As a journalist, I have spent time in all parts of Israel and Palestine, including Gaza more than once, to see the reality and hear the stories of Jews and Arabs who live amidst a horrifically tragic conflict.
Over the years, the hopes for a Palestinian state that could live in peace with Israel and build a prosperous future have turned into a distant dream, as extremists on both sides fought for control of all the territory in Israel and Palestine, rather than share a land.
Both the Hamas leadership, which is committed to replacing Israel with an Islamic Palestinian state—and ultranationalists in the Israeli government—contributed to the impasse. Both camps undermined progress towards peaceful co-existence that had been made through the Camp David and Oslo Accords, and towards normalization of regional relations through the Abraham Accords.
The hopes for peace have not been advanced by the Biden administration either. It has been unable to temper the Israeli government’s military counter-reaction to Hamas’ terrorist attacks. Similarly, when Free Palestine protests employ language like “from the river to the sea” or make other statements that clearly oppose the very existence of the state of Israel, it stokes Israel’s security fears and promotes a scenario—elimination of the world’s only Jewish state—that puts the lives of its 9 million Jewish and Palestinian citizens at grave risk. The chants are arguably anti-Semitic, since they hold Israel to a standard to which other international players get a pass. An upsurge in antisemitism is causing American Jews to worry about their safety, and many are fearful to speak up.
As I explored the Middle East conflict with an open mind some years ago, I realized that both peoples have a genuine connection to one land. This deep sense of belonging is historic, religious, personal and familial. Each narrative is equally compelling and just. Neither’s can be allowed to triumph at the expense of the other, which would result in a human disaster of cataclysmic proportions. Lives, be they Jewish, Palestinian or others caught in the crossfire, are precious. Reducing the likelihood for the loss of lives is an imperative for thinking, caring people.
Informed by this view, it is the Bohemian’s editorial policy to cover these current events in an evenhanded and fair way that gives voice to all sides. Last week, we received a piece by a longtime freelance journalist that we believe did not meet the balance test. Because it was turned in less than 24 hours before our press deadline, we decided to hold the story for a week, and asked for additional reporting to provide balance to the story.
The 1000-word story submitted as a reportorial news piece was, in our view, colored by opinion. It described Israeli actions no less than 11 times as “genocide” without providing countervailing perspectives. It quoted only Israel’s critics, except for a quote from Israel’s defense minister—three days after the massacre in Israel—describing Hamas fighters as “human animals.”
After reading the piece, I wrote our editor: “This piece is one-sided and does not place the war in context of factors such as the hostages, the massacre, the tunnels, the use of civilians, hospitals & ambulances as human shields, the explosions caused by stored explosives in Gaza, the unreliability of statistics, etc. Our coverage of the war needs to have some evenhandedness given that there is much pain and emotion on both sides.”
The piece’s author has accused the Bohemian of “spiking” or “censoring” the story. This is not the case, as we planned to run the piece the following week, with additional reporting, and discussed this with the writer. There is a normal process in which editors work with writers to improve stories and provide honest and fair coverage of important issues. Our readers deserve thoughtful, intelligent writing about complex subjects, and we will always strive to provide that.
It is disconcerting to see the divisions in the Middle East creating conflict here in the United States. We are saddened to see relationships with colleagues we have worked with for years ripped apart over this issue.
We are heartbroken to read that a six-year-old Palestinian-American boy in Illinois was fatally stabbed by his landlord. And, as we debated this submitted story, a 69-year-old Jewish American died in Ventura County after a confrontation between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrators. It was a reminder that passions are too high and need to be dialed back a bit, so that we can just live together.
We take full responsibility for the decision to not rush an article to print without reflection, and we believe that that call was prudent. Others are free to disagree. Editing decisions are not censorship, something which a government does, and there are many other venues where opinions can be published.
We call upon Israel to stop the bombing of civilian areas and to allow food, water and supplies to enter Gaza. A humanitarian disaster will not bring security, only a new generation of PTSD-impacted haters with weapons. Hamas must release the hostages. And it must stop firing missiles into Israel’s neighborhoods, cease building tunnels of death with money that should be used to build a better life for Gazans and not turn Gaza’s schools, hospitals and religious centers into military sites.
After that, both sides must make concessions to coexist. War sucks. Human life is precious. We don’t build a better planet or improve our lives by demonizing and killing one another.
Dan Pulcrano is the executive editor of the Weeklys publishing group, which publishes the North Bay Bohemian. This article was updated on November 14.