Access is the first casualty

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The old truism in war from a journalist's perspective had been "truth is the first casualty." The Israeli incursion into the Gaza ghetto reminds us of a new reality for journalists that can be tracked back at least as far as the U.S.'s heroic suppression of the island paradise of Grenada: "access is the first casualty." Keep the journalists out, keep the bloodshed and mayhem off the evening news, and you can keep an otherwise appalling conflict going.

I have marveled at the lack of public indignation in the U.S. and even among average Israelis at the horrendous suffering being inflicted on the civilian population of Gaza, 56 percent of which is under the age of 18. At press time more than 1,010 have been killed, at least half of them noncombatants with as many as 310 or more children among the dead and nearly 5,000 have been wounded, many horribly disfigured by mortar fragments, stray bullets, and white phosphorus burns. Yet this 20th day into the bombing and ground war of essentially one of the most crowded cities on earth there is barely a glimmer of public disquiet in the United States. In Israel, though there are some indications of a reawakening among the peace wing, the war is hugely popular despite the overwhelming revulsion of the rest of the world to this brutal spectacle.

Gaza's 1.4 million civilians have now endured three weeks of daily bombardment and the near complete destruction of their infrastructure. The Gaza water system has been demolished, and every kind of basic necessity, food, fuel, medical supplies, has become unavailable to Gaza's civilians, and a UN compound were such supplies were being stockpiled and distributed demolished. Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces' leadership has essentially acknowledged that it will continue to hammer the civilian population to pressure Hamas and protect IDF's professional soldiers, who so far have suffered the highest casualties from friendly fire. All this, and the U.S. public remains largely silent.

Part of the reason for the lack of public uneasiness with the IDF's brute display in Gaza has got to be traceable to the news coverage. Israelis and Americans have been primarily treated to IDF-censored reports of Israeli soldiers marching into abandoned Gaza neighborhoods, knocking over the odd empty building, or detailing the discovery of arms caches in schools, mosques, and the like. U.S. journalists, completely barred by the IDF from Gaza, are reduced to clownish imitations of journalism, standing miles from the border in flack-jacketed impotence, parroting press releases and pointing lamely toward the billowing smoke and bomb concussions they are witnessing from miles away.

The "press" emanating out of this war, just as our own warmaking in Iraq has been (remember the restrictions even on photographs of the flag draped returning dead from Baghdad) is being aggressively managed . It's hard to believe that the incursion could have continued this long if civilized people could have gotten a real view from the streets of Gaza where all the rhetoric and posturing ends and the tremendous suffering of the innocent begins.

Meanwhile, journalist Gordon Levy continues to make himself deeply unpopular in Israel by pointing out the obvious.

The photo illustrating today's post is courtesy of Caritas Internationalis . Here one of their workers points to what remains of one of their medical clinics after it was struck two days ago by an IDF, no doubt U.S. made, missile.