CAMERA Op-Ed: Media’s Selective Martyrology

Coverage of the story of Rachel Corrie, the American college student and Palestinian advocate killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza while attempting to block a house demolition, followed predictable trends.

NPR’s Tavis Smiley avidly discussed the story on a talk show days after the event with Michael Eric Dyson who likened Corrie and her commitment to the Palestinian cause to Martin Luther King and Jesus.

Dyson deplored the fact that while there is a “very powerful presence for Israel’s point of view,” there is “not an equal advocacy for these Palestinian people who don’t get equal play.” He lamented that Palestinians “get short shrift in the media here in America” and “this killing of this young lady by an Israeli tank doesn’t receive nearly as much ink as the killing of Israeli citizens by suicide bombers who happen to be Palestinian.” Smiley agreed with this nonsense.

But, in fact, hundreds of stories were written about the unfortunate death of Corrie. Many reflected the adulatory tone of the NPR program. The Los Angeles Times compared her action to that of democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and to nuns handing out flowers to gunmen in Manila in 1986.

Nor did major media feature the photo of Rachel Corrie at a February rally in Gaza burning a mock U.S. flag, her face contorted with rage.

Also, while many stories included the official Israeli statement of regret about Corrie’s accidental death, few provided more than passing reference to Israel’s perspective on the necessity of tearing down structures in the Rafah area of Gaza. The Christian Science Monitor was typical, offering one sentence stating “Israelis say weapons are smuggled across the border from Egypt and that Palestinians use houses in the area to fire on its troops.” Yet only by giving the context fully — that a labyrinth of tunnels, often underneath houses in the area, have served as a channel for arms and explosives, fueling and perpetuating the violence — is it clear that Corrie’s action and that of the International Solidarity Movement which brought her to Gaza are likely to prolong, rather than curtail, conflict.

Most media outlets also cast the group that organized her activity respectfully, with no mention that the infamous Adam Shapiro is prominent among its leaders, his wife having founded the organization.

Shapiro has written that a “suicide operation” is “noble” and that violence is a necessity of “Palestinian resistance.” In contrast to the swift elevation of Corrie to saintly fame with headlines and feature stories about her lofty “commitment,” coverage of the death of three other Americans less than two weeks earlier at the hands of Palestinian terrorists was altogether different.

Instead of hundreds of stories, there were but a handful devoted to the deliberate murders of Abigail Litle and Rabbi Elnatan and Dina Horowitz.

Abigail, the 14-year-old daughter of an American Baptist minister, was blown up with 16 others on a Haifa bus on March 5. The Horowitz’s, American citizens, were murdered by Palestinians who broke into their home dressed as religious Jews and gunned them down while they celebrated Shabbat. They leave four children and three grandchildren.

Sara Liss, writing for the Associated Press, was one of the few to report in detail these American losses (“Three Americans killed in Palestinian attacks buried in Israel” March 9). Of Abigail’s funeral, she wrote: “Litle’s father, Philip, held a Bible and told the mourners in a choked voice of how he chose Abigail’s name for its meaning in Hebrew, ‘father’s joy.” Philip Litle, Liss noted, “works as a minister and administrator in the tiny Baptist community, serving foreigners and local believers. He sent all of his four children to Israeli Hebrew language schools.”

Another report, Peter Herman’s in the Baltimore Sun, gave particular attention to these victims. He related Philip Litle’s observations about those who took the life of his daughter: ‘That shows the bankruptcy of a culture and its leadership,’ he said. ‘Any culture that seeks to advance its political cause with destructive violence against innocent civilians is a culture that needs to correct itself. What is the point of destroying innocent people? It certainly gets a loud bang and gets lots of attention, but does it really create change?”

It is exactly this story — the culture of hatred that exalts the deliberate and savage killing of innocents — that should be the centerpiece of coverage. But it doesn’t fit the Middle East formulation favored by outlets such as National Public Radio and the Los Angeles Times.

Originally published in Jerusalem Post on April 4, 2003.

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