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Monday, June 18, 2018

Tel Aviv-Yafo—I woke up last Thursday morning to the news of another terrorist attack. Trying to avoid the all-too-easy jaded response of “not again,” I instead tried to think about this from the perspective of an outsider, imagining the headlines if this atrocity had happened in a different country: Four dead in a shooting in a public area in Birmingham, the second-largest city in the United Kingdom. Terrorist organization claims shooting attack in Lyon, four dead. Canadian Prime Minister pledges strong response to terror attack in Montreal.

Then I remembered that I live in Israel, a country whose very existence breeds controversy around the world, lacking recognition in entire subcontinents and regions. The Middle East’s sole democracy who has more claims of apartheid than the proudly discriminatory National Party of South Africa in the mid-twentieth Century (especially ironic since the word apartheid is Afrikaans, the second-most spoken language in South Africa after English, for separateness, according to Wikipedia). The only country where public officials can get away with denouncing a terrorist attack and the victims in the same sentence—and these are Israeli Members of Parliament, not far-sighted foreign dignitaries. The state we all know and love, whose nearly constant habit of defying expectations in the military field has recently translated into a negative ability to exceed even the most pessimistic expectations of international diplomatic relations and public opinion.

Since Thursday’s shooting attack took place in Israel’s second-largest city of Tel Aviv, and not in Birmingham, Lyon or Montreal, headlines in the foreign media were far less favorable. “Tel Aviv shooting: Three killed in attack in shopping centre attack,” declared the UK’s BBC, deliberately leaving out the operative term, terrorism. CNN initially blamed the attack on Ultra-Orthodox Jewish terrorists (not the most outlandish assumption given that the perpetrators were wearing black suits and ties during the attack), before quickly dropping the words “Ultra-Orthodox” when further facts surfaced, instead calling to question whether or not it was a terrorist attack.

Many Middle Eastern and left-wing European media sources left out the attack entirely, instead focusing on Israel’s initial retaliation, revoking their 83,000 goodwill entry permits to Arab residents of Judea and Samaria to visit Jerusalem for their holy month of Ramadan. The outrage! The Zionist Entity has once again broken their word! What will the Occupying power do next? Only at the end of a long ranting article was Wednesday’s attack mentioned, in passing.

One particular website even tried to switch cause and effect, placing the blame for the attack on Israel for revoking the permits, even though this verifiably took place after the shooting. Instead of asking if the chicken or the egg came first, this site effectively blamed the chicken for laying the egg. Nearly every international news source had moved onto bigger and better headlines by Thursday morning Israel time, and, even a search in my internet browser for the words “Tel Aviv” produced no results on the home pages of New York Times, BBC, CBC News and Al Jazeera at that time.

Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren admirably posted a video via Facebook offering justified outrage and exemplifying her network’s mantra through fair and balanced coverage of the Tel Aviv shooting attack real-time. But, even this conservative news site had already moved on to other headlines by Thursday morning.

Can any one of you honestly imagine this happening if a shooting attack had been perpetrated in Birmingham, Lyon or Montreal?! What makes Tel Aviv so different?

Without delving into the political and historical background of Mandatory Palestine and the Six Day War (last week’s Op-Ed by Bruce Abramson and Jeff Ballabon more than did this justice), I believe it’s fair to say that, given the popular narrative of Israeli occupation, it would not be difficult to imagine this substandard coverage resulting from a terror attack in Israel’s capital of Jerusalem—especially since this has effectively been happening for the past nine months.

But, Tel Aviv is not part of any claimed occupation—it was never occupied by Jordan before 1967, and Israel’s center has enjoyed a documented Jewish presence since before the time of the Mishna, and a continuous presence since biblical times. Why would the liberal media blatantly blame this attack on the occupation, if the attack objectively did not even take place in territory that anyone would call occupied?

The answer is as simple as it is infuriating: because it’s easy. As the saying goes, why make a mountain out of a molehill? If Israel’s stridently anti-Zionist Arab MKs say four Israelis out on the town, celebrating life, no longer deserve this because of the occupation, then it must be true. If Hamas, an equal partner in the Palestinian Authority and internationally recognized terror organization, blames Israeli aggression while taking responsibility for the attack, then this becomes the news that is fit to print. Who cares about the nine-month wave of terror, and the thousands of Israelis who have been killed since the Second Intifada? The Middle East, like most news issues, can be compacted into a molehill.

