In recent months, ABC News has aired inaccurate, biased reports minimizing, or ignoring altogether, Palestinian violence, while at the same time focusing solely on Israeli military actions. The network's pattern of partisan reporting continued on Monday night, May 21, on “Nightline.” The segment focusing on the level of U.S. involvement in the Middle East crisis included an update by correspondent Gillian Findlay in Jerusalem. Findlay's report included only the Palestinian position on the terrorism issue, which seriously distorted reality. In contrast, she balanced the Israeli defense of settlements with Palestinian claims.
Responding to anchorman Chris Wallace about whether or not Israel is likely to comply with Secretary Powell's urging to halt settlement building, Findlay reported Sharon's position:
He would not build any new ones, but he insisted that existing ones should be allowed to stand. As he put it, families have children, they grow up, they need somewhere to live. This is only fair.
According to standard journalistic practice in which both sides are presented, she then paraphrased the Palestinian opposition to the settlements:
‘Look, we've been hearing that for the last 30 years. Successive Israeli governments has--have used that argument [of ‘natural growth’] to essentially steal our land away from us.’ And they don't buy it any more, they say. Tonight a Palestinian official said, ‘You know, really, unless the Israelis come out and say unequivocally that we are stopping all settlement activity, this--this plan has no hope for the future.’
(Actually, over the last 30 years, when new settlements were being built, Israeli leaders did not cite excuses of “natural growth,” but were open about their goal to build “facts on the ground.”)
While Findlay extended the right to respond on the settlement issue to the Palestinians, she denied this right to the Israelis with respect to terrorism. Thus, when Wallace asked Findlay about the likelihood of Arafat cracking down on terrorism, she responded with the Palestinian position, omitting Israel's side and distorting the facts:
Well, the Palestinians argue that for seven years they did do that, that they put a lot of members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the militant groups here, in jail. And since the intifada, they say that's hard for them to do now. Their people are dying. How can they be seen to be throwing Palestinians into jail when the Palestinians [sic] are killing their people, they argue? They also say it's--it's become increasingly difficult over the last few days. Four days ago the Israeli army using F-16 fighter jets, bombed a jail in Nablus and killed 12 policemen whose job it was to guard those militants. On Sunday night, the Israelis shelled the home of Colonel Jibril Rajoub. He's the head of preventative security in the West Bank. It was his job to--to fight the anti-terrorism campaign, to coordinate with Israeli security officials on this. They say, ‘How--how can we go back and deal with these people now?’
While the Palestinians may argue that they did fight terrorism for seven years, the Israeli position — as well as factual evidence — both contradict this claim. For example, the “White Paper” published by Barak's government detailing PA violations of Oslo agreements noted on the part of the PA “ambivalent attitudes towards terrorism, and at times —outright complicity.” It further found that “tolerance towards the Hamas helped open the floodgates of the terrorist campaign of February-March 1996; in the current crisis, P.A. Preventive Security, let alone the ‘Tanzim’(militia) of Arafat's Fatah movement, are actively involved in terrorist attacks and security cooperation has been abandoned almost entirely…” (“Palestinian Authority and PLO Non-Compliance with signed agreements and commitments: A record of bad faith and misconduct,” 11/20/01)
To cite just a few of the many examples that the report details:
* PA policy was to incorporate ex-Fatah ‘Hawks’ (terrorists), members, within the various security organs. In May 1994, as it entered Gaza, the PA commissioned as policemen, among others, two brothers — Rajih and Arnru Abu Sittah — wanted for the murder of an Israeli in March 1993 (Yediot Achronot, 5/27/94). More than 90 ‘Hawks’-- some of them murderers of suspected Palestinian ‘collaborators’— were recruited in September 1994 (Haaretz, 9/10/94).
* The PA systematically refused, often in blatant disregard of the signed commitment to do so, to extradite even a single terrorist from the list (over 30, at one time) demanded by Israel.
*In cases where the perpetrators of murders and other serious terrorist attacks were in fact apprehended by the PA — at times, claiming that this was little more than ‘protective custody’ against Israeli retaliation -- they were put on trial overnight and given bogus sentences, so as to render them unavailable for extradition.
As for the Nablus prison in which the Palestinian policeman were supposedly “guarding” the militants, Israeli officials maintain that the Palestinian police were *protecting* the militants from Israeli attempts on their lives. Indeed, in recent months, Israel has targeted dozens of Palestinian terrorist leaders, many successfully.
