When Haaretz explains Israel’s crimes

War criminal Tzipi Livni speaks at a conference hosted by the “liberal” daily Haaretz. (Alan Kotok/Flickr)

It is easy to romanticize Haaretz, to view the Tel Aviv daily as a liberal counterbalance to the more hawkish organs of Israeli public opinion.

Amira Hass and Gideon Levy, the paper’s best writers, have taken considerable risks to chronicle Israel’s crimes and demand that Israel be held accountable. While it is proper that their work should be circulated widely, Haaretz as an institution deserves no praise.

Some of its most senior journalists behave as stooges to an apartheid state.

Amos Harel is promoted by the paper as “one of Israel’s leading media experts on military and defense issues.” He is a practitioner of hasbara – the Israeli brand of propaganda.

Hasbara is frequently translated as “explaining.” And Harel tends to “explain” Israeli conduct in a sympathetic way.

Downplaying a disaster

Take his coverage of the energy crisis in Gaza.

“Limited cuts” to electricity were “announced” by Israel “at the urging of the Palestinian Authority,” he wrote earlier this month.

By qualifying these cuts as limited, he was downplaying how Israel had deliberately worsened a humanitarian disaster. Far from being limited, the cuts have reduced Gaza’s electricity supply to an all-time low.

Harel’s framing of the situation chimed with the Israeli government’s claim that the energy crisis was an internal Palestinian matter.

Israel reluctantly accepted a request from the Palestinian Authority, Harel inferred. He provided no background details about how Israel has a history of subjecting Gaza to blackouts and how the – undeniably cruel – PA acts as Israel’s lackey, not the other way around.

Harel’s messages can get muddled. A few days after describing the power cuts as “limited,” he reported that the electricity supply in Gaza had been reduced to less than three hours per day. He then quoted Gadi Eisenkot, Israel’s military chief, as saying that the Israeli approach was one of “intelligent risk management.”

Despite purporting to be an analyst, Harel did not analyze – or explain – the meaning of that repugnant euphemism.

Harel also transcribed a comment by Eisenkot that “it is in our interest for the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria to have hope.”

The “hope” being granted here apparently came in the form of some new houses that Israel had authorized for Palestinians. Harel did not point out that Israel has made strenuous efforts during its 50 years of occupying the West Bank – Judea and Samaria in Zionist parlance – to snuff out hope.

Harel evidently thinks it is appropriate to reach for the lexicon of perfume-makers when discussing the theft of another people’s land. “There is no such thing as a fragrant occupation,” Harel wrote in June.

“Subjecting a civilian population to your total control provides many opportunities for violence and abuse, far from the oversight of commanders,” he added. Commanders, he infers, are well-intentioned and violence against Palestinians is perpetrated by rogues. The truth, however, is that the occupation is inherently violent and abusive, and perpetrators of crimes against Palestinians are effectively granted total impunity by their superiors.

Hero worship

Harel labels Palestinian resistance fighters as “terrorists” yet casts Israel’s military commanders as heroic figures.

In another recent piece on Gaza, he reported that Israeli government ministers believed a general named Yoav Mordechai would “once again save the day” by averting a flare-up with Hamas.

Fixated on Mordechai’s ability to “save the day,” Harel neglected to explain how that particular commander has been accused of extreme violence. Mordechai led a battalion during Operation Cast Lead – an attack on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009. Soldiers under his direction reportedly took part in bombarding the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City and may have been involved in killing an eight-year-old hospital patient.

Today, Mordechai is in charge of overseeing the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. In that capacity, he is directly tasked with enforcing a medieval siege.

But you would not know that from Harel’s dispatches. Rather, he applauds Mordechai for extending the area in which Gaza’s fishermen may work – without observing that the fishermen are constantly fired upon by the Israeli navy – and for allowing the entry of some extra trucks into Gaza – without noting that the boundary crossings for people and goods are routinely closed.

The only problem with Mordechai is that he “can’t produce miracles,” Harel suggested in May.

Earlier this year, Harel interviewed Naftali Bennett, perhaps the most extreme minister in the Israeli government. Bennett argued that Lebanon should be sent “back to the Middle Ages” and that all its civilian infrastructure should be considered “legitimate targets” if another conflict breaks out between Israel and Hizballah.

That call for massacres was arguably genocidal; it was made by a politician who has boasted that “I have killed many Arabs in my life” and who participated in the 1996 massacre of more than 100 civilians in the Lebanese village of Qana.

You would learn little about Bennett’s record, however, if you relied on the interview by Amos Harel. To him, Bennett’s comments were “interesting.” Not once in his article did he express anything that could be qualified as disapproval.

At times, Harel’s columns read like briefing papers on military strategy. When it appeared that the massive 2014 attack on Gaza was nearing its end, Harel helpfully prepared a list of issues that would “need to be addressed” before future operations were undertaken.

When Harel criticizes the Israeli military he does so timidly. More than once lately, he has written about “mistakes” being made.

Elor Azarya, the Israeli army medic who shot dead a Palestinian lying on the ground, made one such “mistake,” Harel has implied. Azarya was filmed carrying out an extrajudicial execution but the soldier’s youth and “turbulent emotional state” meant there were “mitigating circumstances,” according to Harel.

This is the kind of garbage that Haaretz publishes regularly.

Egregious human rights abuses are downgraded to unfortunate errors on the pages of a “liberal” paper. No matter how heinous Israel’s atrocities are, Amos Harel has his explanations at the ready.

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Bravo David, for this article. I have always had my doubts about Haaretz's "liberal " label. Pulling all these disparate pieces of information together sure clears up the picture.

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David Cronin

David Cronin's picture

David Cronin is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada. His new book is Balfour’s Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel (Pluto, 2017).