There were thousands of articles, hundreds of front pages in the daily and weekly papers in 2012, yet some of the year’s most important stories were barely reported or not reported at all.
1: The Rockets
The causes of war are usually well known by the time the shooting starts. Not so with the Israel-Hamas war of 2012. It was disproportionate all right, unrelenting rockets, thousands of them, falling on the south of Israel in recent months, let alone years, Israel’s stated reason for November’s war. But you wouldn’t have seen war coming if you’d been reading the papers.
Prior to November, the rockets were mentioned only in passing, if at all, never even a front-page story for most papers. Yossi Klein Halevi, writing from Jerusalem, noticed, “Few foreign journalists have paid attention … Even in the Israeli media, the reports … have tended to become routine, almost banal.” More rockets fell on Israel in November alone than did German V-2 rockets on London in all of World War II.
Alongside the political story, there was also the human dimension. Halevi reports, “daily life [had] become defined by sirens and explosions. Routines are determined by proximity to … shelter. Dozens of homes, factories and schools have been hit by missiles in the past year. Thousands suffer from varying degrees of trauma … At what point does the Israeli government decide to defend its terrorized citizens and risk war — when a rocket hits a school bus?” At what point was it worthy of anyone’s front-page attention?
If the November war was arguably the most dramatic Israeli story of the past year, then the almost universal underreporting of the ongoing provocation leading to the war was the media’s sorriest malpractice of the year.
Even before the well-covered disaster of Hurricane Sandy, there were 330,000 among us living in financial desolation, according to UJA-Federation. In Israel, near one in four Israelis — 1.8 million — live in poverty. And please, let’s not argue that some of these people, such as chasidim, don’t want to work or are welfare queens. It’s an argument that almost no one in the media would make when discussing the American urban poor. If anything, what’s remarkable and unreported is that although we’re told that poverty breeds crime, the poorest Jewish neighborhoods are safe and their families have overwhelmingly remained intact.
The Jewish media thoroughly reported on this year’s UJA-Federation population study that also tracked Jewish poverty, but the fear and sadness of the poor is ongoing, often too private and elusive for the media to embrace outside of major events, such as the hurricane. It’s been harder for the media to convey the state of those whose misfortunes are more “ordinary,” such as being unemployed or under-employed, or the difficulty faced by synagogues in disappearing middle- or lower-class Jewish neighborhoods.
The disparity between rich and poor is growing, said the study, even as the economic floodwaters are rising. In the past decade, Jewish poverty tripled in the Bronx and Nassau County, doubled in Manhattan and is up 52 percent in Brooklyn.
Also underreported is the tzedakah fatigue among those constantly forced to ask for charity just to maintain the basics of a Jewish life, and fatigue among those who are being constantly solicited to give the charity to social service agencies that are overwhelmed.
For all the reporting on the community’s promises of outreach and inclusion, the exclusion resulting from Jewish economics hasn’t been reported on nearly enough.
3: The Settlements
What? The settlements were underreported? Well, no, the settlements were widely reported upon as illegal, worthy only of boycott and delegitimization. Seriously underreported, though, was any defense of the settlements. The democratically elected Israeli government supports the settlements. The Levy Report, issued by a government committee earlier this year, explained through various international documents and precedents the complete legality (the wisdom may still be debated) of the settlements, asserting that the West Bank is disputed rather than occupied. The Levy Report was not only underreported, but ignored, by some Jewish papers, who offered no analysis of it whatsoever.
Has there been any follow-up reporting on the settlement of Itamar, where the Fogel family was murdered in 2011? How is Efrat different from Kedumim or Bet El? What are the settlers like, as people, not just as political pawns?
Few things are less reported upon than the settlers themselves. When they are gone someday, we’ll say in a paraphrase of the Irish, “Settlers, we hardly knew ye.”
The settlements were not outlawed by the 1993 Oslo accords; they were to be negotiated. What was outlawed at Oslo was “incitement,” a euphemism for the rank anti-Semitism within Palestinian culture. Incitement was said to be an obstacle to peace. There is hardly a newspaper, even a Jewish paper, that reports on incitement violations.
This December, Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry held a briefing in Jerusalem in which, according to a press release, the ministry documented the Palestine Authority’s “use of Hitler’s ideas, the adoration of suicide terrorists, anti-Semitic caricatures,” maps that show “Palestine” over the entire area of Israel, with no mention of Israel, along with “calls for return to Jaffa and Haifa,” and evidence that the official West Bank school system has no interest in encouraging peace, coexistence or reconciliation. And that was just December.
Of course, with the media ignoring the topic, the reader can visit the sites of two translation services founded by Israelis, the Palestine Media Watch (www.palwatch.org) and the Middle East Media Research Institute (www.memri.org) and you can decide for yourself whether there is something going on within the Palestinian media and culture that’s worth knowing about, or whether all this is best left underreported or not reported at all.
5: The Lovely Bones
There is something beautiful about the Israeli soul, or more exactly, the souls of the more than 2,000 Israelis who have been killed in the ongoing wars and waves of terror since the intifada of 2000. They have been killed completely at random, as civilians and soldiers are in any war. And yet, to peruse their obituaries is to discover such goodness, even a loveliness, moments of grace. The Baal Shem Tov said some people are born and of infinite worth just for one moment of doing someone else a favor. That seems to be the case for each of these lives, each too brief.
Of course, most lives are lived unreported. On the third floor of an apartment house in Kiryat Malachi, Aharon Smadja, 49, was killed by a rocket from Gaza. One of the first Chabad soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces, he and his wife waited and prayed 14 years for a child, before the birth of twins almost 10 years ago. Eight months ago a daughter was born. Friends said Aharon was walking around with a smile on his face, having a daughter after all these years. He would send food to poor people before every holiday. After a heart attack, it was said, he closed his neighborhood falafel stand and spent his days learning Torah. He was praised as a man with a “true, good heart.”
Fifteen Israelis were killed by the Palestinians in 2012, lives that were never reported upon except in their passing; no less beautiful for that.