4.1000 Israeli Diaries: Werman (1/180)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Thu, 7 Feb 91 22:33:11 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 1000. Thursday, 7 Feb 1991.

Date: Mon, 4 Feb 91 16:45 +0200
Subject: Back to School; Censors

Monday, 4 February

Back to School; Censors

We had no alarm last night. The relief from attack was
appreciated [Should I thank Saddam Hussein?] and relaxing. I
did not quite believe, even at the moment of falling asleep.
Waiting for the other shoe to fall.

Schools continue to reopen. The ninth grade is now open
in Tel Aviv and Haifa; elsewhere, the first to twelfth are open.
But in Tel Aviv many of the classes are still only half filled
- at least in the more affluent neighborhoods. There has been
a conspicuous flight from Tel Aviv; hotels and guest houses in
other cities such as Jerusalem and Eilat and more remote places
such as the Kibbutzim are filled with Tel Aviv escapees. Even
those without money who have friends or family elsewhere take
advantage of this and leave the threatened city. The number of
commuters who drive into Tel Aviv every morning has increased
greatly, another sign of flight from the city. Interesting
consequences of the flight include a marked increase [20-25%]
in the number of births in Siroka Hospital in Beer Sheva and
Jerusalem hospitals also report obvious increases in birth

The Mayor of Tel Aviv, an ex-Army colonel of obvious charm
and popularity, Shlomo [Chich] Lahat, responded to the flight of
Tel Aviv strongly and called the refugees "deserters". This
strong reaction has produced much comment, both positive and
negative. The City of Tel Aviv produced a car sticker saying, "I
Stayed in Tel Aviv" which also has been a source of controversy.
When a Tel Aviv car carrying such a sticker is seen in Jerusalem
- perhaps on business - it elicits snickers. A number of Tel
Avivians, in an effort to show that they have remained in the city,
have hung Israeli flags from the windows of their apartments and
houses. To spare feelings, maternity patients in Siroka Hospital
- in thus-far-safe Beer Sheva - are no longer asked where they
come from. In fact, escapees who now commute to Tel Aviv daily
and sleep out of the city [all attacks have been after dark] are
called, with gentle humor, out-patients.

The movement away from Tel Aviv is now - slowly - reversing
itself and families are returning to the city. Both the cost of
living away from home and the failure of SCUDs to land in the city
this past week contribute to the reurbanization of the city.

The psychological effects of the attacks still occupy us and
are subjects of radio discussions among psychologists, psychiatrists,
social workers and lay people as well as featuring in personal con-
versations. A friend tells me that his neighbor's four year old son
reported that "My bulbul [The most common children's word here for
penis] is a Patriot missile with a chemical warhead."


My remarks about censorship appear to have incensed - or at
least worried - some of my readers. In fact we were treated here
yesterday to an American TV program devoted to the "sins" of
Israeli censorship of the media. One broadcaster was actually
required - not to stay alive or avoid banishment, but to maintain
his press card - to announce that he had broken censorship rules -
as the result of ignorance of the rules, he added - and to apologize.

I know - and have seen - the censorship rules prepared by the
office of the Army Spokesman [Nahman Shai]. They are clear and are
distributed with every press card. But the playing of games, includ-
ing that of the innocent, is standard practice for newsmen. [I am
from the pre-newspeople generation; my intention is both sexes and
all intermediate variations, even Kantian non-people, as I sometimes
perceive certain newsmen - particularly those who have made a full
time vocation of Israel-bashing.] When the CNN correspondent whom I
described as tricking the Israeli Army censor by revealing - while
asking in a live broadcast if he is allowed to mention - that the
area bombed by SCUDs that night was a residential district, did so
with pride at his own resourcefulness. The possibility that - by
revealing this information - he was endangering lives was of no
interest or of only secondary interest to him. These are acts of
malicious and selfish self-aggrandizement, under the hypocritical
guise of "free speech." All this took place under censorship;
what limits could we, should we expect in its absence? None?

