In the January 25th episode of CBS’s 60 Minutes entitled “Is Peace Out of Reach,” correspondent Bob Simon teamed up with Palestinian politician and partisan Mustafa Barghouti to promote the Palestinian view of the Arab-Israeli conflict, heaping blame on Israel and exculpating the Palestinians for the absence of peace. In a caricature of Israeli villainy and Palestinian victimhood Simon presented a simple fable: a two-state solution, the key to peace, is thwarted by stubborn Israeli settlers.
Palestinian speakers were joined by a like-minded Israeli critic, while an Israeli settler leader whose views represent neither the Israeli mainstream, the Israeli government nor even most settlers was cast as the primary obstacle to peace. But the program itself was much more lopsided than even the imbalance of speakers indicates, since correspondent Bob Simon — whose voice dominates the segment — clearly and continuously joined the “blame Israel” chorus.
While echoing Palestinian talking points and repeating without challenge anti-Israel propaganda — including the slur that Israel practices apartheid and that settlements are like “crusader fortresses”— Simon overlooked recent history and even heckled an Israeli soldier as if in a schoolyard argument. (“Have you lost your voice?” he contemptuously asked an Israeli soldier who was seemingly not authorized or prepared to speak with the press.)
Simon laid down his distorted storyline at the outset of the segment, declaring: “a lasting peace really depends on the West Bank, where Palestinians had hoped to create their state.”
Actually, most Israelis would say — given recent experience with peacemaking attempts — that “lasting peace really depends” on Palestinians accepting Israel as a legitimate and permanent neighbor and not continuing to hope for and seek Israel’s elimination from the region. But this view held by Israelis was absent from the program.
Nor, in this vein, was there any mention that Palestinians were offered the two-state solution eight years ago. They not only rejected the Camp David/Taba peace offer, but chose a terror war against Israel instead. Had they accepted the offer, Palestinians would have a state, settlements deep inside the West Bank would be gone, and, the hope was, Palestinian terrorism would have ceased. Instead, the eruption of unprecedented Palestinian terrorism prompted Israeli defensive measures that altered the face of the West Bank.
None of this crucial information appeared in the segment.
Simon also failed to remind viewers of the other recent Israeli effort to reduce violence and enhance peace — the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Israel removed every citizen and dismantled every settlement and got, in return, not peace but more rockets and mortars than ever.
Does Simon think Israel is required to undertake withdrawal from areas close to Israel’s major cities and congested heartland without considering the possibility of more violent aggression against its people?
Why does he ignore reasonable Israeli concerns that if it withdrew from the West Bank “Hamas would take over the institutions and apparatuses of the Palestinian Authority within days”?
Does Simon think recent history is irrelevant? Does he think omitting essential facts (and substituting a fable) is ethical journalism?
Just as Simon ignored Israel’s offer to dismantle settlements and create a Palestinian state, he also ignored the violence that followed Palestinian rejection of the offer. The words “terror,” “terrorism” or “terrorist” do not appear even once in the transcript of the segment. Nor do the words “violence,” “war,” “gunmen,” “militants,” “attacker,” or “suicide bombers.”
The one reference to guns during the 60 Minutes segment, in fact, was Simon’s assertion that “the Israelis,” as opposed to the Palestinians, “have the guns.” The one reference to “security” was Mustafa Barghouti’s claim that most Israeli checkpoints cannot be justified by security concerns.
Although Simon ignored Palestinian violence against Israel, he nonetheless faulted Israeli response to the violence. Stripped of its context, Israel’s attempts to protect its civilians were framed as gratuitously causing inconvenience, oppression, and “humiliation” to Palestinians.
- On October 5, a Palestinian was stopped carrying a suspicious parcel containing two pipe bombs;
- On October 12, a female soldier prevented an attack when she discovered nine pipe bombs in the bags of three Palestinian traveling companions;
- On the following day, soldiers stopped a man who was trying to cross the checkpoint with explosive devices. He was shot and lightly wounded as he tried to escape in a get-away car;
- On October 15, soldiers confiscated a 10 cm knife from a man trying to pass through the checkpoint;
- A week later on October 22, the checkpoint was temporarily closed as a 17-year-old youth was detained with several firebombs and an explosive device.
