By Dan Gordon
I’m a citizen soldier. That means I live most of my life out of uniform, toeing nobody’s party line, following no one’s orders or even talking points but my own. Eleven months out of the year I’m in jeans and T-shirts or shorts and flip flops, the least military-looking person on the face of the earth. I can get away with looking like a slob because I’m a writer. It’s not only NOT looked down upon in my profession, it’s almost expected.
I’ve worked in media for over 40 years – everything from feature films to running news crews, some of them in the Middle East.
I remember one reporter for a major European network who was based in Jerusalem in the ’80s. A nice man, in that he would always buy me drinks whenever we met, he was indeed a raging alcoholic, ostensibly covering the events in the West Bank. He used to hang out at a bar called Goliath’s, which advertised itself as being ” a stone’s throw” from the King David Hotel. He wore what was then the expected uniform of the hard-bitten foreign correspondent, namely a well-wrinkled safari jacket complete with sweat stains to make it look as if he was reporting live from some native uprising in the Sahara.
Next to Goliath’s was a building made of Jerusalem stone that was half in ruins. If you held him in a tight enough shot, it looked like he was standing next to a recently demolished Palestinian house. He would sit in Goliath’s bar and drink all day and send ” stringers,” freelancers, out to the West Bank to get footage of whatever that day’s riot was occurring during the lead up to the first Intifada. His stringers would come back and describe the footage they had taken of stone throwing on the Palestinian side and tear gas from the Israelis. Then he would get up from the bar, finish his martini, go outside and stand next to the ruined stone house. He would call for a tight shot of him in the safari jacket and record his ” heads and tails,” the lead-in and tag to the report he hoped would land him some network time on the nightly news. He would look suitably somber and end each report with his name (let’s say it was Sam Jones) by saying, “This is Sam Jones, reporting from somewhere in the Occupied West Bank.” Then he would take off the safari jacket, go back into the air-conditioned bar and order another martini.
I always got kind of a kick out of the old fraud, because though he was a drunken huckster of the first order, and a lazy one at that, a) he did pay for the drinks, and b) outside of lying about the fact that he wasn’t even there, he basically just covered the story. He even occasionally provided context.
I miss him.
So the other day I’m watching a network correspondent, reporting from Gaza. He looks into the camera. His look is concerned, empathetic, suitably somber and even saddened, in a kind of off-handed way. Not enough to be maudlin, mind you. That wouldn’t be cool, and it wouldn’t play well to his audience who want to be, while not entertained, necessarily, suitably moved to click their tongues, but not enough to be actually upset. The report needs to reinforce beliefs he feels they already hold, so they can feel … well, righteous, not righteously indignant. That would be too upsetting. Just morally superior. That’s the effect that will guarantee his following.
But there’s one other element he needs to make sure he hooks them and keeps them, so they don’t channel surf.
He needs blood.
There’s a saying in broadcasting, which is to say, show business, “If it bleeds, it leads.”
And nothing leads like the death of a child.
How could it?
Who could turn away from that?
Whether it’s a toddler left in his car seat to bake to death by a father having an Internet affair, a starving Third World infant, or, in this case, the truly tragic death of a Palestinian child killed in an Israeli air strike on the house of a known terrorist, if it bleeds, it leads.
He gets the saddened, somber look, his eyes looking straight into camera and speaks his truth: “There’s no such thing as a surgical air strike.”
I’m a professional, and this guy’s good. This guy’s close to perfect. He goes on to talk about the fact that the Israelis attacked the house of “an alleged terrorist.” Well, that’s only fair, right? I mean the terrorist in question didn’t actually have a trial; he just murdered people and bragged about it and announced his intention to murder others. So it was an air strike on “an alleged terrorist,” and yet who got killed? This innocent child. This poor sweet little girl who couldn’t possibly have posed a threat to Israel or anyone else. And yet the Israeli air force, with all its might and, I might add, its American-made planes (as if the U.S. is an accomplice to this clear act of infanticide), murdered her.
Then we cut to footage of the child’s funeral, her bereaved parents, her infuriated neighbors, family and friends; the tragedy of the latest senseless act in, at best, this cycle of violence, and at worst, this barbarous act of a European colonial power against the brown-skinned indigenous and rightful inhabitants of this portion of the world.
Permit me , if you will, a few comments and a bit of context the reader may find of some interest.
First, no one needs to educate me, unfortunately, as to the tragedy of losing a child in a fiery death. My son was killed at the age of 22, and to this day I cannot talk about it. My heart goes out to this and every parent who must go through the absolute horror of burying their child. It is a pain that never leaves, a wound unhealable, a loss of a whole world. All the experiences that would have been go into the grave with the child, joyous occasions never experienced, weddings never celebrated, grandchildren unborn and in the grave before drawing a first breath. I don’t need to be trained in a somber look on that one.
