For PBS's Margaret Warner, Israel-Gaza Apparently IS Rocket Science

Seton Motley
December 30th, 2008 6:15 PM

For at least ten seconds there, it appeared Margaret Warner thought PBS stood for the Palestinian Broadcast Service.

On last night's NewsHour Ms. Warner, whilst interviewing Israel's Ambassador to the United States Sallai Meridor, posed one of the dumbest questions in the long, dumb history of broadcast journalism. 

So banal was her query that there was for nearly five seconds the most pregnant of pauses, broken finally by Ambassador Meridor's bemused and chagrined response.  Which Ms. Warner followed with another question of nearly equal asinine force. 

Ms. Warner was fairly addled throughout (transcript below the fold), but nothing else she said rose quite to the heights of foolishness as did this.  We have edited in after the exchange an earlier statement from Ambassador Meridor that we think pretty much sums it all up.

MARGARET WARNER: And for that, we go to Israel's ambassador to the United States, Sallai Meridor.

Mr. Ambassador, welcome.

What do you have to say to what the Palestinian observer just called this, which was criminal, inhumane, and immoral, were his words?

SALLAI MERIDOR, ambassador to the United States, Israel: Well, I would just talk about the facts, not about propaganda, and the facts are that Hamas built a terror base in Gaza openly, broke a cease-fire that we had indirectly through Egypt, announced it. This is not something you have to be a rocket scientist to find. This was an open statement and opened a barrage of rockets and mortars on Israeli civilians.

And the situation is that more than 500,000 Israelis are under -- not daily -- hourly rocket fire and mortar fire. And Israel has to protect them.

And I would ask any decent human being to put himself in the position of those Israelis who with kids are wetting their beds and ask themselves, what would I do? What would I expect my government to do?

MARGARET WARNER: But you heard what that -- the gentleman just said about this was disproportionate response, that is that Israel has launched a massive, massive military strike. Is that necessary?

SALLAI MERIDOR: Well, that's absolutely necessary, and it's not assaulting by Israel. Israel was attacked by Gaza, by Gaza-controlled Hamas.

Our prime minister went on Arab media to call on the Gazans to stop Hamas, to make sure that they are not allowing them to fire against Israel from Gaza before we had to take action.

And what we are doing is to bring about a situation where Israelis and Palestinians can live together in calm and hopefully in peace.

MARGARET WARNER: So what will it take from Israel's point of view for you to stop this offensive? What do you have to see? I mean, did the rocket attacks have to stop completely?


MARGARET WARNER: Is that the test? How will you know when it's time to stop?

SALLAI MERIDOR: I'm not suggesting now what are tests or not. I'm just thinking about what would you, would I, any other person would expect as normal, minimal normal conditions of living. This is not to be under constant fire by your neighbors, and this is next door.

You know, America, rightly, is going all the way to Afghanistan in order to prevent an attack on America. For us, our next-door neighbors are attacking our children day in and day out. And we have to make every effort to damage their ability to attack us.

MARGARET WARNER: What I'm driving at here is, what is the way out now? How does this and when does this end?

SALLAI MERIDOR: Well, the way out could be very easy. If Hamas decided to stop firing and to stop building this terror base backed by Iran next to Israel's border, there would not be any need for Israel to take any military action.

If I may remind you, we left Gaza. I heard the term "Israeli occupation" and the like. There is no Israeli occupation, definitely not in Gaza. Israel left Gaza in 2005, as I hope many people still remember, left nobody in Gaza.

And the Palestinians, instead of making Gaza into a beginning of a state, made it a terror base, attacking Israeli civilians every day.

Israel is interested in calm, and Israel is interested in peace. There is nothing else that we are interested in. We don't have any political considerations; we don't have any grand regional aspirations.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me look ahead if I could. The U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, is calling for an end to hostilities on both sides. Is Israel interested in a cease-fire at this point?

SALLAI MERIDOR: Israel is interested in calm, and Israel is interested in peace. There is nothing else that we are interested in. We don't have any political considerations; we don't have any grand regional aspirations.

