NPR’s Intifada

After NPR mangled so much of Israel’s modern history in the first five segments of its series on the Middle East conflict, it would have been astounding had part six been an honest and objective history of its topic, the first Palestinian intifada. Unfortunately, publicly-funded NPR offered up still more of its anti-Israel bias, material inaccuracies, and selective use of facts.

Even the first seconds of the segment were not immune from NPR’s habitual airbrushing away of deadly Palestinian violence. According to Bob Edwards’ introduction, the intifada, which began in 1987, confronted “the Israeli army with stones and words.” Well that is how the intifada was originally reported on NPR – the Palestinians were presented as virtual pacifists, latter day Mahatma Gandhi’s – but the reality was somewhat different.

Rachel Weiss, for example, 26 years old and pregnant, was not an Israeli soldier, nor were her three infant sons, Rafael, Netanel and Efraim. They were all burned to death in 1988 – not by “stones and words,” as NPR would have it – but by fire bombs hurled into their bus by three Palestinian terrorists.

Rita Levine, a 39 year old American lawyer, was not an Israeli soldier either. She died in 1989, along with 15 other passengers on Bus No. 405, after a Palestinian terrorist suddenly grabbed the wheel and sent the bus hurtling down a steep embankment, causing a fiery crash. Contrary to NPR, these innocent victims weren’t killed by “stones and words” either.

And Helena Rapp was certainly not an Israeli soldier – she was just a young Tel Aviv teenager, stabbed to death in 1992 by a Palestinian terrorist as she waited for the bus that would take her to school, where she was to take a photography class.

But NPR would prefer that its listeners forget Helena Rapp, and Rita Levine, and Rachel Weiss and her three children, and the more than 180 other Israelis who were murdered in the first intifada. That way the network can portray bloody Palestinian violence as virtual civil disobedience, conducted with “stones and words.”

But routinely portraying Israelis as the oppressors of Palestinians, rather than as the victims of unbridled Palestinian hatred and violence, has long been a distinguishing characteristic of NPR. A perfect example is how the network originally covered Helena Rapp’s brutal murder in 1992 – correspondent Linda Gradstein dispensed with Helena in one terse sentence, and then turned to her real interest, alleged Israeli revenge attacks against Arabs:

Fifteen year-old Helena Rapp was buried today in an emotional funeral attended by thousands of local residents. Rapp’s father called on Jews to exercise restraint, but groups of angry Jews attacked Arabs. In a town near the funeral, Jews stabbed and seriously wounded an Arab who is a citizen of Israel, not the West Bank. Several other Arab Israeli citizens were attacked, but not seriously injured. (NPR, May 25, 1992)

Why would NPR report the horrific murder of a 15 year old Israeli girl as if Palestinians were the real victims? Whatever the motivation, it is evidently still at work ten years after Helena Rapp’s murder, and it is clearly on display in the network’s segment on the first Palestinian intifada.

Once again, as in the series as a whole, the cast of experts was dominated by pro-Palestinian partisans and critics of Israel, starting with Philip Mattar (again not identified by the network as heading the highly partisan, PLO-affiliated Institute for Palestine Studies). Mattar, the perfect guest, reinforced NPR’s claim that the intifada was benignly peaceful, informing listeners that it was a “form of near non-violent protest” and was “a very effective way of reaching out to Israelis, that you know, we are going to resist, but without using military means …” So, according to Mattar, firebombs, guns, knives and bombs are a way of “reaching out to Israelis.”

Mattar was followed by Israeli revisionist historian Benny Morris, Palestinian academic Yezid Sayigh, noted Palestinian propagandist Professor Edward Said, and the only slightly less partisan Professor William Quandt. Making a token appearance to present the Israeli side was historian Anita Shapira, who was afforded a grand total of just 51 words.

Among the gems of misinformation offered to listeners was Shuster’s characterization of the Islamic terror organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad as “political groups” (maybe they take a vote before every suicide bombing). Shuster also claimed that Israel had at first “encouraged” the growth of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which was then underscored by Yezid Sayigh:

The Israelis, in order to promote alternatives to the PLO, allowed Islamists to run their own institutions, social institutions, mosques, kindergartens, health clinics, et cetera. They encouraged them in a number of different ways as a rival to the PLO.

