Sukkot and the housing shortage

As the whole country is abuzz with the sound of sukkot being built, it’s a shame that the government doesn’t take a lesson from it all. And by “it’s a shame” I mean, it’s shameful. Why? Because the issue that kicked off this summer’s nationwide protest movement is the crushing cost of housing, and because sukkah building provides a clue to solving it.

Consider this: Building my family’s sukkah only takes an hour. Granted, it’s only 6 square meters. But to build a sukkah four times that size would only require another 30 minutes. With help, I could build a sukkah large enough to seat everyone in my apartment building in less time than it takes the pizza place to deliver a couple large pies.

How is this possible? Modular construction. The materials are light, strong, uniform and long-lasting. Construction is so simple that it requires no more than a rubber mallet and a step stool. Beyond sukkah building, though, modular construction is used in only a small percentage of Israeli housing and commercial construction.

Of course, building sturdy apartments is a much tougher matter than building sukkot. But Israeli construction companies make it tougher than it needs to be. Contractors may blame the slow work of municipal inspectors and other factors beyond their control, but the fact is that the contractors just aren’t very efficient.

Honestly, I’m not very good with a hammer — but I know what’s possible. I grew up in South Florida during the construction boom of the 1980s, when entire shopping malls were erected within a few months. Here, by contrast, the construction of small, uncomplicated buildings can drag on for years. It doesn’t take the producers of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, who manage to build enormous, ultra-modern homes in just a single week (the length of the Sukkot holiday!) to tell you how unnecessary that is. What’s worse is that this snail’s pace of construction costs every one of us — renters and homeowners alike — unfathomable sums.

Using modular construction and other modern, cost-saving techniques would reduce building costs by cutting down on materials, labor and clean-up — significant savings in time and money that would make the cost of housing much, much less of the burden that it is now.

The protest tents that captured the country’s attention all summer have come down, but the housing crunch is as strong as ever. As the government contemplates ways of lowering the cost of living, let’s hope they see the potential brilliance of the simple sukkah.


First fratricide, then fracture

The attack on an IDF patrol by settler thugs that Haaretz is reporting today would merely be the latest in a long string of such deplorable acts, including several recent but relatively harmless acts of “price tag” vandalism.

The story inspires several thoughts. Here are four:

1) These kids are nothing but thugs — and morons, if they think that this kind of thing will bring them anything positive.

2) There are people here who excuse violence against the state and its agents by Arab citizens, on the grounds that they feel targeted and discriminated against. Those people would never apply that same argument to settlers or haredim — and for that, I call them out as hypocrites. All three of those sectors have very similar feelings toward the state, and very similar reasons for having them. Excusing only one group’s thuggery while excoriating the other two exposes a failure of intellectual rigor, or of moral fiber, or both.

3) Related to the second point: None of those sectors is justified in its actions toward the state in response to those feelings; none, in fact, deserves anyone’s defense of their violence. The estrangement that each group feels from the state is much more a result of their own twisted policies of rejection of the state than any (fictitious) policy the state has of rejecting them.

4) Related to the third point: Feelings of shock and disgust at the settlers’ attack on soldiers are meaningless without the recognition that the only way to prevent such acts in the future is for the government to stop allowing and encouraging the situation in which every special interest group in this country exploits the state and undermines it in order to establish its own private authority, answerable to no one.

A headache for Hamas

The Associated Press story yesterday on Salafi groups in Gaza directing their burning hatreds at the “blasphemous” government of Hamas was both chilling and delightful.

Chilling, obviously, because of the venom and extremism fueling these groups, and because of the thoughts of what damage they could cause to Israeli civilians by continuing to fire rockets at the towns just outside the Gaza Strip.

Delightful, though, because of the prophetic words of one Anna Geifman.

