The Daily press briefing given by one of the State Department spokespeople was an even nastier version of itself when it came to a discussion about the conflict between Gaza and Israel on Wednesday, July 16.
Although Said Arikat, the Washington, D.C. bureau chief of the Palestinian Arab Al Quds newspaper, typically goads whoever is leading the briefing in an attempt to force the U.S. into denunciations of Israel, today there was a virtual pile-on by various members of the press.
It started with the ever dogged, although as often as not critical of Arab tactics as of Israel, Matt Lee of the Associated Press. Lee peppered spokesperson Jen Psaki with questions about a Human Rights Watch report which charged Israel with violating international law with some of its airstrikes on Gaza. Lee then linked the HRW report to the day’s incident on a beach in Gaza in which four Gazan teenagers were killed by what Hamas claimed was a hit by the Israeli Navy.
Put aside the fact – which never came up – that the Israeli Navy immediately stated it was not firing in that area at the time the beach was struck, Lee completed his “testimony” and ended, finally, with a question: “Do you endorse or do you echo the call of Human Rights Watch here for Israel to stop these attacks?”
Psaki didn’t immediately respond in a coherent way, and Lee followed up by asking her if she believed Israel was targeting either civilians or civilian structures.
The spokesperson then launched into her pre-packaged statement that the secretary of state has called on both parties to de-escalate the hostilities, and explaining that civilian deaths, whether of children or otherwise, is of course always a great concern of the United States.
Lee, not satisfied with the non-responsive answer, resumed peppering Psaki with demands that she answer whether or not the state department agreed with the Human Rights Watch report that Israel was “killing civilians in violation of the laws of war.”
When Psaki refused to agree, Lee moved on to another part of the HRW report, which stated that “Palestinian armed groups should end indiscriminate rocket attacks launched towards Israeli population centers.” Psaki, recognizing something the secretary has said, said “we agree with that statement.” Then Lee pounced, declaring that “So you agree with Human Rights Watch when they say that the Palestinians should stop their shelling, but you don’t agree with them when they say that Israel should; is that correct?”
It went even further downhill from there, with Lee continuing to badger Psaki along the same lines. Finally, Said Arikat jumped in with, “Shouldn’t Israel be held to the same standards in this case?” Psaki dismissed him by saying she had already answered the question. She then went to the next journalist who, unfortunately for Psaki, continued with the same line of questioning.
This journalist again discussed the deaths of the four Arabs on the beach, and concluded with the accusation, “How is an Israeli airstrike on what can only be described as a civilian target in full view of international journalists be acceptable to the U.S. Government?”
Psaki again discussed the U.S. being very concerned always by the death of civilians, but refused to allow herself to be drawn into a discussion of what exactly had happened on the beach, and resorted to the U.S. focus on de-escalating the violence.
Again, this third reporter attempted to draw out Psaki to have her condemn Israeli actions: “Why wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect that civilians who, for whatever reason, happen to be living in Gaza would not become more hardened in their view of the Israeli Government, of the Israeli people, when their own children can’t ostensibly go play in the surf, and instead, the next time they see their children they’re on funeral biers?”
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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