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A draining duty: explaining the Israeli side to Arab media

Elhanan Miller
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A draining duty: explaining the Israeli side to Arab media

Published: 7 November 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Clarifying Israel’s perspective on the war with Arab-language media is an infuriating experience.

Just moments after being awoken by sirens on the terrible morning of October 7, the telephone calls started streaming in. International calls from the UK, France, Germany. I had already read preliminary reports of the massacre unfolding in the Gaza perimeter on my phone, as faint blasts of Iron Dome interceptions sounded over Jerusalem.

Nevertheless, I decided to return to the sanctity of Shabbat and Simchat Torah, and not pick up the calls I knew were from BBC Arabic, France24 Arabic, and Deutsche Welle Arabic. Instead of joining my community in synagogue dancing with Torah scrolls, I would pray at home, alone, in dread.

Since the start of the war nearly a month ago, staring into my laptop camera wearing a dress shirt and suit jacket has become my routine. Unlike many friends my age, I haven’t been called up for reserves. But I view my attempt to convey Israel’s point of view to an increasingly hostile Arab world as my civil service right now.

I have noticed the tone on these European Arabic-language channels change as Israel intensifies its strikes on Gaza. The turning point may have been the explosion at al-Ahli hospital in Gaza on October 17.

One of my Arab contacts blasted the bias of Al Jazeera, but encouraged me to never pass up a chance to speak there.

“Why did Israel target the hospital?” I was asked by one interviewer, live, just one hour after the explosion. “We have no details of what happened there,” I replied, in shock. “You don’t know that Israel targeted the hospital.”

As days went by, intelligence information surfaced confirming the explosion was most likely the result of a failed rocket launch by Islamic Jihad. But the assertion that Israel deliberately targeted the hospital continues to be made on nearly every interview I give – two weeks later - either by interviewers or Arab guests.

Speaking on Arab channels is a frustrating, Sisyphean act that leaves me emotionally drained and often furious at the end of the day. I continue to do it - like a soldier called to duty four or five times daily - because I believe that Israel’s story must be heard by its neighbors.

I always try to express empathy with the suffering of civilians in Gaza. Not because I think it’s an effective rhetorical tool in our battle for Arab hearts and minds (though it is). I do it but because I genuinely believe that many Gazans are also hostages of the ruthless Hamas, albeit very differently.   

While European Arab channels still try to project an air of journalistic professionalism and balance, Al Jazeera, the popular Qatari news channel, makes no such attempt. It calls the Israeli communities attacked on October 7 “settlements” and justifies the attacks as a natural, defensible response to eternal Israeli aggression. I used to be a regular commentator on Al Jazeera, whose studios are located in a fancy West Jerusalem high-rise, just ten minutes away from my home.

Israel’s communication minister Shlomo Karhi has been trying to shut the channel down since the start of the war and has even obtained the consent of Attorney General Gali Baharav Miara. But the channel is still operating, most likely due to Israel’s reliance on Qatar as a crucial backchannel to Hamas.

I have been dreading that +974 call since the beginning of the war. Should I boycott a channel that in no uncertain terms justifies the killing of my people? The newly re-appointed Israeli spokesman to Arab media, Ofir Gendelman, sent out a note to journalists asking them to avoid speaking to the channel and legitimising it.

But maybe I should I get on the soapbox and speak my mind whenever and wherever I am given the chance? After all, Al Jazeera is one of the most popular channels in the Arab world, and certainly one of the most hostile ones. One of my Arab contacts blasted the bias and hostility of Al Jazeera, but immediately encouraged me to never pass up a chance to speak there. Maybe my words can make a difference. The call finally came through, three weeks into the war. It was Shabbat. I didn’t answer.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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