Geifman, a Russian-born history professor at Boston University, specializes in understanding the use of violence in the Russian Revolution. She draws parallels between Bolshevik and anarchistic terrorism and the policies and actions of Hamas — which, as she told me in 2008, actually made her optimistic regarding the eventual demise of the Gazan terrorist group. She said:

“One of the basic characteristics of violence in culture is that it is like a living organism, in that it is mobile, and it must remain in motion in order to survive,” Geifman explains. “So long as the violence is directed externally, it can maintain its momentum – but once it is prevented from that goal, if you wall it off, it can’t stop. Like any organism, it must keep moving. So the violence turns on [its originators]. Consider the Nazis: When they could no longer kill others, they killed themselves.”

If history is a guide, she says, Hamas ought to pay attention.

“[Terrorist] leaders think that they control death, but in reality they are merely agents of death,” she says. “That is why every revolution ultimately swallows itself.”

In other words, an ideology of violence is a Frankenstein’s monster that is destined to turn on its master. This was the case with Hamas in its rivalry with Fatah, and it may now be the case with the Salafi groups in their rivalry with Hamas.

Viva la revolucion!

Goldstone in Afghanistan?

Israelis still fuming over the Goldstone Report will only fume more if they pay attention to events in Afghanistan.

The major joint NATO-Afghan offensive there against the Taliban is beginning to net some senior Bad Guys — but at a cost. Once again, civilians are paying the ultimate price in the war to wrest their country from the hands of thugs.

This, of course, was to be expected. Since 2001, tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in the Afghan war.

So, when can we expect to see a Goldstone Report on the Afghan war?

Probably never.

Let’s recall, too, that thousands of civilians were killed last year when Sri Lanka essentially destroyed the Tamil Tigers after a 26-year civil war. A significant portion of them died in what many called “indiscriminate shelling” on the part of the government forces (who, it is only fair to point out, were fighting terrorists who used civilians as human shields).

So, when can we expect to see a Goldstone Report on the Sri Lankan war?

Again, probably never. (The United Nations last year rejected a call to establish an international inquiry into the very creditable claims of violations of human rights on both sides of the fighting in Sri Lanka.)

What does this mean? Perhaps it means that the world’s highest-profile human rights organization doesn’t consider Afghans and Sri Lankans human, and is therefore not concerned with their rights? Or, perhaps it isn’t really concerned with human rights in the first place.

Israel’s media in crisis

Ari Shavit, a veteran analyst at Haaretz, confronts the crisis that Israel’s media face in a bold piece today.

As he writes,

Fundamentally, the crisis is global. In the United States and in Europe, the best and the strongest of media outlets are in danger. The Internet and the attention deficits of young people have caused the traditional press to lose paying readers at a murderous rate. Advertising is shrinking as a result. The business structure that allowed the existence of free, high-quality, privately funded media in the 20th century is no longer a valid model for the 21st century. One after the other, leading newspapers are closing, while the survivors are shriveling and becoming yellow and foolish.

In Israel, though,

the global crisis has a unique dimension. Two and a half years ago the Jewish American billionaire Sheldon Adelson launched the free newspaper Israel Hayom, now distributed daily, with a circulation of about 250,000. In the short run, the appearance of this giant from Las Vegas in the local arena was good for the Haaretz Group, which cooperates in printing and distribution. However, from the point of view of the other two Hebrew dailies, Israel Hayom is an existential threat. Yedioth Ahronoth is bleeding and losing its hegemony. Maariv may fold in less than a year.

The result is all-out war. Yedioth Ahronoth and Maariv are trying to silence Israel Hayom through a bill prohibiting foreign ownership of newspapers. Other bills are now in the pipeline.

The transparent attempt to strongarm the government into an artificial protection agreement is everything a media outlet should NOT be: anti-democratic, anti-progressive, xenophobic, anti-free speech. It illustrates the deep distress that these two media giants feel.

There’s more:

Meanwhile, in an amazing coincidence, the two newspapers are furiously assailing those perceived as Adelson’s proteges: Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu. Bibi’s immediate ouster is not only a political aspiration, but now also an essential business interest of the two veteran afternoon papers.

