Oprah Winfrey, one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World," introduced O, The Oprah Magazine five years ago and it has quickly become one of the most widely read women's publications in America with 2.7 million monthly readers. Regrettably, the enormously influential Oprah has dabbled in the Arab-Israeli conflict on both her TV program, "The Oprah Winfrey Show," and in her magazine, in each case, mainly blaming Israel for the violence and exonerating the Palestinians.
The Oprah Winfrey Show
An April 25, 2005 program entitled "Oprah Takes You Around the World" included a short segment about the Arab-Israeli conflict consisting of one image after another of Israelis carrying weapons against unarmed Palestinians. The message communicated was of one-sided suffering. The show excluded any references to or images of terrorism.
The same theme of Palestinian victimization is elaborated on in a 10-page feature in the June 2005 issue of O entitled "Love and Terror" by David France, the last article of a five-part series on "rescuing the world's girls." (The four previous articles about "rescuing the world's girls" highlighted serious problems such as AIDS in Africa, the Cambodian sex trade in which girls are sold into prostitution, and the forced enlistment of Colombian teens into a guerrilla army of child soldiers.) France's one-sided article focuses on Palestinian grievances against Israel, and ignores the innocent Israeli targets of Palestinian suicide bombers.
The story centers on a young Palestinian woman, Yusra Abdu, who falls in love with terrorist leader Hani Akad and who takes steps to become a suicide bomber herself.
Throughout the piece, France promotes the Palestinian version of events and either omits or downplays the Israeli side. For example, France writes about an alleged episode of Israeli-perpetrated violence that:
Nine-year-old Heba Zourob, who lives in Khan Younis, a southern Gaza refugee camp, was playing in the schoolyard with other students last December 12 when Israeli mortar fire hit the playground and severely wounded seven of her classmates. (Emphasis added.)
There's a problem with the claim Israel lobbed mortars into a Gaza schoolyard; according to the Israel Defense Forces spokesperson's office, "the IDF's Southern Command does not use mortars in the conflict in Gaza Strip." But France evidently neglected to fact-check the allegation of mortar-firing. Nor did he include an Israeli response to the accusation.
In addition, it is the Palestinians who routinely launch mortars, often firing them at Israeli civilians. Just prior to the December incident misreported by France, the New York Times reported that "Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip fire rockets and mortars at Israeli sites almost daily" (Sept. 25, 2004). Sometimes Palestinians miscalculate, their mortar fire causing casualties to their own civilians. On June 10, 2005, for example, the New York Times wrote: "Islamic Jihad then fired mortars at Jewish settlements, and two Palestinian workers and a Chinese worker were killed."
Despite the questionable nature of the Palestinian charges, France presents them as uncontested fact.
Other references to Palestinian injuries are similarly suspicious. According to the article, Yusra decided to become a suicide bomber the same year her "uncle was shot nine times from an Israeli sniper nest as he walked to work...he survived." The story is told by Yusra's family, and fails to include the Israeli or the IDF's account of the circumstances. Again, France accepts the Palestinian version of events and reveals a disturbing lack of understanding of the facts when he writes that:
Tensions exploded...on September 28, 2000, when right-wing Israeli leader, Ariel Sharon, paid a visit to one of the holiest places in the Islamic world, the site of the Dome of the Rock mosque in the Palestinian section of Jerusalem. Sharon has never fully explained his reason for showing up with 1,000 police officers in riot gear just as Muslims were gathering for prayer. Angrily, the people poured out of the mosque, and the ensuing clashes over the next few days left at least a dozen Palestinians dead.
This skewed description reads like Palestinian propaganda. What France terms the "Palestinian section" of Jerusalem is, of course, the area where the ancient Jewish Quarter, including the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site, are located. Unmentioned too is the fact that Palestinian leaders themselves have admitted that Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount was not the cause of the violence, and that the wave of terror was, in fact, planned by Palestinian leaders months before, in the summer of 2000, and Sharon's visit was simply used as a pretext. PA Communications Minister Imad Faluji, for example, addressing a rally at the Ein Hilwe refugee camp in Lebanon, stated that the new intifada had been in the planning for months:
Whoever thinks that the intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon's visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, is wrong, even if this visit was the straw that broke the back of the Palestinian people. 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... [Arafat] rejected the American terms and he did it in the heart of the US. (MEMRI, Special Dispatch No. 194 - PA, March 9, 2001; emphasis added)
Furthermore, the implication that Israel disregards Muslim sensibilities is false. On gaining sovereignty over eastern Jerusalem in 1967, Israel allowed the Muslim trustees (or Waqf) continued control of the Temple Mount, Judaism's preeminent religious site. Millions of Muslims have prayed freely at their religious shrines under Israel's jurisdiction, a sharp contrast to the intolerant treatment of Jews when Jordan occupied eastern Jerusalem and prohibited them access to the Temple Mount as well as the Western Wall.
