The theme of ABC's Oct. 9 Nightline segments on Palestinian suicide bombers and the Israeli fence can be boiled down: Palestinians blow up Israelis, Palestinians are the victims. Likewise, when Israelis try to protect themselves from suicide bombers by building a barrier, Palestinians are also the victims.
About Hanadi Jaradat, the female suicide bomber who murdered 21 Israeli civilians in Haifa, reporter John Yang asks of a group of Palestinians: Was she another victim? Was she a victim, as well as the other people who were in that restaurant? And, not surprisingly, his interviewees readily pick up Yangs cue, proffering: I think she is, actually. Every Palestinian considers himself a victim, and I think shes more of a victim than the people who were killed with her. . .
The group of young, attractive, Westernized Palestinian female interviewees(curiously, none covered her hair as is the custom of Islamic Jihad adherents like Jaradat)spoke with a unified message. All admired Jaradat, stressed the suffering that Jaradat experienced under the Israelis as a legitimate reason for her decision to murder 21 people, and did not question the morality of such an act. All identify alleged Israeli brutality as the understandable impetus for Jaradats missionoccupation, checkpoints, the Israeli raid on her home, and house demolitions.
In a segment meant to investigate a worthwhile issue -- what motivates a young, educated, middle-class woman to become a suicide bomber Yang asks no probing questions. There is not a word about the impact of Palestinian Authority schools, media, religious leaders and summer camps teaching anti-Jewish hatred to Palestinian youth? For example, Firial Hillis, director of the Palestinian Childrens Aid Association, an agency whose mandate is to help children, stated on Palestinian Authority television: The concept of Shahada for him [the child] means belonging to the homeland, from a religious point of view. Sacrifice for his homeland. Achieving Shahada in order to reach Paradise and to meet his God. This is the best (May 4, 2003, translated by Palestinian Media Watch). Surely such indoctrination is relevant to what would motivate a young, educated, middle-class woman to become a suicide bomber.
And, in his rush to exculpate the Palestinians from blame in their own violent acts, Yang fails to note that Jaradats brother, who was killed by Israeli troops, was a member of Islamic Jihad. He reports:
According to [Jaradats] mother, she wanted to avenge the death of her fiance, an Islamic Jihad member, and her brother. In June, both were killed during an Israeli raid on her house, as she watched.
Jaradats brother, Fadi, and her fiance were both members of Islamic Jihad. The Web site of Islamic Jihad confirmed that Fadi was a member of their group in a June 13, 2003 posting announcing his martyrdom:
In a surprise operation, a special unit affiliated with the Zionist enemys army stormed the city of Jenin yesterday evening and infiltrated into the area of the Wadi Izz al-Din, where it assassinated two mujahidin from Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad movement.
Eyewitnesses said that the cowardly assassination was carried out when a special Zionist unit, disguised in civilian attire and traveling in a car with Palestinian plates, stormed the area of Wadi Izz al-Din and attacked a house belonging to mujahid Salih Sulayman Jaradat, one of the mujahidin of Al-Quds Brigades, while sitting in front of his house with his cousin Fadi Jaradat.
As for the circumstances surrounding Fadis death, interviewee Raja Rantissi parrots the Islamic Jihad claim that he was shot right in front of her eyes while he was drinking tea, he was doing nothing, I mean. And her house was destroyed. Yet Palestinian security sources dispute this account, and maintain that Fadi and his cousin were in a pitched gun battle with Israeli troops:
Two Islamic Jihad militants were killed in exchanges of fire with Israeli troops in the northern West Bank city of Jenin on Thursday night, Palestinian security sources said.
They identified them as Saleh Jeradate, 34, a local leader of the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, the Al-Quds Brigades, and Fahdi Jeradate, 25. . .
They said the fighting was "fierce" and that two Israeli Apache attack helicopters flew over the firefight. ("Two Islamic Jihad militants killed in West Bank firefight," AFP, June 12, 2003)
Rantissi, a university professor, also cites the destruction of Jaradats house as a reason for her to have murdered innocent Israelis on Oct. 4. But Israel did not demolish Jaradats house until Oct. 5, one day after she murdered 21 men, women and children. The New York Times reported Oct. 7: . . . Israeli troops moved arrived in Jenin in the predawn hours of Sunday [Oct. 5] to demolish their home, the routine punishment for suicide bombers families (Bomber Left Her Family With a Smile and a Lie).
