CBS’ Bob Simon reported on the clashes between Israel and the Palestinians in the Oct. 24, 2000 segment of 60 Minutes. In the segment, entitled “To Be Continued....” (named after the caption on posters distributed across the Arab world depicting the final moments in the life of the slain 12-year-old Mohammed al-Dura), Simon displayed a striking double standard in his interview with Israelis and Palestinians. On the one hand, he challenges an Israeli allegation against Palestinians and allows a Palestinian representative to counter the charges immediately and directly. In contrast, he lets Palestinian charges leveled against Israelis pass without comment, and Israeli guests do not have the opportunity to respond to the accusations against them. In addition, Simon distorts the nature of the current clashes and seriously misrepresents the terms of the Oslo peace process by adopting a partisan interpretation of the accords.
According to the Code of Ethics of the Society for Professional Journalists, reporters are expected to “diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.” Indeed, Simon abides by this guideline when Israeli Brig. Gen Gantz accuses Palestinians of wrongdoing, turning immediately to Palestinian spokeswoman Dr. Hanan Ashrawi for a direct rebuttal. In the first case, Gantz accuses the Palestinians of deliberately putting their children in the front lines of the clashes against the Israelis. Simon himself cross-examines Gantz on this point, casting doubt on the Israeli argument, and then in addition gives Ashrawi a chance to jump in, prompting her with Gantz’s claim:
Gantz: Well, if the Palestinian people want to be safe regarding their kids, they must make sure their kids stay in place [sic] where kids should be. And when they are sending their kids forward and they are firing at us, and then the kids are in the killing zone, so unfortunately sometimes, really unfortunately, those things happen.
Simon: Do you think that the Palestinians are actually pushing their kids to the front line?
Simon: With the objective of creating casualties?
Gantz: That’s right, sir. I’m sure that they are trying to get the world to see that Israel is a terrible, cruel people and cruel army, and that’s really what they are want – what they want to do.
Simon: Is this something that you can really imagine, that there are people who would do that, who would get their – their kids killed or wounded to make good television?
Simon: In other words, the Palestinians are really different from Israelis in that respect?
Simon then turns to Ashrawi (footage of Simon with Hanan Ashrawi):
Simon: You’re aware that the Israeli military claims that Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian Authority pushes those children to the front so that they can become casualties, because it will be good for the image.
Ashrawi: Yes, I’m aware of that.
Simon: What do you have to say to that?
Ashrawi: To me, this is the essence, the epitome of racism.
Simon: (Voiceover) Hanan Ashrawi is a Palestinian legislator. She’s been in the forefront of the peace movement for years.
Ashrawi: They’re telling us we are – we have no feelings for our children? We’re not human beings? We’re not parents? We’re not mothers or fathers? This is just incredible. I – sometimes I say I don’t want to sink to the level of responding, or proving I’m human. I mean, even animals have feelings for their children.
Simon’s tough treatment of Gantz’s allegation against the Palestinian is completely opposite of his kid-gloves handling of a Palestinian charge against Israel, which the reporter articulates without questioning. And, of course, no Israeli is permitted to respond:
Simon: [T]here’s been a peace process, and it was going to solve the problem. But Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza were saying something else: That their lives were still miserable and that nothing had changed.
While it is legitimate journalistic practice to allow both parties in a dispute to cite their grievances, it is not acceptable to favor one side by permitting it the exclusive right of response.
Similarly, Simon’s partisan coverage continues as he unquestioningly reports the Palestinian spin on peace agreements as fact. Thus, he reports:
He’s [Marwan Barghouti] talking about the Israeli occupation, which, in terms of the peace process, should have ended by now.
Simon doesn’t remind viewers that the “occupation” has ended, with 97 percent of Palestinians now living under the Palestinian Authority. Likewise, further along in the broadcast, Simon erroneously claims:
The peace process was designed to close down some of the settlements, but that hasn’t happened.
While the Palestinians may have hoped that as a result of the peace process, settlements would be dismantled, there is no language whatsoever in the bilateral peace accords which requires Israeli to dismantle settlements. (Action item: Concerned viewers should contact CBS and ask the network to identify specifically which Oslo provision requires Israel to close down some of the settlements. See contact information below.)
