With officials mum, journalists are told: Just watch the faces
At 7 A.M. yesterday, the newspaper called to tell me I would be its diplomatic correspondent for the day. They apologized for the early hour, but "after all, it's going to be a long day, not to say critical.
This article is part of a special edition of Haaretz, to mark Israel's book week.
At 7 A.M. yesterday, the newspaper called to tell me I would be its diplomatic correspondent for the day. They apologized for the early hour, but "after all, it's going to be a long day, not to say critical. We have nine killed, dozens wounded, denunciations from the whole world .... And today is the day when someone will have to take responsibility for this snafu."
They promised to set up an interview for me by 9 A.M. By 11 A.M., they still hadn't called back, so I called to see what was happening.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still overseas, they explained; we're trying to get you an interview with another member of the forum of seven ministers that approved the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla.
Another hour passed; still no word. I called again.
"Not for attribution, those guys from the septet are blaming the whole thing on the military," my editor said. "But none of them is willing to be interviewed by you" - except maybe Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon. But maybe, he suggested, Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor would agree to talk if you called him yourself.
So I called Meridor. He said he would love to talk to me, but his daughter was getting married that day. He didn't even plan to attend the meeting of the inner cabinet.
I told my editor. It's okay, he said, we have another idea: If the army is to blame, maybe it's better that you speak to a senior officer. "Give us 10 minutes and we'll get back to you."
An hour later I still hadn't heard back, so I called again.
"It's complicated," the editor said. "On the scene, they're saying that the military is furious at [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak, that he's the one who forced them to board the ship without Kalashnikovs. But we checked, and none of them has the courage to talk to the media, they're all afraid."
But don't worry, he added, we've had a brilliant idea: We'll arrange an interview with Ami Ayalon. As a former commander of both the navy and the naval commandos, he can comment knowledgeably on the military aspect, and as a former Labor Party minister and Knesset member, he knows all about party chairman Ehud Barak's tricks. And he's a leftist, so he won't be afraid to take on the government.
An hour later, when I hadn't heard back from the paper, I called again. Unfortunately, they said, Ayalon is abroad. So maybe it will have to be Ya'alon after all.
"But we're not wild about it," the editor added. "For an incident of this magnitude, it would be better for you to talk with someone a little more ... well, it's not important. But you know what? We have a new angle. We'll arrange an interview for you with one of the naval commandos who was there. One of them could give you the most authentic angle, from the field. If he can't tell you who's guilty, who can?"
Again, I waited an hour. Nothing. I called again. They said the interview with the commando wasn't going to happen. But Netanyahu is going to give a press conference, they said. It isn't definite yet, but really, he has no choice. "Give us just a few minutes to find out when exactly it's happening."
This time, they actually got back to me - and quickly.
"Netanyahu won't hold a press conference," my editor said. "The issues he could be asked about are critical to the country's future, and it's not appropriate for him to answer them off the cuff like that, still jet-lagged."
But don't worry, he added, we've thought of something else: We spoke to the defense minister's aide, and he said Barak would be willing to take you with him in his helicopter from Jerusalem to the naval commando base at Atlit. But you'll have to vanish as soon as you arrive, because the base is top secret.
"And during the flight he'll agree to answer questions?" I asked.
"Well, the thing is," the editor responded, "he'd love to answer, but it's impossible because there's noise in the helicopter .... But his aide says you can write down your impressions. You know, of the view, his facial expressions. We understand this isn't a lot, but it's still information. You can observe and interpret for our readers whether he looks more determined or more guilty."
"Enough!" I roared. "I've had it with all this nonsense. I don't want to look at Barak. I want to ask someone questions and get answers. And if only Bogey [Ya'alon] is prepared to talk, I want to talk with Bogey. The man is in the septet forum and he replaced Netanyahu as acting premier when he was abroad. He's ready to talk? Then I want to listen."
"Well, that's the thing," my editor said, sounding embarrassed. "It seems that even Bogey isn't willing to be interviewed today. It's strange. It's very unlike him."
"So what do you suggest I do?" I asked.
"Good question," he responded. "So we thought, why not leverage this? Stop running after them; we'll leave a few blank columns on the side and the readers can guess for themselves who's to blame for this screw-up."