Journalist Martin Fletcher has covered a lot of wars, including Israel’s conflicts over the past few decades. He found the most recent war, with Gaza this past summer, one of the most tactically and morally complex.
There were two huge failures, he said: “Israel wanted to avoid civilian casualties and failed; Hamas wanted to cause civilian casualties — and failed. The question is asked, ‘Which is more inherently evil?’”
For him, the answer is clear: As a Jerusalem resident, committed to Israel’s well-being, the NBC correspondent did his utmost to provide coverage that conveyed the Israeli view as well as the Palestinians’. One of his most powerful pieces was shot in an Israeli shelter where medical staff tried to keep premature babies alive as rocket sirens wailed outside, desperately trying not to bump their little heads as they carried them to safety.
But giving fair coverage was a battle in itself, he told an audience in North Caldwell on Oct. 8. “Which story do you think is easier to tell?” he asked: “The Palestinians saying, ‘Look what they did to us!’ or the Israelis saying, ‘Look what they didn’t do to us!’”
The British-born Fletcher was the guest speaker at a luncheon meeting of the Green Brook Country Club Book Club. About 400 people attended the talk, according to club founder and chair Marlene Cohen.
Fletcher, the author of two books of nonfiction — including Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation — is also a novelist. His most recent novel, Jacob’s Oath, published last year, deals with the post-World War II period, and a Holocaust survivor conflicted between his newfound love and his bitter desire for revenge.
Asked why he branched into fiction, Fletcher said, “It’s a way to talk about some of the things that always fascinated me but that I couldn’t include in news stories.” But even while enjoying the freedom provided by fiction, he said, he doggedly researches every detail, “even if they’re things I end up not including in the book. I have to know I’ve got everything right.”
His parents were Austrian Jews who escaped the Nazis and met in Prague. They made their way to England and changed their name from Fleischer to Fletcher. Between 40 and 50 of their relatives were killed. “Only about four got out,” Fletcher said.
His mother, he said, was proud when he became the youngest writer with the British news service VisNews. When he became a war correspondent, however, she was appalled. “She looked at my flak jacket and helmet and said, ‘If you need this stuff, this isn’t the job for you,’” Fletcher recalled. He went on to cover most of the major conflicts of the past 25 years.
Fletcher turned very serious talking about contemporary anti-Semitism and the lack of organized resistance to it. Israel’s efforts to garner support by pointing out that it is on the frontline against the new Islamic militarism, he said, “doesn’t go down well in Europe.”
But Hamas, while “it isn’t made of the same cloth” as groups like ISIS, ultimately has the same goal — to convert to Islam everyone who isn’t already a Muslim.