All we want is calm and peace for our people and for our neighbors. And for that to happen, we need to have the rocket fire stop. And we need to make sure that Hamas is not building, with the support of Iran, a terror base, attacking our people continuously.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, there have been -- your government has said you're not targeting civilians. By the U.N.'s own count, more than 60 civilians are among the dead. Won't that number grow as long as this air offensive continues?

SALLAI MERIDOR: Well, we are very sad for every civilian casualty. We are making every effort to avoid that.

Unfortunately, Hamas is purposely operating from, firing from areas with civilians. We are making every effort possible to minimize the damage to civilians. We are only targeting Hamas terrorist facilities, warehouses, installations, headquarters, training places. And if they do it from places that are nearby civilians, we are making every effort to minimize the damage to civilians.

But this is the asymmetry here. We are attacking some thousands or maybe 20,000 terrorists in Gaza. They are attacking discriminately 500,000 Israeli civilians. Israeli civilians are under attack; only Israeli civilians are under attack.

We are trying to attack -- or, sorry, to respond and to damage the activity of terrorists, trying to minimize the collateral damage to civilians.

MARGARET WARNER: But are you saying then that you don't think -- you think Israel has done all it can? You don't think you have responsibility for these civilian deaths?

SALLAI MERIDOR: We think the sole responsibility for the civilians' death are with Hamas. They are controlling Gaza. They are operating from where civilians are living. They are continuing to fire rockets.

And we are making every effort to minimize the damage to civilians for which we care very much. We don't want a fire this way or the other way. We want the Palestinians to live next to Israel with peace; we want them to have dignity; we want them to have prosperity. The only thing we want is to let our people live peacefully.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, the Palestinians in Gaza say right now what they want is food and medicine for their hospitals. Do you think Israel has a responsibility to ensure that a lot of such supplies still get in?

SALLAI MERIDOR: We do that. We do that under fire...

MARGARET WARNER: They say not so.

SALLAI MERIDOR: They may say, but the facts are that, under fire -- and I think something that is hardly precedented and maybe hardly parallel, even today, where more than 70 rockets and mortars were fired from Gaza against Israel, where three Israelis were killed, including a woman going back from the gym, 39 trucks of such medical supplies went through the crossing into Gaza and ambulances went into Gaza.

And we continue to treat Palestinians from Gaza in Israeli hospitals, because we share the same values that I hope some day even Hamas will convert itself to share.

This is why it is so important that Hamas is not allowed to continue with this way of terror. This is terrible for Israel. But if, God forbid, Israel was not reacting, the Arab societies and leaderships were next in line.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that you can -- that Israel can achieve its objectives here without ground action of some sort?

SALLAI MERIDOR: We will take the actions that are needed to take, that every country would have taken under the similar conditions. So far, we have only taken air strikes, trying to minimize the damage to civilians. We will consider every option.

What we would love to see is that fire stops, that this terror base is not continued to grow. Then there would not be any need for Israeli defensive measures.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you, finally, looking ahead, a couple last questions. There were protests throughout the Arab world today. Mahmoud Abbas also denounced -- the Palestinian president, that you've been trying to have peace negotiations with -- is there a danger that this action by Israel will simply rally moderate Arabs, perhaps under pressure from their own populations, to Hamas' cause, which they have not been particularly supportive of?

SALLAI MERIDOR: Well, I think that we share the same interest, that Hamas will not grow stronger, that terror will not prevail, that people who are interested in incitement and in destabilizing the region will not have the upper hand.

And this is why it is so important that Hamas is not allowed to continue with this way of terror. This is terrible for Israel. But if, God forbid, Israel was not reacting, the Arab societies and leaderships were next in line.

MARGARET WARNER: And, briefly, what do you think this does now for the prospects of President-elect Obama to be able to kick-start any kind of peace process?

SALLAI MERIDOR: Well, you've heard -- I've heard with you before the statements that President-elect Obama made when he visited the area. We certainly hope that we will continue to work with him, as we worked with the current administration, to promote peace in the region.

There is nothing we want more. Israel is ready for, again, I think, some painful compromises, but people cannot even start to think how painful they are in order to reach peace, but peace cannot be built on giving in or giving up to terror. You have to fight terror on the one hand and work for peace on the other.

MARGARET WARNER: Israeli Ambassador Sallai Meridor, thank you so much.