- On October 25, a Palestinian youth was taken for questioning after soldiers found a pipe bomb in his bag.)
Simon seemed to relish in particular a segment focused on Israel’s periodic military requisitioning of a Palestinian home for apparent surveillance use in Nablus. The Nassif home is set on the heights overlooking the town and provides a unique vantage from which Israel can monitor ongoing terrorist efforts in the district. Casting the military use of the private home of the Nassif’s as an o utrage, the CBS correspondent did almost nothing to present the Israeli position, saying only that “an army spokesperson told us the army uses the Nassif’s house for important surveillance operations.”
There was not a word in the segment to indicate the gravity of what Israel faces in maintaining the relative quiet that has prevailed since it was compelled to counter the terrorist upsurge after the collapse of the Camp David talks. For Israel Nablus remains a hotbed of terrorist efforts and the central district of the West Bank from which attempted attacks on Israel emanate.
According to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, in 2007 “the Hamas networks in Samaria, especially in the Nablus region, were defined by the Israel Security Agency as dangerous and working avidly to rehabilitate themselves after the damage done by Operation Defensive Shield. In 2007 a series of counter-terrorist activities was directed against the networks including the detention of many operatives, some of them senior.” (See, e.g., here, here and here.)
The terrorist activity and murder of hundreds of Israelis in 2001-2003 has been dramatically diminished through a combination of the security barrier and intense, round-the-clock vigilance inside the West Bank.
Because much of Nablus lies in a valley, Israel can survey the camps, casbah and city below from strategic hills, and this surveillance sometimes entails using private homes that provide the best vantage point. IDF soldiers are instructed not to harm anyone or to damage property.
Even the BBC, which is not generally regarded as sympathetic to Israel, alerted its readers to Israel’s position in a more journalistically responsible manner. In a piece about the house, a reporter notes:
Over the last six years, the Israeli army has made frequent incursions into the city, to arrest and kill militants. When it does, the soldiers often return to bang on Mr Nasif’s door. …
Nablus does have a history of militancy. In the past, perpetrators of bombings in which Israeli civilians were killed, came from the city.
Although those attacks have dramatically decreased in number over recent years, the army says that does not mean attacks are not still being planned. That is why it says it needs to keep on making its raids into Nablus.
In other words, unlike 60 Minutes, the BBC acknowledges that the murder of Israeli civilians, and Israel’s attempts to act against potential killers, is an essential part of the story.
As with his discussion of the West Bank, Simon grossly misled viewers regarding Palestinians in Jerusalem:
The army is evicting Arabs from their homes in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians hoped to make their capital. Outraged, Arabs tried to save their homes, but the Israelis have the guns. Israel demolished more than 100 Arab homes in the past year, ruling they’d been illegally built. Arabs say this is just another tactic to drive them out.
“Drive them out”? Under Israeli control, the Arab population of Jerusalem has increased dramatically, and in fact grew substantially faster than the Jewish population of Jerusalem.
Additionally, Israel also demolishes illegal Jewish structures in Jerusalem. Does this mean it is trying to “drive out” Jews from Jerusalem? And Palestinians themselves have demolished illegal homes under their control. Would CBS take seriously allegations that the Palestinian Authority is trying to “drive out” Palestinians from Gaza because it has demolished illegal building there — which it has?
ECHOING FALSE PALESTINIAN CLAIMS
Simon’s use of loaded, anti-Israel language was uninhibited. Here is one typical statement by the correspondent:
Palestinians had hoped to establish their state here on the West Bank, an area the size of Delaware. But Israelis have sliced it up with scores of settlements and hundreds of miles of new highways that only settlers can use. Palestinians have to drive or ride on the older roads. When they want to travel from one town to another, they have to submit to humiliating delays at checkpoints and roadblocks. There are more than 600 of them on the West Bank.
- Simon falsely asserted that there are “hundreds of miles of new highways that only settlers can use.” In fact, all Israelis, whether Jewish or Arab, Christian or Muslim, can use Israel’s bypass roads, as can West Bank Palestinians who are believed to pose no threat to commuters.