Interviewee Raja Rantissi cites the destruction of Hanadi Jaradat's house as a reason for her to have murdered Israeli civilians, but Israel did not demolish Jaradat's house until one day *after* the fatal attack in Haifa.
Supposed victimization of Palestinians is yet again the theme in the second half of the Nightline program, which focuses on Israels security fence. There are, however, striking differences between the two portions.
In the first, which ostensibly examines Palestinian attacks against Israelis, Israeli victims and terrorist specialists are not interviewed. In contrast, in the second, which investigates an Israeli measure against Palestinian terrorism, not only are Palestinians interviewed, but their grievances are personalized while Israelis are not. In particular, we hear about and from multiple individual Palestinians who are affected by the fenceteachers, farmers, a medical student. However, there are no interviews that personalize the stories of Israelis who have been injured in a terror attack or who lost family members. There is no one to vividly portray to the public why Israelis are so unified in wanting the extra protection that a security barrier can provide. There is no human interest element presented on the Israeli side, just very brief statements of support for the fence from a Jerusalem official and two settlers.
Significantly, though, we do hear from Angela Godfrey, an Israeli woman who opposes the fence:
This is more of the same of what weve been living through in the past 30 years with all of the settlement building. Its land-grab. Its about what the military see as their version of security. And we are saying this brings more and more war.
Herein lies another defining difference between the two reports. While Browns fence report includes an Israeli critic of Israels construction project, Yangs report on Palestinian bombers does not include any Palestinians whose opinions diverge from the narrow view that Jaradats mass murder of Israelis was legitimate, if not praiseworthy.
Could Yang not have found a young Palestinian who thinks that suicide bombings bring more and more war? Or for that matter, why didnt Yang include an Israeli critic of suicide bombings, just like Brown included Taysir Harashi and Diana Buttu, Palestinian critics of the Israeli fence?
And, finally, it is no surprise that Brown omits key background information about the uprooting of trees for the fences construction. She states:
Another farmer further north says half his olive grove was cut down to build the fence.
While this particular farmers olive trees may not have been replanted, Brown should have given the context that according to the Israeli Ministry of Defense, as of Aug. 8, 2003, Over 63,000 olive trees have been uprooted and replanted (www.seamzone.mod.gov.il, emphasis added).
In conclusion, now that Nightline has broadcast a one-sided story blaming Israel for Palestinian attacks against Israel, will the program air a segment focusing on Israeli victims and their grievances against Palestinians?
Also, in the future, when reporting on Palestinian complaints against Israel, will Nightline include a variety of views, including those critical of the official Palestinian line? Conversely, when dealing with a controversial Israeli security measure, will reporters also include individual Israelis affected by Palestinian violence who can articulate and humanize Israels position, just as Nightline has included moving testimony from ordinary Palestinians?
In response to CAMERA's questions and concerns, Kerry Smith Marash, ABC's Vice President for Editorial Quality, wrote that
we stand by Nightline's reporting. Balance is not measured by any one particular broadcast, but in coverage over time. Nightline and ABC News devote a significant amount of time to both Israeli and Palestinian issues, and we consider our record even on the whole.
But has Nightline's record been "even on the whole"? Stay, tuned. A long-term CAMERA study on Nightline is underway.
Finally, in her brief letter, Smith Marash acknowledged interviewee Raja Rantissi's erroneous statement regarding the destruction of Jardat's home. ABC, however, will not be correcting the record, despite the fact that the Society for Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics calls on members to "admit mistakes and correct them promptly." Instead, ABC settled for the much less professional response of promising to pull the clip from circulation in the network's internal libraries to refrain from rebroadcasting the interview. Unfortunately, though, the error stands uncorrected in the minds of the many viewers who saw the program, as well as on news databases which may be ussed for future research.