After the unthinkable, papers wrestle with the unanswerable
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After the unthinkable, papers wrestle with the unanswerable

The suspected murder of four young girls by their mother, who then took her own life, leaves heartbreaking pictures, accounts and reams of questions in its wake

Police and rescue forces at the scene where a woman and four children were killed at an apartment in Jerusalem in what police suspect was a murder-suicide, January 01, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police and rescue forces at the scene where a woman and four children were killed at an apartment in Jerusalem in what police suspect was a murder-suicide, January 01, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

There are a lot of tough things journalists are asked to do, but answering the unanswerable – like why a mother would apparently kill her four young daughters and hang herself – may be the most impossible.

But as a terrible 2016 gave way to a bitter start to 2017, that is what Israeli papers seemingly try to do, as they attempt to bring the pain, horror and tragedy of the suspected quadruple murder-suicide to readers.

Heartrending pictures of a body bag containing a small child being carried out of the apartment are displayed on the front pages of broadsheet Haaretz and tabloid Israel Hayom, while Yedioth Ahronoth features blurred out smiling pictures of the five fatalities alongside the headline “How could a mother?”

While the paper is long on questions, including if the children were killed in the fire that was set in their home or were strangled to death beforehand, it’s short on answers, and so is forced to suffice with what little it does know, giving a play by play of how the scene unfolded for the first responders to the Jerusalem apartment, including the father, who came into the home as his wife’s hanged body was discovered and alerted firefighters to the fact that there should have been four girls there as well.

“When he started to scream I ordered the firefighters to go room to room to check if someone else was in the home,” fire official Motti Melamed tells the paper. “Every time a room was searched, the firefighters would say ‘no children found, and we thought maybe they were in a safe place outside the home. But then the firefighters got to a room at the end of the hallway, which was locked and the door was very hot – and immediately we understood that’s where the fire was coming from. The whole thing took two or three minutes.”

Police and rescue forces at the scene where a woman and four children were killed in a fire in what police suspect was a murder-suicide at an apartment in Jerusalem, January 1, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police and rescue forces at the scene where a woman and four children were killed in a fire in what police suspect was a murder-suicide at an apartment in Jerusalem, January 1, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The paper also gives the image of the mother as a happy, confident woman without any special problems that were known about, but Haaretz reports that a month ago she went to a psychiatric facility in the capital for depression. While neighbors say everyone seemed perfectly normal with the family, a source in the welfare department tells the paper that when the mother called three months ago to ask about childcare services they feared “there could be a problem with the children.”

But when the service asked the family to come into the office, they refused, the source tells the paper.

“They didn’t want to listen, they only wanted help on the phone,” the source says.

While those two papers are hesitant to outright blame the mother, who was seemingly suffering from some sort of mental illness, Israel Hayom blasts the headline “Heartless mom” atop its story, leaving little doubt as to how it sees what happened.

“When the suspicion that the mother burned her four children and then hanged herself became clear, it seemed the word ‘horror’ was too small to describe the incident,” the paper’s story reads, though it still uses the word several times.

In a commentary alongside a tragic list of other cases where parents killed their children (which doesn’t even come close to including all the similar tragedies in just the past few years) Hagit Ron-Rabinovich asks “what would freeze her heart” but comes away with nothing but more questions, writing that the fact that she was mentally ill isn’t an answer at all.

“It’s the first and only possibility raised as those with common sense try to absorb, understand, and drill into what happened, and there’s no comfort in it,” she writes. “It just raises more and more questions and bewilderment, and especially the lament ‘how is it possible this tragedy wasn’t prevented?”

Unfortunately, the father in the Jerusalem incident isn’t the only person in Israel mourning a daughter slain in a seeming senseless act of violence, as he’s joined by the father of Lian Zaher Nasser, killed in a shooting rampage at an Istanbul nightclub that claimed the lives of 39 people just after midnight as 2017 was rung in.

