Los Angeles Times Bureau Chief Tracy Wilkinson recently joined this distorted chorus deploring Israel’s military conduct. In an extensive front page story (“Israeli Activists Urge Army to Probe Civilian Slayings,” December 31, 2001) running 3,300 words, she manages never to mention the Palestinian Authority’s grotesque incitement to hatred and murder of Israelis, incitement that has propelled children into battle. Nor does she note the simple fact that the violence would end the moment the Palestinians stopped it. Instead, she builds her story around the charges of the far-Left B’Tselem organization, well known for its lopsided critiques of Israel, and on the accusations of Ra’anan Cohen from the Meretz party. He is quoted saying:
…something very sick has entered this system. The Israel (army) is indeed making a tremendous military effort, and there’s no doubt that it increases the burden and the tension. But this should not justify lies and the loss of our moral values.
No member of Israel’s unity government is interviewed as counterpoint to the Meretz critic. Although several Israeli military spokesmen are interviewed, their brief, general comments are juxtaposed against detailed and evocative anecdotes concerning individual Palestinians killed by soldiers.
Wilkinson claims that:
a review by the Times of several civilian deaths reveals a pattern of questionable Israeli military action and minimal inquiry into what went wrong, as well as little if any disciplinary action.She states, as though uncovering some nefarious truth, that:
the Israeli army has defined the current conflict in a way that loosens the rules of engagement and allows soldiers wide discretion in opening fire…It is entirely unclear how the supposed “review by the Times” of Israeli military actions was conducted. No description is given of the methods employed to arrive at the serious accusation leveled.
But what is glaringly obvious is Wilkinson’s failure to make clear certain plain realities.
The Palestinians have since September 2000 launched thousands of violent attacks on Israelis with stones, bombs, mortars, guns, and suicide killers.
Palestinian civilians, including children, have deliberately been sent to the front lines, with gunmen shooting from crowds of youthful stone-throwers and drawing Israeli response, snipers shooting from residential neighborhoods triggering Israeli defensive action, and bomb-planters placing explosives near areas used by olive harvesters and schoolboys.
Stoking the violence, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad have continuously glorified the “martyrs” lost in such attacks and encouraged more of the young to sacrifice themselves. Small children wrapped in mock explosives to simulate future suicide bombers are a gruesome feature of public parades, PA television spots urge young people to seek a martyr’s paradise, and PA mosques exhort the public to greater bloodshed against Israel.
Nor is there any reference in the Times piece to the conduct of other democracies, including America, in coping with similar military challenges. Thus Wilkinson makes no note that, while the Palestinians have lost close to 800 in 15 months of daily violence that they instigate, when United States forces under a UN peacekeeping mandate faced similar circumstances of rioting civilians and gunmen in Somalia in the early 1990s, 500 Somalis were killed in just one clash, 100 in another and many more in other encounters. Such US action was deemed unavoidable and justified because of the aggression of the adversary.
Commenting on the deaths of 100 Somalis in a September 9, 1993, clash, UN spokesman Major David Stockwell defended firing on civilians, saying “Everyone on the ground in the vicinity was a combatant, because they meant to do us harm.” US spokesmen also denied excessive force or any violation of international law in the clash that killed 500, stating that the Somalis themselves bore the ultimate responsibility, since they deliberately put their people in harm’s way and initiated the firefight.
The violent death of anyone is a tragedy, and can be recounted by journalists in heartwrenching ways. Stories like those in Wilkinson’s piece can be written, for example, of the civilians killed by the current American campaign in Afghanistan. But surely it would be journalistic dereliction to use such stories to confound the relative culpability of the United States and its Al- Qiada and Taliban adversaries. It is similarly indefensible when Wilkinson and others use such stories to distort basic truths of culpability in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Appeared in the Jerusalem Post on this date