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How to know what is happening in occupied Palestine right now?


1 -- Alison Wier, Reporting from Gaza
2-- Eduardo Cohen, What Americans need to Know but probably won't be told to Understand Palestinian Rage
3 -- Brian Whitaker, Israel wins war of words. On the dangers of sloppy journalism


Reporting Live From Gaza

By Alison Wier



I don't want to be overly dramatic, but I was sort of shot at yesterday.
I say "sort of" because I don't think the Israeli soldiers in their tower were trying to hit me, or the people with me... if that had been their purpose I have no doubt that they would have. There is massive evidence here that their aim is quite good. I think they were simply asserting their power. And I think they were trying to intimidate me, as a foreigner, into leaving the area.
There were no "clashes." There was no stone-throwing. Everything was quiet. I was being shown around Khan Yonis, a bullet-riddled refugee camp in southern Gaza filled with ragged barefoot kids and angry, resigned, perplexed parents. "Why are they doing this to us?" people kept saying to me... "Why they do this Palestine people? They say we guns. Where guns? Why America help Israel? Why America not help Palestinians?"
Houses were riddled -- and I mean riddled -- with bullets. There were 2-foot wide holes in roofs where mortars had come through. People showed me around their homes -- for the most part they had moved into areas away from the outside, where, they hoped, they would be safe -- huddled on mattresses on the floor. They showed me around one house right at the periphery of the camp. It had lovely, bullet-riddled archways inside, the remains of a tiled kitchen. When the children saw I was curious about the bullets, they gathered them for me by handfuls - smashed, distorted pieces of metal that tear through walls and people. Ill try to bring some back. I wonder if Israel will let me bring my souvenirs of their country.
They opened a door a few inches for me -- they were afraid to do more, they know what happens if you do -- and I could see a guard tower a feew hundred meters away. Even I was afraid -- usually so easily brave, armed with my middle-class American feeling of invulnerability -- I've read too many reports of injuries in just such situations... seen too many pictures of people with bandages over eyes that had been shot out. Earlier in the day I saw a picture of four boys probably about 7-12 sitting on chairs in a waiting room somewhere, looking at the camera with no expression on their faces, and each with a large piece of gauze where one of their eyes should be. They were the lucky kids -- these were only rubber bullets, and they hadn't gone on into the brain...
Did I say no expression? Perhaps the expression is beyond describing... of being old far beyond their small bodies.
So when I looked out at the guard tower where soldiers with sniper scopes and binoculars were no doubt watching us, I, too, was nervous.
We continued to wander around the camp -- groups of smiling children coming up, saying salaam, hello, giggling. The streets were Gaza sand --the ocean is probably only half a mile away... but these children never get to swim in it. There are soldiers inbetween.
Instead they play in the dirt.
I needed batteries for my camera, so we went to a tiny store. The owner gave us small glasses of strong coffee, and would take no money for the batteries.
Intense, frustrated, he pointed out what his life had become. He showed the inevitable bullet holes in his store, the larger hole where a missile had entered a store-room -- destroying what looked like 50 five-gallon jugs of oil. He showed me his house next door -- full of bullet holes, and told me about his children who luckily had remained uninjured, if trauma and subjugation don't count as injuries. He told me that all he wanted was peace, to live his life. Again, he asked why Israel was doing this, why America was doing this.
What could I answer? All I could try to do was explain that Americans don't know that this is going on -- that their newspapers and television don't tell them. And so Americans think it is a complicated issue, and that it doesn't involve them.
Amazingly, I don't find people hostile toward me, as an American, even though they so clearly know America's role in their suffering. By the way, "suffering" is a word they use often in trying to tell me what their lives are like. They always smile at me, shake my hand. When they hear I am from America, they virtually always say, "Welcome."
We wandered over to another house, on the other side of town. I saw a family home no longer livable -- bullet holes everywhere, large hole in the roof -- another once-lovely home, and probably loved home, with an interior garden and children's toys, and bullets scattered on the floor.
It was when we went outside of this home that the gunshots occurred. We were behind a wall, and so it didn't feel scary. Of course, feelings lie -- I had seen numerous holes through such walls. They showed us another way out. At the time, I didn't take the gunshots personally. Once again, a middle-class American, I didn't think anyone was firing near me on purpose -- I thought it was just an accident, a coincidence.
But as I've thought about it further, I think I was wrong. Why then? there? In that particular part of town?
And this would fit the pattern I've heard about lately. A few days ago when the UN team investigating human rights violations was here in Gaza they were shot at. The Canadian Ambassador was shot at. A young American documentary filmmaker I met this morning, James, had been in Khan Yunis a few days ago, and had been shot at. He showed me footage of the Isaelis shooting at him: He is letting the camera roll as he walks on a dirt road following 5-6 small boys. None are throwing rocks. It is quiet. There is a tank at the end of the road -- this is nothing unusual. They continue walking. Suddenly there are gunshots, the camera tilts. No one is injured. But the Army has made its point. Except it didn't work. He went back today.
I asked him if he had a time-frame for making his documentary. He said until he ran out of money or got shot, whichever came first. It wasn't much of a joke.