Political intervention on the part of Israeli media is not new, but this latest episode is not only extreme but maddeningly cheap and hypocritical. (The media are quick to criticize politicians for serving their friends’ business interests, yet here they are attacking the prime minister as an indirect attack on their own competitor.) One can only imagine how much eye-rolling is going on in the newsrooms of Yediot and Maariv as this process plays out.

As Shavit makes clear, though, this is about much more than petty politics.

In the long term, this struggle of the titans is dangerous. If Maariv closes, it will be a serious blow to the Israeli press. If Haaretz has difficulties later on, it would be a disaster in terms of culture and values. Israel will be a different country. Even a very weak Yedioth Ahronoth is a serious problem. In the end, Israel could find itself in a situation in which total domination by one media giant is exchanged for total domination by another media giant.

Unfortunately, Shavit jumps to an untenable conclusion.

The situation is clear: Israel’s media are failing, and market forces alone are not enough to save them. The only solution is artificial intervention. Just as the American government saved the banks, the Israeli government should save the newspapers. Nicolas Sarkozy already did so in France. He granted the print media extensive tax breaks, distributed free subscriptions to young people and increased public advertising. At a cost of 600 million euros, he managed to implement an emergency program to save the press without interfering in its content and without impairing its freedom. A similar plan is now needed in Israel.

I’m always wary when I see someone claim that “market forces alone are not enough to save” something. In this case, it’s not at all clear that the market WON’T, in fact, save newspapers. Just because we haven’t yet seen a broadly applicable, successful model for monetizing Internet news feeds doesn’t mean that one won’t be developed. It’s also not clear that we NEED the breadth and depth of coverage that made media expenses explode over the past two decades. Who’s to say that smaller, smarter news media can’t be viable and meaningful businesses?

What Shavit suggests carries with it a very small potential upside — the preservation of a bloated press — and a very large potential downside — the enormous waste of public funds. There’s far too little evidence to suggest that the step is necessary, or that it would even work. The forces that are driving down readership and advertising revenue wouldn’t magically disappear with a government bailout; the problem is not the lack of funds in the moguls’ bank accounts, but the lack of an exciting enough product and a workable business model for exploiting it.

Ironically, demanding government intervention in the private finances of the major daily newspapers (Shavit would only fund the big three, huh? Why not the Russian-language papers? Why not the sinking Jerusalem Post?), under the pretense that their demise would be a national disaster, is essentially the same argument being made by the owners of Yediot and Maariv that the government ought to legislate their competition away. Actually, Shavit’s proposal may even be a bigger chutzpah: at least Yediot and Maariv aren’t trying to pick the Treasury’s pockets!

Besides, must the newspaper REALLY go the way of the public theater and public symphony? Are headlines, photos and gossip columns REALLY essential elements of higher culture that require extraordinary measures to save? I don’t think so. I think that there ARE ways for news media to make a profit, and that they’ll figure them out soon. And if they don’t — well, how smart can all those veteran analysts have been, anyway?

Reminders of what’s really needed

Two really important points were made of late about what really needs to be done to see real progress here:

Elliott Abrams wrote of the need to turn attention away from pointless negotiations in Jerusalem hotels and toward the critical work of creating tangible, functioning institutions in the hills of the West Bank.

Khaled Abu Toameh wrote of the very real dangers of ignoring the total lack of a free press in the Palestinian Authority.

A sample from Abrams:

[Recent examples of competency in providing basic security are] an example of the change in the West Bank and the beginnings of building the institutions of Palestinian statehood. But let’s take that example. They have now a competent police force, but they don’t have the rest of the legal system: that is to say prosecutors, courts, jails that can be relied upon.

What we and the Europeans should be doing is helping Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad build all of the institutions of the legal system and helping him build a productive economy and a better education system. The real sinews of a Palestinian state are not going to be built at a conference table. They are going to be built on the ground in the West Bank. The focus in the latter years of the Bush administration and the first year of the Obama administration on negotiation seems to me to marginalize what should be central and instead [makes] central what is not essential to the building of a Palestinian state. Israeli-Palestinian negotiations can come later.

