Balance and blame over asymmetric war in Gaza

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 July, 2014, 4:26am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2014, 3:23pm

There were some red faces at ABC News earlier this month when the network had to say sorry for misidentifying a photo of Palestinians walking through rubble as that of Israelis after a Palestinian missile attack in the ongoing Gaza war. 

The apology couldn’t pre-empt the flood of tweets mocking the mistake. Neither did it stop critics from branding it as yet another example of corporate media siding with Israel to keep on the side of Jewish moneybags. The slip-up, however, was more likely the result of a fundamental problem with the war: the quest for balance in what is essentially an asymmetric conflict.

In the calibrated statements from world leaders and international bodies, utmost care is taken to maintain balance by blaming both Hamas and Israel and by appealing to both sides for peace. We journalists do the same, evenly apportioning culpability and coverage to ensure fairness.

But shattered window panes from rickety rockets neither make for good television nor match the images of shrapnel-ridden children writhing in pain. This is probably why ABC, by design or by mistake, was compelled to pass off a picture of Palestinian suffering as an Israeli one. There often isn't that much misery to show on the Israeli side, because the toll is inevitably disproportionate. 

In 2006, one Israeli soldier’s abduction by Hamas triggered a series of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip that cost hundreds of civilian lives. The same year, when Hezbollah seized and killed two Israeli soldiers, Israel unleashed a war that killed 1,200 civilians in Lebanon and 44 in Israel. This time Israel claims Hamas killed three Israeli teens. Hamas denies it but that hasn’t stopped an Israeli reprisal that has claimed the lives of more than 1,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and two Israeli civilians.

Israel’s established mode of deterrence is disproportionate response. It doesn’t do balance, and neither should we when talking about the war. As the occupying force, its control over Gaza --- by land, sea, and air --- is overwhelming. So is its nuclear arsenal, compared with Hamas' homemade missiles. We all know who started this war, who is being massacred and who can end it. Let’s stop pretending otherwise.