Have you heard about the American stringer for AP who was shot a few months ago? -- a young woman, her name is in another notebook (I'm at an Internet Cafe in Gaza City with the slowest computers on earth) -- but I think she was about 26. Mark, a 30-year-old freelance English photographer I've just met, knew her, and told me about it. The Israelis shot her in the pelvis, destroying her spleen and uterus. They say it was an accident. She says they knew quite clearly that she was a journalist. Israel is apparently investigating how this could have happened. Was this reported in the press? Will we hear the results of the investigation? Wouldn't you think this would have been headlines? Shouldn't it have been? If she had been shot by Palestinians don't you think it would have been?
Another man today told me about working with a Fox film crew, when suddenly they were being shot at by the Israelis. They finally, barely managed to escape, and they filmed it all. But Fox never aired it. He told me the problem with the US coverage wasn't the crews, it was management back in the States. I believe him.
Some people in the refugee camp told me about a new gas bomb the israelis shot last weekend at them. They said it had black smoke, and a "good" smell. At least 40 people are still hospitalized from it -- I'm going to pin the number down tomorrow -- apparently there are people in several hospitals, so the true number could be considerably higher.
From the refugee camp we
I went to Al Amal Hospital, to meet the doctor and see the patients. I saw a 22-year-old man in the ICU. He was moaning and had IVs in both arms. He said it felt like knives in his intestines. Sometimes he had trouble breathing. His mother and aunt were hovering over him. His little sister was sitting next to him. I went to another ward, and saw six more. I met a father who was obviously distraught -- two of his sons were in the hospital. I saw two men have seisures while I was there -- convulsing.
They all said the same thing. They had just been going about their lives when suddenly "bombs" came into their houses. Some had been outside, and had gone in to rescue people because they thought the house was on fire. But they said there was no flame, just black smoke, and a good smell. In most cases nothing happened immediately, but after 10 to 15 minutes they collapsed... some became unconscious.
Israel is, as usual, denying that there was anything unusual about this gas. As usual, they are lying.
Apparently, this also explains a lot of the bias in the US press. The reporters in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv get their numbers and "facts" from military spokesmen. Information from Israeli sources is printed, information from Palestinian sources isn't.
You see, an Israeli is one of us. A relative, a friend's relative, a colleague's relative. We hear distorted versions of what is going on from these friends, and colleagues, and we think they know what they're talking about. And that they're not biased. Because they sound so reasonable and confident and knowledgeable. They say just enough about what is wrong about Israel, about the "two-sides" to seem neutral. This is bs.
The problem is when you know the truth, it is far too much to describe, far too cruel... far too diametrically opposite what we used to think and what everyone still thinks to express. It is hard not to sound fanatic, over-wrought, biased. The lie is too big, the repression too complete, the Palestinians' lives too horrible to write about reasonably. I find it difficult to write anything -- rare for me -- because there is so so so much. You have to retrieve and redefine the very words out of the newspeak that Israel has created of "closures" and "bypass roads" and "security."
So I think maybe I should try to take on just one topic at a time -- and for now, this new gas... Today I was going to visit the Ministry of Health for more information, and then back to the Khan Younis hospitals with Mark to take photos. But he didn't show up at the scheduled time. Probably something just came up. But over here you always worry...
Tomorrow I'll go.
As I said, there is so so so much to try to describe. Who will ever believe all this? Israel couldn't possibly be this cruel, this arrogant. Who will believe it? They must have a good reason...
There are two sides here, of course... just the way there was in South Africa's apartheid period...
I also visited two tiny encampments of women and children living in tents on the dirt. They were people who used to have homes in Khan Younis, but the Israelis decided to make a road through them -- for "security?" to divide the people? to terrorize them? just because they wanted to? who ever knows? an absolute conqueror doesn't have to explain -- so they bulldozed their homes and their date palms and orange groves. This is already far too long -- I won't go into the details of how they bulldozed them, how the people fled...
And the people are living in the dirt, and show me a bent-up aluminum wash pan that they retrieved from where their homes had been -- everything else, they said, was "under the land" Again, they asked me why america was helping Israel do this to them. Why did Bill Clinton do this? Would George Bush still do this? They're on a first-name basis with our presidents. And we don't even know about them. One old, newly poor woman knew all the international news -- she had been given a radio and listens to BBC, French broadcasts, German broadcasts, etc. She hears the Israeli statements. The US government positions... She's living in rags in the dirt now. Four months ago she and her husband had two homes -- they had just built another one for their son, who had been married just two months when his new home was bulldozed.
But you'll be glad to know the international community isn't ignoring these people. The Palestinians have been pleading for an international team for months to come over to protect them from the Israelis -- but the US keeps blocking this. Why??? Why??? How could this be even imagined to threaten Israel's "security"??? But you'll be happy to know that the international community isn't ignoring them -- it contributed the fly-covered, floor-less tents that the people are living in. Meanwhile, how much aid did we give to Israel today? Eight million was it? Sixteen million? And tomorrow we'll give it to them again, and the next day, and the next day, and the next day...
They gave me tea, as we sat surrounded by dirt, and told me to tell America to stop doing this to them. I'll try. Maybe you could try too.

