Famed Israeli Journalist Decries Civilian Casualties in Gaza -- But Who is Amira Hass?

A powerful column appears today in the Jerusalem daily Haaretz, written by one of its top correspondents, Amira Hass, reporting on Gaza, which opens: "This isn't the time to speak of ethics, but of precise intelligence. Whoever gave the instructions to send 100 of our planes, piloted by the best of our boys, to bomb and strafe enemy targets in Gaza is familiar with the many schools adjacent to those targets -- especially police stations. He also knew that at exactly 11:30 A.M. on Saturday, during the surprise assault on the enemy, all the children of the Strip would be in the streets - half just having finished the morning shift at school, the others en route to the afternoon shift."

It goes on from there, in angry tones, and follows her dispatches of the past two days, also highlighting avoidable (in her view) civilian casualties, now amounting to a thousand or more, including the injured.

From a column up today by Gideon Levy also at Haaretz:

Our finest young men are attacking Gaza now. Good
boys from good homes are doing bad things. Most of them are eloquent,
impressive, self-confident, often even highly principled in their own
eyes, and on Black Saturday dozens of them set out to bomb some of the
targets in our 'target bank' for the Gaza Strip.

"They set out to bomb the graduation ceremony for young police
officers who had found that rare Gaza commodity, a job, massacring them
by the dozen. They bombed a mosque, killing five sisters of the
Balousha family, the youngest of whom was 4. They bombed a police
station, hitting a doctor nearby; she lies in a vegetative state in
Shifa Hospital, which is bursting with wounded and dead. They bombed a
university that we in Israel call the Palestinian Rafael, the
equivalent of Israel's weapons developer, and destroyed student
dormitories. They dropped hundreds of bombs out of blue skies free of
all resistance.

Now: Who is Amira Hass?

For those quick to label criticism of Israeli military offensives "anti-Semitic," with little recognition of the Jews' special suffering during World War II, consider this: Hass is not only an Israeli but both of her parents are Holocaust camp survivors. Yet she has gone on to become the most prominent Israeli journalist to make it her mission to report as often as possible from Gaza and the West Bank - breaking bans and earning the wrath of both Israeli and Palestinian officials. She earned headlines in this regard just in the past month.

Hass was born in Jerusalem, and studied the history of Nazism at Hebrew University. She joined Haaretz in 1989 and began living nearly full time in Gaza or Ramallah starting in 1993. She earned the Press Freedom Hero award from the International Press Institute in 2000, among other international journalism prizes. She now lives in Ramallah which, compared to Gaza, she has said, is a "five-star prison."

Now a regular Haaretz columnist frequently critical of Israeli policy, Hass recently traveled to Gaza by boat to demonstrate her opposition to the Israeli blockade -- which includes journalists. On December 1, she was ordered to leave by Hamas, and briefly arrested by Israeli police on her return to Israel. In a radio interview she described life in Gaza: "It is complete isolation, I feel it's like a black hole. Everybody, this isolation, this blockade reduces people's lives in to basic concern. Will there be electricity? Will there be water? Will we find candles in the shop? Is there gas for cooking?" She also pointed out: "Hamas is not unhappy with the isolation right now because it enables it to establish its own regime in this small part of the world."

Earlier this year she told a reporter for Salon, "Neither Israel nor the Palestinian elite, with their vested interests in maintaining the status quo, are interested in peace."

In recent days, she has gathered information on the toll on civilians in Gaza via telephone. More from today's column follows.

This is not the time to speak of proportional responses, not even of the polls that promise a greater share of Knesset seats to the mission's architects. This is, however, the time to speak of the voters' belief the operation will succeed, that the strikes are precise and the targets justified....

This is the time to speak about the detailed maps in the hands of IDF commanders, and about the Shin Bet advisers who know the exact distance between the mosque and nearby homes. This is the time to discuss the drone planes and the hot air balloons fitted with advanced cameras floating over the Strip day and night, filming everything.

This is the time to rely on legal advisers studying the operation to find the right phrasing to justify "collateral damage." Time to praise Foreign Ministry spokespeople who in their polished language, with their elegant South African or charmant Parisien accents, say it is the fault of Hamas, which uses neighborhood mosques for its own purposes....

The era of reason and judgment died long ago, even before the targeted assassinations of Fatah activists in the West Bank, which soon turned into shooting attacks on soldiers and the emergence of another few thousand young people taking up arms, not to mention the phenomenon of suicide bombers....

This is the time to speak of our own satisfaction and enjoyment. Satisfaction from tanks once again raising and lowering their barrels in preparation for a ground attack, satisfaction from our leaders' threatening finger-waving at the enemy. That's how we like our leaders - calling up reservists, sending pilots to bomb our enemies and manifesting national unity, from Baruch Marzel to Tzipi Livni, Netanyahu to Barak to Lieberman.

Greg Mitchell is editor of Editor & Publisher. His most recent book, on Iraq and the media, is "So Wrong for So Long." His book on the 2008 election campaign will appear in January.