Abrams goes further, exposing the absurdity of the notion that Israel-PA talks would magically solve the Syrian problem. This notion is symptomatic of the obsession with negotiations at the expense of any real steps toward normalcy.

More on negotiations and what’s holding them up:

I don’t think that Hamas-Fatah reconciliation would be good for negotiations. I would argue that negotiations progress only when there has been progress on the ground. Or to put it another way, diplomacy has got to reflect what is happening on the ground and not vice-versa. If the Israelis see the development of a representative system of government, a legal system, law and order, and a thriving economy in the West Bank, that is much more likely to make them willing to negotiate successfully for establishing a Palestinian state. That is what has to come first.

Abu Toameh, who has been trying for years to shine a light on Palestinian press abuses, makes some powerful points. Among them:

Arab journalists are often taught that they should place the interests of their leaders, governments and homelands before above anything else, including the facts and the truth.

Americans and Europeans who are pouring billions of dollars on Abbas and Fayyad need to be aware of the absence of an independent media in the West Bank. One can understand why the Iranian-funded Hamas is repressing journalists, but there is no reason why American and European taxpayers should be funding a regime that has no respect for independent reporters.

If the West nevertheless insists on dealing with corrupt secular regimes to keep radical Muslims away, then Washington and its Western allies should demand good government and free media. Western donors have every right to demand something positive in return for their money. The financial corruption and lack of democracy and freedom of expression is, meanwhile, driving many Arabs into the open arms of Hamas and al-Qaeda.


In the West Bank, the Western-backed “moderate” government of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad has been exerting pressure on journalists to “toe the line” and refrain from reporting news that might reflect negatively on the two men.

Abbas and Fayyad are using the US-trained Palestinian policemen not only to crack down on Hamas supporters in the West Bank, but also to silence critics and intimidate local reporters and editors.

Some journalists who have dared to publicly criticize the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank have either found themselves behind bars under the pretext of “supporting” Hamas – an allegation aimed at keeping human rights organizations and Westerners silent. Other journalists who are not renowned as Fatah loyalists often receive threats over the phone directly from officials close to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.


A free media is one of the basic foundations of a healthy and prosperous society. It’s also an important element in the construction of a solid infrastructure for the much-desired Palestinian state.

Hear, hear.

More on Mickey in the Land of the Cedars

The discussion between Errol Morris and Ben Curtis in the New York Times continues today with a deeper look at “posing” photographs and how the news is made.

Here’s a particularly useful passage about posing, context and the reader’s intelligence:

ERROL MORRIS: We don’t even really know clearly when we make the accusation of posing exactly what the claim is, except we are supposed to know, “That’s a no-no. That’s a bad thing.”

BEN CURTIS: That’s true. There’s no single definition of posing. When the president is photographed at the White House is that posing? He’s posing for the cameras. The photographers know that he’s posing for the cameras. And I find there’s a bit of a difference, at least amongst the photographic community in Europe and America on this. Okay, you have the British prime minister outside No. 10 Downing Street, and he’s doing a photo call, shaking hands with some visiting diplomat. They’re both looking at the camera and not each other when they’re shaking hands. The photographers know they’re posing. Is that illegitimate? That’s a question.

ERROL MORRIS: The answer is, of course not. Portraits, for example, are all posed.

BEN CURTIS: My feeling is: you have to credit the reader with a certain amount of intelligence. And the reader knows what these situations are like. They know that inside No. 10 Downing Street, the photographer wasn’t passing through on his way to the shop and happened to come across a candid picture. But in a war zone, different standards apply.

ERROL MORRIS: I would describe it somewhat differently. We know that certain conventions apply. We know that the photograph of the Prime Minister is posed in a way that satisfies certain conventions, certain expectations. The Mickey photograph is different. When we ask whether the Mickey was posed, aren’t we asking questions about how it got there and what its presence in the scene means. Was a child killed? Was the Israeli bombardment justified? And if so, under what circumstances? We want context. We want additional information.

And another one:

Some people are suggesting that you put the Mickey Mouse in the rubble?