- He claimed absurdly that Israelis were preventing a Palestinian state because they “sliced … up” the West Bank (in fact, as mentioned above, the lack of a Palestinian state is not because Israel “sliced up” — as Bob Simon and pro-Palestinian activists describe it — the West Bank, but because they rejected a state, started a terror war, and used territory abandoned by Israel as a base for deadly attacks).
- He also relayed unfiltered the Palestinian view of checkpoints as “humiliating” while ignoring the fact that Palestinians’ violent rejection of a state prompted most of the checkpoints.
THE CAST OF CHARACTERS
Mustapha Barghouti was quoted and paraphrased more than any other guest and given an unchallenged platform to level a variety of extreme charges. Referring to him only as a “former candidate for Palestinian president” Simon gave no hint that he is a long-time partisan whose statements are often patently false and propagandistic – notwithstanding his role as a PA legislator.
* Commenting on the death of arch-terrorist George Habash, founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and mastermind of bombings and hijackings, the Lod Airport massacre and the Entebbe hijacking, Barghouti praised the PFLP leader who, he said, left a legacy of “loyalty to the Palestinian cause in a very pri ncipled manner – honest, clean politics and great devotion to the Palestinian cause and to humanity.” (Jerusalem Post Jan 29, 2008)
* On Dec 30 as the Gaza conflict erupted he stated on CNN that not a “single” Israeli had been killed since Dec 27, when in fact four had been killed.
* On CNN, he charged that Israel had broken the June 2008 cease-fire, when the Palestinians had broken it repeatedly with the firing of rockets, mortars and light arms and with attempted infiltrations aimed at abducting Israelis.
* Barghouti’s lies sometimes catch up with him as, for example, when the San Francisco Chronicle had to correct an absurd allegation he made that Israel’s security barrier “was claiming 58% of the West Bank.”
Barghouti and Simon together dramatically lament that Barghouti cannot “ever” enter Jerusalem, implying he’s barred because he moved away from the city. Unmentioned was the fact that Barghouti has been arrested several times for violating agreements not to engage in political electioneering in Jerusalem without a permit, and according to London’s Independent (Jan. 8, 2005), he has deliberately “sought confrontations with the security forces as a tactic to gain badly needed publicity.” Moreover, after an arrest in January 2006, he was ordered by Jerusalem police to stay out of Jerusalem for the next 30 days (Jerusalem Post, Jan. 4, 2006) — not as Simon claims “forever.” Apparently, the story is more complicated than the 60 Minutes host implies.
The Nassif family is granted almost as much time as Barghouti to give their view of events at their home overlooking Nablus, a sharp contrast with the ultra-brief paraphrased Israeli comment that “important surveillance operations” occur from the house.
Daniella Weiss, resident of the West Bank, is presented as a counterweight to Barghouti and voice for the settlement movement. Yet she represents the most extreme position of Israeli settler opinion, has sparred with settler leadership and advocates for illegal settler outposts – all of which are not positions of the vast majority of Israelis and Israeli settlers. Casting her comments as representative produces a highly distorted picture of settlements, ignoring the relevant legal, historical and religious issues.
Meron Benvenisti is identified as a supposedly “moderate” Israeli; but his stated views are far from moderate. He claims Israelis are not actually victims of Arab violence, but that “Jewish immigrants settled on the lands of Arab natives, met with violent resistance and responded as if they were the victims and the natives the aggressors” (The Nation, June 18, 2007). In the August 7, 2003 Ha’aretz, he wrote: “… the basic story here is not one of two national movements that are confronting each other; the basic story is that of natives and settlers.” (Like Hamas extremists, he uses “settlers” here to refer to all Israelis, not just those living in the West Bank.)
He even claims Israel is worse in some respects than apartheid South Africa and he argues for a single binational state over the entirety of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip — a proposal far outside the Israeli political mainstream.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is very briefly interviewed, representing the official voice of Israel. She is only quoted discussing the possible need to remove settlements. If she commented on the need for checkpoints and other security measures or other context, it didn’ t make it on the air.
Never is there a good time for shoddy reporting, but today when Israel is under intense political pressure and Jews around the world are encountering heightened anti-Semitism, Simon’s biased, inaccurate blast at Israel is especially reprehensible and deserving of public protest.