Avril 2001
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What Americans Need to Know but Probably

Won't be Told to Understand Palestinian Rage

By Eduardo Cohen



As the Persian Gulf War was raging I had what I felt to be the particular honor, as an American Jew, of being sponsored by the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee on a fact finding mission to investigate Israeli human rights abuses carried out against Palestinians under emergency measures declared during the war. I had been reporting on US policy in the Middle East for more than ten years on KPFA and other California radio stations and I had been documenting and lecturing on anti-Arab racism in American popular culture and the news media.
After the delegation's week of fact-finding was completed, I decided to spend more time on my own to dig deeper into what Israeli occupation meant for Palestinians In the next two weeks my travels would take me from the sandy back roads, sweet smelling orange groves and fetid poverty ridden slums of Gaza to meetings with Palestinian and Jewish activists in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. And from the stifling heat of Jericho, where I interviewed Saeb Erikat under house arrest, to some of the West Bank's most remote hills where the isolated rural villages were controlled by the Islamic political organization known as Hamas.
Coming back and talking with most Americans about what I had seen and learned there made me feel as if I had entered an episode of the Twilight Zone -- an episode in which the main character can see a dangerous and foreboding presence that no one else can see. The protagonist points it out to them but as soon as they look, it has disappeared. They cannot see it. And pretty soon the increasingly desperate and frustrated character even begins to doubt his or her own sanity.
But such was the gulf between what I had seen and experienced and what the American public perceived through the lens of the American news media. I couldn't help but conclude that the American public wasn't even getting a fraction of the information it needed to comprehensively understand and intelligently monitor it's own government's policies in the Middle East. Now, almost ten years later, little has changed and the gulf in perception is just as wide.
Perhaps that is understandable. The American news media are probably the most pro-Israeli in the world. Even the Israeli news media are more critical of the Israeli government than American journalists are. Perhaps this isn't surprising since the US is Israel's main benefactor and Israel receives more US aid than any other country in the world. But it is still disturbing to see how uncritically US news coverage seems to follow US foreign policy and how much the American news media protect Israel.
If one never leaves the United States or reads the foreign news media, it is easy to be unaware of this incredible gulf between how the US media perceive and report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how it is viewed in much of the rest of the world. Even the next most pro-Israeli press, that of Great Britain, shows sharp contrasts with American reporting on Israel and the Occupied Territories.
In American coverage of the recent Camp David meetings the American press obediently followed the Israeli and US government spin that while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made courageous concessions for peace, Palestinian unwillingness to compromise caused the meeting to fail.
Never mind that Barak's 'courageous concessions' consisted of allowing the Palestinians to have joint administrative responsibility over a couple of remote Arab neighborhoods of Arab East Jerusalem - pathetic crumbs tossed on the floor which Arafat was expected to gratefully pick up.
I had to read the British press to find out that, according to documents leaked from Camp David, Arafat reportedly made so many major concessions that they could endanger the possibility of a creating a viable Palestinian state.
According to a British newspaper, The Independent, Palestinian concessions at Camp David included the right of Israel to maintain a permanent military presence in the Jordan Valley, the presence of Israeli early warning stations on Palestinian territory, Israeli permission to fly over Palestinian air space, the right of Israel to use its army on Palestinian land if it fears a danger to the State of Israel, Palestinian agreement not to have an army, and permanent Israeli sovereignty over existing Jewish settlements - settlements which effectively cut off Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and which, including the giant Jewish settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim, effectively cut the West Bank into two pieces separated by Israeli territory.
There are other important facts that I regularly see mentioned in newspapers from other countries that are rarely mentioned, if at all, in American newspapers and broadcasts.
In the British and European press, readers are often reminded that the very existence of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza is a clear violation of international law, specifically the Fourth Geneva Convention, and that the continued occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem are in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions.
