The Gaza military operation gave the army an opportunity to “prove” that it had internalized the lessons of the Winograd Report. And it gave Israeli reporters an opportunity to prove their patriotism to a still-angry public.
Alon Ben-David was one of the few Israeli reporters to ask critical questions about the army’s leadership and performance during the Second Lebanon War. But he did not dispute the IDF’s ban on media coverage of the Gaza war. “There was just way too much access during the Lebanon war,” he said. “The army was too exposed, in real time. And I think we journalists also had a reaction to the over-exposure that we caused. I don’t think the army is obligated to allow reporters into a battlefield situation.” Like every Israeli reporter I spoke with, Ben-David was focused completely on covering the war while it was going on; he had not had time to notice anything that was not directly connected to his job. So he was only vaguely aware that the ministry of defense had defied a Supreme Court order in refusing to allow the foreign media into Gaza; and, like his colleagues, he was not troubled by the issue because the ruling did not apply to the Israeli media, which was and is still forbidden by law from entering Gaza.
Many Israelis believe the IDF’s claim that it failed to secure a decisive victory in Lebanon because it refrained, for humanitarian reasons, from using sufficient force. Given that Hamas had already been “sold” as a genuine existential threat, there was a popular sense of satisfaction when the IDF used massive force in Gaza—as if people were finally ridding themselves of an excessively delicate sensibility that was unsuited to the brutal realities of the Middle East.
Ethan Bronner described a telling wartime conversation with an Israeli colleague and friend. “He said he really didn’t care about the foreign press being prevented from entering Gaza,” recounted Bronner. “So I said ‘but what if the army is doing bad stuff in Gaza?’” Raising his eyebrows to indicate astonishment, Bronner continued, “And my colleague just answered, ‘I trust them.’ But why would he trust them? The whole nature of our business is not to trust anyone!”
Two months after the ceasefire went into effect, Haaretz and Maariv newspapers published the first reports in Hebrew about possible misdeeds on the part of Israeli soldiers in Gaza. There were allegations about loose rules of engagement that resulted in a sniper shooting an old woman, and a child accompanied by his mother. There were also reports about unnecessary destruction of civilian property, and photographs of racist graffiti on the walls of homes that had been commandeered by soldiers.
Some people were disturbed, but the prevailing reactions were disbelief, and a tendency to discredit the sources—a leftist newspaper (Haaretz) and “leftist” IDF officer. Major Danny Zamir, the reserve officer who compiled the report, is a self-described Social-Democratic Zionist who opposes the occupation of the West Bank. As a soldier, he was once jailed for refusing an order to guard a West Bank settlement; this fact was widely reported in the uproar that ensued after his report was published. Few considered that a former career officer who defined himself as a Zionist might have been motivated by patriotism and a commitment to the IDF’s purity of arms.
But the army could not ignore Zamir, who is a respected officer—especially not after his report was taken up by Maariv and Israeli television news. And so they announced an investigation into the matter. Eleven days later, they released their conclusion: the reports were hearsay; the matter was closed. For the Israeli public, that was the end of the matter. The army said nothing had happened, and that meant nothing had happened. The media did not follow up on the story.