Thursday, January 8, 2009

AP: Civilian deaths are just bad Israeli PR

Just when you think the W. Jerusalem bureau was beginning to defy the IDF censors to spite the Israeli authorities for their Bolshevik media clench on Gaza, Associated Press editor and senior correspondent, Karin Laub, put out a report that violates major principles of journalism while showing disregard for the victims of state aggression.

Only a juggernaut like AP could get away with such a faux pas as title-body disagreement. In a report whose headline feigns concern over Palestinian civilian deaths in Gaza, Laub manages to deliver a bemoaning analysis of the harm those deaths will inflict on the public image of the murderers. In addition, she peddles an easily-disprovable account about a past Israeli massacre. Other than those major flaws, the report is decent.

Here's the lede to "Ground war in Gaza drives up civilian casualties" [1]:

The rising civilian death toll in Israel's campaign in Gaza highlights the pitfalls of Israel's powerful army using lethal force against often invisible Hamas guerrillas taking cover among civilians.

And what are those pitfalls?

[T]he images of maimed or bloodied Palestinian civilians, including children, is likely to heighten international pressure on Israel to abort the offensive before it has obtained its main objective — hitting Hamas hard so it will halt rocket fire on Israeli border towns.

About 300 of the more than 670 Palestinians killed so far are civilians, according to Palestinian and U.N. figures. Of those killed, at least 130 are children age 16 and under, says the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which tracks casualties.

(We'll skip over the AP WJB's typical flaw of taking Israeli officials at their word about those multiple and conflicting "main objective[s].")

That is an excellent summary of the Palestinian death toll. But there's one major problem: you'd think that by "pitfalls" Laub meant the civilian deaths themselves, or the legal consequences for Israeli generals, Olmert, et al. Instead, it's all about the damage those civilian deaths will inflict on Israel's image, thus hampering its ability to press on with the "main objective."

Next, we get some background on Israel's history with those pitfalls; only, the example cited is more Hasbara than it is history:

In Israel's campaign against Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas in 1996, errant Israeli artillery shells killed 91 Lebanese civilians at a U.N. base near the village of Qana, turning initial international support for the operation into harsh criticism.

Firstly, over 100 civilians were killed, including four U.N. workers. Secondly, investigations by the U.N., human rights groups, and even Time Magazine (!) all concluded that the massacre was no accident, and that it constituted war crimes. Where is AP getting its historical accounts and casualty figures?

The rest of the report is not all that bad. Sure, it explains away Israel's penchant for firing into heavily-crowded areas, but ends nicely with refutation by a third-party:

The U.N. has called for an investigation of the rising toll among civilians, after several of its installations were hit. U.N. officials noted that Israel's military had been given the exact locations of U.N. buildings.

Israel insists its doing its best to minimize civilian casualties. However, Chris Gunness, a spokesman for Gaza's main U.N. aid agency, said "it would have to be known to any military planner as a matter of certainty that such and overwhelming and disproportionate use of force would inevitably lead to civilian casualties."

Israel has a history of obliterating clearly-marked U.N. buildings where civilians and non-belligerents are hiding. And even though they are forewarned of the buildings' locations and non-belligerent status, it's always been either an accident or that they were lured or forced into it by militants firing at them from the vicinity. The above refutation, nicely included in the report, puts the lie to both excuses.

Now, what we need is for the editors at the AP WJB to keep doing more of the same.

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