Readers of British papers are also reminded regularly that what the Americans often characterize as an 'inflexible' and 'radical' Palestinian demand for full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the West bank, including East Jerusalem, is exactly what is called for in United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 which, according to the Oslo Agreement, signed by Israel, is exactly the framework on which final resolution is supposed to be based.
Reporting on Camp David, American reporters obediently quoted Israeli Prime Minister Barak's statements questioning whether Palestinians are negotiating 'in good faith' but failed to report ongoing Israeli actions in Gaza and the West Bank that raise serious questions about Israel's 'good faith': continuing demolitions of Palestinian homes; confiscation of Palestinian water; expansion and construction of Jewish settlements in occupied territory; denial of building permits to Palestinian homeowners; and construction of Jewish 'security roads' which cut 1/4 mile swaths through Palestinian land.
Not only have American reporters left out crucial information necessary to a comprehensive understanding of the conflict and the peace process, but for far to long they have demonstrated a mindlessly uncritical acceptance of even the most absurd Israeli arguments against making peace. Foremost of these is the oft used Israeli argument that Palestinian authorities must guarantee an end to terrorist attacks as a prerequisite to any Israeli agreements. It has always been a laughable argument, except to American journalists.
If the United States government could not prevent the bombings at Oklahoma City and the World Trade Towers and the Israeli government could not prevent the assassination of its own prime minister, how can Yaser Arafat possibly guarantee the end of terrorist acts by Palestinian elements outside of his control?
There are other serious lapses in American coverage which make it difficult for Americans to understand, on an emotional level, the Palestinians' anger and frustration that are now boiling over in the streets of the Occupied Territories and even within Israel itself.
Recent violence has been attributed to Palestinian anger about the visit by Ariel Sharon, accompanied by 1,000 police and hundreds of supporters, to the sacred Islamic "Noble Sanctuary' where the Al-Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are located. Although Ariel Sharon was described as a right-wing opposition leader hated by Arabs, Americans were offered little insight into exactly why he is so despised by Arabs.
What Americans are generally not told, but what Palestinians cannot forget, is that Ariel Sharon was held responsible, even by the Israeli Knesset, for the massacre of from 1,000 to 2,000 unarmed Palestinian men, women and children in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila in Lebanon. During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which General Ariel Sharon directed, Israeli troops surrounded the two refugee camps and allowed in Palestinian-hating Lebanese Phalangists who then spent two days raping, brutalizing and hacking to death hundreds of unarmed Palestinian civilians while the Israeli Army stood guard.
Not only did American news media fail to include this critically important information, but many actually gave Sharon, who went to the site to demonstrate Israeli sovereignty, the opportunity to explain that he went there "with a message of Peace."
It is difficult for Americans to even imagine the frustration of Palestinians who see Jews arrive from the United States to act out Jewish James Bond fantasies in the Occupied Territories, sporting yarmulkes and 9mm submachine guns -- weapons they would never be allowed to possess or walk around with in the streets of American cities -- at the ready to draw Palestinian blood.
American Jews, who left behind in the United States more economic opportunity and religious freedom than most people in the world can even imagine, and whose parents, grandparents and great, great great grandparents never set foot in Israel, are allowed to invoke the Jewish "right of return" and claim land that Palestinian families have been living on and working for centuries. And all this while many Palestinians still carry the keys from the homes they lost in the 1948 war, and to which they have little or no hope of ever returning.
I sensed some of the frustration and anger that Palestinians feel when I spoke with a typical Palestinian farmer in the West Bank whose well of precious water, which he needed to irrigate his crops, had been confiscated by Israeli authorities so a nearby Jewish settlement could fill its swimming pools and water its green lawns.
I sensed some of what Palestinians felt when I interviewed more than a half dozen Palestinians whose homes had been dynamited or bulldozed by Israeli tractors because a teenage member of the family had tossed a rock at an Israeli troop carrier or because they tried to build an extra room without the building permit they knew Israeli officials would never provide.
It is almost ten years later and, again, the influx of settlers, the expansion of Jewish settlements, the building of Jewish roads, the demolition of Palestinian homes and the confiscation of Palestinian water all continue.