“I know the security situation isn’t good in Turkey. I asked her not to go but unfortunately she went,” her father is quoted saying in Yedioth.

Nasser was in a group of four women, including Dr. Ala’a Abdulahi, who worked with her in a Tira dental clinic. Abdulahi gives an account in Israel Hayom of the scene in the swanky club as terror struck their New Year’s party.

Reva Mansour, an Israeli woman injured in a terror attack in Istanbul on New Year's Eve on Secember 31, 2016, is transfered to Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba on January 1, 2017. (MDA)
Reva Mansour, an Israeli woman injured in a terror attack in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve on Secember 31, 2016, is transfered to Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba on January 1, 2017. (MDA)

“There was music, we were having a great time. After two hours the shooting started. I thought it was a fight and they told us to lie on the floor and the shooting didn’t stop,” she’s quoted saying. “Right after they yelled ‘Allahu akbar’ I realized it was a terror attack and me and my three friends spread out and tried to escape.”

Writing before the Islamic State took responsibility for the attack, Haaretz analyst Zvi Bar’el leaves open the possibility that it could have been carried out by a Kurdish group, despite the fact that the PKK normally targets military facilities and not civilians, in a move that could make fighting terror in Turkey even more difficult.

“Trying to determine who is behind it based on the target may be misleading, especially when these groups have already studied the way the Turks respond. When an attack is attributed to the Kurdish Workers Party, the PKK, Turkey launches its troops against Kurdish enclaves in Turkey, Iraq and Syria. When the attack is attributed to ISIS, the response is attacks on ISIS bases in Syria. From here the road is short to ‘changing places,’” he writes. “An attack on the Kurds is welcome as far as ISIS is concerned, and because that organization has suffered some impressive defeats at the hands of the Kurds in Syria and Iraq, ‘enlisting’ the Turkish army to battle the Kurds by carrying out an attack on military targets serves their purpose. Likewise, the Kurds might also attack civilian targets to bring Turkey’s wrath down on ISIS.”

Grilling time

This type of reporting on Turkey is only allowed outside the country, as Ankara issued a media blackout on the attack, a practically de riguer move. It’s a tactic that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be wishing he had, but even if he can’t shut down unfriendly news outlets, he can use Israel Hayom as an attack dog – and indeed the coming police grilling of Netanyahu is met by the tabloid with a large story detailing a talk purportedly given by renegade former parliamentary aide and Zionist Union also-ran Eldad Yaniv on how the media uses the police to bring down the prime minister.

Activist Eldad Yaniv in Tel Aviv on February 8, 2015 (Ben Kelmer/FLASH90)
Activist Eldad Yaniv in Tel Aviv on February 8, 2015 (Ben Kelmer/FLASH90)

“According to Yaniv, one of the central figures in the plan to bring down Netanyahu is Channel 10 journalist Raviv Drucker. The Zionist Union man sums up: ‘Drucker puts pressure via the TV, and the attorney general opens an investigation,’” the paper reports, based on an expose by right-wing media watchdog Mida on Yaniv’s talk.

Yedioth reports that Netanyahu will likely use the funeral of former justice minister Yaakov Neeman later Monday as an excuse to duck out of the interrogation early, after police finally got him to sit down with them.

Netanyahu isn’t the only one hoping for it to move quickly, though. Haaretz’s lead editorial also calls for swift progress, though likely with a different result.

“Netanyahu accuses the media of persecuting an innocent man. One would therefore expect him to hasten to prove his innocence, so that he could then return with redoubled energy to affairs of state. He would also thereby set an example for ordinary citizens wanted for questioning. But instead, he is playing the victim and ignoring his obligations as a state official,” the editorial reads. “This behavior is intolerable, and the law enforcement system must not accept it. Before a petition is filed to the High Court of Justice against Netanyahu and the attorney general to force a rapid, uninterrupted investigation, [Attorney General Avichai] Mandelblit must tell the prime minister to make himself available to the investigators with no further delay, for as much time as they need.”

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