Alon Ben-David entered journalism in 1985. He was 18.
That’s when he was drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces; he spent his time in the IDF working for Army Radio.
“It’s considered one of the best schools of journalism,” he said. “They throw you into the work.”
Thirty years later, Mr. Ben-David is the military correspondent for one of the three Israeli television channels, which incongruously is called Channel 10. (Channel 1 is the original, state-run station, where Mr. Ben David started working soon after his army term; the second channel is the privately run Channel 2.) In that capacity, he will come to Englewood next week to speak about the Israeli situation, with specific attention to the ramifications of this summer’s war with Gaza.
A lot of history has happened on his watch. He covered the first intifada, the second intifada, the second Lebanon war, the withdrawal from Gaza, the recent conflicts in Gaza … “All of those,” he said.
|Israeli journalist Alon Ben-David has covered the fighting in Lebanon and Gaza, and reported from Ground Zero on 9/11.|
In the 1990s he specialized in covering Lebanon, where Israeli troops patrolled until they withdrew in 2000. His biggest story at that time was when he joined a army patrol for 80 hours while they set up an ambush against Hezbollah. He also broke the story of the Mossad’s assassination of Fathi Shaqaqi, co-founder and leader of the Islamic Jihad, in Malta
Perhaps his biggest story, though, came not in Israel but in Manhattan. On September 11, 2001, he had just begun a graduate program at Harvard, where he eventually earned a master’s degree in public administration from the university’s Kennedy School. He was able to get to New York by the next day and for the next few days he was the only Israeli reporting from Ground Zero.
The biggest change he has seen in his years of reporting is in Israelis’ view of Israel’s military.
“The army was considered something sacred, a myth,” he said. “The coverage was very careful.
“As time went by, the whole approach of Israeli society toward the army changed,” in part because of the IDF’s long occupation of Lebanon, with its steady drumbeat of Israeli casualties.
Now, “The army is still the most loved and trusted institution in Israeli society, but society demands more accountability. It wants to know how things are conducted.”
At Channel 10, as at all Israeli media outlets, there is a representative from the government censor – who works “under very clear directives made by a Supreme Court ruling more than 23 years ago” that restricts censorship to preventing “clear and present danger that could harm national security.”
“I will never report operations before they’re conducted,” Mr. Ben-David said. “I will never expose new weapons that are considered classified. We do not report exact locations of rockets, so as not to help the other side aim better.”
That doesn’t mean he never argues with the station’s censor, who is a civilian.
“We disagree a lot. It’s a dialogue,” he said.
Channel 10 has a strong commitment to news coverage, he continued. “We have 300 to 350 people. We broadcast about seven hours of news and current affairs shows every day. Of course, in times of conflicts and emergency we switch to 24-hour coverage.
“What was in the Gaza war is that despite the emergence of all kinds of new media and the web, at the end of the day people want to hear something or read something they can trust, that was verified by journalistic standards. There were tons of conspiracies and all kinds of legends running through the war. At the end of the day they want to sit down and know what really happened.”
As to what really happened in Gaza – or more specifically, what the results will be – Mr. Ben-David is balancing his initial feelings with what he has seen as the results of the 2006 war with Lebanon.
“I keep reminding myself of the mistakes I made in 2006, when I was completely focused on the failures on our side and didn’t see the impact on the other side,” he said.
Military failures claimed the lives of many Israeli soldiers – mostly a result of bad decision making, “connecting means to ends.”
Yet “at the end of the day, the war achieved a deterrence that no one would have dreamed of. We were certain we were just starting the countdown to the next round” against Hezbollah. “We’ve had complete calm for eight years.
“I remind myself of that when I try to analyze the Gaza war from the short perspective we have today. According to Hamas behavior since the war ended, maybe we did generate some more deterrence.
“My sense is the destruction of the high-rises in Gaza in the last three days of the war had a huge impact on Palestinian society and Hamas. They were shocked. They didn’t believe Israel would do that. It was a signal that we would go all the way. It seems to me that striking and destroying the high-rises in the wealthier neighborhoods of Gaza perhaps had the same impact as destroying the Hezbollah neighborhood in Beirut in 2006,” he said.
|Save the date|
|Who: Alon Ben-David, an Israeli journalist specializing in military issues
What: Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey networking breakfast
Where: Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, 350 Engle St., Englewood
When: Tuesday, October 7, 7:30-9:30 a.m.
Couvert: $25. Free parking and valet service.
RSVP to Beth, (201) 820-3911 or firstname.lastname@example.org.