You have to hand it to Agence France Presse. The European wire service is speedy. As of 10 a.m. in Israel, the wire carried numerous AFP stories about the Gaza Strip and other developments in the region. The Associated Press, another major wire service, had none.
But, judging by some of today’s AFP reports, timeliness came at the expense of objective reporting. For instance, a report issued 2:16 a.m. GMT from Kfar Darom claimed that today some Palestinians “danced jigs of joy over the first ever Israeli withdrawal from occupied Palestinian land.”
But, of course, this is not the first time that Israel has turned over land to the Palestinians. Indeed, an AFP timeline released today and entitled “Major events in Palestinian history,” states that in 1996, “Israel hands over the main towns of the West Bank to Palestinian rule.” And, in 1994–also noted in the “Major events” timeline–Israel withdrew from Palestinian population centers in Gaza. The withdrawals during the Oslo period left more than 95 percent of the Palestinian population under its own rule.
The timeline itself is tendentious, largely whitewashing Palestinian Arab violence and responsibility for the conflict. (The timeline can be viewed here.) For instance, the Aug. 23, 1929 entry states: “Riots between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem spread over most West Bank towns, killing hundreds.” The 1929 riots were not “between Arabs and Jews”; they were Arab perpetrated anti-Jewish riots throughout Mandate Palestine, and not just the West Bank. As Martin Gilbert notes in his Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict:
On 23 August 1929, over a thousand Arabs in three main groups, emerged from the old city of Jerusalem and attacked any Jew they could catch in several of the Jewish quarters of the city, and in its suburbs. Attacks on Jews quickly spread throughout Palestine. That night the British authorities refused permission to allow the Jews to set up armed units to protect Jewish settlements. By nightfall of 26 August, 133 Jews had been killed, and 339 wounded. Of the 116 Arab dead, all but six had been killed by the British Mandate police in their efforts to halt the anti-Jewish violence.
The timeline then goes on to address the Nov. 27, 1947 United Nations Partition Plan, stating: “UN approves Resolution 181 for the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.” AFP fails to mention that the Palestinian Arabs rejected the plan, and instead joined with six Arab armies to invade the nascent Jewish state.
How does AFP describe this coordinated Arab attack, a violation of the original U.N. Charter? By completely sidestepping any Arab responsibility for the aggression:
Declaration of the creation of the state of Israel provokes an eight-month war with Arab states. More than 400 Palestinian villages in what became Israel are destroyed and 700,000-900,000 refugees flee to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and neighbouring Arab countries.
The AFP’s description of the refugee situation ignores the fact that the Palestinians were involved in a war to eliminate Israel, and not simply a victim of supposed Israeli destruction and expulsions. (Most of those who fled did so at the behest of their own leaders.) Furthermore, AFP’s refugee figure is somewhat exaggerated. Between 472,000 and 650,000 Arab refugees left that portion of British Mandatory Palestine that became Israel. The larger figure reflects the difference in the area’s Arab population between the last British and first Israeli censuses; the smaller one was given at the time by the U.N. mediator.
AFP again ignores Arab belligerence in its recounting of the 1967 war, which states: “June 5-10, 1967 - The Six Day War. Israel occupies east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.” Israel gained those territories as a result of a preemptive war in response to illegal and aggressive Arab acts. Amid an atmosphere of vitriolic Arabic rhetoric calling for the destruction of Israel, Egypt massed 100,000 troops on Israel’s southern border. Egypt also ejected U.N. peacekeepers from the Sinai, and closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, an act of war under international law. Up north, Syrian troops moved into the Golan Heights and Iraq joined a military alliance with Syria, Egypt and Jordan. After the war began with Egypt, Israel’s prime minister notified King Hussein of Jordan that Israel would not attack Jordan unless Jordan initiated military action. According to Hussein’s autobiography, the king responded by shelling Jerusalem and bombing Netanya. Of course, Israel would not have gained control of east Jerusalem were it not for Jordan’s aggression.