The factor of racism.
American papers and American news networks offer Americans little opportunity to understand how much racism remains as one of the greatest obstacles to peace.
I experienced some of the frustration that Palestinians must be feeling when I interviewed numerous Jewish-American settlers in the West Bank during the Persian Gulf War. Many of those I spoke with were from New York and, talking about Arabs, spouted some of the most hateful, racist diatribes that I had ever heard. I was reminded of the racism against Black Americans that I witnessed growing up in the American South.
The images, often broadcast on American networks, of Palestinians chanting 'death to the Jews' have given many Americans the impression that Arab hatred of Jews may be the greatest obstacle to peace. But that could be a wrong and dangerously misleading conclusion.
In spite of those chants, my experiences in Gaza and the West Bank gave me some interesting insights into how deep those feelings go in at least some Palestinians who would be described here as fanatic or extremist.
Clearly there are virulently racist elements within the greater Palestinian community... but I found a real difference between Israeli racism against Arabs, based on a feeling of racial superiority, and Palestinian hatred of Jews which is an understandable Palestinian response to the policies of the Jewish government of Israel and a continuing Jewish occupation.
It is comparable to the difference between the hatred of Black Americans by Southern white racists during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and the hatred many Black Americans felt towards whites as the result of the racist oppression they experienced. It is an important difference.
Making no secret of my Jewishness, I traveled unarmed, without any police or military escort, and accompanied only by a sole translator, into remote mountain and desert areas in Gaza and the West Bank controlled by the militant Muslim organization called Hamas and where Israeli authorities told me I would probably be killed.
I still remember the amazement of Palestinians there when they learned that I was a Jew investigating human rights abuses by the Israeli military and I was moved by how quickly I was invited into their homes to share tea with them. And I will never forget the tears of appreciation streaming down the cheeks of so many Palestinians who were so genuinely happy to meet a Jew who simply saw them as human beings and as equals and who was willing to acknowledge their suffering and listen to their side of the conflict. The only Jews they had ever seen in their villages were soldiers there to assert Israeli control.
Far away from any Israeli protection, in the heart of areas controlled by Hamas, I felt no danger whatsoever. It was difficult to return to Tel Aviv and talk to Jews who would never allow an Arab to set foot in their homes, except perhaps to clean them, and who would explain to me with no doubt in their minds that it was impossible to reason with Arabs because they didn't share the same faculties of thought and reason that "civilized human beings" possess. I left with the sharp impression that anti-Arab racism in Israeli society was the much greater obstacle to peace. And the evidence indicates that, ten years later, it hasn't changed.
I was introduced to Israeli racism before I even left the grounds of Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv. Outside the entrance in an area where travelers wait for collective taxis which usually whisk them away to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, a Jewish Israeli asked me where I was headed. "Jerusalem" I told him. "Where are you going to stay?", he asked. I told him that I planned to stay at the YMCA Hotel. "Oh, the one next to the King David Hotel?" he asked, assuming that I would be staying at the YMCA in Jewish West Jerusalem. "No," I responded, "I'm staying at the YMCA in East Jerusalem." His face immediately twisted into a look of profound confusion and puzzlement. "I don't think its going to be very clean'" he warned.
He had almost certainly never been to the YMCA on Nablus Street but he had assumed it would be dirty simply because it was located in Arab East Jerusalem. That was just the first and mildest of many exposures to Israeli racism towards Arabs. Traveling through Israel I witnessed a deep, widespread and racist contempt for Arabs that I now see as possibly the most serious, but seldom mentioned, obstacle to finding a just and lasting peace.
Judging by statements by the Shas party's most prominent religious leader, not much has improved. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Shas, an ultra-Orthodox party which is the third largest party in the Israeli Knesset, recently described Palestinians as "snakes" whom God "regrets creating." Until just recently Shas had formed a major part of Prime Minister Ehud Barak's governing coalition.
The anti-Arab racism that exists in Israel is not without its counterpart in the United States.
During that 1991 trip I visited the sacred Islamic site that includes the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Just a few months before, in October of 1990, 19 unarmed Palestinian civilians had been shot to death by Israeli police. I interviewed eye witnesses and photographed bullet holes left in the side of the mosque by Israeli gunfire. Victims even included Red Crescent ambulance staff attempting to provide medical assistance to the wounded.
In Great Britain, the conservative weekly news magazine, The Economist, used the term 'massacre' to describe the slaughter. They called it a massacre on their front page, in their editorial, and in the headline of their news story. The New York Times didn't report a massacre but described an outbreak of violence about which there were "confusing" and "contradictory" accounts.
But one of the most reprehensible displays of anti-Arab racism was provided by Time Magazine which characterized the massacre of 19 unarmed Palestinians with a headline which read "Saddam's Lucky Break." This indefensible murder of Arab civilians was described as a "propaganda victory" for Saddam Hussein and even implied that he had more responsibility for the killings than the Israeli police who had pulled the triggers.
There is a slightly more subtle version of anti-Arab racism that continues to permeate our news coverage of the Middle East and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to this day.

