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Joe trades wrench for notepad in Israel

Joe the Plumber has set aside his wrenches to become a rookie war correspondent, covering Israel's side of its two-week-old military offensive in Gaza.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Joe the Plumber has set aside his wrenches to become a rookie war correspondent, covering Israel's side of its two-week-old military offensive in Gaza.

The Ohio man, who rocketed to fame during the U.S. presidential campaign for challenging Barack Obama on his tax plan, was in the southern Israeli town of Sderot on Sunday to tell readers of the conservative Web site about the rockets that rain down there from the neighboring Gaza Strip.

The people of Sderot "can't do normal things day to day," like get soap in their eyes in the shower, for fear a rocket might come in, said Joe the Plumber, so dubbed by Republican Sen. John McCain's campaign, but whose real name is Samuel Wurzelbacher.

"I'm sure they're taking quick showers," he said. "I know I would."

'Thousands of questions'
Joe's rookie reporter status was evident when, standing in front of a pile of spent rockets, he said, "I have thousands of questions but I can't think of the right one."

What he could summon up quickly was contempt for Israel's critics, who are outraged by the more than 870 Palestinians killed in Israel's bruising air and ground onslaught against Gaza's Islamic militant Hamas rulers. Thirteen Israelis have also died since the operation began, including four killed by the rocket fire that touched off the war in the first place.

"Why hasn't Israel acted sooner?" Wurzelbacher asked. "I know if I were a citizen here, I'd be damned upset." He described himself as a "peaceloving man," but added, "when someone hits me, I'm going to unload on the boy. And if the rest of the world doesn't understand that, then I'm sorry."

Wurzelbacher, who underwent intense media scrutiny during his 15 minutes of campaign fame, said pjtv enlisted him to cover Israel because he's "an expert on media bias."

"I was on the short end of the stick," like Israel is now, he said.

Wurzelbacher, who joined McCain on the campaign trail, agreed with a supporter of the Republican senator who asked if he thought "a vote for Obama is a vote for the death of Israel."

Demonizing Israel?
The full story of Israel's campaign against Hamas isn't coming out on mainstream news outlets, Wurzelbacher said. He said they are demonizing Israel instead of recognizing it as the victim of Gaza militants who have fired thousands of rockets at Israel over the past eight years.

"It's asinine when someone is firing upon you and the world is coming down on you," he said. "Common sense has gone out the window."

"Hamas hides among its own people," causing civilian casualties, he added. "But I hear no cryout from the international community."

That's the Israeli government's position, too. And though foreign reporters normally have to present evidence of experience to receive government authorization to report from Israel, Wurzelbacher was being escorted Sunday on his first reporting gig ever by the head of the Government Press Office, Danny Seaman, and a press office photographer.

Wurzelbacher came to Israel on Friday and said he's already been through several rocket alerts.

The initial sensation when the alert goes off is "obviously fear," he said. "But once you reach safe haven — or once you lie down on the ground — you feel anger."

'No agenda but the truth'
Wurzelbacher said he's been "embraced" by the people of Israel because "they know I have no agenda but the truth." But his arrival in a busy cafe elicited no overt signs of recognition, and there, at least, he appeared to cause more of a stir among the press than among ordinary Israelis.

This is his first trip to Israel, and he pronounced himself "happy to be here."

But war correspondent or not, Wurzelbacher won't get to Gaza: Israel has barred access to foreign journalists.

"If he wants to put on an Israeli military uniform and go in as a volunteer, maybe," Seaman quipped. "Nobody goes in."