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No Trophies for Terrorists

No Trophies for Terrorists

Israel should keep cameras away from scenes of carnage


At some point Israelis are likely to start asking themselves: Why should we continue to let TV reporters and news photographers take pictures of terrorist murder scenes? Of dead and maimed Israelis, shocked bystanders, grieving families, blood in the streets?

Who gave TV cameras the right to be there in the first place? Exactly why should we allow the shoving of cameras in the faces of suffering people?

In Israel today it is intolerable times ten, because we have every reason to assume that some Palestinians do not merely watch, they gloat.

In any place at any time, it is intolerable that a hurt or grieving person should be required to run the TV-camera obstacle course for the gratification of spectacle-aficionados. In Israel today it is intolerable times ten, because we have every reason to assume that some Palestinians do not merely watch, they gloat. Surely the least any society owes to the wounded and their stricken friends and families is to shield them from cameramen catering to this bloodlust. After a terror-bombing we see the wounded rushed past on stretchers in their ripped-up clothing, covered in blood and dazed with pain -- but with dignity intact, and so they do their best to shield their faces from the leering lenses. The intrepid cameramen must be proud.

Israel (in any case) is at war, and what could justify the bizarre practice of showing the enemy exactly what his latest attack has accomplished? In April 1941, the British government discontinued its weekly announcements of shipping lost to the Nazis. Thereafter announcements were made monthly. It seemed unnecessary to keep the Nazis absolutely up-to-date on their progress in strangling Britain. Churchill wrote to his Minister for Information: "When the comment is made that we are afraid to publish weekly because, as you say, 'we desire to cover up,'… the answer should be, 'Well, that is what we are going to do anyway.' Friends and enemies will no doubt put on their own interpretations."

More is at stake, though, than honor and dignity and wartime prudence. There is reason to believe that proto-terrorists aren't merely thrilled when they see Jews murdered and other Jews undone by grief; they are inspired. Such video sequences are the trophies of the TV age. The world's philosophers have fooled around with TV but haven't put into simple words TV's fundamental role nowadays in ratifying reality. If you haven't seen it on TV, it hasn't quite happened.

We know how important videotapes and TV have become in various parts of Arab society. We have heard about Al Jazeera. We know about videotaped messages from master terrorists, and videotaped murders. We can remember a generation back to the audio cassettes recorded in Paris that helped sweep Khomeini to power in Iran.

Words are powerful, but the modern terrorist wants video.

Suppose there were no more photos or videos of terrorist crime scenes; suppose they were banned under Israeli law. Suppose relatives and responsible authorities were notified immediately, and everyone else had to guess. Israel is a small, talkative country, and word would get out right away. Proto-terrorists would hear all about the latest attack -- but their cherished trophies would be missing. No videotaped misery to celebrate. Mere word of mouth, which is pale by comparison. Words are powerful (or used to be), but the modern terrorist wants video.

Of course Israel is a democracy, where the government must report and be held accountable. But it could report in words instead of pictures. It could report weeks after the fact. All rational people accept limitations on their right to know in time of war.

Terror groups would no doubt respond at first by boasting about ever-increasing death tolls. But without pictures, the actual crimes would gradually dematerialize in proto-terrorist minds. Perhaps they'd be gassed up into great, zeppelin-sized myths -- but myths are less inspiring now that they must compete with TV footage. Of course, suicide murderers have a reason to kill that is unrelated to TV coverage. But prospective murderers do want to be famous, like everybody else; we have seen their suicide notes, videotaped for worldwide distribution. If the great deed itself is not going to be on TV after all, if your posthumous career as a TV personality is going to be cruelly curtailed--does it still pay to kill and die? Not all potential murderers are the same. But if even one decided that, on second thought . . .

