|Israeli activists demonstrate against the war in Tel Aviv [AFP]|
“It is very difficult to add a different voice, because the public and media discourse is so monochrome and so militaristic,” said Nomika Zion, an Israeli member of the peace collective, Another Voice.
This group, which comprises residents of both Gaza and neighbouring Israeli towns like Sderot, is seeking to present an alternative to the majority of Israeli pro-war opinions that currently dominate the media.
It is a tough task.
Zion, herself from Sderot, recalled one occasion when a colleague was verbally attacked in the middle of a TV interview by a group of passers-by who tried to pull the mike away from him.
“I really feel that our democracy is in trouble sometimes,” she says.
“If you can’t raise your voice and say things aloud without being scared that someone will attack you, it is very dangerous for our society.”
Deconstructing government justifications
Media reports on the Israeli view of the country’s war in Gaza converge on the overwhelming public approval for it – polls show over 80 per cent are in favour of the attacks.
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Israelis who are not supportive of the war face the sort of public derision that Zion describes.
They also face the challenge of deconstructing the government’s justification for its deadly assaults on Gaza – a series of key messages that are strongly endorsed in both public and media spheres.
Such messages include assertions that Hamas is a terrorist organisation backed by Iran; Hamas broke the six-month ceasefire that ended a few weeks ago; and that Israel is waging a war of self-defence against Hamas and not against ordinary Gazans.
“Many people in Israel call us traitors and war criminals because we talk about the war while it is still going on,” said Teddy Katz of the Israeli peace group, Gush Shalom.
“But the truth is that this government ordered a criminal war.”
Gush Shalom is one member of a coalition that held a news conference on Wednesday, January 7, 2009, to brief the media on peace camp positions.
Some speakers at the news conference focused on what they held to be Israel’s real motives for the war – election success and also, according to Katz, sanitising corrupt political reputations is also a factor.
|The Israeli opposition to the war struggles to make its voice heard inside Israel [AFP]|
Others presented alternative voices from Israel’s southern region, which has for years been in the line of fire of rockets from Gaza – and which is considered predominantly in favour of the war ostensibly waged to defend it.
“My son is there [serving in Gaza] and my other sons are scared by the bombs falling over our house,” said Dr Yeela Raanan, from Moshav Ein-Habsor, a farm community on the Israeli edge of the Gaza strip.
“As a mother, it’s scary … and I think about the mothers in Gaza and how much more scared they are feeling during this time.”
In Sderot, Zion explains that it is precisely because she has been traumatised by rocket attacks that she has less tolerance for her nation’s current militaristic mood.
“As a wounded person, I cannot bear this,” she said.
“I feel there is such a euphoria and glorification of war, as though it’s a wedding or a celebration. I can’t agree with this attitude. War is a dangerous and traumatic thing and we have to treat it like that.”
Mass support for war surfaces in the national media at the start of any assault, says Professor Gabriel Weimann, a communications expert at Haifa University who has researched media coverage across several conflict zones.
“During the first week, in every war, the media is very patriotic and rallies round the flag,” he said.
“Journalists see themselves more as citizens than professionals.”
|Analyst says the fate of Israeli soldiers may turn public opinion [GALLO/GETTY]|
But the national media shifts as a war progresses, he adds, and this is already beginning to happen in Israel.
“You can see a split and cleavages within the Israel public media,” he said.
“At every junction of the operation, there is potential for disagreements. So, now, after the ground attack began, you see articles about how far Israel should go, if it should stay in Gaza, move into the cities, go after Hamas or negotiate with Hamas.”
Analysts say that the fate of the Israeli combat soldiers on the ground in Gaza is the factor most likely to turn public opinion about the war.
“The value of a soldier is perceived as greater than the value of a civilian,” said Professor Tamara Hermann, the co-author of a monthly poll that monitors Israeli public opinion.
“The media and public discussion on Israeli soldiers relates to them as children, as sons and not as actual soldiers in tanks and so on. There is an understanding that Israeli soldiers are all our children – so that’s why they are so dear to us.”