I am aware of responsible journalism and have even witnessed.
it in action. But these are rare and remarkable activities that are
more anecdotal than frequent. And as praiseworthy as responsible
journalism is, the more frequent lack of responsibility shown by
reporters is reprehensible and may even be the direct cause of
deaths of innocents.

Israel is chided and castigated for imposing censorship on
reporters. We say that we are not willing to risk lives for the
titillation of TV audiences. Do you really think that your vicari-
ous involvement in our suffering is an expression of the value of
free speech? So it sounds - at least from this point in space and

What of censorship in Iraq? Why is that not the subject of a
TV expose? Peter Arnett's cooked, strained and digested interview
of Saddam Hussein is shown throughout the world as if this were
unrestricted reporting. And he is pretty much the only reporter
there. No reporting at all and what there is completely staged.
But that is Iraq, we are told, and you are Israel. We are - or
should be - used to being judged by a double standard, a much
higher one for us, a much lower one for our opponents. But it still
gets under our skins.

Americans are convinced that freedom of speech is an unlimited
virtue. They are cynical about their government and do not believe
it is as innocent or idealistic as it claims. And that the truth,
as exposed by motivated and glory hunting [Isn't that the American
dream in a capsule?] reporters, is an unequivocal virtue. Perhaps.
But free speech has its limits. First of all, free speech may also
allow the spread and acceptance of lies, defamation, and character
assassination. But there is a free market place for ideas - This
from the very same people who are against any other form of free
market, by the way. - and the good [They would not use that word,
as it is not part of their vocabularies; they would probably talk
about verifiable.] ideas will rise and the bad ones sink. But is
there really a free market place for ideas and for "truth?" If the
reporter who apologized had - by his report - been responsible for
the death of innocent citizens of Israel, what good would his
apology done them?

The limits of free speech are not obvious but they should
be understood. First of all, they exist. No person should be
allowed to cause death or damage by such speech. Libel law is a
now a joke; no one can possibly win a libel case these days. But
the public is aware of this and the caveat is - or should be -
obvious to anyone who enters public life. But what if someone in
a crowded place starts screaming "Fire!" and causes a stampede,
resulting in wounded and even dead? Is that, too, to be allowed?
Of course not. And that situation is quite similar to some of the
reporting I have seen from here. It places lives in jeopardy and
cannot be either excused or allowed.

Another form of free speech that must be curbed and denied
is that which incites to overthrow governments which advocate
free speech. Such speech is dangerous in that it wishes to
eliminate free speech. Arnett's broadcast of Saddam could - with-
out stretching the point too finely - be included in that category.
Once again, we can not say that Arnett or the networks were unaware
of the dangers. Did not Ted Kopel go the same route with Saddam
Hussein? And later apologize for being duped and used? That was
before the war. Apologies of that sort in the time of war are less
than pathetic, they tend to ridicule the value of human life.

Censorship has a long and not completely dishonorable history,
even in the US. The "Ulysses" court case - whose decision is reprinted
in many editions - would not have been of interest in the absence of
censorship. And American history did not begin in 1933. It was
possible to free the slaves at a time when censorship was accepted as
a norm. True, Americans now have Penthouse and hard porn movies. I
don't; I am not sure that the quality of life - another interesting
and perhaps dangerous new Americanism - I experience is inferior to
that of those who enjoy them.

Finally, war is not a normal situation. And this war. Standards
of behavior that are unacceptable in normal times are every day events
in war, not the least killing people and destroying property. Our
priorities are different, a state of emergency exists and everything
- or at least most other things - else must take a temporary [hopefully
brief] back seat to the priority of preserving our country, our way of
life, and the lives and properties of our citizens. Even reporters.


The threat of a poison gas attack is still upon us; it seems
very real to us. We know that there are at least 10-12 SCUD missile
launchers still functioning. Saddam Hussein may be becoming desperate.
We do not know. Nerve gas was released in the bombing of a chemical
works in Iraq. We are not quiet.

__Bob Werman

copyright 1991 USA. All rights reserved.