The Arab-Israeli Conflict is not a molehill—it’s a mountain, and it is the media’s responsibility to portray it accordingly. Even though my own dabbling in the news media is part-time at best, I am a registered member of the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO), and, as such, I feel that I have a responsibility to portray the news with a certain level of integrity. Unfortunately, many of my more professional colleagues do not share this view, and the Foreign Press Association (FPA) of Israel has received so many complaints from the GPO of media distortion as of late, that even left-wing opposition leaders in the Israeli government have begun to call on them to get their act together. As GPO head Nitzan Chen put it so eloquently in an interview with Times of Israel in February, “Over the last four months, there were four or five cases in which the headlines published about terror attacks were distorted … (and) average readers in their respective countries read about an event that was exactly the opposite.”

As long as this attitude continues, Israel will be demonized in the media no matter what it does—whether it attacks or is attacked, launches an offensive operation or defensive operation—it will always be blamed. While this in it and of itself is sad, perhaps the most tragic result is that the real victims’ deaths will go unnoticed because they inconveniently go against the media’s preconceived conclusions.

In their eyes, Ido Ben Ari, the 42-year-old resident of Ramat Gan who was shot point blank in front of his wife and two children, is just an inconvenience. Ilana Naba, a 39-year-old from Tel Aviv who will never live to see her four daughters start their own families, is no more than a side note. Professor Michael Feige, the noted sociologist and anthropologist at Be’er Sheva’s Ben Gurion University, whose illustrious career researching ancient Israeli society and political myths has made him well known throughout the country, is no longer among us. Mila Mishayev, 32, of Rishon Lezion, who had arrived early for dinner with her fiance, and whose last act was to call him as a bullet in her leg caused her to bleed to death before paramedics could reach the restaurant—she is an inconvenience to the global media, and the existences of her parents and siblings, and her fiance, innocent people whose lives have now been effectively destroyed, don’t seem to bear mentioning.

These four heroes, and the 20 others who were injured in the attacks, did nothing wrong. Yet the international news sources have become their judge, jury and executioner. They deserved to die, was the subtext of nearly every headline about last week’s shooting. For what crime? For having the misfortune of getting shot by a Palestinian Arab in Sarona Market, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and for being killed in a crime instigated by a violent group of individuals whom the same distorted global justice system of public opinion has already judged to be the victims. For this, Ben Ari, Naba, Professor Feige and Mishayev, four innocent Israelis who had the misfortune to cross paths with two Islamists, are no longer with us, and the wider world will never learn about them.

This pattern of omission, misrepresentation and misstating is not likely to change in the future. So what can we, the little people, do to make a difference?

For starters, we can make a mountain out of a mountain, instead of pretending it is a molehill. Four Israeli Jews—professionals, family members and, most importantly, living, breathing people—woke up on Wednesday, June 8 and did not go to sleep that night. This is a tragedy that cannot be buried behind misleading headlines, shifting the blame to perceived occupation, or omission—they are no longer with us, and Hamas, and by extension, the Palestinian Authority, has proudly taken responsibility for it.

ArutzSheva, one of the only news sources in the world to give full and proper blame to Palestinian incitement for this attack, reported on Thursday that Arabs throughout the region celebrated these murders. The so-called victims have struck, and their entire people stands behind these attacks. We cannot forget. Even though Ben Ari, Naba, Feige and Mishayev were buried in the headlines before they were buried in the ground, we cannot forget them.

We cannot forget what happened. We cannot forget the four Jews who were brutally murdered on Thursday. We cannot allow the agenda of the global media to divert us from the simple facts—that Palestinian Arabs killed them and proudly took credit for it—and we cannot forget one simple credo that most of the world seems to have forgotten when it comes to terrorism in Israel: nothing justifies terror, nothing in the world can warrant the murder of innocent civilians. As long as each and every one of us remembers what happened last Wednesday, and remains sensitized to the pain of the loss of living, breathing, blameless people, then we will not be swayed by the media’s smokescreens of moral equivalence and blame shifting. Then, we might at least be able to imagine a world where Tel Aviv will join the distinguished ranks of Birmingham, Lyon and Montreal as cities where the world as a whole will express absolute condemnation of a brutal terror attack, and, maybe, we will even wake up on Thursday morning and not even have an inclination to think that it’s just another terror attack. After all, the Middle East is a mountain, not a molehill.

By Tzvi Silver/JLNJ Israel

Tzvi Silver, a Teaneck native, has been living in Israel since 2011. He is in his penultimate year of studying Electrical Engineering at JCT-Machon Lev in Jerusalem, works as an investigator for Israel’s Ministry of Justice and serves as JLNJ and JLBWC’s Israel correspondent.