Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Week – Haq journalism; Fitting farewell

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Haq journalism

An SBS radio "World News" report (Oct. 10) featured Palestinian human rights groups al-Haq and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights calling for the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel and included horrific allegations without either context or opportunity for rebuttal from Israeli sources.

The most serious allegation by al-Haq director Raji Sourani involved the episode of the al-Samouni family, 21 of whom died on January 5, 2009 during Operation Cast Lead (something listeners were not told).

According to Sourani, "the Israeli army rounded up people, asked them to be inside one home and then the Israeli tanks bombarded that place which resulted in 29 killings of woman, children and men and for no reason. I mean, you know, legitimate or illegitimate. They killed these civilians."

In addition to exaggerating the death toll, this is a grossly inaccurate version of what transpired, making it sound like the Israeli army corralled civilians into one convenient location and then deliberately murdered them in cold blood.

According to Islamic Jihad's own account, in the hours leading up to the point where the home was struck, its fighters had launched an RPG at an Israeli tank, detonated at least two bombs, and lost one of its combatants in street fighting in the immediate vicinity of the house. An investigation by the Israeli army found that the strike was launched in the midst of that fighting by commanders who were not aware that the building in question housed a group of civilians.

Fitting farewell

The passing of Israeli Sephardic ultra-Orthodox leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef received widespread media coverage, mostly fair, but inevitably some reports were better informed than others.

On SBS TV "World News" (Oct. 8), Manny Tsigas said that "while he viewed the occupied West Bank as part of Israel's biblical land, he said land could be ceded to prevent bloodshed."

The Australian (Oct. 9) ran an AFP report which explained "Yosef had for many years advocated peace talks with the Palestinians based on his respect for the sanctity of life, said the Jerusalem Post's Jeremy Sharon. ‘Yosef was of the opinion that if a peace process could be conducted with Palestinians and save lives, then territorial compromises could be considered,' he said."

Fairfax Middle East correspondent Ruth Pollard oversimplified matters in her report (Oct. 9), saying only that "Rabbi Yosef was also, for a time, an advocate of peace talks with Palestinians."

Thankfully, the next day Fairfax's Age and Sydney Morning Herald ran an obituary by the New York Times' Isabel Kershner who provided more light and shade than Pollard, writing: "Rabbi Yosef determined that it was permissible for Israel to concede territory in return for true peace, based on the Halakhic principle that saving lives comes above all. But he and the Shas Party began to take a more hawkish line, especially after 2000, as the peace process dissolved into the violence of the second intifada."

Unfortunately cut was Kershner's next line - "The Palestinians' intentions were not genuine, he said," - which offered even greater context on the evolution of Yosef's thinking.

- Allon Lee

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