The AFP again whitewashes Palestinian violence, this time directed towards the Hashemite Kingdom, with the euphemistic entry for Sept. 16-22, 1970: “Tensions between the PLO and Jordan erupt into bloody battles that leave at least 3,000 dead and end with the ejection of the PLO base from Jordan to Lebanon.” These “tensions” include the Palestine Liberation Organization’s establishment of a state within a state, challenging King Hussein’s rule and clashing repeatedly with the Jordanian army and security forces; Palestinian attacks launched from Jordan against Israel which drew retaliation against Jordan; multiple Palestinian attempts to assassinate King Hussein; and the hijacking of three Western airliners to Jordan
Following a by now predictable pattern of ignoring the initial Palestinian provocation and reporting only the Israeli response, the AFP writes about June 1982: “Israel invades Lebanon, besieging Beirut and PLO headquarters there for some 80 days. PLO moves to Tunis.” Again, the AFP has given no indication as to what Palestinian actions prompted the Israeli invasion. They include the ongoing shelling of Israeli northern communities, worldwide terrorism emanating from the PLO based in Lebanon, and the PLO’s massive buildup of long-range artillery. For example, in just one week of July 1981, more than 1000 shells and rockets were lobbed at 33 Israeli towns and settlement. During an American brokered cease-fire that year, the PLO accumulated 90 122- and 130-mm cannon and 100 vehicle-mounted Katyusha launchers as well as substantial amounts of shorter-ranger artillery (Ariel Sharon with David Chernoff, Warrior, p. 433). In addition, PLO terrorists from July 1981 and June 1982 killed 15 and wounded 250 in Israel, the West Bank, and overseas. Aborted or disrupted plans included a rocket attack on Eilat, blowing up buses and phone booths, and an attempt to explode a kindergarten near Tel Aviv. In March 1982, Israeli offices in Paris and Athens were attacked, and on April 3, PLO terrorists murdered an Israeli embassy official in Paris.
The 21st Century
Just like AFP ignores Palestinian Arabs rejection the 1947 Partition Plan, the wire service ignores Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat’s rejection of an unprecedented Israeli offer at Camp David in 2000. Moreover, Arafat even refused to offer a counter-proposal. Nevertheless, AFP delicately reports: “The talks fail, paving the way for the eruption of the second intifada two months later.”
The AFP further exonerates the Palestinians for the violence they launched against Israel post-Camp David, by stating that on Sept. 28: “Right-wing Israeli opposition leader, later prime minister, Ariel Sharon, visits the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, a site holy to Islam and Judaism, sparking the first clashes of the intifada.” It is nonsense to blame Sharon for “sparking” the intifada, when even Palestinian officials have exonerated him and acknowledged their own culpability. According to Communications Minister Imad Al-Faluji:
Whoever thinks that the Intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon’s visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque is wrong.. . . This Intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat's return from the Camp David negotiations, where he turned the table upside down on President Clinton.(Al-Safir, March 3, 2001. Translated by MEMRI)
Elsewhere, Al-Faluji said: “The PA had begun to prepare for the outbreak of the current Intifada since the return from the Camp David negotiations.”(Al-Ayyam, December 6, 2000. Translated by MEMRI).
In the decades-long, bloody Palestinian history, it is not until 2002 that AFP begins to acknowledge Palestinian responsibility for Israeli counter-measures. Thus, AFP notes: “Responding to a wave of suicide bombings, Israel invades . . . .” and “Israel starts to build a wall sealing the West Bank off from Israel in an attempt to block militants from attacking the Jewish state.” (Of course, the barrier cannot be accurately described as a “wall,” since it is mostly wire fencing, and less than five percent concrete wall. Also, Palestinians who sneak into Israel to blow up pizzerias, discos, and bat mitzvah parties are obviously not “militants,” but terrorists.)
While AFP is entitled to give an objective accounting of major events significant to Palestinian history, this right is not tantamount to distorting history to reflect the Palestinian view.