A field guide for aspiring hacks.
Writing about Israel is a booming field. No news agency, be it ever so humble, can avoid embedding a few correspondents and a dog's tail of stringers into Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, to sit in cafes clicking away on their laptops, meeting up with leftist NGOs and the oppressed Muslim of the week.
At a time when international desks are being cut to the bone, this is the one bone that the newshounds won't give up. Wars can be covered from thousands of miles away, genocide can go to the back page, but, when a rock flies in the West Bank, there had better be a correspondent with a fake continental accent and a khaki shirt to cover it.
Writing about Israel isn't hard. Anyone who has consumed a steady diet of media over the years already knows all the bullet points. The trick is arranging them artistically, like so many wilted flowers, in the story of this week's outrage.
Israel is hot, even in the winter, with the suggestion of violence brimming under the surface. It should be described as a "troubled land." Throw in occasional ironic biblical references and end every article or broadcast by emphasizing that peace is still far away.
It has two types of people; the Israelis who live in posh houses stocked with all the latest appliances and the Arabs who live in crumbling shacks that are always in danger of being bulldozed. The Israelis are fanatical, the Arabs are passionate. The Israelis are hate-filled, while the Arabs are embittered. The Israelis have everything while the Arabs have nothing.
Avoid mentioning all the mansions that you pass on the way to interviewing some Palestinian Authority or Hamas bigwig. When visiting a terrorist prisoner in an Israeli jail, be sure to call him a militant, somewhere in the fifth paragraph, but do not mention the sheer amount of food in the prison, especially if he is on a hunger strike. If you happen to notice that the prisoners live better than most Israelis, that is something you will not refer to. Instead describe them as passionate and embittered. Never ask them how many children they killed or how much they make a month. Ask them what they think the prospects for peace are. Nod knowingly when they say that it's up to Israel.
Weigh every story one way. Depersonalize Israelis, personalize Muslims. One is a statistic, the other a precious snowflake. A Muslim terrorist attack is always in retaliation for something, but an Israeli attack is rarely a retaliation for anything. When Israeli planes bomb a terrorist hideout, suggest that this latest action only feeds the "Cycle of Violence" and quote some official who urges Israel to return to peace negotiations-- whether or not there actually are any negotiations to return to.
Center everything around peace negotiations. If Israel has any domestic politics that don't involve checkpoints and air strikes, do your best to avoid learning about them. Frame all Israeli politics by asking whether a politician is finally willing to make the compromises that you think are necessary for peace. Always sigh regretfully and find them wanting. Assume that all Israelis think the same way. Every vote is a referendum on the peace process. A vote for a conservative party means that Israelis hate peace.
The Israelis can also be divided into two categories. There are the good Israelis, who wear glasses, own iPads and live in trendy neighborhoods. They are very concerned that the country is losing its soul by oppressing another people. They strum out-of-date American peace songs on guitars that they play badly, but which you will describe them as playing "soulfully", and they show up at rallies demanding that the government make peace with the Palestinians.
When writing about them, act as if they are representative of the country's youth and its best and brightest, which for all you know they might be, because you rarely meet anyone who isn't like them, because you rarely meet anyone who isn't like you. When you do it's either a taxi driver, repairman or some working-class fellow whom you have nothing in common with, and who turns out to be a raving militant when it comes to the terrorism question.
These are the other Israelis. The big swarthy men who have no interest in alternative art exhibits. If you have to deal with them at all, get a quote from them about their hopes for peace and how much they dislike the government. Pretend that the two things are connected, and that everything that your friends, who are aspiring artists and playwrights, as well as volunteer humanitarians, told you about the country being ready to rise up against right-wingers like Barak and Netanyahu, to demand peace, is absolutely true. Don't ask yourself why the country keeps electing right-wingers.
Israeli soldiers should be depicted looming menacingly over children. Your stringers are already experienced at urging a child into camera range, then getting down on one knee and tilting the camera up just as an Israeli soldier walks into the frame. If there isn't time to set up the shot, get what you can. The photo can be cropped afterward to show just the Israeli soldier and the Palestinian child, even if the two are not actually interacting in any way.
In print, contrast the bored detachment of the soldiers with the prolonged miserable suffering of the Arab Muslims. Checkpoint lines should consist entirely of old and pregnant women waiting to visit their families. If you are Jewish then mention that the soldiers have given you special treatment on account of your race, even if the actual reason is because you are a journalist and your kind doesn't set off bombs, your kind acts as the propaganda corps for those who set off bombs.
When visiting "settlers," a term that currently covers a sizable portion of the country, describe them as "dogged" and "fanatical." Dwell on their beards and on their assault rifles. Convey to the reader that there is something disturbing about the tenacity with which they cling to the land, while making it clear that they will have to be ethnically cleansed from the land for there to be peace. Do not use the word "ethnic cleansing," use "evacuation," it sounds cleaner.
Palestinian politicians are always willing to make peace, even when they aren't. Work at it and you will get a hypothetical quote about their willingness to one day live in peace with the Jews. Turn that quote into the centerpiece of your article. Contrast it with Israeli leaders who still refuse to come to the table. Never ask them any tough questions about the budget, their support for terrorists or why they refuse to negotiate. Instead feed them softball questions, take their talking points and plug them into the template for the same article that your predecessors have been writing since the seventies.
If an Israeli tells you that there is no such thing as Palestinians, that they're gangs of Muslim militias who have no interest in running their own country, or that Jordan is the actual Palestinian State, ignore him. You’re here to tell a story. The same story that has been told for generations about villainous Israelis and the heroic Muslim resistance fighters battling against them.
Write about the hills and the blood-red sunsets, mention all the armies that probably passed over them in a history you never bothered to learn. Talk about your mixed feelings as a Jew or part-Jew or someone who has Jewish friends, at the sight of Jews oppressing another people. Describe the black soulful eyes of a Palestinian terrorist leader. Write about how the soldiers and their guns make you uncomfortable. Close with an old man who expresses hope that one day peace will come to this troubled land.
Then go home.
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