Simon also gets his facts wrong with respect to the nature of the current clashes; he erroneously equates them to the Intifadah of a decade ago when the Palestinians fought primarily with stones and firebombs, leaving out that today’s conflict also includes Palestinians who are firing guns at Israelis:
In 1987, Palestinian kids took to the streets in revolt against the Israeli occupation. Then, as now, it was teenagers against soldiers, stones and slingshots against tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition. Then, as now, towns became battlefields; Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron. Same places, same pictures – you can hardly tell the difference.
In fact, there is a tremendous difference. Today, there are some 40,000 guns (almost all of them illegal) in the Palestinian areas, and Palestinians have been using them against Israelis. Jack Kelley of USA Today accompanied an Israeli army unit in the area near Ramallah, and interviewed the local Israeli commander, Lt. Col. Erez Winner:
A second later a barrage of bullets shatters the windows of an Israeli Army Jeep, inches from the head of ... Winner, 31, who controls the Israeli ground forces in Ramallah. . . . Palestinians are not only throwing rocks at the soldiers but are shooting at them. . . . Winner disputes the reports that Palestinians are throwing only rocks by pointing out bullet holes on the hood of his green Jeep that he says were shot by Palestinian snipers last week (Oct 23, 2000).
The evening just before the airing of Simon’s broadcast which misrepresented Palestinian violence against Israelis as limited to rocks and Molotov cocktails, Palestinians in Harat A-Sheik and Abu Sneina shot at the Jewish settlement in Hebron. To cite just a few more of the hundreds of shooting incidents which Simon apparently did not consider worthy of mention: On Oct. 22, Palestinians opened massive sniper fire towards an IDF position near Rafah on the Israel-Egypt border. The same day, Palestinians in Beit Jala shot at Jewish homes across the way in Gilo. On Oct. 20, Palestinians opened fire from the village of Beit Sahor towards the Jewish settlement of Shdema. That Simon ignores these and many more shooting incidents and misleads viewers about the dangers that Israeli soldiers and civilians face is simply dishonest.
Simon again ignores Palestinian shooting against Israeli targets in his coverage of the curfew placed on Arab residents of Hebron:
Last Sunday there was no passage for the Palestinian residents of Hebron. The Israelis imposed a curfew.
Without providing an explanation for the curfew, viewers would undoubtedly believe that Israel acted harshly for apparently no reason. In fact, Jewish residents in Hebron had been subject to intensive, nightly shooting by Palestinians. Their homes are riddled with bullets from Palestinian firing, and therefore Israeli authorities set the curfew in an effort to protect the targeted Jews.
While Simon minimizes or ignores threats to Israeli lives, he apparently inflates Palestinian losses with falsified numbers. Thus, in his interrogation of Gantz regarding the death of Palestinian children, he claims that “at least 40 kids” had died. It is hard to understand how CBS came up with this number, given that several organizations turned up with significantly lower numbers. Thus, Physicians for Human Rights concluded in a recent study that 23 Palestinians under the age of 17 had been killed through Oct. 29 (five days after the CBS broadcast). According to B’Tselem, an organization not known for being soft on Israel, 26 Palestinians under the age of 17 died in the year 2000 until Oct. 31. The Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health released statistics on Oct. 25, 2000 showing that 18 “martyrs” under the age of 18 had died in the Al-Aqsa Intifadah. (Action Item: Viewers should contact CBS and demand that the network provide a source for Simon’s claim, and ask him to explain why his number is significantly higher than those of many other sources, Palestinian included.)
Finally, on a separate note, it is striking that Simon refers to Hanan Ashrawi as being in the “forefront of the peace movement” given that she has consistently adopted extremist positions against Israel. Most recently, she called for terror attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians. “The political rhetoric has been replaced by field action,” she was quoted by AP Nov. 15. “In a sense, the army of occupation and the settlers have become legitimate and select targets of Palestinian resistance.” (For more on Ashrawi, please see Hanan Ashrawi’s Propaganda and Hanan Ashrawi: Kill Israeli Soldiers and Settlers.)
ACTION ITEMS: [In the original alert, action items and contact information were listed here.]