Journalists covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are often accused of
drawing a false moral equivalence between Palestinian terrorist attacks and
Israeli military anti-terrorist actions what they frequently refer to as
the cycle of violence or tit-for-tat violence.
ABC Nightlines Ted Koppel tried to deflect such criticism in advance
by introducing an August 21, 2003 segment by Mike Lee about Israeli and
Palestinian mothers who lost children as follows:
...We will not, tonight, delve into
the issues of original sin in the Middle East. If you are the parent of a dead
seven-year-old, the question of who did what, when, to begin the cycle of
violence is of incidental interest. You will meet the mothers of two such
children tonight, one Israeli, the other Palestinian. In their grief, there is
moral equivalence, even if it is all but impossible to find it in the history,
the politics, and the diplomacy....
While Koppel is right that the grief of mothers who have lost children is
comparable regardless of the circumstances, he is misleading in his claim that
this broadcast does not try to impose a false moral equivalence on the overall
Israeli-Palestinian positions. Koppel and Lee do not limit themselves to
showing the similarities of the mothers losses and pain, disclaimer
notwithstanding. By trying to portray each mother as victim of a nebulous
cycle of violence, they obscure the truer parallel that both
have lost their daughters as a result of Palestinian terrorism.
The broadcast forces a further false equivalence on the story by omitting
Noam Leibrovitch, the 7-year-old Israeli profiled in the story, was a direct
victim of Palestinian terrorism. She was directly targeted and murdered
by a Palestinian sniper who fired on her familys car as it exited the
Trans-Israel Highway inside the Green Line.
Amel El Jarusha, the 8-year-old Palestinian profiled, was an indirect victim
of Palestinian terrorism. She was accidentally killed in an Israeli
military counter-terrorism operation against Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a senior Hamas
leader responsible for a terror campaign that has killed almost 250 Israelis
and wounded almost 1,500 over the past three years. Rantisi who, according to
the Israeli Defence Ministry, personally supervised Hamas killing operations
during the past several months, installed himself in a densely populated
civilian center, endangering his family and community by living as a wanted man
among them. The Hamas leaders presence in El Jarushas
neighborhood led to the Israeli military response that killed Amel.
ABC correspondent Mike Lee asserts that the two mothers sound like
soul mates when talking about their losses and attempts to force an
equivalence that does not exist on the reactions of the two mothers. He says:
But even compassionate mothers here
have their limits when it comes to accepting that their side might just be as
much to blame for violence as the other side.
However, the womens words indicate the contrary. When asked who is
responsible for the violence, the Palestinian, Magda El Jarusha, responds:
Who is responsible? The Jews are
responsible. They are the ones who launch shells and rockets on the Palestinian
people. Hamas is not responsible.
The Israeli, Galit Leibovitch, on the other hand, makes no attempt to defend
Israeli actions nor to blame the Muslims or the
Palestinians as a group. She faults the terrorists themselves, the
glorification of martyrdom and the teaching of hatred for the loss of her
daughter. She says:
...I wont teach my other kids
to hate Arabs because an Arab killed my daughter. I hope that they wont
teach their kids to hate Israelis because Israelis killed her daughter.
Responding to this comment, El Jarusha adds:
She [Leibovitch] is right.And we do
not want to teach our children to hate Jews because there are
some Jews who want peace. [emphasis added]
El Jarusha exonerates the terrorists and sees the majority of Jews as
responsible for the violence, while acknowledging in response to
Leibovitchs comments that some might want peace. By contrast, Leibovitch
sees the teaching of hatred and glorification of terrorism as responsible, but
makes no blanket condemnation of Muslims or Palestinians.
Despite Koppels lip service about the impossibility of finding
moral equivalence in the history, the politics, and the
diplomacy, the broadcaster does his best to do just that. While Koppel
talks of two mothers united by...tragedy, he describes them as
casualties of that [Israeli-Palestinian] war not of
Palestinian terrorism. The fact that one was accidentally killed in
anti-terrorist operations while the other was directly targeted by the
terrorists is blurred. Koppel further blurs the distinction by not[ing]
the death of Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab as the latest victim of the
Rather than point out that the innocent children, Noam and Amel, were both
victims of of Palestinian terrorists like Abu Shanab, Koppel lumps them all
together. In fact, he goes out of his way to cast the Hamas leader as favoring
peace, saying Abu Shanab told him in an earlier interview that he was ready to
participate in a cease-fire. Unmentioned by Koppel is the fact that despite Abu
Shanabs assurances to him on TV, the Hamas leader was directly involved
in the groups policy decisions and campaign of terrorism which included
the August 19 bus bombing which killed 21 Israelis, targeting families with
The subsequent discussion between Koppel and Lee goes even further. Koppel
Youre absolutely right when
you say that the cycle of violence has never stopped. There seemed to be a
brief lull for a few weeks. But, in the wake of the assassination of Abu
Shanab, another Hamas leader said today that a red line has been
That was Sheik Yassin, the
spiritual leader of Hamas. And I agree. Many people would say the red line had
been crossed over and over again. I think, if theres one thing that the
Israelis and the Palestinians can agree upon, it is that they believe that the
United States government has not put enough pressure on the other side...The
Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has promised the Palestinian
people a better life. Theyve not gotten that under the road map in any
way. So, its hard to see, at this point, what kind of progress can be
made in the short-term or how it can be made in this road map.
Not only does Lee admit he agrees with Hamas leader Yassin that Israel
crossed a red line, not only are terrorist attacks and counter-terrorist
actions equated, but the overall blame for the continued violence is implicitly
placed upon Israel, not on the Palestinian Authority which has refused to clamp
down on violent Palestinian groups.
ABC repeated Lees segment on Good Morning America on August 25, 2003
and posted an online article by Mike Lee based on the segment.
ABC producers and broadcasters cannot escape the valid accusation that they
continue to impose a simplistic, false moral equivalence on a complex situation
by simply stating as Koppel tried to that they are not doing so.
Viewers must hold them accountable for what they actually report.