Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Week - Shalit - the Fairfax directors’ cut; Christians in Israel – the gospel truth; Headline misfire.

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Shalit - the Fairfax directors' cut

As a matter of course newspapers make changes to stories. Some of these can be spelling or cuts for length.

But a number of questionable alterations were made to a story from the New York Times' Middle East correspondent Isabel Kershner that appeared in Fairfax papers noting Gilad Shalit's first major interview.

According to the Age and Sydney Morning Herald (13/10) Kershner wrote that "Almost a year after he was released from five years of captivity in the besieged Gaza Strip, former Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has given an interview for a television documentary."

Except that the original version of Kershner's story in the Times did not describe Gaza as "besieged". Gaza, of course, was never "besieged" but had a limited blockade applied to the Strip's shared borders with Israel to prevent imports with the potential for military purposes - humanitarian goods including fuel, food and medicines were always allowed into Gaza.

Furthermore, Kershner's line describing how Shalit  "was seized by Palestinian militants in a cross-border raid in 2006" was altered so "cross-border raid" was omitted. In other words, Fairfax editor made a decision to omit the vital context that terrorists deliberately launched a military operation, illegally entered sovereign Israeli territory and abducted him back to the proto-state of Gaza.

Moreover, all three papers really should have noted that as a prisoner of war Shalit was entitled to but denied visits from Red Cross officials while in captivity.

Christians in Israel - the gospel truth 

Australian columnist Angela Shanahan wrote (13/10) on the plight of Christians in the Middle East that "we have already witnessed in one generation the decline of the Christians of Palestine, the original home of Christianity."

If by Palestine Shanahan means that the numbers of Christians in the West Bank and Gaza are on a precipitous decline, then she is emphatically correct, but in Israel the story is the exact opposite.

There are about 155,000 Israeli Arab Christians in Israel today, which is an increase of 30,000 since 1995. In contrast, nearly two decades of Palestinian self-rule has seen a dramatic fall in Christians on the West Bank. For instance, in 1995, the number of Christians in Bethlehem was almost 60 per cent of the city's population but today they account for less than 20 per cent.  While in Gaza, whose Christian population numbered 3,000 in 2007, today its numbers are approximately 2,500, with some estimates as low as 1,500.

Israel is the only Middle Eastern country which has seen a numerical increase in the number of Christians over the last 20 years.

Headline misfire

The Sunday Tasmanian - the Hobart Mercury's sunday paper - reporting on an Israeli air force strike that targeted three sites in the Gaza Strip associated with rocket fire was gratuitously titled "Israel jets open fire on Gaza" (15/10).

Meanwhile, the Herald Sun (14/10) in Melbourne also reported the military strike and went with the equally unwarranted headline of "Israel's rocket revenge".

If Israel was in the habit of indiscriminately responding to rocket and mortar fire from the Gaza Strip the papers might be justified in portraying the action in callous terms but Israel is especially careful to minimise civilian casualties by carrying out surgical strikes for military purposes only.

- Allon Lee

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