rescues Four Hostages in Military Operations; Gaza Officials Say Scores Are Killed — New York Times

• Israel Rescues Four Hostages as Attacks Nearby Kill 93 Palestinians. —The Guardian

And thus, it went as it has since the war began October 7.   

After a mere 24 hours or so of “sympathy” for Israel after suffering unimaginable, butchery and savagery October 7, the world and the media turned on Israel.

Within two weeks, I wrote a column in which the first two words were, “Hamas Won.” No, not militarily, but politically, which, of course, was one of its main objectives.

Israel, Israel, Israel. Hamas has almost disappeared from the scene as pointed out by a frequent critic of Israel, Guardian Columnist Jonathan Freedland, who wrote in one of his pieces:

“Hamas has become an invisible player in this conflict. That’s literally true on the battlefield.

“The thousands of Hamas dead are all but unseen and rarely discussed. The heart-breaking footage that comes out of Gaza…shows civilians rather than fallen fighters. Hamas combatants remain out of sight.”

In a recent Guardian story, the paper examined the environmental catastrophe resulting from the war. The story was 1,655 words with all of 53 focused on Hamas. The rest focused on Israel.

None of this is to suggest that the heart-breaking, devastating plight of innocent Palestinians should be ignored or that Israel should be immune from criticism.

What is sorely missing is context. When in every TV newscast scenes of bloodied women and children are broadcast without context, it is not responsible journalism; it is more aptly called propaganda.

The late PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, during the intifadas, distributed video cameras to Palestinians and asked them to film injured civilians. He would then send the tapes to media outlets. It is not too cynical to speculate that Hamas is involved in something similar.

Which brings us to the continued reporting on the death toll of Palestinians. Despite the fact that even the U.N. drastically reduced the numbers supplied by the Hamas Health Ministry, particularly for women and children, the media continue to use, unchallenged, death toll accounts from the terrorist organization.

Moreover, never — I feel comfortable using “never” — does the press differentiate between civilian and combatants’ deaths.

The media have even ignored a story by the Associated Press (AP) which is the first, if not the only media organization, to take a close look at the numbers. It reported major contradictions in the statistics supplied by Hamas.

As I have written several times, civilian deaths are tragic and gut-wrenching but, unfortunately, in warfare civilians pay a higher price than combatants and, I might add, if they are used as shields as is the case with Hamas.

In WWII, roughly 20 million combatants died but the civilian toll was about twice that number. In the war, the Allies deliberately — that’s deliberately — targeted civilians, leveling about a dozen German and Japanese cities. And then we have “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” the two A-bombs that killed about 200,000, mostly civilians, and left tens of thousands injured for life.

In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while the numbers vary dramatically, the U.S. killed thousands of civilians and the U.S. did not have an existential threat on its border nor did the enemy use civilians as shields.

Finally, for this column, if the above were not enough, we are continually fed stories how the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel immediately halt its operations in Rafah, which is not true.  To repeat, that is not accurate; it is false.

News stories still insist on omitting the second half of the crucial sentence in the ruling, which states that Israel halt operations that “may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in the whole or in part.”

Even four judges, including two who were part of the 13-member majority (two dissented) stated publicly that the ruling did not require an immediate halt of Israeli military operations in Gaza.

Given that I have been part of the media for more than six decades and continue ranting and scribbling in these columns, I am frequently asked by readers what can be done to assure more mature, comprehensive, accurate, sophisticated and, in some instances, less biased reporting.

Sadly, I respond, very little.  I am hesitant to tell them, “Nothing.”

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