Mickey in RubbleBen Curtis/Associated Press

BEN CURTIS: That’s what the allegation is, yes. Either I put it there or I moved it from somewhere else in order to get a visual effect. I don’t think it’s that great a picture, so I can’t imagine moving it from somewhere else to this particular position, in this position where it is, it’s not really visually that great a position. You have a lot of empty space in the middle between the Mickey Mouse and the building, which, if you’re looking for a single image that says something, you don’t necessarily want a lot of empty space.

ERROL MORRIS: I like this as a new genre: talking to photographers about why their images are no good.

BEN CURTIS: I’m looking through the [other Mickey Mouse] pictures. I arrived. I took a straight shot, looking straight down on it from about, with no background at all. That doesn’t work to me, because it could be in LA; it could be in a garbage dump. There’s no context to it. The first two images are the one that you’ve got there. And then, after that, I put the camera lower to the ground to get the Mickey Mouse close visually to the burned-out building. So that I can get a tighter crop without the empty space in the middle. But looking at my pictures, it wasn’t sharp. I was trying to crouch down on the ground. It was late-ish afternoon at this point, and I’m shooting at a 30th of a second, and I was trying to shoot a very small aperture to get everything in focus. And bear in mind, I’m carrying two cameras, a belt full of lenses, a bullet proof vest, and a helmet. It’s hard to crouch down and maintain a very stable position for the camera. So all of those pictures didn’t come out, which is why I didn’t use them.

ERROL MORRIS: Did you put the camera on the ground and take a picture? That’s what I would do.

BEN CURTIS: Well, the problem with that was the Mickey Mouse doesn’t look like a Mickey Mouse, because you don’t see his face. You only see the side of him. And it’s not —

ERROL MORRIS: That makes complete sense, yes.

BEN CURTIS: I didn’t get them sharp. There was movement blur in them, so it was unusable for that reason alone. It looks like I did put the camera on the ground, but visually it didn’t really work because you couldn’t see Mickey’s face. Now if I was, as the blogs accuse, manipulating or moving the object on the scene, it would have been best visually to move him on his side, so that he was facing me, and put the camera on the ground and got him without all the empty space but still facing the camera. But, of course, I didn’t do that, and so I couldn’t get that picture. Which is why the one that I sent has all this empty space, because it was the only way I could get him in the picture and the burning building. If I’d had a wider lens, it would have been useful because I could have been closer to the Mickey Mouse and still got the building.

You needed a 14. [An extremely wide-angle lens that I am very fond of. Modern lens design has even produced a 14mm lens without substantial distortion.]

BEN CURTIS: I know, I know. But you know what? It’s a compromise. I have a 14mm, but I never carry it, because, firstly, that means you’re going to be changing your lens in that scene which a) slows you down, b) means you’re going to get dust in your camera, which, in that situation, you might be in that place for like a month or two without being able to get out. We can’t even get our cameras cleaned in Egypt, so it could be months. So, I try and minimize changing lenses. But also it slows you down in terms o of the weight you have to carry. You really try and go as light as you possibly can, because you’re already wearing a bullet-proof vest that’s like 10 kilos or something, plus a helmet, plus two digital SLR bodies, 16-35, 70-200. I usually carry a 100-400 with me. It’s a lot of equipment. Generally, I don’t take the 14. But on that occasion, it would have been useful.

ERROL MORRIS: Well, when you said that you took a picture of the Mickey looking straight down, you do have a photograph like that, which is —

BEN CURTIS: I have a photograph of literally 90 degrees perpendicular above him, looking down at the ground, and it’s him with the ground and a bit of broken glass. But I didn’t send that picture, because, to me, it didn’t say anything. There was no context for it. You needed to have the burned-out buildings.

ERROL MORRIS: Absolutely. For example, #117 is a picture looking straight down, a picture frame, a blue picture frame with a child’s face.

