Streams of Anxious Consciousness 33

I hate the phrase, ‘fake news.’ I hate it because of the originator of the expression. I hate it because of the damage it does to the idea of a free press. I hate it because it erodes the integrity of journalists that are compromised by slinging that accusation their way. I never use the phrase. Ever.

That said, much of the media has been fast and loose with the data they are sharing and the source of said data. It is dangerous since retractions are usually printed in the back of the paper, if you get my gist. It is difficult to forget information once it is shared, even if that data is false. Ask some celebrities and their gerbils about that some time. Sharing bad data and recapturing it is tantamount to putting toothpaste back in the tube.

In Spring of 2002, in the thick of the second Intifada, a suicide bomber entered the Park Hotel in Netanya and detonated himself. He killed 30 people rejoicing at a Passover Seder and wounded 164 others. It was the 13th attack in 30 days, and it was the last straw for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the Israeli people. They could take no more.

Sharon ordered the army to make a siege of the city of Jenin, the origin of most bombers and terror that had plagued Israel for the previous 18 months. Israel wanted to stop the attacks before they set out from Jenin. Incidentally, it was after the Park Hotel Passover bombing and during the siege in Jenin that Ariel Sharon implemented the plan of a security wall for the West Bank.

When the IDF reached Jenin, they encountered booby-trapped homes meant to detonate upon entering, sniper attacks and other tricks that were waiting to kill many soldiers. They knew we were coming.

During the siege, the media reported that Israel was committing acts of genocide. Some described the numbers of dead Palestinians in Jenin were north of 5,000 souls. A building that was a terror enclave was demolished and the BBC reported that more than 2000 Palestinians were believed to be underneath the rubble, left to die. The real number was three, and all the dead were tied to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Terror Brigade. One British reporter said the town stunk of corpses and the numbers of dead were in the 50-100 thousand range. Tom Gross, a middle east correspondent coined the phrase Jeningrad about the IDF siege on terror.

Day after day Israel was charged by the press with ‘war crimes,’ ‘crimes against humanity,’ ‘genocide’ and filling mass graves to hide dead Palestinian bodies. The information steadily flowed in from the Hamas leadership and Jihad groups to the press, and it was accepted at face value. Israel was called Nazis, Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Meanwhile, Israel was tight lipped with data, information and casualties.

Arafat and his cronies sold a massacre that was not, and most of Europe and other media outlets bought what he was selling.

Fast forward to the end of the siege in Jenin. 23 IDF soldiers and 52 Palestinians (of whom 14 were civilians) were dead. Ultimately the Palestinian Authority, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations corroborated these figures.

I never read the apologies, the regrets or the retractions from ANY major news source after the truth surfaced. It was sensational and it sizzled. It was man biting a dog. Big bad Israel with tanks and guns removing terror cells that were blowing up buses and cafes and holiday meals and we were the ones committing crimes against humanity?! Absurd.

Today, there are reports from the Hamas led media that more than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed from this war and most are women and children.

Based on the data the IDF shares daily of the Hamas militants killed in action, Hamas numbers are not in the hemisphere of truth. By the conclusion of this war, the numbers will hopefully yield a high number of Hamas deaths. At that point, when the sunlight shines the truth, these falsified reports that are over exaggerated and not correct (most deaths will be combatants and what Hamas calls a civilian would qualify as a terrorist) will not matter. The damage will have been done. It is another dance of blaming and accusing Israel and taking the word of known terrorists and liars to paint an indelible picture. It is reprehensible, and the toothpaste is still out and not going back in the tube.

21 years after Jenin and the media is behaving the same. At the risk of using mouthwash, dare I say that many media outlets and Hamas are kindred spirits who both traffic in fake news. It is pathetic how many media places that are usually the target of the accusation of ‘fake news,’ are eating it up.

Worse than that, while the world weeps over these numbers, Hamas officials from Sinwar to Mesha’al have acknowledged that the price of liberation is a high civilian death count. Hamas calls itself a ‘martyrdom people.’ They tightly grasp the ideology that many will die to achieve their goals. Yet, they will use those deaths to leverage a narrative that will generate sympathy and turn the media against Israel. A double shame.