The author's recounting of other events is equally ill-informed and tilted. In an apparent effort to explain why Hani Akad may have become a terrorist, France writes:
Then in April 2002, Israel mounted a sweeping invasion of Nablus in pursuit of suspected terrorists, destroying homes, cutting power to an estimated 47 percent of the city, and interrupting essential services. The siege lasted more than two weeks, left many dead, and threw the city into chaos. As a volunteer with the first aid agency, Hani was allowed to cross firing lines to remove injured townspeople...This put him in a position to see the extensive damage ... sights that put a flame to his anger.
France's characterizations echo the anti-Israel mythology charging excessive military force which was dominant that spring. He omits crucial context, giving no indication that the operation came in response to a series of terrorist attacks that killed more than 100 Israelis, mainly civilians, and injured hundreds more in March 2002 alone. One of the deadliest attacks was the March 27 Passover massacre that killed 30 and injured 140 in the Park Hotel in Netanya.
The article mentions only in passing that Nablus had produced suicide bombers, giving no hint of the magnitude of threat posed to Israelis by the infrastructure of Palestinian terrorism headquartered in the city, including terrorist leaders, their facilities, bomb factories and arms. For example, during the April 2002 ncursion to which France refers, more than 20 bomb factories were discovered in Nablus.
In addition, the explosives used for some of the most deadly suicide bombings were produced there, including the bomb used for the Passover attack in Netanya. Among the suicide bombers from Nablus were the Tel Aviv "Dolpinarium" discotheque bomber who in June 2001 killed 21 Israelis, many of them young women. Likewise the Sbarro Pizerria bomber who in August 2001 killed 15 people in Jerusalem, among them toddlers and women, took his grim orders from Nablus terror masters. Many other killers were also trained, equipped and dispatched from the city.
But readers could learn none of this from France's skewed depiction. What they were given instead was rationalization of Palestinian violence with Nablus presented as the center of Palestinian despair:
In a UNICEF–supported survey of Palestinian children conducted last November, one in four said their schools had been fired on or shelled "They're totally distressed," says Anne Grandjean, psychosocial officer for UNICEF in East Jerusalem. "In study after study we see the results_bed-wetting, nightmares, low achievement in school."
No city has experienced the crisis more acutely than Nablus_which has produced more suicide bombers than any other municipality ... and no neighborhood more than Yusra's. Movement on the streets is risky, and employment is rare.
Thus, there was no suggestion that Palestinians bore responsibility for their situation in Nablus, but rather they were cast primarily as victims of an acute "crisis" beyond their control.
Just as France glosses over Palestinians' involvement in terrorism, he downplays Akad's role in landing Yusra in prison, romanticizing his supposed love for her as "Shakespearean." Nor does the author note that this modern-day Romeo has allegedly helped recruit other young women for suicide missions. An Oct. 15, 2004 Jerusalem Post article reported that:
Three Palestinian women in their early 20s were indicted ... for allegedly plotting a double-suicide bombing last month_two for planning the attack in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, or Netanya, and the third for attempting to disguise the other two as Israelis and lead them to the targeted site... Lina Jiabera, 22, met with Adala Jiabera, 21, a relative and fellow student at the An-Najah University in Nablus...and asked if she would be willing to carry out a suicide bombing together. Lina at first refused, but agreed several days later after she met with Hani al-Aked, who planned the attack... After the women were prepared, Aked briefed them on how to detonate the bombs they would carry in their bags and the three set out in a car heading for Tal. . . .
By what logic does a series on rescuing girls in peril romanticize a man who has tried to lure numerous young women to their deaths? Regrettably, in its faulty factual underpinnings, misplaced emphasis and moral confusion, David France's account diminishes, rather than enhances, public awareness of the troubling straits in which vulnerable girls and women find themselves in the conflict.
At the close of the article, O takes a further step in steering readers toward the view that only Palestinians are victims, advising that donations be made either to Oprah's Angel Network which gives money to programs that "prevent Palestinian children from becoming suicide bombers" or to UNICEF which runs "summer camps and trauma programs for Palestinian children." Readers are not encouraged to support organizations that assist maimed and traumatized Israeli girls (Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike)–the victims of the suicide bombers–whose cause is not, apparently, considered worthy by the magazine.