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Media Analyses

More One-Sided Reporting by CNN, Reuters and BBC

Anyone scanning headlines and skimming the first paragraphs of the numerous articles about Israel that appeared on April 16 and 17,would have assumed that Israel had launched unprovoked offensives on Palestinian and Syrian interests, much like Iraq, a decade ago, with its invasion of Kuwait. Headlines on Reuters, CNN, and BBC websites read: “Israel goes on war footing” (Reuters), “Israel retakes parts of Gaza causing disarray” (Reuters), “Israel raises Middle East stakes with raid” (Reuters), “Syria vows to defend itself against Israel”(Reuters), “Gaza wakes up to tanks on its doorstep” (BBC), “Israeli tightens grip on Gaza” (BBC), “Arabs condemn Israeli air raids” (BBC), “Israeli steps up military action” (CNN), “Israel reoccupies Palestinian portions of Gaza” (CNN). All would lead the reader to conclude Israel must be declaring war upon benign, peace-loving peoples.

In fact, the period of April 14-16 saw an escalation in Arab violence against Israel, both by Hizballah which attacked in northern Israel and by Palestinians who launched mortar attacks into Israel’s Negev. The first incident took place on April 14, when a Hizballah anti-tank missile was fired at a Merkava tank in the Mount Dov region, killing St.-Sgt. Elad Litvak. It was the latest in a stream of ongoing attacks by Hizballah into Israeli territory since Israel withdrew from Lebanon last year, in compliance with U.N. Resolution 425 and according to the borders set by the United Nations.

On April 16, Palestinians launched yet another in a series of mortar shell attacks on Israeli civilians. This time, the target was well inside Israel’s Negev, in the town of Sderot. Five mortar shells were fired at the town’s westernmost neighborhood, leaving one Israeli civilian hospitalized for shock and damaging houses. Luckily, with residents of Sderot confined to shelters, the shells landed in empty fields and deserted streets. Though Palestinians have targeted smaller villages within Israel’s 1967 border before, this attack went deeper into the country. IDF sources believed the attack to have been an attempt by Arafat to exploit the tension on the northern border, and “to make Israeli civilians feel insecure everywhere in Israel”.

While attacks on Israel often elicit little coverage in and of themselves, Israeli military response almost invariably becomes the focus of intense reporting by news services. In those cases where the initial provocation to Israel is mentioned, it is frequently broached only in the context of Israel’s response, and then often referred to as a “claim” by Israel:

Israel moved tanks and bulldozers to the edge of the town in what it says is a direct response to a mortar attack on the southern Israeli town of Sederot. (BBC, April 17, 2001,Web posted at: 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK )

Israeli authorities said the action was in response to five mortar shells fired at the Negev Desert town of Sderot in southern Israel. Gaza's main road remains blocked off. (CNN, April 17, 2001, Web posted at 1248 GMT)

The Palestinians, despite their escalation of the conflict, are portrayed as innocent victims whose attacks on Israel merely constitute a fight for independence:

The mortar bombs landed deeper in Israel than any since the start of the latest Palestinian uprising for independence last September...(CNN, April 17, 2001, Web posted at 1248 GMT)

In perhaps the most significant moment since the start of the Palestinian uprising more than six months ago, the Israeli army has moved in to Palestinian-controlled territory around the town of Beit Hanun. (BBC, April 17, 2001,Web posted at 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK )

Israel’s army retook parts of the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip on Tuesday, killing one person and wounding 30 in response to the deepest mortar bomb attack inside Israel since the start of the uprising for independence last September. (Reuters, April 17, 2001, 4:00 PM)

Article after article on those days described the suffering of Palestinians, with detailed quotes from the man-in-the street. There were no descriptions or quotes from targeted Israeli civilians.

While virtually all the major news services were guilty of one-sided coverage and headlines, Reuters was among the worst. Of the 12 archived Reuters articles on the Yahoo website on Monday and Tuesday, every single headline depicted Israel as the aggressor and the Palestinians and Syrians as the victims. In many of those articles, reference to the initial Palestinian mortar attack was buried deep within the article, at times only after pages of description of the Israeli response. The references to the Palestinian attacks were always brief.

One “focus” article by Reuters, entitled “Israel goes on war footing”, described “new battle lines” being drawn by Israel, while another concentrated exclusively on how Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s “ ‘tough guy’ policies” were “making it impossible for them (Palestinians) to take part in peace negotiations,” and how “his tactics have seriously undermined Arab and international efforts to revive the deadlocked peace process and reduce the level of violence.” To those who do not espouse a purely Palestinian perspective, the reference to Arab efforts to revive the peace process must surely come as a surprise. Do those “Arab efforts” consider the escalating attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians a means of frightening Israelis into further concessions?

In an April 14th article entitled “Israel flexes muscles in Lebanon, Gaza”, Palestinian and Hizballah attacks on Israel are referred to as “a defiant campaign of pinprick attacks” while Israel’s response is described as “a message of military might”. Yasser Arafat is referred to as “President Arafat”, while Ariel Sharon is called “Israel’s leading hawk”.

Reuters’ one-sided campaign to present Israel as the aggressor and Arab groups as victims ignores or minimizes Palestinian attempts to intensify the conflict in the hope of attracting international support and intensified pressure on Israel.

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