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Media Analyses





CAMERA Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal European Edition: "The Real Story on Israel"


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International Commentary

Why has the Middle East peace process degenerated into undeclared warfare, with Palestinian suicide bombers targeting Israelis, and Israel apparently contemplating unprecedented retaliation? Surely some of the blame attaches to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who has repeatedly violated agreements with Israel, ignored his obligation under the accords to dismantle the "military wings" of the terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and fomented the last eight months of bloodshed.

These are facts, though you wouldn't be aware of them if you got your information from much of the Western media. Through the eight years of the Oslo process, the BBC, CNN, the New York Times and other "prestige" media outlets have consistently played down or ignored altogether Mr. Arafat's grave violations of the Oslo Accords, reporting as if only Israel had obligations under them. Rarely have they held Mr. Arafat accountable for his actions.

The BBC in particular has been remarkably one-sided. Typical was Claire Bolderson's Dec. 12 interview of the Palestinian human-rights campaigner Bassem Eid. The BBC presenter appeared indignant at Mr. Eid's contention that Palestinians should stop shooting at Israelis.

"The Palestinian people are the people who are rising up against what they see as the Israeli occupation, the brutality of the Israelis -- are you saying they just shouldn't do that at all -- that they should be just completely peaceful and quiet?" she asked.

Mr. Eid replied that Palestinian attacks were counterproductive, succeeding only in provoking Israeli retaliation, and he noted that "we signed an agreement with the Israelis . . . to put an end to the conflict . . . [via] the peace talks and the peace process rather than doing the shootings."

Ms. Bolderson pressed on, at one point scolding Mr. Eid: "But aren't we just seeing a spontaneous uprising of the people who are frustrated with the process, with the fact that the peace process hasn't moved forward? Are you saying that they should keep their frustrations bottled up, that they shouldn't take to the streets?"

While Ms. Bolderson and her colleagues habitually ignore that the Palestinian resort to violence is an egregious violation of the Oslo Accords, they have no such inhibitions when the opportunity arises to charge Israeli with a violation.

Thus, on May 23, after Israel's unilateral cease-fire, the BBC's Tom Hagler interviewed an Israeli diplomat who underscored the importance of a cessation of Palestinian violence. Mr. Hagler responded that Israel's unilateral cease-fire was certainly not a goodwill gesture, because Israel's "17 incursions into Palestinian self-rule areas in around 10 days . . . were violations of the 1993 Oslo Accords. Isn't it just that Israel is stopping transgressing the accords?"

In fact, Israel's incursions in response to Palestinian attacks were not violations of the agreements. Under Oslo II, even in Palestinian self-rule areas, Israel retains "responsibility . . . for overall security of Israelis for the purpose of safeguarding their internal security and public order."

But it is not just British reporters who have joined Mr. Arafat's journalistic brigades. Riccardo Cristiano, bureau chief of the Italian state network RAI, put it plainly in a letter to the Palestinian Authority in October. After two Israeli reservists were lynched by a Palestinian mob in Ramallah, most journalists at the scene had their film and cameras confiscated. But one crew from the private Italian network Mediaset got out with the videotape, which was then shown around the world. Mr. Cristiano was determined to let the Palestinian Authority know that, contrary to rumors, his network was not involved. So he wrote this letter, which unhappily for him found its way into a Palestinian newspaper:

"My Dear Friends in Palestine: We congratulate you and think it is our duty to explain to you what happened on Oct. 12 in Ramallah. One of the private Italian television stations which competes with us . . . filmed the events . . . Afterwards Israeli television broadcast the pictures as taken from one of the Italian stations, and thus the public impression was created as if we took these pictures.

"We emphasize to all of you that the events did not happen this way, because we always respect the journalistic rules of the Palestinian Authority for work in Palestine . . . We thank you for your trust and you can be sure that this is not our way of acting, and we would never do such a thing.

"Please accept our dear blessings."

In plain terms, respecting these "rules" means ignoring stories that would anger Mr. Arafat, and reporting on stories that would please him.

To varying degrees and with all too few exceptions, that is exactly what Mr. Cristiano and his colleagues have been doing. The indoctrination to hatred and violence against Israelis that has been regular fare in the Palestinian media is largely unknown in the West.

And it's not just Europeans -- Americans are equal opportunity offenders. The New York Times has contributed to this lack of public awareness.

Shortly after the lynching in Ramallah, for example, the Times reported on Israeli allegations of Palestinian incitement to violence. But rather than exposing the hate broadcasts, the Times covered them up.

As reporter William Orme told it in his Oct. 24 story, the Israelis "cite as one egregious example a televised sermon that defended the killing of the two soldiers. 'Whether Likud or Labor, Jews are Jews,' proclaimed Sheik Ahmad Abu Halabaya in a live broadcast from a Gaza City mosque the day after the killings."

The Times kept from its readers the sermon's main point -- a call to slaughter all Jews:

"Have no mercy on the Jews no matter where they are, in any country. Fight them, wherever you are. Wherever you meet them, kill them. Wherever you are, kill those Jews and those Americans who are like them -- and those who stand by them."

This tendency to airbrush away Arab violence and hostility is often accompanied by a similarly deceptive effort to portray Israel as an imperialist superpower, bent on dominating placid Arab regimes that seek only a just peace. This is evident not just in the media's coverage of the Oslo process, but also in its coverage of the Arab-Israeli dispute generally.

Interviewing an Israeli official on May 19, for example, CNN-International anchor Jim Clancy asserted: "One of the sticking points is that, as the Palestinians would contend, when you look at the refugees outside the borders, Israel was formed through ethnic cleansing."

This charge is, of course, a staple of Arab propaganda. That it was, in fact, the Arab states that ethnically cleansed their Jews in the 1940s and '50s, and that tried more than once to cleanse Israel out of existence, not the other way around, is simply ignored in the looking-glass world presented by CNN.

Thunder of Shelling

Even before the recent violence, the "ethnic cleansing" charge was gaining currency in certain other newsrooms as well. For example, in a 1998 story about Israel's 50th anniversary, Charles Sennott of the Boston Globe wrote of a Palestinian refugee who told of being chased out of her village on May 15, 1948, the first day of the war. She described fleeing in panic as "Israeli tanks closed in." Nine months pregnant, her screams "drowned out by the thunder of shelling, she delivered a baby boy in an open field."

A compelling and heartrending story, except for one inconvenient fact -- on that day, and for weeks afterward, Israel had no tanks, and precious little artillery. Indeed, in the area in question, it was the invading Egyptian army that attacked with artillery and British-built Crusader tanks. Many Israeli communities were overrun, after futile attempts to resist the onslaught with light arms and Molotov cocktails.

For Mr. Sennott and like-minded colleagues at the BBC, CNN and elsewhere, the idea of Palestinians and Arabs as victims, and Israelis as victimizers, is simply a given. By ignoring history, by ignoring the plain words of the Oslo Accords, by ignoring much of what is happening right in front of their eyes, they have fed Mr. Arafat's intransigence. Will they ever admit, even to themselves, how much they have contributed to the current bloodshed?

-- From The Wall Street Journal Europe




Copyright © 2001 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 


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