A short interview broadcast by CNN late last week featuring two participants -- a Palestinian in Gaza and an Israeli within range of the rocket attacks -- did not follow the usual script.
For once, a media outlet dropped its role as gatekeeper, there to mediate and therefore impair our understanding of what is taking place between Israel and the Palestinians, and inadvertently became a simple window on real events.
The usual aim of such "balance" interviews relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is twofold: to reassure the audience that both sides of the story are being presented fairly; and to dissipate potential outrage at the deaths of Palestinian civilians by giving equal time to the suffering of Israelis.
But the deeper function of such coverage in relation to Gaza, given the media's assumption that Israeli bombs are simply a reaction to Hamas terror, is to redirect the audience's anger exclusively towards Hamas. In this way, Hamas is made implicitly responsible for the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians.
The dramatic conclusion to CNN's interview appears, however, to have otherwise trumped normal journalistic considerations.
The pre-recorded interview via Skype opened with Mohammed Sulaiman in Gaza. From what looked like a cramped room, presumably serving as a bomb shelter, he spoke of how he was too afraid to step outside his home. Throughout the interview, we could hear the muffled sound of bombs exploding in the near-distance. Mohammed occasionally glanced nervously to his side.
The other interviewee, Nissim Nahoom, an Israeli official in Ashkelon, also spoke of his family's terror, arguing that it was no different from that of Gazans. Except in one respect, he hastened to add: things were worse for Israelis because they had to live with the knowledge that Hamas rockets were intended to harm civilians, unlike the precision missiles and bombs Israel dropped on Gaza.
The interview returned to Mohammed. As he started to speak, the bombing grew much louder. He pressed on, saying he would not be silenced by what was taking place outside. The interviewer, Isha Sesay, interrupted -- seemingly unsure of what she was hearing -- to inquire about the noise.
Then, with an irony that Mohammed could not have appreciated as he spoke, he began to say he refused to be drawn into a comparison about whose suffering was worse when an enormous explosion threw him from his chair and severed the internet connection. Switching back to the studio, Sesay reassured viewers that Mohammed had not been hurt.
The bombs, however, spoke more eloquently than either Mohammed or Nissim.
If Mohammed had had more time, he might have been able to challenge Nissim's point about Israelis' greater fears as well as pointing to another important difference between his and his Israeli interlocutor's respective plights.
The far greater accuracy of Israel's weaponry in no way confers peace of mind. The fact is that a Palestinian civilian in Gaza is in far more danger of being killed or injured by one of Israel's precision armaments than an Israeli is by one of the more primitive rockets being launched out of Gaza.
In Operation Cast Lead, Israel's attack on Gaza in winter 2008-09, three Israelis were killed by rocket attacks, and six soldiers died in fighting. In Gaza, meanwhile, nearly 1,400 Palestinians were killed, of whom at least 1,000 were not involved in hostilities, according to the Israeli group B'Tselem. Many, if not most, of those civilians were killed by so-called precision bombs and missiles.
If Israelis like Nissim really believe they have to endure greater suffering because the Palestinians lack accurate weapons, then maybe they should start lobbying Washington to distribute its military hardware more equitably, so that the Palestinians can receive the same allocations of military aid and armaments as Israel.
Or alternatively, they could lobby their own government to allow Iran and Hizbullah to bring into Gaza more sophisticated technology than can currently be smuggled in via the tunnels.
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