The Human Spirit: 'Where are you from?'
I'm usually quick to answer "Jerusalem" but on a recent
trip to Italy, I decided not to answer at all. Why not? I decided it simply
wasn't the business of every beach peddler who wanted to haggle with me about
the price of sunglasses to know from where I hailed. I imagined the peddlers,
most from countries with Muslim majorities, discussing their day's sales and the
subject coming up of that middle-aged couple from Israel, reading and sunning on
the Adriatic. In Florence, my husband was wearing a kippa (as opposed to a hat)
on Shabbat eve, when we were heckled by a group of young men of Middle Eastern
appearance. Indeed, we felt vulnerable.
We're not the only ones.
Many Italians we met are concerned about their safety – or so it seemed to us.
Those who knew from where we were expressed interest and empathy for Israel.
The evangelical Christians are, of course, in a wonderful supportive
category of their own. When asked by the 30-something owner/manufacturer of a
leather goods factory whom we met in one of his posh shops about our origins, I
took a gamble and said "Jerusalem."
Immediately he was eager to hear what
was really happening in Israel.
He was typical of the Italians we met who
wanted to get beyond the clichés and knee-jerk condemnation of Big Bad Israel.
He asked us for Internet sites that provide news and commentary with a wider
perspective – something that would give him a way to let him make the case for
Israel over espresso with his friends, who might be ready to climb down from the
anti-Israel tree if they had the full picture.
What might be causing such
a change? First, there are the ubiquitous, nauseating pictures of American
journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff in those orange suits prior to their
And suddenly, there aren't just names that are hard to
pronounce – Jabhat al-Nusra, Hamas, jihadis, al-Qaida, Boko Haram – but an
In Italy, there was even talk of Rome being an
appealing target for a global Islamic empire to attack because the Vatican is a
symbol of Western culture.
The shop owner did ask about the number of
Palestinians killed in Operation Protective Edge, but he seemed satisfied with
our answers. In light of the developing threats to his own country, our
insistence on protecting ourselves no longer sounded inhumane to him.
Where else could he read more? It's easy to recommend our own The Jerusalem
Post, of course, and a few others that confront the untruths, but I am concerned
that our homegrown sites, no matter how broad their opinion base is, are
suspected of bias. I'm sure he thought the same of my views.
us back, as usual, to the importance of the coverage of Israel in the
Here, too, we have celebrated a few bright moments
in the usual dismal coverage that we get. There was, for instance, the news team
from Indian NDTV which showed footage of Hamas shooting rockets from a civilian
area (directly outside their hotel window!). With good reason, the team waited
until they'd safely left the Gaza Strip to go public.
They reminded me of
the brave Italian film crew, back in October 2000, who captured the barbaric
lynching of IDF reservists Vadim Nurzhitz and Yossi Avrahami in Ramallah and
exposed it to the world – 14 years before the current beheadings.
would happen was prescient of the damaged reporting that would follow.
Instead of being heralded for their bravery, the deputy head of the Jerusalem
bureau of Italy's state television channel RAI penned a letter to the
Palestinian Authority's newspaper Al-Hayat al-Jadida not only casting off
responsibility for the footage, but denying that the events happened.
promised to forthwith grovel to the journalistic restrictions of the PA.
And then he thanked the Palestinian Authority that had lynched the young men.
The real journalists who had exposed the lynch had to leave the region
fearing for their lives.
But now I could also send the link from
Protective Edge, of another Italian reporter, Milan Radio Popularo's Gabriele
Barbati. Based on his eyewitness account, he insisted it was Hamas, not Israel,
that shelled and killed nine children in the Shati camp in Gaza. He, too,
reported this news after crossing from the Strip.
Reporters worry that
they may be burying their chances of getting access to cover the next Islamic
story, and, perhaps more significantly, especially in light of the beheadings,
they are rightfully afraid for their lives if they give the full story. Their
reports must suit the expectations of those in charge. This is the exact
opposite of how they report on Israel where the establishment – be it government
or the army – usually becomes the target of their criticism.
in these pages, The Media Line's President Felice Friedson wrote a moving
tribute to the young, dedicated and insightful reporter who had freelanced for
her news service: Steven Sotloff.
The most poignant sentence for me:
"Sotloff was fearless to the point where he appeared to believe he would not be
harmed because his potential foes would somehow sense his attachment to the Arab
world and its people."
From the last article he wrote for The Media Line,
we understand that those sympathies were for what he saw as an altruistic Free
Syrian Army, which he felt was being marginalized by its chosen allies, the
jihadists Jabhat al-Nusra, who had pledged allegiance to al-Qaida affiliate ISI
(his term). This feels like an unlikely cause célèbre for a journalist to
identify with and risk his life to give voice to in the world, and let us
remember that Steven Sotloff was a strongly identified Jew and Zionist.
So many men and women who arrive in our region believe that the worthiest
journalistic story to tell is the heartbreaking saga of Arabs of our region – be
they suffering Syrians, Palestinians or Egyptians. Soon enough, the genuine
sorrows of living under dictators and terrorist regimes overwhelm their good
hearts and they report about the victims of persecution with pathos.
there are other stories to be told here – plenty of them with pathos and heroism
and humor. Now that we are beginning to see greater openness to the other side,
it's time for us to get down from our own trees of media-bashing, too. My own
ongoing complaint is our country's squeamishness about embedding reporters with
IDF fighting units and inviting them to work the checkpoints from the Israeli
side. Every time I approach this subject, I'm told – ironically in a time when
journalists are covering Syria – that this is too dangerous.
personal level, we could take a lesson in hospitality. Why should the foreign
reporters feel so foreign? When we invited a group of foreign reporters to our
home to experience a Shabbat dinner, they told us that though they had been here
for months, ours was the first Jewish home to which they had been invited. And
they let us know that they were not sympathetic to our side of the story. Not
surprising. They had never heard our side of that story during a personal and
intimate conversation. So what was our segue to get the conversation going? We
just started with a simple, "Where are you from?"