Balanced reactions are vital

Last weekend's North London derby was enjoyable, and not merely because it saw Arsenal's second consecutive home victory over Spurs. It was that, for a welcome period, my Twitter and Facebook pages were filled with something other than talk of Israel and Gaza.

What with the IDF announcing developments on its blog, and the Al Qassam brigades sending chilling taunts to Israelis via Twitter, it's clear that these are now the established forums in which Israel's advocates and detractors are sparring. For every post tagged, "Israel under Fire", another pops up classified, "Gaza under attack".

Not every article is intended to hurt Israel

On Facebook, where my friendship pool has been shaped by involvement in a Zionist youth movement, much of what I see takes the form of angry posts about biased coverage, and complaints of "why don't they mention the rockets" next to links to news stories.

Much of this is justified; how can Israel's champions not feel they are being represented unfairly when BBC reporters post photos of dying children that they place in Gaza, but are in fact from Syria?

Will the average person understand the reasons for Israel's action, when the Mail runs stories headlined: "Amid the rockets and the bombs Israeli soldiers prepare for battle… by posting pictures on Instagram" - illustrated by photos of attractive recruits - yet shows wounded civilians beside the explanation: "An ordinary family's nightmare trapped inside Gaza's dead zone"?

How else to feel when reports draw no distinction between civilian deaths and terrorist ones, or detail the technology behind the Iron Dome but not why it is necessary?

For anyone who loves Israel, who has family and friends there, as I do, it's easy to understand the instinct to counter the PR campaign being waged by anti-Israel activists.

But just because a report says something negative doesn't mean it is intended to damage Israel's standing, nor does it mean that it is untrue. And failing to draw this distinction weakens the Israel advocate's case.

Questioning whether Bibi has chosen the right course does not have to mean questioning Israel's right to self-defence. "Reportedly" doesn't necessarily mean that journalists doubt whether Israelis have been killed. It is more likely that, with the Newsnight fiasco so fresh, they want to cover themselves until they get official confirmation. If a Palestinian is "killed" but an Israeli is said to have "died", it might just be that the reporter wanted to avoid a repetitive sentence.

I'm not naïve. There are failings, erroneous reports and gaping holes in the coverage. Not everything is inadvertent. Editors want to sell papers or expand their online readership; they know full well what a front-page photo of an injured Gazan child does and understand the power of words when they run headlines about Israel attacking Gaza.

But, by and large, this time, the press has not ignored the fact that Israel is under attack; that it has been for far longer than this bout of fighting; that this indeed is why the fighting started. It has acknowledged that Hamas is, again, using civilians as human shields, and using these deaths as justification for inflicting even more pain.

Not every reporter is out there trying to cover Israel in the worst possible light, or carry out a Palestinian propaganda mission. Sometimes, they're just looking to cover what is happening. And what is happening, whether you want to admit it or not, is that as well as bus bombs and Israelis dying, or living in fear of rockets landing on their homes and schools, innocent Gazans are being hurt or killed in a conflict that was started by terrorist leaders who do not care about them.

Mothers on both sides are seeing their children caught up in a war they did not seek. Recognising that does not draw a moral equivalence between the two sides, or absolve Hamas of responsibility for actions that triggered another devastating battle.

We can highlight where the media has fallen short and we can question a paper for printing a cartoon reproducing established antisemitic tropes, without rejecting every uncomfortable report. We can stand up for Israel and make the case for its right to protect its people - and still acknowledge the tragedy of war. For Israel's sake, we must.

Last updated: 10:45am, November 23 2012