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Media Analyses

EYE ON THE MEDIA: The Unbearable Urge to Sympathize

The rare case of a female Palestinian terrorist, Jaffa Road bomber Wafa Idris, has elicited as night follows day innumerable witless media "profiles" of the young woman. Idris had arrived on the Jerusalem thoroughfare on Sunday January 27, stepping briefly into a shoe store, then dying as the bomb she clutched blew her apart.

She took with her 81-year-old Pinhas Tokatli, a fifth-generation Jerusalemite who was shopping nearby for paints for his art class. He left a wife, a sister, four children and 13 grandchildren. According to the memorial note on the Israeli Foreign Ministry Web site, Tokatli's grandchildren enjoyed painting with him.

Larry Kaplow, writing in the Palm Beach Post, was one of the very few to mention any of these details about the man murdered. In stories about the bomber's being a woman, major media such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, ABC, CBS, CNN and many others did not even mention his name.

They did, however, include the familiar half-truths and platitudes of blame.

Relatives and friends of Idris were quoted pointing to the desperation and rage at Israel the woman had experienced as an ambulance volunteer who witnessed the suffering of injured Palestinians. The New York Times' James Bennet observed that the bomber "raised doves and adored children," and that "Ms. Idris' central, violent role appeared to be a sign of the growing desperation of Palestinians..." Lee Hockstader in the Washington Post reported, "To Palestinians, she is a symbol of nationalist sacrifice and desperation, a warning of what is to come. To the Israelis, she is a sign of the conflict's radicalization and a trigger for tough new measures."

In a Q & A segment devoted to "Understanding women suicide bombers," CNN interviewed Sandra Jordan, foreign editor of The Observer, who declared that women will blow themselves up, "because of the humiliation they have to suffer on a day-to-day basis...They told me that things have gotten so bad, there is such a sense of desperation now..."

Interviewer Zain Verjee asked: "When you were in Gaza, and saw what was going on and sort of assessed the environment for yourself, did it help explain to you why this is happening and the legitimacy of their own cause?"

Jordan replied: "Yes, I must say, it did... I must say it only took about one day in Gaza before I realized the sort of lives that people have to live over there..."

(Incredibly, oblivious to public sensibilities after September 11, CNN also interviewed the notorious Palestinian airplane hijacker Leila Khaled for her thoughts on the female bomber!)

It may be true that the images of Palestinian casualties and the difficulties of life in a refugee camp fuel a willingness to commit suicidal mass murder. But Wafa Idris was undoubtedly affected by other fundamental and potent forces.

The desperation and rage in the hearts of Palestinians young and old, male and female, have been fostered relentlessly by the Palestinian Authority apparatus. Grotesque lies cast the Jewish people as demonically cruel in their treatment of Palestinians - and warranting death. The Israeli enemy, as Arafat himself alleges to his audiences, uses poison gas and depleted uranium against Palestinians. Israelis are said to dispense poisoned candy and to poison the water. The Holocaust is a "fable," according to the official Palestinian press. And Jews have no historical connection with the land of Israel but are interlopers, according to textbooks in Palestinian classrooms. They are alien and temporary, thieving conquerors to be driven out of sacred Muslim land.

On television, in a Palestinian equivalent of Sesame Street, little girls have sung of aspiring to be suicide bombers and of drenching the ground with their blood. In other television segments, girls and boys are told to set aside their toys and choose a martyr's paradise.

The torrent of Palestinian hatred and rejection of Israel that shattered the Oslo effort - and was overwhelmingly disregarded by the media - continues to lie at the core of the violence that wrecks Palestinian and Israeli lives.

Yet not one story on the phenomenon of a female Palestinian "martyr" mentioned the PA's litany of anti-Jewish hatred and official encouragement of martyrdom. Instead, with the hate-mongering excluded and emphasis directed toward the personal unhappiness of the young woman, the message was, in all too many cases, shamefully distorted by the media to suggest that Israel caused the killing.


Originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on February 15, 2002

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