On his recent visit to Syria, the Pope was the most recent
in a long line of prominent guests ushered by the government to the demolished
town of Quneitra, there to personally witness in the rubble of flattened
buildings evidence of alleged Israeli brutality. Such visits, complete with
former residents bussed in to lament their fate, have been regular fare since
1974, when Syria regained Quneitra under a UN-brokered agreement and
immediately charged that Israel had maliciously destroyed the town with
bulldozers and dynamite just before the hand over.
Predictably, a UN investigation of the Syrian charges
ignored eyewitness evidence, took no testimony from Israelis, and found that,
indeed, Israel had intentionally destroyed the town. The reports
credibility was somewhat tarnished by the fact that the author and chief
investigator was on the Syrian payroll.
The Syrian and UN charges notwithstanding, the facts tell a
different story. Quneitra, in the Golan Heights, was captured by Israel in the
1967 Six Day War, suffering heavy damage in the process. By the time Israeli
troops actually entered the town, most of the population had fled. Between the
1967 war and the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Syria did not hesitate to shell
Israeli forces stationed in Quneitra, further damaging the town. And during the
1973 war, Quneitra was repeatedly shelled by Arab (not just Syrian) artillery
The following year, as part of the disengagement agreement,
Quneitra was handed back to Syria. Rather than repairing the damage and
allowing Quneitras residents to return as called for in the agreement,
however, Syria has instead left the town in ruins and put up billboards and a
museum to expose what it charges are Zionist crimes.
A media with a seemingly insatiable appetite for anti-Israel
fables eagerly embraced this one, in countless dispatches repeating at face
value the Syrian claims. The BBC, CNN, the Financial Times, The
Guardian, and the French wire service AFP were just some of the media
outlets which ran accounts that could have been written by Bashar Assad
Thus, a BBC web report claimed that Quneitra was
destroyed by the Israelis before being handed back to Syria in
1974. CNNs Jim Bittermann informed viewers that Quneitra was
captured by the Israelis during the Golan Heights battles during the 1967 war.
The citizens were evacuated. And then the city was systematically
destroyed. His CNN colleague Brent Sadler was only slightly more
reserved, telling viewers that Israel reportedly destroyed [Quneitra]
piece-by-piece before handing the land back to Syria ... Not to be
outdone, The Financial Times Gareth Smyth led his report with
Pope John Paul II on Monday prayed for peace in the Holy Land in
Quneitra, a Syrian town destroyed by Israel in 1974. And so on the
Associated Press was apparently the only news service to at least have the
decency to follow the Syrian charges with an Israeli denial.
How was Quneitra destroyed? Well, according to reporters who
were there at the time, it fell victim to war and military attacks, including
Syrian shelling after Israel took control in 1967. For instance, a
Los Angeles Times article of June 12, 1967 included a sub-head which
referred to Al Koneytra (ie Quneitra) as the ruins of [a] captured
town. The article reported that Al Koneytra was a town of
smoldering ruins. Heavily armed convoys patrolled the debris-covered
streets, and Life was at a virtual standstill, with all shops
closed or wrecked. This damage, obviously the result of the
just-concluded war, occurred a full seven years before Israels supposed
spiteful bulldozing of the town.
Soon after the war, Syria began regularly to shell Quneitra.
For instance, a New York Times dispatch of June 25, 1970 headlined
Fighting Flares in Golan Heights as Syrian Tanks Attack Israelis,
reported that Syria had shelled Israeli positions in the Golan for three hours,
hitting El Quneitra, Nahal Gesher and Ein Zivan.
And a Times story on September 2, 1972 referred to
the one inhabited street in the town and Israeli soldiers training a
block or two of ruins away. Yet another Times story, this one on
November 26, 1972 was headlined Syria Shells Israeli Bases in Occupied
Golan Heights, and reported Damascus radios announcement that
Syrian artillery had shelled Kafr Naffakh and El Quneitra.
On October 11, 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, another
Times report told of a Moroccan brigade joining Syrian forces in
an attack on El Quneitra. And in an article on October 21, 1973, the
Times reported that while the UN observation station in the town had
survived the war intact, Quneitra itself was a bombed-out military town
the Syrians lost to the Israelis ...
Finally, a London Times report of April 5, 1974
referred to Quneitra as the ruined capital of the Heights.
But for CNN reporters and their like-minded colleagues
elsewhere, the story of a vindictive and cruel Israel destroying Mosques and
Churches, driving out peaceful residents and flattening their town, was too
good to check. After all, why would CNN doubt the word of President Bashar
Assad, who had just asserted in the presence of the Pope that Jews
betrayed Jesus Christ ... and tried to betray and kill the Prophet
Muhammad? Why would the BBC doubt the word of Syrian Defense Minister
Mustafa Tlas, who wrote a book claiming that Jews use the blood of gentiles to
bake their Passover matzohs?