Note: The following commentary appeared in the Friday, Nov. 20, 2009 edition of The Watertown Tab in Watertown, Massachusetts.
Citizens for Environmental Safety Hosted Speaker Who Demonizes Israel
By Dexter Van Zile
Most people understand that demonizing Israel does not serve the cause of peace. Sadly, this lesson seems lost on the activists from Watertown Citizens for Environmental Safety who sponsored a talk by Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer at St. John’s United Methodist church last [Sunday].
During his talk, (which was not sponsored by the church), Omer displayed numerous images of charred and dismembered corpses of Palestinians killed by Israeli missiles and bombs. It was gruesome stuff designed to portray the Israelis as monsters and the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip as victims of the same type of violence endured by the Jews in Europe during the Holocaust.
This point was underscored when one of Omer’s supporters stated that “it’s just as unethical to deny the ethnic cleansing of Palestine as it is to deny the Holocaust. Holocaust denial is unethical. When you deny the truth, that’s unethical.”
The truth is that indeed, Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli missiles and bombs and yes, these deaths are tragic and undeniable. To portray them as victims of a Holocaust and of ethnic cleansing is, however, a clear distortion of reality.
The deaths Omer showed to the audience were the result of an ongoing conflict during which Hamas terrorists have targeted Israeli civilians while hiding behind civilians in the Gaza Strip, thus guaranteeing that civilians will be killed. Hamas, a group dedicated to Israel’s destruction, has booby-trapped schools, used mosques as weapons depots and instructed the children to stand on the rooftops of buildings in the Gaza Strip to in the face of impending attacks.
Israelis, on the other hand, have warned Gazans of impending attacks with leaflets, phone calls, and text messages and have called off attacks when civilians would be endangered.
This is not the stuff of ethnic cleansing, but part of an ongoing attempt by the Israeli Defense Force to prevent civilian casualties in its fight against Hamas. These efforts were particularly evident during Operation Cast Lead which took place last winter. Of this campaign, British Colonel Richard Kemp stated that “During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”
Omer gave little if any attention to Israel’s efforts to avoid civilian casualties, but instead displayed one gruesome picture after another and laid the blame for the death solely at the feet of Israel. While showing an image of the corpse of Rachel Corrie, the protester from the International Solidarity Movement who was killed in 2003, Omer stated “Rachel Corrie, the beautiful face of America has been crushed by an Israeli bulldozer.” (Interestingly enough, Omer did not show the well-known image of Corrie surrounded by Palestinian children as she burned a mock American flag.)
Yes, Corrie’s death was a tragedy, but the fact remains she put herself in harm’s way as part of an organization whose interactions with Palestinian terrorists has been well-documented.
Watertown Citizens for Environmental Safety may think they did their neighbors a favor by sponsoring Omer’s talk. They may even think they did the Palestinians a favor by giving Omer an audience in the U.S.
The reality however is different. By allowing Omer to offer his demonizing narrative to the people of Watertown, WCES is helping to mainstream a narrative used to justify continued violence against Israelis and Americans.
Dexter Van Zile, a resident of Boston, is a Media Analyst with the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).