BEN CURTIS: Ah, that’s true. I can’t remember the exact circumstances of that. I can have a look. I’m guessing it wasn’t possible to get rubble or damaged buildings in the background.

photo albumBen Curtis/Associated Press #117: A photo album lies amidst rubble near one of the apartment buildings that were demolished by Israeli airstrikes in Tyre, southern Lebanon, Monday, Aug. 7, 2006. Israeli bombs slammed into a complex of buildings flattening four multistoried apartment blocks, including the one apartment that had been the target of Saturday’s Israeli commando raid, whilst a civil defense ambulance was hit in the rear and slightly damaged with emergency workers who had gone to the bomb site to search for bodies being forced to flee.

ERROL MORRIS: If you went much lower, the image in the frame would vanish.

BEN CURTIS: Exactly. That was the situation. It’s on an 80-200, probably the equivalent of a 100-mil lens looking straight down on it from above. But I imagine if you took that at any angle, you’re not going to see the face. Plus there’s dust on the plastic, so you’re probably going to get some reflection from the sunlight.

ERROL MORRIS: Yes. And the idea is to see the frame within the frame or the frame within the frame within the frame.

BEN CURTIS: I’ve got pictures of the burning interior of this apartment, which is the apartment in the background of the Mickey Mouse picture. That’s the one I went into. This is why I didn’t send it, because it’s literally a burning door frame. It looks interesting because there’s flames and charred wood, but there’s absolutely nothing to contextualize it. You can’t see outside. You can’t see the apartment. All you can see is flames and burnt wood.

ERROL MORRIS: But you are contextualizing it with the story that you’re telling me.

BEN CURTIS: Yes, but when I send pictures to the wire, I don’t have the opportunity to. I can see that that picture as part of a feature with a long narrative by the photographer might work. But as a wire agency image, there’s no context. It could be a house fire in Dundee, Scotland. There’s nothing intrinsic in the image that conveys anything to the reader. And that’s what as a photojournalist, you’re looking to do. And especially as a wire agency photojournalist, you’re looking to do that from a single image. You’re looking to find an image that hopefully conveys to the reader what has happened at this scene. And a burning door frame, to me it doesn’t do anything.

ERROL MORRIS: It’s narrative compression.

BEN CURTIS: It’s very compressed. You’re really trying to compress a huge amount of things. An air strike. Destruction. Some humanity. You’re trying to convey all of that in a single image. And, frankly, it’s pretty hard, especially when there’s not many people around.

ERROL MORRIS: Yes. Your stories are endlessly interesting, because you’re telling us about the exigencies of photography, that photography requires us to do certain kinds of things. The way in which stories are told by newspapers, by photographic convention, all influence how photographs are made, how they’re distributed, how they’re printed and published and disseminated, etcetera, etcetera. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but it’s interesting to take a step back and to talk to a photographer, particularly when we’re dealing with a controversial photograph, a supposedly posed photograph, and attempt to contextualize it thoroughly for the first time.

The explanation is often very mundane.

That’s good.

BEN CURTIS: And when you understand how people who work for the media work and the difficulties they have there is a lot of mundane reasons why things happen — light, dust, cameras, trying to compress everything into one image. If the public understood more about the process, then perhaps there’d be less suspicion of it, although I suspect that’s probably not the case.

ERROL MORRIS: I suspect they would still be suspicious.

Good explanations here of what goes into a photograph for a news photographer with integrity. The problems crop up — and this is why news consumers are right to be suspicious — when a photographer without integrity creates a photograph without a mundane explanation. As in, for example, the staging of photographs in southern Lebanon by Hizbullah operators and others who placed toys amongst rubble that nothing to do with civilians; who schlepped the same weary old woman to separate airstrike sites so she could wail and sob for naive journalists about the horrors she had suffered there, as it were; who posed as nerve-wracked rescue workers at sites all over the region and gave fantasy testimonies to more naive journalists, etc.

That brings us to a hugely important element of the news — control of information. In Lebanon, as in many other unsavory parts of the world, information is tightly controlled. Especially in the areas affected by the Israeli bombings. Here’s a brief inside look:

ERROL MORRIS: And the last photograph, 119?

