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The View From Israel: Victors in a Necessary War

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By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, January 11, 2009

TEL AVIV, Jan. 10 -- After 15 days of war that have left more than 800 Palestinians dead -- as many as half of them civilians, medical officials say -- Israelis are sure of two things: They are the victims, and they are also the victors.

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This is an unwanted war, Israelis say, but it is necessary, and they are winning it.

Unlike in 2006, when Israelis grew bitterly split over the war in Lebanon, the invasion of Gaza has produced a rare consensus here. In newspapers and on television, commentators approvingly note that the Israeli military has sown devastation in Gaza without a high toll in Israeli lives. If Palestinians are dying, they say, it is Hamas's fault.

On the streets of this palm-shaded city, just 40 miles up the coast but a world away in atmosphere from the horrors of Gaza, residents echo that line.

"This war's been very successful. We should have done it four or five years ago," said Menachem Haygani, 47, owner of a juice stand on high-rent, high-fashion Dizengoff Street. "It's very justified. Sure, people there are suffering, but also people here are suffering."

And in the Israeli news media, the focus is squarely on the latter.

While television screens around the world display grisly scenes from Gaza of blood-smeared hospital floors and critically wounded Palestinian children, Israelis are watching a very different war. Here, images from Gaza are relatively scarce, while the plight of Israelis injured or killed during the war is covered around the clock.

"The suffering of the citizens of Gaza is unbelievable. It's hell. But we are not uninvolved. We are broadcasting for our citizens," said Reudor Benziman, chief executive of Channel 10 News, one of the two major private stations in Israel. "We don't pretend to show the whole picture, as though we are covering a war in Tanzania. It's our war."

The disparity in coverage may help explain why Israelis have been so resolute in their support for a military campaign that has still not achieved its objective of halting Hamas rocket fire and that has come under international scorn for the high civilian toll.

But to Benziman, the coverage does not shape Israeli public opinion so much as it reflects it. Relatively little airtime is given to civilian deaths in Gaza, he said, because Israelis accept the government's position that Hamas must be attacked, no matter the cost.

"You can't fight a clean war. It's not a battlefield. It's neighborhoods," he said, sitting in the station's ultramodern studios, with their panoramic views of Tel Aviv. "Civilians are on the first floor, and Hamas is in the basement. That's war."

When the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations accused Israel in the past week of obstructing the delivery of humanitarian aid in Gaza, neither allegation received much attention in the Israeli news media. But the deaths of three soldiers in one day dominated the news.

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