Learning to deal with flags and Poles
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Hebrew media review

Learning to deal with flags and Poles

After four troops were hurt by a bomb attached to a flag, pundits look at what might have gone wrong and Poland gets Israel riled up again by accusing Jews of Holocaust crimes

Palestinian protesters wave national flags during clashes with Israeli security forces on the eastern outskirts of Gaza City, near the border with Israel, on January 12, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)
Palestinian protesters wave national flags during clashes with Israeli security forces on the eastern outskirts of Gaza City, near the border with Israel, on January 12, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

Another weekend, another round of fighting on Israel’s borders. A week after Israel’s north exploded into a confrontation with Syrian and Iranian forces, the south reared its head as if to say “forget me not” and the result is intense press coverage on Sunday, mirroring last week with more figurative rallying around the flag accompanied by second guessing what went wrong regarding actual flag policy.

After a bomb attached to a Palestinian flag exploded, injuring four soldiers, both Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom let their patriotism flags fly, emblazoning the words “hero,” on a picture of soldier Emmanuel Zerah flashing a “V” sign as he is carried off on a stretcher.

“The decisiveness shown by Zerah, who despite his injuries waved his fingers, did not surprise those who knew him. Officers and soldiers who came to visit the injured in the hospital heard one of them had raised a ‘V’ and before told who, said ‘It was definitely Emmanuel,’” the paper reports.

The story is larger than one man’s two fingers, though, with the explosion and rocket attack on a house leading to intense Israeli reprisal strikes in the Strip.

“A large explosion on Saturday afternoon shattered the quiet on the southern border in the last few weeks,” Israel Hayom reports. “Four soldiers injured, two seriously, from a bomb next to the border, near Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha.”

Haaretz points out that the bomb went off after soldiers approached a flag which had been put up the day before in order to take it down, “following standard operating procedures in similar cases.”

Yedioth, though, goes into minute details about the procedures and notes that the soldiers were new to the patrol area, suggesting they may have messed up. According to the paper, “tough questions” in the wake of the incident include: “Did the soldiers act correctly, did the soldiers have proper body armor, was there justification to endanger the soldiers by taking down the flag and could they have taken down the flag remotely.”

In Haaretz, Amos Harel notes that while it’s unlikely this will snowball into a wider conflagration — like last week, when Syria managed to down an Israeli plane — in this instance as well, Israel’s procedures and the soldier’s actions will have to be examined lest enemies continue to take advantage of exposed weaknesses.

“Overconfidence or insufficient attention to safety procedures may have played a role, creating a weak point the other side took advantage of. The people who put up the flag apparently knew the army’s procedure for checking suspicious points, and the bomb exploded while the object was being examined,” he writes.

In Israel Hayom, Yoav Limor writes that the lesson Israel needs to learn is that it can no longer allow Gazans to protest near the fence (not that it really does now).

“The answer needs to be no, and not just because the protesters are used as a platform for terror. At any moment the protest can get out of control and lead to dozens of injuries, which will inflame the Strip.”

Yedioth Ahronoth was inflamed and incensed itself after a question from one of its reporters at the Munich Security Conference ended with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki accusing Jews of being responsible for Holocaust atrocities.

While the story makes all three papers, Yedioth plays it up the most given the fact that it was its reporter Ronen Bergman’s story of his Holocaust survivor mother to which Morawiecki — whom Bergman describes as “staring at me closed off and coldblooded” — was responding.

“When I finished asking, I was applauded. Afterward senior German officials, from various government groups, told me thank you for saying what we can’t. But the Polish prime minister was not shaken or impressed, and didn’t offer me any sympathy. Before him stood a man choked up with the story of his family killed in the Holocaust, and he looked at me like he was looking at some buzzing gadfly,” Bergman writes, in an article headlined “For you, mom.” “I heard his answer with mouth agape. My eyes were filled with tears of hurt and anger. I’m glad at least that my question helped expose his true face.”

Israel Hayom plays the story much lower, perhaps reflecting Israel’s desire not to make the issue into a diplomatic kerfuffle that will hurt ties with one of Israel’s few backers in Europe. But writer Shmulik Atzmon, himself a Holocaust survivor, pulls no punches in a short but raging column.

“I’m still shaking as I write this … the Polish prime minister should know the story of my family. My grandfather. Yosef Rapaport was forced to be in the Judenrat, and they made him send living people to concentration camps. He refused to cooperate and they murdered him in the city center, as an example of a Jew who refused to cooperate with the killers of women and children,” he writes. “I’d like to ask the prime minister of Poland, how can you call a Jew who went through the Holocaust — no matter if he cooperated or not — a criminal? It’s unforgivable. My other grandfather, Shmaryahu Wurtzer, was burned alive by the Germans when he ran into a synagogue to save Torah scrolls. Outside stood both Germans and Poles — and I need to hear that I’m the grandson of criminals?”

On Haaretz’s front page, Ofer Aderet writes that while the Polish prime minister may have been technically correct about a handful of Jews being guilty of crimes during the Holocaust, that’s not the point and Morawiecki is just being a politician who cares more about appeasing his nationalist base than anything else anyway.

And not just Morawiecki. The paper, whose lead story deals with Case 4000 and suspicions that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and associates acted to benefit telecom giant Bezeq, accuses the Israeli premier of also playing to the right wing by pretending to support annexation of the West Bank in order to shore up coalition support despite growing legal woes.

“Netanyahu has no diplomatic alternative, and the concept of responsibility is foreign to him. At home he prefers to foster the illusion of annexation – though he knows he’s leading Israel to disaster – just so as not to get into trouble with the right wing,” the paper’s lead editorial reads. “At the same time, he thwarts that illusion, so as not to get into trouble with the Americans. He douses a diplomatic fire there and a security fire here, just to keep hold of his already wobbling seat.”

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