In fact, contrary to Sayigh and Shuster, Israel never encouraged Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Israel supported the building of clinics, mosques and religious schools in the territories because this was their obligation under the Geneva Conventions, and the government also cooperated in this regard with the so-called Muslim Brotherhood, a non-profit registered in Gaza. The Muslim Brotherhood, while rejecting the existence of Israel, was explicitly non-violent, believing that Islamic society would have to be strengthened over the long term before any conflict could be initiated with Israel. (See, for example, Islamic Fundamentalism in the West Bank and Gaza, Ziad Abu-Amr.)

In contrast, the Islamic Jihad was explicitly violent from its founding in 1980, calling for immediate jihad against Israel, and showing little interest in building social institutions. Indeed, it was created out of frustration with the non-violent policy of the Muslim Brotherhood. Islamic Jihad’s cofounder, Fathi Shikaki, was arrested by Israel in 1983 and again in 1986, and was then deported to Lebanon in 1988 (Islamic Fundamentalism, p 93-94). Does sound like the Israeli “encouragement” trumpeted by Shuster and Sayigh?

When the intifada began, the Muslim Brotherhood feared a loss of influence and popularity to the terrorist Islamic Jihad, which had openly mocked the movement for its non-violent stand. In response, under the leadership of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the Muslim Brotherhood created on December 9, 1987 a subgroup eventually called Hamas, which was meant to compete with Islamic Jihad in murdering Israelis. Thus, Shuster’s claim that “by 1988, Hamas was playing a major role in the intifada, and its leaders were talking about more violent measures,” is wrong and quite deceptive. Hamas essentially did not exist until 1988, and Israel never cooperated with it.

Indeed, in May 1989 Israel arrested Sheikh Yassin and sentenced him to 15 years in jail for his role in the abduction and murder of two Israeli soldiers (Islamic Fundamentalism, p 65). Again, does this sound like the “encouragement” alleged by Shuster and Sayigh?

NPR was no more accurate in the rest of the segment, which skipped forward to the beginning of the Oslo process. According to Shuster, “the Oslo agreement … envisioned creating a Palestinian state ..” Sh uster’s claim is absolutely incorrect. Nowhere in any of the Oslo agreements was there any provision for the creation of a Palestinian state – all such questions were left to the planned final status negotiations.

This was clear from the text of the agreements, and was reflected in many public statements issued by Israeli leaders. Prime Minister Rabin, for example, in presenting the Interim Agreement to the Israeli Knesset on October 5, 1995, stated that it allowed for:

… a Palestinian entity that will be the home of the majority of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. We want that entity to be less than a state and we want it independently to manage the lives of the Palestinians under its jurisdiction. (BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, October 7, 1995)

As is typical on NPR, Shuster also characterized the Oslo Agreements only by what they demanded – or supposedly demanded – of Israel, omitting any Palestinian obligations:

All the hardest issues were postponed: what to do about the Jewish settlers on the West Bank, how to handle Jerusalem, what could be the final borders of the two countries, could the Palestinians in the refugee camps return to their original homes?

By habitually erasing from view the Palestinian obligations, NPR leads listeners to believe that only Israel could possibly violate the accords, and that only Israel could be responsible for the failure of the accords. There is no mention, for example, of the fundamental Palestinian obligation to dismantle all armed groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and to arrest and prosecute any individuals who refuse to disarm, or who attack Israelis. The Interim Agreement (ie Oslo 2) , for example, required the Palestinians to ensure that “except for the Palestinian Police and the Israeli military forces, no other armed forces shall be established or operate in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.” (Article XIV)

Perfectly illustrating this NPR habit of forgetting all Palestinian obligations and actions, the segment’s final guest, William Quandt, attributed the failure of Oslo to the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin. Had Rabin lived, Quandt assured listeners, “it’s not inconceivable that by 1998, ’99, you would have had two states living side by side.” No mention of the role that Palestinian terror attacks had in derailing the peace process under Rabin, and under his even more accommodating successor, Shimon Peres.

As is so often the case on NPR, Palestinian terror attacks, and Israeli losses, are reported in the most perfunctory way, and then immediately forgotten.

For more of CAMERA’s critique on the series, click here.

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