When the Mossad started using operatives to kill terrorists, namely after Munich, they needed experts in explosives. This was new territory for the Mossad. They took people from the field who were experts in dismantling bombs, not building them. What did Isael know from needing to build bombs?! This led to plenty of snafus and mistakes made in operations because of lack of preparedness. The understanding between dismantling and building was profound. Ultimately, the skill set for taking apart a bomb is radically different from building one.

Israel is struggling with human remains identification. Many bodies have still not been identified and thus, not buried. Families are agonizingly waiting in the balance for information on their loved ones. Israel has called in a team of archaeologists from around the country who are accustomed to sifting through dust and dirt and bone debris to determine how long ago someone lived. Except now, they are being asked to determine if the mutilated or charred remains of a person is male or female, old or young, and which family they are part of. They are not doing ancient archaeology but modern day forensics. It requires a totally different skill set to identify bodies than determine if a set of artifacts or silver coins are from the Byzantine era or early Maccabees period. These experts are the best in the world at uncovering the thousands-year-old history of Jewish life in Israel. They are not trained at sifting through the remnants of modern Jewish life from only 30 days ago. It reminds me of the Mossad and the struggle to build bombs by those who were trained to defuse them.

The same goes with preserving bodies until they are identified. Israel usually buries its dead within hours. Keeping bodies in a morgue and for long enough to make proper DNA confirmations is a reality the country never prepared for. Why would it? There is no mass refrigeration for preservation or forensics department in Israel trained to deal with this scale. Today, the country is in uncharted territory.

This is a whole new world for Israel. One that is unimaginable. We do not have professionals for these tasks. We have had to reallocate skills and trades who are adjacent to these skills to handle the situation as best as possible. It has made this time in Israel even more challenging and painful.

Our Temple brings trips to Israel often. One usual stop for us is a small Moshav on the Gaza border called Netiv Ha’assarah

This community was established in 1982 by 70 families who were forced to leave the Sinai Peninsula where they lived for the previous 15 years. After the Camp David Peace Agreement between Israel and Egypt was signed, all the Jews of Sinai were forced to evacuate the region.

We connected with this community because of the unique peace initiative it started. Near the separation wall with Gaza, the people of the Moshav created a beautiful mosaic of small pieces of pottery. Signs with personal prayers and pleas for peace were affixed to the wall. Our groups regularly visited and placed these shards of pottery on the barrier. It was much like adding our prayer for peace, except this was offered not on paper in a crack in the Old City Walls, rather on a newer wall that enabled security and was the difference of what was and what could be.

One of the members of the Moshav has guided two of our congregational trips to Morocco and the UAE, both new countries in the Abraham Accords peace initiatives. How ironic. This person is a sweet and kind soul who has developed a deep friendship with numerous members of our congregation. This added to the connective tissue of our community and this special Moshav.

On October 7th, Netiv Ha’assarah was hit by Hamas terrorists. No surprise since Netiv Ha’assarah is the community closest to Gaza. 16 people were murdered in cold blood.

Netiv Ha’assarah has been shut down because of its proximity to Gaza, (400 Meters away from city of Lahia in Gaza). Its inhabitants are refugees living in hotels or with family throughout Israel or abroad. No one knows when they will be able to return home.

Netiv Ha’assarah has been evacuated twice now. First by Egypt during the Camp David Accords, now in war with Hamas. They are contracting in size and moving further away from the borders they once enjoyed. For all of those who claim that Israel ‘occupies,’ and Israel creates living challenges for Palestinians and forces its citizens to relocate, I point you to only one of numerous examples where our enemies continue to encroach on Israeli borders and narrow the space where Jews can live and sleep in peace.

How much more shrinkage of Israeli land will happen in the years ahead if we do not remove Hamas with such force that no group even considers a reprise?! I shudder to think of the slow goal our enemies are achieving.

Equally, when we were creating mosaics of peace on our wall, what were the people on the other side drawing and dreaming of? Perhaps that explains all one needs to know about what we are up against.

About the Author
David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the past President of the NY Board of Rabbis and the NJ Board of Rabbis and is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute and serves on the Executive Committee of the JFNA. Rabbi Kirshner was appointed to the New Jersey/Israel Commission by Governors Christie and Murphy. Rabbi Kirshner is a National Council member of AIPAC.
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