But even the compelling case of Dr. Aboul Aish failed to make a strong or lasting impact on many Israelis. One middle-aged woman, typically middle class in her speech and appearance, attacked him during a press conference at Tel Hashomer Hospital, where his wounded daughters were being treated. Screaming in front of the cameras and refusing to be silenced, she said that it was a disgrace to give the Palestinian doctor publicity in an Israeli hospital. He must have had weapons in his house, she insisted, because her sons were in the army and they would never shoot a civilian house. While many Israelis expressed abhorrence for her insensitivity to the doctor’s grief, there was wide agreement—lent credence by the army’s initial explanation, later retracted—that the army would not have shot at the physician’s house without a reason. Perhaps he had been unaware of Hamas gunmen shooting from his house? Dr. Aboul Aish rejected this explanation vehemently: speaking to Israeli television reporters from the hospital bedside of one of his wounded daughters, he insisted there had been no shooting either from his house or near his house.
Why were Israelis—both journalists and news consumers—so willing to accept the IDF’s version of events in Gaza? Why did Israeli reporters, normally cynical and irreverent to a fault, fail to ask critical questions during the military operation? Every journalist I spoke with gave the same explanation: the attitude toward covering the Gaza war was a direct reaction to the Second Lebanon War and the way it was reported.
The media had nearly unfettered access to the front lines during the July-August 2006 Lebanon War. Reporters walked right up to soldiers sitting around on the Lebanese border, interviewed them, and broadcast complaints about officers who gave contradictory orders, or about being called up for reserve duty and then kept waiting for days without instructions. A Channel 10 camera crew caught two high-ranking IDF officers as they discussed, in what they thought was a private conversation, their commanding officer’s apparent inability to function as a wartime leader. There were several reports about reserve soldiers who were sent into battle with inadequate equipment.
In response to post-war calls for an investigation into its military and political decision-making, the government appointed an independent commission, chaired by retired judge Eliyahu Winograd. The Winograd Commission’s report shocked the nation with its detailed findings of serious failures in the army’s tactics, communication, and preparedness. The IDF was perceived to have lost its power of deterrence. Israelis felt vulnerable. Somehow, the public absorbed the message that the media had been critical of the war while it was going on, thus exposing IDF maneuvers to Hezbollah, which monitors the Israeli media. And the media—which in fact had supported the war as a cause, only criticizing its tactics when victory proved elusive—felt chastened. Several of my colleagues worried aloud that their reports about failures in the IDF’s functioning had an adverse effect on home front morale. Others expressed guilt at having possibly risked the lives of soldiers by reporting too many details about IDF military moves.
In fact, these claims had already been thoroughly investigated and disproved. One month after the war, the Israel Press Council set up a commission, headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner, to investigate the media’s coverage of the war. The commission interviewed high-ranking military personnel, including the military censor, and concluded in its report that the media had not violated any censorship rules during the war. In fact, her staff concluded in its report, “If similar coverage had been given to a war crowned with success and victory…[it] would have been applauded by the public.” The media, concluded the report’s authors, was only guilty of bringing bad news to a frustrated, angry public. None of the many reporters I spoke with remembered Justice Dorner’s report or the interview she gave to IDF radio, in which she described the Israeli media’s coverage of the Second Lebanon War as “patriotic.” But they all remembered that they had been accused of endangering Israeli lives—both on the home front and on the battlefield—with their reporting.