Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Who is behind the Eilat terror attack?

Joeseph Dana

The horrific terror attacks in Oslo some weeks ago provided a valuable lesson for journalists. Almost as soon as the attacks took place, journalists throughout the world rushed to place blame on Al Qaeda.

Jennifer Rubin, a conservative blogger at the Washington Post known for her extreme views on Israeli politics, wrote that the attacks were committed by Al-Qaeda terrorists and used them to attack President Barak Obama’s foreign policy objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Her piece was left unchanged on the Washington Post website for a full 24 hours despite evidence that the perpetrator of the attack was, in fact, a right wing Christian fanatic not connected to Al-Qaeda.

Yesterday morning, Israel was rocked by a triple terror attack which left eight people dead and moved the country to a state of high alert. Within hours of the attack, Israel began a series of aggressive airstrikes on targets in the Gaza Strip, claiming that they were reprisal attacks against the Palestinian leadership who gave the order for the Eilat operations. However, Israeli officials and their spokespeople in the media failed to provide factual evidence clearly proving responsibility. The airstrikes killed a number of senior operatives in the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), a terror group with weak links to Hamas, as well as civilians including at least one child. The speed at which Israel began airstrikes in Gaza without providing factual evidence of PRC’s involvement raises questions concerning the existence of a premeditated Israeli plan to launch a summer offensive against the population of Gaza. For the record, Hamas has publicly stated numerous times in the past 24 hours that it had nothing to do with the terror attacks in Eilat.

Despite uncertainty over those responsible for the attacks yesterday, Israeli journalists were quick to pass on government hearsay as fact. Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent for Haaretz, rushed to place responsibility on the PRC for the terror attacks on his Twitter feed. When I asked him to provide factual proof for his claim other than citing anonymous sources, he responded, “This is what I know from my sources. You can choose to believe or not to, like every article I publish in Haaretz.”

Shouldn’t one evaluate Ravid’s reports and claims based on the factual material which he presents? Since when does “belief” play a central role in a reporter’s credibility on specific military issues? Without knowing Ravid’s sources, it is difficult to ‘believe’ and judge them on their credibility. Ravid was not alone in placing blame on PRC as most of the international media outlets adopted the Israeli government line.

In recent months, Ravid has relied on unsubstantiated Israeli government sources for pieces which amount to glorified hearsay without basis in reality. Earlier this summer Ravid wrote a piece propagating Israeli government rumors that activists on board this year’s flotilla “may be bringing chemical substances on the ships to use against Israeli soldiers to prevent them from boarding the ships.”

Oslo should be a warning that rushing to place blame on a group for a horrific terror act without factual proof reflects poor journalistic ethics. In the Israeli context, placing blame on the PRC effectively legitimatizes Israeli airstrikes on Gaza. At the time of this writing there has been no claim of responsibility and the only proof that PRC is behind these terror attacks comes from Israeli government officials who do not cite any specific or verifiable source.  The PRC very well might be behind these attacks but the “shoot first, ask questions later” principle, accepted as mantra in Israel, often results in the loss of innocent life and should not be a fixture of Israeli journalistic ethics.

UPDATE 18:16–

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that the PRC has praised the Eilat terror attack but denied responsibility in carrying it out. Speaking with the AFP, a PRC spokesman in Gaza said, “”The occupation wants to pin this operation on us in order to escape its own internal problems.” Israel maintains that the PRC is responsible for the attacks but has yet to release any verifiable proof connecting the Gaza based group to the attack which has so far claimed eight lives.

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