But let me tell you what the Israel Defense Forces have done in this war to do everything humanly possible to avoid loss of innocent life, to prevent the death of that poor child about whom the network correspondent was seemingly so concerned, and every other woman, child and non-combatant in Gaza.
Before targeting any area we drop leaflets. The leaflets are in Arabic, and they warn the citizens of a number of things. If they live near a Hamas smuggling or terror tunnel (one that has been dug in order to go under the Israeli border and carry out a terrorist attack against Israeli troops or civilians), they are warned to leave immediately, because that tunnel will be a target of an air strike. If they live with or next to a known Hamas operative, they are warned to leave immediately because the house of that operative will be a target of an Israeli airstrike. If they live next to a missile launching site or rocket storage facility (which many do because Hamas hides its rockets and operatives amongst its civilian population, which is, by the way, recognized as a war crime under international law), they are warned to leave immediately because that will be the target of an Israeli air strike.
Now, there are any number of Western armies that have dropped similar leaflets in similar campaigns for years. But here is what, I believe, only the Israeli military does. We have an entire unit whose sole purpose is to call Gazans up on their cell phones (yes, we have their numbers) and warn them in Arabic to leave immediately because we are about to attack that particular house, tunnel, launching site or storage facility.
Let me say that again: WE CALL THEM UP AND WARN THEM TO LEAVE BEFORE THE OK IS GIVEN TO ATTACK!
Then, as if that is not enough, we have even dropped flares on the house about to be hit to show that the attack is imminent and its inhabitants still have a chance to leave.
And what does Hamas do?
Do they have a civil defense unit standing by ready to evacuate their people before an impending Israeli airstrike?
No. They tell their people to stay in the house, to become a human shield to protect their so-called fighter, who hides behind his own wife and children, or their weapons, for which they are prepared to sacrifice their own people to have a few more rounds to fire off at Jewish civilians.
So what is the choice offered to Israel in this instance? a) do nothing and let them kill your civilians, or b) do everything you humanly, possibly can to prevent innocent loss of life, but at the end of the day, do that which any armed force has been formed to do: protect your civilians … not your troops, mind you, because by and large Hamas doesn’t attack our troops, but your women, your children, your old and infirm.
A gentleman by the name of Abu Odeh, a Hamas spokesman, was once asked by a reporter what the difference between Hamas and al-Qaida was. Abu Odeh was indignant. How could the reporter possibly compare Hamas to al-Qaida?
” Well,” said the reporter , in a moment of candor and not a little courage, “You both target civilians, do you not?”
“Absolutely not!” Abu Odeh declared with his own righteous indignation, “We never target civilians! We only target Jews.”
Like the old drunk standing outside of Goliath’s bar in his safari jacket, that was in the good old days. Today Hamas finds itself competing with al-Qaida, Islamic Jihad and ISIS for terrorist street cred.
Col. Richard Kemp, a former British regular army officer and commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan, and not a Jew, last time I looked, has said that no army in the history of warfare has ever done as much as The Israel Defense Forces to avoid and prevent loss of innocent human life.
The numbers, by the way, bear him out. When the U.S. bombed Bosnia and Kosovo, the loss of civilian life compared to the loss of combatant life was three to four to one. In the battle for Falujah, the loss of civilian life compared to combatants was even higher.
According to the unverified Palestinian figures, 172 Palestinians have been killed thus far of which 35 were children and 25 were women. That is a ratio of less than one to one. It’s still horrible, but not because Israel hasn’t done everything in its power to avoid civilian loss of life.
No Israelis have been killed thus far – though not because Hamas hasn’t tried their best. You have to give them credit where credit is due. They have fired roughly 1,000 rockets at Israel in this latest round of fighting, almost all of them fired exclusively at civilian targets. I’ve been under more than a dozen of them myself and can testify to three things: 1) Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system works. It has over a 90 percent success rate. But that still leaves a hundred rockets that got through, all of them aimed at our civilian population centers. 2) Israel has a civil defense system second to none, with shelters every 50 meters in the border towns, which get the most rocket fire, and a disciplined home front, which has not panicked and has followed civil defense measures that have saved countless lives.
What has Hamas done to save the lives of their own people? They have told them to ignore Israeli warnings to leave and in some instances have ordered them to be human shields, and they’ve invested hundreds of millions in finding ways to kill our people and almost nothing to save their own.
And it’s not by chance. It is a cold, cynical calculation that allows them to commit acts of absolute terror, while claiming the mantle of victimhood.
No, there’s no such thing as a surgical airstrike. But not for our lack of trying. To paraphrase Golda Meir, I believe peace will finally come when our adversaries want their own children to live more than they want ours to die. Sadly, that day doesn’t seem to be coming any time soon.
Dan Gordon is an award-winning screenwriter of such motion pictures as “The Hurricane” starring Denzel Washington. In addition he serves as a captain in the IDF (Res) Military Spokesperson Unit.