My cousin in the UK drew my attention to an article from The Sunday Times with the question "How do I know whether this is true or not?"
The piece, written by Daniel Day Lewis, is a record of his visit to the Gaza strip and records several events which he was either witness to or told about and which are certainly not favourable to Israel. Amongst them I recognised the story of the Company Commander who shot a young girl who was approaching an army base holding a bag and then made sure she was dead by emptying his gun on her. It is a shocking instance, extremely disturbing but not representative of the army rules of engagement and the truth of it is being called into serious doubt. Other instances included reports from the Arab side which I wouldn't necessarily completely trust. As a whole however, the article rang pretty true - I could probably check the facts and find that the numbers quoted are disputable depending on which source you use but I'm not going to.
What is missing from the article is of course, context: how it came to be that Israeli troops are sitting in the cities of Gaza; why houses are destroyed; what role the PA has played in condemning its people to more war.
As I gave my cousin a potted history of the conflict I could sense that he was gaining a more complete picture of what it is that we are dealing with here and I hope that I was able to provide him with the answers - he stressed that he wasn't being critical of Israel in showing me the article and I pointed out to him that we are far from perfect and there is much to be critical about but that balance was important. I enjoy being challenged with these questions and told him that in the future he could turn to me for a different side to the story.
I'm bothered by the fact that, had my cousin not had anyone to turn to, he would only have seen an incredibly negative side of the story. Given that he is unrepresentative of the general newspaper reading, BBC watching population in the UK, it is fairly easy to see why Israel gets a bad press even when perfectly factual articles are written. To expect every article to contain context is unreasonable but where the rule is anti-Israel there needs to be a way to strike a balance. This blog and others like it, is one way of doing so but do all my family members and friends read it? I doubt that most people, even those who have access to a different side of the story hear enough to counterbalance the media.
I for one will try to send my writing, where relevant, to my circle of overseas contacts - we should all try to do the same so that all our cousins get to read a little more than the Times sees fit to publish.