It is characterized in Judy Woodruff's words on CNN talking about the recent violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories in which more than 76 Palestinians have now been killed by Israeli police and soldiers: "The uprising that has shut down much of Northern Israel is blamed for as many as 50 or more deaths." According to CNN then, it is the uprising, not the decisions of the Israeli security forces to shoot at Palestinians with steel-jacketed bullets and anti-tank rockets that is responsible for more than 50 dead Palestinians.

This racism is reflected in the Sacramento Bee headline "Riots Escalate in West Bank" with a smaller tagline mentioning "12 dead, hundreds hurt". It is present in the SF Examiner headline: "Death Toll Reaches 29 in Mideast Clashes."

In none of these samples is it made clear how people died and who did the killing. Now we know, at the time of this writing, that more than 76 Palestinians have been killed. We should all know, deep in our hearts, that if 29 or 55 or 76 Israelis had been killed by Palestinians, the headlines would be screaming at us from the headlines of almost every newspaper '29 Israelis Killed by Palestinians' or 'Arabs Kill 76 Israelis'. The headlines would certainly not read 'Death Toll Reaches 29' or '76 Israelis Die in Mideast Violence' - headlines that fail to attribute any direct responsibility for the killing. A SF Chronicle story carried a headline which read, 'Palestinian Riots Spread Into Israel.' Three paragraphs into that story we are informed that 12 Palestinians have been killed. In a particularly egregious example, another Sacramento Bee headline reads, "Palestinian gunmen fire on Israelis" over a story that tells us that twelve more Palestinians have been killed."
This is something that happens repeatedly in the American press and implicitly attaches one value to the lives of Israeli's and a lesser value to the lives of Arabs. Israelis are "killed" but Palestinians "die." I am not alone in noticing these disturbing disparities that work to camouflage Israeli responsibility.
Award winning British journalist Robert Fisk wrote in The Independent that when he reads that Palestinians have died in "crossfire" it almost always means that "the Israelis have killed an innocent person." So when he read on the Associated Press wire that 12-year-old Mohammed al-Durah was killed in Gaza when he was "caught in the crossfire", Fisk writes, "I knew at once who had killed him."
"Sure enough" Fisk confirms, "reporters investigating the killing said the boy was shot by Israeli troops." "So was his father -- who survived -- and so was the ambulance driver who was killed trying to rescue the boy."
This failure of American editors and reporters to clearly attribute responsibility for the killing of Palestinian victims is just one of many ways in which the American press continuously devalues the lives of Arabs. This almost constant devaluation of Arab lives is reinforced by a popular culture that has made it safe to openly make the most racist statements about Arabs without fear of castigation or even condemnation.
Just last month Bill Maher, host of ABC's Politically Incorrect, argued on his show that racial profiling "might be OK in some cases" like when you're on a flight to Israel and "some sweaty Arab" sits down next to you. Worse than the blatantly racist insult to Arabs was the fact that no one even noticed it.
Anti-Arab racism is almost certainly a factor in continued American disinterest concerning a US driven embargo that has, according to UN agencies and several high ranking UN officials, caused the deaths of over 1,000,000 Iraqi civilians and continues to cause the deaths of 4,000 to 5,000 Arab children every month.
