In the summer of 1999 more than 2,000 civilians were killed by NATO air forces which bombed cities and villages in what was the former Yugoslavia. As Ambassador to Belgrade, I still feel the pain and the agony of that horrible summer. It wasn't only Serbian military bases that were bombed but also, albeit unintentionally, hospitals, schools, libraries, and even a train over a bridge. Serbia, as you all know, had not launched even a single missile towards any NATO capital city.
The media in the countries that were involved in the military operation did not, however, start their daily broadcasting with updates on the number of civilian dead; they didn’t mention the death toll every 30 minutes and, actually, did not even send camera crews to show their shocked viewers in London and Hamburg the horrors and bloodshed of demolished streets and hospitals.
As far as Western media were concerned, the Serbian civilian victims had no names and no faces. It is the same today with regards to the women and children killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, who have been killed in massive numbers over the past decade or more, who were the tragic victims of Western air forces bombing terrorist targets in both countries.
Does anyone know how many innocents have been victims of Western pilots in the last decade? Nobody bothers to count them because the European media knows full well that war has its own cruel rules – that in war, yes, innocent people do unfortunately die.
With one exception. The war between Israel and Hamas with its Jihadi Islamic terror. When it comes to this war, European media has different standards. The tragic innocent victims who have been killed by the Israeli Defence Forces dominate practically every news outlet and their deaths have been reported in the most dramatic way time and time again. Meanwhile, as we speak, innocents are dying in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Libya, and Kenya, usually on a vaster scale than in Gaza, but the media is uninterested in people who die in those countries who have had an extra piece of bad luck – Israel didn’t kill them, so the world doesn’t care.
The death of innocent people is always a tragedy. But I do not know any other army in the world that is as careful as one can be in wartime as the IDF is. Very often IDF units even cancel operations because of fears for civilian safety. Only the IDF actually warns in advance where and when it is going to hit, giving civilians time to leave specific areas. Hamas is the party here that forces Palestinian civilians to stay in their homes and thus endanger their lives. In the midst of this, Israeli pilots face a cruel dilemma: if they fire at a rocket launcher near a hospital or a mosque they may kill civilians; if they do not, the rocket, once it is fired, may kill Israelis near a hospital or a synagogue.
It is very easy to judge young men on such desperate missions from the comfort of a couch in a safe city far away. Israel fights for its life against an organization which, all too often merely described in the media as “militants”, is the actual government in Gaza, an organisation that calls not only for the destruction of the State of Israel but for the murder of all Jews wherever they are. The Hamas charter is a barbaric, anti-semitic and medieval document which calls openly to murder Jews. After it accuses the Jews for all the calamities of the humanity, article 7 simply says: if a Jew hides behind a rock or a tree, the rock and the tree will shout to the Moslems, come and kill him. This is a clear anti-Semitic rhetoric you can find on daily basis among Hamas leaders (Osama Hamdan, Fauzi Barhum and many others) preaching to their crowds in Arabic. Did you read about it in the media? I believe you did not.
Has the media in Europe also forgotten that Hamas, which fires rockets at civilians all over Israel, are the same people that a decade ago during the Second Intifada murdered hundreds of Israeli civilians by blowing them up in restaurants, bars and night clubs? Surely not. The media knows the facts, but in too many cases does not report the truth. It knowingly betrays its duty to tell the world what is really happening in the Gaza Strip.
The media knows as well that Hamas opposes all and any political solutions between Israel and the Palestinian people. In fact, a two-state solution, which we still hope to achieve, would be the worst nightmare for Hamas because what it wants is a single Islamic Greater Palestine ruled by Sharia Law in which people will be beheaded, the hands of thieves chopped off, and city squares turned into fairgrounds of public torture and execution, including stoning women for adultery and homosexuals for, well, being homosexual.
Hamas is the dystopian nightmare that Israel is fighting. Europe has known for a long time that Hamas, which is essentially a localized version of Al Qaeda, is a mortal enemy of Israel, but first and foremost it is the enemy of the Palestinian people because of its blindness and fanaticism. Hamas prevents the Palestinian people from attaining the freedom, prosperity and independence they deserve.
Even Egypt, the most important Arab country, accuses Hamas of war crimes against its own people, and puts the responsibility on Hamas for the escalation of the current conflict. Egypt offered a ceasefire two weeks ago; Israel accepted, Hamas did not. Since then Israel has agreed to several truces while Hamas has violated all of them.
In spite of that, anyone who listens to some European media would think Israel somehow wants to conquer Gaza. This is probably the biggest lie of all. Israel left Gaza in 2005, evacuating all its bases and uprooting all Jewish communities. For the first time since the beginning of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Palestinians were given full control over a territory on which they could have built a good economy and thriving society. Instead, they chose an Islamist terrorist organization to control their lives. Gaza became an armed base for escalated, indiscriminate attacks on Israel. In the last nine years, 15,000 missiles have been fired into Israel from Gaza with no provocation or justification. What would you do if a terrorist organization dedicated to your annihilation bombarded you for nearly a decade?
Violence and killing is the raison d’etre of Hamas. Unfortunately, despite the plain facts, many in the media and the international community are not listening. The claim that Israel is always “guilty” is only the latest echo of the old cry that “the Jews” are guilty. This is truly a miserable hour for Europe’s media, which is attacking, often viciously, not the terrorist Islamic Hamas, but its victim – Israel, a fellow democracy which fights for its survival in a region that is becoming more and more chaotic by the day.
One could understand such perverse instincts from the media in the Arab world, perhaps, but one expects better from the European media towards a fellow democracy which is fighting Jihadi madness on its own doorstep.
Most of the international media have decided for you in advance that Israel is the bad guy in the story. This biased approach is not a beautiful chapter in the history of the world media, and perhaps in the loaded history between European nations and the Jewish people.
Yossi Levy is the Israeli ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro.