Ashraf Khalil, Batsheva Sobelman
The Los Angeles Times
January 8, 2009 - 1:00am,0,39...

There's no visceral wartime imagery; details on injured Israeli soldiers are handled delicately. Bloody scenes such as the carnage after Tuesday's shelling of a U.N. school in the Gaza Strip appear only in snippets, and often in the context of analysis as to how the world will react.

There is, however, round-the-clock coverage of the Israeli south, where rockets fired by Gazan militants have killed three Israeli civilians and injured dozens since the conflict began Dec. 27.

As Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip entered its 12th day Wednesday, the divergent realities between the Jewish state and the Arab world were on full display in the way the conflict has been covered by Israeli news media.

Channel 10 offered continuing coverage of the conflict, with simultaneous live shots from the rocket-plagued southern cities of Ashkelon, Sderot and Beersheba. When a pair of rockets landed in Beersheba on Wednesday afternoon, the first to strike the city in several days, the network correspondent scrambled for cover live on the air. After the projectiles landed harmlessly, the cameras rushed to the scene and filmed a small impact crater and police sappers retrieving rocket remnants.

In Sderot, a correspondent summarized the concerns of residents that the government would agree to a cease-fire too soon, without definitively crippling the militant group Hamas' ability to fire rockets.

The people of Sderot, he said, "would rather the [army] continue and finish this story once and for all."

Israeli public opinion overwhelmingly supports the Gaza campaign, buttressed by frustration over years of rocket attacks on southern communities and by the widespread belief that Hamas has brought the bloodshed on its own people. Israeli media coverage has largely reflected that sentiment.

"This is something we needed to do for a long time. It's not going to be pleasant, but it's necessary," said Gadi Taub, a communications professor at Hebrew University. "People are resiliently in favor of this operation."

An editorial published Wednesday in the conservative daily Jerusalem Post summed up the prevailing mood.

"How do Israelis feel when our artillery strikes a U.N.-run school building, killing dozens of people? The answer is: deeply shaken, profoundly distressed, sorrowful at the catastrophic loss of life," the article said. "But we do not feel guilt. We are angry at Hamas for forcing this war on us."

A cartoon in Wednesday's edition of the newspaper Ma- ariv showed Israeli tanks rolling by while being encouraged by three cheerleaders -- each wearing the logo of one of Israel's three TV news channels.

The mounting Gazan death toll and international criticism have also stoked a defiant response among many Israeli commentators who are deeply aware that 1 million Israelis live within range of Gazan rockets.

On the Ynet news website, affiliated with the prominent daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot, op-ed columnist Hanoch Daum published an open letter to "protesters, Arab Israelis and citizens of the world."

His message: "Your views do not really make a difference to us right now. At this moment, when we are fighting for the well-being of southern residents, the level of support we receive from you does not matter to us too much. It is irrelevant."

There are dissenting voices as well, most prominently in the liberal Haaretz daily, where columnists Gideon Levy and Amira Hass regularly decry the Gaza assault and Israel's refusal to negotiate with Hamas after the militants won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006.

In a Wednesday editorial titled "Lucky my parents aren't alive to see this," Hass compared Israeli public opinion to "the crowd roaring in the Coliseum."

On television, the war being viewed by Israelis is a sterile affair, at least compared with the daily images of graphic bloodshed broadcast by Arab satellite news channels. Much like their American counterparts, Israeli channels shy away from showing excessive gore. The Jerusalem Post editorial on Wednesday criticized such imagery as "voyeuristic, nearly pornographic."

Instead, Israeli coverage focuses on soldiers and their families -- an emotional issue in a tiny country with mandatory military service and thousands of reservists in combat. Television channels on Wednesday provided interviews with a mother with twin sons in the army, one lying injured in the hospital and the other still in the field in Gaza.

There was also happy news. One channel broadcast footage of a commander informing one of his soldiers that the man's wife had just given birth. The channel then cut to an interview with the beaming mother under a graphic reading, "Mazel Tov" (congratulations).

Israel's popular weekly political satire show "Wonderful Country" has even managed to mine some laughs out of the conflict. Last week, four days into the Israeli aerial campaign but before the land invasion had begun, the show presented sketches of a gung-ho military correspondent dressed like Rambo and an impersonation of Defense Minister Ehud Barak laying out his plan for how the war would proceed.

"Israelis can make jokes about tragedies five minutes after they happen," said Taub, the communications professor.

"Wonderful Country" was supposed to broadcast a new show Tuesday, but network executives decided against it. "There are certain moments and situations in which airing satire is inappropriate, and we decided to stop," said network executive Ran Telem.


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