It is telling that a policy that is killing as many as 5,000 Arab children each month didn't even merit a brief mention in the recent US Presidential debate. And despite the fact that Palestinian blood was literally flowing, as the Democratic and Republican presidential and vice-presidential candidates debated, from wounds inflicted by American supplied weapons including Apache attack helicopters, that too merited nary a mention by any of the candidates and neither of the two moderators.
A clear but unspoken racist double standard permeates US policy in the region as well as its coverage in the US news media. We are bombing and economically strangling the Arab nation of Iraq for invading Kuwait and seeking to develop nuclear weapons. But we have provided Israel with staggering and uninterrupted quantities of economic and military aid despite its even more violent invasion of Lebanon, its refusal to respond to countless UN security council resolutions, and its continued building of what is already one of the world's largest nuclear arsenals.
And it should certainly be clear by now which side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the "honest brokers" of the Clinton Administration are on. Despite the well known role of East Jerusalem as the cultural and intellectual center of Palestine, the Clinton Administration continues to support Israeli sovereignty over most of Arab East Jerusalem. And in spite of a long list of major compromises by the Palestinian negotiators, the administration blames only Palestinians for being inflexible and pressures them for yet more concessions.
The results of America's imbalanced policy choices are now playing out in the streets of Israel and the Occupied Territories and the time has clearly come for an American President and his policy advisors to realize the responsibility they share for the death of a 12 year old boy in his fathers arms and the torrent of Palestinian blood that is now flowing.
President Clinton needs to be pressuring Israel, not the Palestinians to make more concessions for peace. As the larger and more powerful of the two entities, Israel clearly has more room to bend and it is the Palestinians, not the Israelis whose backs are truly against the wall. He could also make continued US aid contingent on Israeli compliance with international law and UN Security Council resolutions. Then all that would need to be negotiated, apart from a Palestinian right of return, would be when, not whether, Israel will return the occupied lands seized in 1967.
Because of the major role that the United States plays in life and death issues in the Middle East, American editors and reporters have a special responsibility to constantly examine the fairness of their reporting and how critically they examine information they present to the American people. And they need to examine the possibility of their own racism and begin treating Palestinians and other Arabs as equal citizens whose lives carry just as much value as Jewish Israeli lives.
Israelis need to examine their own racism and their arrogance in using their military superiority to wring yet more concessions from a people who are struggling to keep a mere 20% of what was formerly Palestine. They must realize that in forcing humiliating concessions on the Palestinians they are only planting the seeds of continued resentment, hatred and violence.
Above all, Israelis need to realize that the creation of an economically, politically and geographically viable Palestinian state is inextricably linked with any prospect they might have of a peaceful and secure future. The Israelis' apparent inability or unwillingness to recognize this basic truth may be the greatest single obstacle to a just and lasting peace.

April 2001
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Israel wins war of words