Finally, while Findlay noted that it is Jibril Rajoub's job to fight terrorism, she does not give Israel the opportunity to respond that he has actually advocated for terrorism and assisted terrorists. In a May 27, 1998 interview with Al-Jazeera television he stated: “We view Hamas as part of the national and Islamic liberation movement. Outside of the 3 percent [of the West Bank under complete Palestinian control] they can do as they wish. They can go to Jordan to carry out armed operations and they can also carry out such operations from Syria. At the top of my list of priorities is the [Israeli] occupation and not Hamas. We are not interested in arrests.”
Moreover, Israel Television Channel One News reported on Feb. 20, 2001 that Rajoub used his VIP car to personally drive the murderers of 16-year-old Israeli Ophir Rahum--who was lured to his death in Tulkarm by a Palestinian woman over the internet-- to Ramallah so that they could not be arrested by Israel. Findlay, in her passionate defense of the PA's supposed fight against terrorism, failed to note that the PA actually released a number of Hamas terrorists since the uprising began last September. According to the Israel Television Channel One News, the PA released top terrorist Mohammed Dif from prison (2/20/01). Earlier on in the crisis, the PA released a number of Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists (see, for example, New York Times, 11/13/00).
ACTION ITEMS: [In the original alert, action items and contact information were provided.]
Transcript of ABC's Nightline (May 21, 2001, 11:35 PM ET)
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO HELP THE MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS ?
CHRIS WALLACE: ABC News correspondent Gillian Findlay has been reporting from the Middle East, where the violence has become increasingly intense in recent days. And she joins us from Jerusalem. Gillian, how was Secretary Powell's initiative received today both by the Israelis and the Palestinians?
GILLIAN FINDLAY: Well, it wasn't a very auspicious beginning, Chris. No sooner had the word unilateral cease-fire crossed the secretary's lips than a huge gun battle broke out--broke out on the outskirts of Jerusalem between Palestinian gunmen and the Israeli army. That has been followed by sporadic gun battles across the West Bank tonight. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians are blaming each other for this as they have all along. They're saying that if a cease-fire is to be effective, the other guy has to do it first, that they are just responding to the aggression of the other side. Tonight, Yasir Arafat suggested that maybe the way to deal with this was to hold another Middle East summit in which these recommendations could be discussed and a plan for implementation could be agreed. The Israeli government spokesman tonight said simply Mr. Arafat was playing games.
WALLACE: Gillian, at this point how much clout does the US have? For instance, Secretary Powell asked the Israelis to halt construction of those Jewish settlements. Any reason to believe that the Israelis are going to listen?
FINDLAY: Well, I think you have to remember that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is the godfather, as it were, of the settlement program here. He's been responsible for most of those settlements being built over the years. When he came to office he knew that he was going to be under pressure to halt settlements. He said that he would not build any new ones, but he insisted that existing ones should be allowed to expand. As he put it, families have children, they grow up, they need somewhere to live. This is only fair. Now the Palestinians heard that and the term he used is "natural growth," and they said, 'Look, we've been hearing that for the last 30 years.' Successive Israeli governments has--have used that argument to essentially steal our land away from us. And they don't buy it any more, they say. Tonight a Palestinian official said, 'You know, really, unless the Israelis come out and say unequivocally that we are stopping all settlement activity, this--this plan has no--no hope for the future.
WALLACE: On the other hand, the US wants Yasir Arafat to crack down on those Palestinian terrorists. Any reason to believe that Arafat can and will do that?
FINDLAY: Well, the Palestinians argue that for seven years they did do that, that they put a lot of members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the militant groups here, in jail. And since the intifada, they say that's hard for them to do now. Their people are dying. How can they be seen to be throwing Palestinians into jail when the Palestinians are killing their people, they argue? They also say it's--it's become increasingly difficult over the last few days. Four days ago the Israeli army using F-16 fighter jets, bombed a jail in Nablus and killed 12 policemen whose job it was to guard those militants. On Sunday night, the Israelis shelled the home of Colonel Jibel Rajoub. He's the head of preventative security in the West Bank. It was his job to--to fight the anti-terrorism campaign, to coordinate with Israeli security officials on this. They say, 'How--how can we go back and deal with these people now?' I think there is a distinct lack of trust between the two sides, and I think it's going to be very difficult for them to overcome that.
WALLACE: So, Gillian, briefly summing up, how much effect do you expect this new US initiative to have on the situation on the ground there?
FINDLAY: I think the people on the ground here would argue that it will only have the affect of the strength that the US administration brings to it. If they are expecting to put these recommendations out there and that the two sides will, on their own initiative, pick them up and run with them, I don't think anybody here is terribly hopeful. It really just depends on what the US administration intends to do, how much muscle they intend to back these recommendation up with.
WALLACE: All right. We're going to have to leave it there, Gillian. Gillian Findlay reporting from Jerusalem. Thanks very much.