"Cycle of violence" is a phony phrase, suggesting that Israelis and Palestinians kill each other as part of some sort of tiresome Punch and Judy show. There is no "cycle of violence" in the Middle East; there are Jews being murdered, and there are consequences when they are murdered. (When anyone is murdered there are consequences--the "cycle of violence" is called "justice," except where Israelis are involved.) But it is possible that by allowing terrorist murders to de-materialize in the Palestinian mind (they will remain all too real to Israelis), Israeli governments could buy themselves some time and flexibility in planning their military responses. There might be many advantages to the only decent course.

Some people claim that, in an age of terrorist murder, Israel needs those TV pictures so that the world will understand her. But surely those who do not by now understand never will; and those who do understand will go on understanding without the gruesome pictures.

August 17, 2002

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Visitor Comments: 7

(7) Ellen Shepard, February 10, 2003 12:00 AM

Hooray for Gelernter

Gelernter's suggestion goes well beyond the usual pointless hand-wringing. Tied to history and based in uncommon good sense, David Gelernter has managed to offer a valuable suggestion, that I, for one, would like to see the Israeli government implement with all deliberate speed.

(6) judith, October 21, 2002 12:00 AM

This would give terrorists a media victory

As someone active in media response in Australia, I have to alert you to the fact that this would be a great propaganda advantage for the Palestinians. They always play up their own deaths, which therefore receive much coverage and paint a picture in the mind of the uninformed reader of Israeli bloodthirstiness. Remember that what can't be shown on TV effectively does not exist: it will not be reported at all. That means the immediate effect of such a media ban would be that Palestinians would seem to be the innocent victims of unrelenting Israeli violence for no reason.
This is already the case to some extent because of Israeli reluctance to screen the gorier details of terror attacks, but it would be greatly exacerbated and we media response people would have no ammunition to fight with.
Media response is very important (b'derech hateva). By affecting public opinion we affect government policy, and this can be the difference between letting the IDF stay in the territories long enough to clear out terrorist nests and forcing them out too soon.
The primary consideration should be saving lives. I think this can only be answered by a gadol hador.

(5) lINDA GREFE, August 28, 2002 12:00 AM

I could not express it better!

For a very long time I believe it has been common knowlege that anyone who commits a crime is looking for that five minutes of fame, the five minutes that T.V. gives you. This can be magnified many times over when speaking about terrorists..who get such complete joy at just the sight of the total destruction of lives andmoral of the innocent people whose lives they destroy. This is not even how the video can be retaped and manipulated to feed the appetite that is lookng for this evil adrenalin rush. There are plenty of very twisted minds out there, we do not have to cater to them!!

(4) Sarah Alexis, August 19, 2002 12:00 AM

I must disagree

David Gelernter is right as far as the victims are concerned; however, world sympathy is a very fickle thing. It is definitely aroused by the horrible post-bombing scenes and tends to swing in the other direction when scenes of destruction in Gaza are shown. If anything, more scenes of grief should be shown to the world so that people can understand what the people of Israel are going through now.

(3) Anonymous, August 19, 2002 12:00 AM

Agreed, but let's extend this idea to....

I agree fully with the author. How do we gain by seeing the tragedy so close? Doesn't the carnage from one suicide murder look just like any other?

I have wondered for years why the media get so "in-your-face" with any tragedy. Obviously, when the kidnapped child's body is found, the family will be devastated. Why put them through the agony of having to talk to the cameras while they are in the first throes of grief? Likewise, victims of other tragedies, like fires ruining their homes, floods destroying their belongings, etc... it is obvious that they will be distraught. Why show it?

Once, a few years ago, ABC tried to show a program with good news. They asked people to help them do some mundane task in public, and if the people did help, later they were given a large sum of money. It was so inspiring to see this! Yet the show was cancelled immediately. Pity. If good news were broadcast more often, maybe only for a short segment of the 30 minute news shows, rather than a constant diet of death, murder, dismemberment, etc., it could help to re-establish some ethical and moral values, ones that seem to be lost these days.

May HaShem smile upon us, stop the violence, and bring Mashiach speedily and in our days!

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