WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN?
The evil of weaponized pictures
Rabbi Mark S. Golub
As president of JBS, I have received comments from viewers recently telling me how their Jewish friends are unable to appreciate the impossible situation Israel is in when it is forced to defend itself from Hamas assault. This is the situation Israel was forced into along the Gaza border for weeks leading up to the Palestinian commemoration of their “Nakbah” (the “catastrophe” of the establishment of the State of Israel).
While there is nothing surprising in international condemnation of Israel for any self-defense measure Israel employs, it is astounding to hear intelligent, educated and well-meaning Jews do the same.
Israel is obviously the super-power of the Middle East. Hamas is no match for the Israeli army. And in truth, whenever Israel has taken defensive action against a Hamas assault, it has used a fraction of its military capabilities.
Militarily, Hamas is the “underdog.”
This does not make the Hamas cause or Hamas tactics morally acceptable.
Israel has more than a right to defend itself from violent assault. It has a responsibility to protect its citizens from harm.
If any community in which American Jews live were threatened by a violent mob that wished to do harm to our children, families and friends, we would expect our government to do anything necessary to protect our loved ones from harm.
For some reason, there are American Jews who do not extend to Israelis the same rights of safety and security we expect and demand for ourselves.
Any Palestinian casualty at the hands of the IDF evokes among some American Jews a moral outrage against the State of Israel. It is as if, because Israel is the military power, it has the obligation to defend itself from assault without inflicting pain or death.
There is nothing reasonable, realistic or moral in such a position.
To compound the moral ambiguities of war, today’s warfare involves an additional weapon: pictures. Photographs and video are used in the media as weapons against one’s enemy.
Hamas cannot win against Israel with force of arms. But Hamas continues to win when it uses weapons of “images” in the mainstream media.
The image of a dead Palestinian child is a “weapon” Hamas uses against the State of Israel because Hamas understands how ready people are to hold Israel guilty of cruelty and brutality.
Any child’s death is a cosmic tragedy. It is all the more so if it occurs in war. That is why “war,” itself, is the eternal human failing and human scourge.
But as long as one group engages in physical assault on another, war is a moral inevitability. And in war, cosmic tragedies are commonplace and everywhere.
Innocents are victims; non-combatants are victims; children are victims.
Yet, not every weaponized “picture” is an honest one.
Not every picture of a dead child tells an honest story.
In the recent Hamas-Israel clash at the Gaza border, the photo of a weeping family surrounding a mother carrying her dead eight-month-old baby daughter to a funeral evoked enormous sympathy for the Palestinians and cast Israel as the murdering party.
The story told was that the baby girl had died from inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops at the Gaza border.
There were American Jews who saw that photo, believed the photo, and were swept away in the torrent of condemnation of Israel.
It did not matter that Hamas was intent on breaching the Gaza border with the express purpose of murdering Israeli children, women and men in nearby kibbutzim.
It did not matter that Hamas had handed out maps that would show those who broke through the barrier the quickest routes to those kibbutzim where they would avenge the Jews’ illegal possession of the land of Palestine.
It did not matter that Israeli forces used extraordinary restraint in its obligation to prevent any penetration of the security barrier, and that the overwhelming number of Palestinian casualties were of Hamas operatives.
It did not matter than an eight-month-old baby had been brought to what was clearly a “war zone.”
And it did not matter that Hamas calculated the public relations benefit it would garner in world opinion the greater the number of Palestinians injured and killed during its repeated attempts to breach the Israeli barrier.
All these American Jews could see was a mother cradling a dead daughter in her arms. It was heart wrenching. Jews instinctively empathize with the victim.
The photo alone was a vivid testimony that Israel was guilty of a lack of restraint.
The left-leaning Israeli daily newspaper, Haaretz, revealed that the baby in the celebrated photograph had not died at the Gaza border. Her death was not the result of tear-gas inhalation. The child was not a victim of Israeli callousness or lack of restraint.
Rather, the child’s family was paid 8,000 shekels (roughly $2,000) by Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar to say that their daughter had died in the border assault.
Actually, their daughter had died from a blood disease which had also taken the life of her brother a year earlier.
How many American Jews critical of Israel’s defense at the Gaza border will learn about this insidious Hamas tactic.
Will any American Jew begin to question who the real “underdog” is in a war that is now played out more in the media than it is on the ground?
Pictures can be used to manipulate public opinion.
How many lies and distortions will be consumed by intelligent and well-meaning American Jews before they are able to see the tragic human truth of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
The truth is that one side, and one side only, is committed to the physical annihilation of the other; while the other has the much maligned responsibility to protect its citizens from harm in the most humane yet most effective means possible.