Small wonder the Palestinian Authority plays to the cameras and the press. The dramatic lesson of the first intifada was the relish shown by much of the media for mindlessly casting the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a simple fable of good and evil - with the Palestinians overwhelmingly in the role of blameless victims and Israelis as brutish militarists.
Intifada II has seen a reprise of the theme, once again with eager emphasis in many quarters on dramatizing the personal stories of aggrieved Palestinians and only perfunctory reference to Israeli concerns. Time magazine's December 18th issue included a particularly shameless example of the genre by reporter Matt Rees. Entitled "Fields of Fire," the story subhead reads: "Israeli forces are using lethal tactics to douse a fiery Palestinian revolt. How justified are they?" Readers are informed this is a "Time investigation." Strung together in the so-called "investigation" are sweeping, one-sided, and unattributed allegations interspersed with anecdotes about several Palestinian families. Rees intones:
...a Time investigation reveals that Israel's loosely drawn rules of engagement permit soldiers regularly to shoot at children. Hostile protesters younger than age 18, whether armed with guns or Molotov cocktails, even stones, are fair game when Israeli soldiers find their actions threatening.
The implication is that Israelis are not really threatened by these "protesters," especially by those only throwing "stones." Any strong action in response is then obviously excessive.
In stark contrast, one episode of rock-throwing at a driver in Massachusetts prompted headlines, police action, and public indignation. Two youths, ages 14 and 15, who hurled a piece of concrete at a moving car, smashing the windshield, were charged with assault with a deadly weapon. Although no deaths occurred, an official of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration angrily observed, "Don't they realize they are potential killers?" Earlier this year, four American teenagers in Germany, ages 14-18, were to be charged with murder and attempted murder in stonings of vehicles that led to fatalities and injuries.
But when Matt Rees relates in detail the story of 14- year-old Wael Imad hurling rocks and being fired on with rubber pellets in return, there is no suggestion that his action as part of a violent mob is dangerous.
Nor is the article's supposed analysis of Israeli rules of engagement anything but speculation and generalization. He writes, "In many cases, Israeli attacks can be indiscriminate, such as machine-gun fire into crowded neighborhoods." Rees offers not one specific example of these "many cases" or their repercussions. In fact, had Israelis been firing machine guns into neighborhoods crowded with people, there would have been massive casualties.
The fairest way to judge Israel's conduct in the face of mob violence is to look at the actions of other nations in similar circumstances. The United States, operating under UN auspices in Somalia and facing attacks by crowds made up of both militiamen and civilians, just as Palestinian crowds have been made up of both gunmen and stone-throwers, acted with far greater lethal force. In just one encounter, nearly 100 Somalis were killed - including women and children - but a UN spokesman was unapologetic.
He defended the action, saying, "Everyone on the ground was a combatant, because they meant to do us harm." Yet in Rees's article, young Israeli soldiers are repeatedly cast in an ugly light when they express satisfaction at having intercepted and killed terrorists planting a roadside bomb. Nor does Rees give any hint that Palestinian children might be suffering injury and death as a result of a monstrous Palestinian Authority strategy that sends children into the line of fire and uses them as cover for snipers to capture headlines and win world sympathy.
The Time reporter focused much of his article on the case of Wael Imad and his family, but he omitted any mention of the statement of his father when the boy was killed. The father who, according to news reports has nine other sons and eight daughters, declared: "My son was a man who defended Jerusalem and I am ready to sacrifice more." In fact, not all Palestinians are so eager to push their children to die.
In an important news story, USA Today's Matthew Kalman reported on December 8 that the Tulkarm Women's Union issued a public letter demanding the PA "issue instructions to (its) police force to stop sending innocent children to their death." According to one of these women, "When school finishes, Palestinian Authority security cars go around collecting children from the streets and sending them to the killing fields." In the past, Palestinian parents who spoke out in defense of their children have been condemned as traitors. If Time magazine played less a role itself in romanticizing those Palestinian youth who die hurling rocks and fire bombs at Israelis, and reported on the practice of sending children to the front lines, perhaps negative publicity would bring an end to that cruelty.
Appeared in the Jerusalem Post on this date