BEN CURTIS: Ah, yes. I almost didn’t send this picture. I thought it was incredible, this bed with the pink sheets standing in this part of an apartment block where the outside wall had been blown off. You can see there’s like a teensy bit of rubble on the right, in the bottom right. That’s the top of one of these large mounds of rubble that used to be an apartment block. If I’d had more time, I would have gone up into an apartment block opposite this bed and shot down, so that you could see the bed and a bit more of the surroundings, a bit more of the area. But at this point, there wasn’t time for that.

bombed buildingBen Curtis/Associated Press
#119: A bedroom in an opposite apartment block lies exposed by the blast, center, as an apartment block flattened by Israeli airstrikes lies in rubble, below-right, in the town of Tyre, southern Lebanon, Monday, Aug. 7, 2006. Israeli bombs slammed into a complex of buildings flattening four multistoried apartment blocks, including the one apartment that had been the target of Saturday’s Israeli commando raid, whilst a civil defense ambulance was hit in the rear and slightly damaged with emergency workers who had gone to the bomb site to search for bodies being forced to flee.

ERROL MORRIS: This is telling you that this is a residential area?

BEN CURTIS: You might see people who you thought were Hezbollah, but do you know they’re Hezbollah? If you go up and ask them, they’ll probably say no. Now, I may be pretty sure that they are Hezbollah — perhaps the way they’re dressed, perhaps the location or the way they’re moving or the way they’re behaving. But do I know that well enough to write that in a caption? Not really. And that was one of the frustrating things — the lack of direct coverage of Hezbollah activities compared to what everybody was receiving from the Israeli side. You had many photographers embedded with the Israeli forces, providing a daily stream of images of right up close military activity, firing missiles, traveling around in tanks — the whole lot. Obviously, a lot of their secret operations, they didn’t allow the media access to, but there was a daily stream of many, many, many images from very up close to what the Israeli military was doing. Now, on the Hezbollah side, there was virtually none of that. Now, why is that? Because it was impossible. Hezbollah wouldn’t allow the media to be in areas where Hezbollah military activities were taking place. At least they wouldn’t allow them to be close enough to photograph them or video them. So, there was a certain frustration. At one point, I remember, we called them up, and said, “Look, we want to cover your activities,” and it was always, “Absolutely not.”

ERROL MORRIS: Hmm, that’s interesting.

BEN CURTIS: There were some times where I felt that somebody was probably from Hezbollah, but I didn’t feel confident enough to say that in a caption. I did a picture, a separate incident of somebody on a motorcycle who was hit by one of these very small rockets. I don’t know if it was fired by a helicopter or a drone or something like that, but a very small rocket that killed the person, two people, who were riding on a scooter. And I was maybe 30, 40 meters, around the corner, when it happened, and I was very quickly on the scene. And there was a guy at the scene with a pistol tucked into his jeans, telling onlookers to move away from the scene. So, he was instructing people to keep back a bit. Now, who is this guy? I’m pretty sure he was Hezbollah, but can I say that in a caption?

The iron-fisted control of information — and downright intimidation — used by Hizbullah to manipulate both the local and international view of the war were stifling, though transparent. As the war continued, the frustration of the Lebanon-posted journalists grew greater and greater, as they slowly ratcheted up their narrations on air to include clear warnings that their coverage was being compromised by Hizbullah threats.

Israelis are used to a much higher degree of openness regarding such matters — despite sometimes excessive, and often silly restrictions by the IDF censor — so the contrast between the two sides’ approach to releasing information was stark. Hizbullah’s stranglehold on information not only impinged on the world’s ability to judge what was going on, but it also actually harmed Israel’s ability to explain its wartime actions to its own people. Like everyone else, all we saw was ruined apartment blocks; we had to take the government’s word for it that they were used to house/hide/facilitate Hizbullah personnel and activities.

…And all that just goes to show that:

“The first casualty when war comes is truth.”

US Senator Hiram Warren Johnson, 1918

“Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.'”

Samuel Johnson, The Idler, 1758