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Sol Salbe: Media 101 - Death of Rafael Eitan

Media 101: Death of Rafael Eitan

Comment by Sol Salbe

Former Israeli Chief-of-Staff Rafael Eitan was swept to his death on 23 November by a giant wave as he stood on a breakwater.

Of course having more blood on his hands than most was still no reason for Israeli media and politicians to praise the late general. But it is the amazing inaccuracies in the media that should be dealt with here.

The Melbourne Age didn't get any detail wrong - you can't get any detail wrong when you don't cover it at all. The Sydney Morning Herald in tandem with many others carried Reuters' assertion that "he formed two right-wing parties called Tehiya and Tzomet." Yes he did form Tzomet but the Tehiya was already an established party electing members to the Knesset in 1981 when he was still chief of staff.

This was a relatively minor error. Al Jazeera on the other hand spoilt its copybook by stating that in his "late teenage years [Eitan] joined Jewish groups such as the Hagana and Stern." In those days Eitan was part of the Labour side of Israeli politics while the Stern gang was the most extreme of the Revisionist groups.

To use a local Aussie analogy one is as likely to join the Haganah and the Stern Gang as one is to become a member of both Collingwood and Carlton. [The two traditional rivals of Australian Football.] (Eitan joined the Palmach - the elite troops of the Haganah. )

Chiming in, The Australian Jewish News reported that Eitan was forced to resign in the wake of the Sabra and Shatila massacre. He wasn't - the commission of inquiry decided that as his service appointment was coming to its end anyhow no recommendation for a less than an honourable discharge would be contemplated.

But it is the omissions of Eitan's vile record that stand out most. Take the SMH "Nicknamed "Raful", Eitan earned notoriety for outspoken comments about Arabs and opposed interim peace deals with the Palestinians in the mid-1990s." The paper was being rather chairtable. In fact his suggestion was to treat the Palestinians in such a way that they will act "like drugged cockroaches scurrying in a bottle." In 1980 he told his fellow officers: "We have to do everything to make [Palestinians] so miserable they will leave." Eitan believed in ethnic cleansing.

In another obituary the Israeli Hasbara committee said we was straight. Not quite accurate. According to the Guardian "by 1994 the party split, partly over revelations that he had diverted campaign funding to his mistress's charity." Earlier he gained notoriety when the now defunct magazine Koteret Rashit exposed the way he was blending his home made (with Palestinian labour) extra-virgin olive oil with commercial oil. It's hard to reconcile these two incidents with being "straight."

Finally some of the obituaries contained a major point whose significance was missed. The Herald again: "At the age of 16, Eitan joined the Palmach." Now how many times have you read recently that the Palestinians are engaging in child abuse by militarising their children? How often are they considered eveil for allowing 16-year old to participate in the struggle? Is it alright to eulogise people who did on on one side and condemen those who do it on the other.

By the way if you think that 16 is almost an adult let the London Daily Telegraph remind you: "Aged only seven, Rafael already knew how to use a gun."


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