On the dangers of sloppy journalism

by Brian Whitaker



A familiar tale from the Middle East: "Palestinians launched three bombs overnight against the Eile Sinai settlement in the far north of the Gaza Strip. Israeli troops responded with tank shells, destroying a Palestinian border post and hitting two houses."
This report, which happens to have come from the BBC, is familiar not only for the events it describes but also for the way it describes them: the Palestinians attack and the Israelis "respond".
Military actions by the Israelis are always a "response" to something, even when they strike first. If they haven't actually been attacked, it's a "response" to a security threat.
"Response" is a very useful word. It provides a ready-made reason for the Israelis' actions and neatly brushes off demands for further explanation. It says: "Don't ask us why we did it, ask the other side."
There's no point in blaming the Israelis for using this device; the question is whether journalists should let it shape their reporting of the conflict.
Portraying the conflict as a series of Palestinian actions and Israeli responses is dangerous, for several reasons.
Firstly, it lends support to the Israeli argument that if only the Palestinians would stop their violence everything would be fine. That might be true for many Israelis, but not for the Palestinians.
Secondly, it builds up -- through constant repetition -- into a misleading picture of the overall conflict. The violence is not a series of discrete actions and reactions but a cycle (or spiral) in which actions on both sides feed off those on the other.
Thirdly, while Israeli actions are reported as a self-justifying "response", actions by the Palestinians are rarely allowed either a proper context or an understandable motive.
Obviously there is a limit to what can be said in a news story of 300-400 words, and some journalists will argue that their main job is to report the day's events, not to explain the background.
But I am not suggesting they should turn it into a history lecture; merely that they should at least hint at a broader picture and acknowledge that the Palestinians might have some genuine grievances.
To do this is neither difficult nor unduly word-consuming. Some news agency reports, for instance, routinely work into their stories a five-word reference to the "Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation".
The Israeli occupation lies at the root of the conflict - and yet, more often than not, journalists fail to remind their readers of it.
The Guardian's electronic newspaper archive contains all the British national dailies, plus the London Evening Standard. A search of this reveals 1,669 stories published during the last 12 months that mentioned the West Bank.
Of these, 49 contained the phrase "occupied West Bank". A further 513 included the word "occupied" or "occupation" elsewhere in the text. That leaves 1,107 stories - 66% of the total - which managed to talk about the West Bank without mentioning one of the key facts.
Some journalists -- particularly Americans -- seem reluctant to treat occupation as an established fact and instead treat it as an opinion which should be attributed to someone. Last October, for example, CCN's Jerusalem bureau chief told viewers that Palestinians were angry at "what they regard as the Israeli occupation".
Others resort to euphemisms: the West Bank is "disputed" or "administrated by Israel". Some adopt the practice of Israeli officials by shortening "the Occupied Territories" to "the Territories".
Journalists are also rather timid on the question of Jewish settlers, usually portraying them as a target of violence but more rarely as one of the major causes (which they plainly are). Some of the recent stories about the killing of a 10-month-old Jewish baby, Shalhevet Pass, in Hebron made clear that the settlers there are a tiny and particularly fanatical bunch - though many did not.
One report described Hebron as a "divided city", when in fact 99.8% of the inhabitants are Arabs. (Jerusalem, on the other hand -- with two-thirds of the population Jewish and one-third Arab -- is constantly described by Israelis as "undivided".)
Over the last 12 months, 394 stories in the archive mentioned Jewish settlers. Of these, seven included the phrase "extremist settler" and eight "extremist Jewish settler". The word "extremist" did occur in 44 of the stories, though not necessarily applied to settlers. Some stories juxtaposed settlers characterised simply as "Jewish" with Palestinians characterised as "extremist".
The illegality of the settlements under international law also often escapes mention. The phrase "illegal settlement", used in an Israeli-Palestinian context, appeared only eight times during the last 12 months -- and three of those were in readers' letters to the editor.
During the early stages of the intifada newspapers were accused of "dehumanising" Palestinians by publishing numbers but not names of those killed. This was contrasted with the wealth of personal information, helpfully provided by the Israeli authorities, about Jewish casualties.
The lack of Palestinian names was certainly not due to a conscious policy on the part of journalists and, although there are sometimes difficulties in getting the names, efforts have been made to remedy it.
However, last week's search of the archive highlighted another practice which has a similar effect: Jews mainly live in "communities" but Palestinians live in "areas".
Palestinian "areas" scored 109 mentions over the last 12 months; "neighbourhoods" scored 15 and "communities" only three (one each in the Guardian, Observer and Independent).
In the case of Jews, the positions were reversed: "communities" scored 87, "neighbourhoods" 30 and "areas" 21.
This is clearly not intentional and it may be partly due to the way we speak of Jewish communities in the diaspora. But the overall pattern does suggest a perception - perhaps an unconscious one - that Palestinians are less civilised. Another factor is that "neighbourhood" and, to a lesser extent, "community" are used as euphemisms for settlements. Israeli spokesmen regularly describe the settlement at Gilo as a "neighbourhood" of Jerusalem because it has been unilaterally annexed.
A recent report in the Times, following in the tradition of CNN, said that "Palestinians regard" Gilo as an illegal settlement. Indeed they do, but then so does international law.

The Guardian, Monday April 9, 2001
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4167706,00.html>

First Display on aaargh: 10 May 2001


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