BOB SIMON, co-host:
Getting a peace deal in the Middle East is such a priority to President Obama that his first foreign calls on his first day in office were to Arab and Israeli leaders. And on day two, the president made former Senator George Mitchell his special envoy for Middle East peace. Mr. Obama wants to shore up the cease-fire in Gaza, but a lasting peace really depends on the West Bank, where Palestinians had hoped to create their state. The problem is, even before Israel invaded Gaza, a growing number of Israelis and Palestinians had concluded that peace between them was no longer possible, that history had passed it by.
(Map of area)
SIMON: (Voiceover) For peace to have a chance, Israel would have to withdraw from the West Bank, which would then become the Palestinian state. It’s known as the two-state solution. But while negotiations have been going on for 15 years, hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers have moved in to occupy the West Bank. Palestinians say they can’t have a state with Israeli settlers all over it, which the settlers say is precisely the idea.
(Workers in field)
SIMON: (Voiceover) Daniella Weiss moved from Israel to the West Bank 33 years ago. She has been the mayor of a large settlement.
Mayor DANIELLA WEISS: I think that settlements prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in the land of Israel. This is the goal, and this is the reality.
(Man and son working in field; government officials; desert; doctor caring for patient)
SIMON: (Voiceover) Though settlers and Palestinians don’t agree on anything, most do agree now that a peace deal has been overtaken by events. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti is a former candidate for Palestinian president.
Dr. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: While my heart still wants to believe that the two-state solution is possible, my brain keeps telling me the opposite because of what I see in terms of the building of settlements. So in a way, these settlers are destroying the potential peace for both people that would have been created if we had two-state solution.
(Tanks; wounded; men carrying children; fire and smoke)
SIMON: (Voiceover) And he told us Israel’s invasion of Gaza, all the death and destruction, convinces him that Israel does not want a two-state solution.
Dr. BARGHOUTI: I am very worried that what Israel has done has furthered us much further from the possibility of two-state solution.
(Sheep herder and sheep; aerial view of settlement; highways; men in car; man riding donkey; women and children walking; woman’s credentials being checked by soldier; people waiting at checkpoint)
SIMON: (Voiceover) Palestinians had hoped to establish their state here on the West Bank, an area the size of Delaware. But Israelis have sliced it up with scores of settlements and hundreds of miles of new highways that only settlers can use. Palestinians have to drive or ride on the older roads. When they want to travel from one town to another, they have to submit to humiliating delays at checkpoints and roadblocks. There are more than 600 of them on the West Bank.
Why do the Israelies have so many checkpoints?
Dr. BARGHOUTI: I think the main goal is to fragment the West Bank. Maybe a little bit of them can be justified because they say it’s for security. But I think the vast majority of them are basically to block the movement of people from one place to another.
(Building; photo of young Barghouti with siblings; photo of Barghouti as a doctor; town; Barghouti working on computer)
SIMON: (Voiceover) Here’s how they block Dr. Barghouti. He was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Jerusalem, and worked in a hospital there for 14 years. Four years ago, he moved to a town just 10 miles away. But now, because he no longer lives in Jerusalem, he can’t get back in, ever.
Now, wait a minute. You cannot go to Jerusalem?
Dr. BARGHOUTI: At all.
SIMON: Can’t you get a permit to go?
Dr. BARGHOUTI: I asked for a permit to go to Jerusalem during the last year–the last two years about 16 times, and 16 times they were rejected. Like most Palestinians, I don’t have a permit to go to the city I was born in, to the city I used to work in, to the city where my sister lives.
(Aerial view of settlements; Simon riding in helicopter; house)
SIMON: (Voiceover) Here’s what he’s up against–scores of Israeli settlements dominating the lowlands like crusader fortresses. Many are little cities, and none of them existed 40 years ago. The Israelis always take the high ground, sometimes the hills, sometimes the homes. And sometimes, Arabs are occupied inside their own homes. This house, for example, the highest house on the highest hill overlooking the town of Nablus. We learned that Israeli soldiers often corral the four families who live here and take over the house to monitor movement down below.
We’re going into an apartment owned by a Mr. Nassif here in Nablus. We understand that Israeli soldiers came in this morning, and without any notice, without any invitation, came into the apartment and have been there ever since.
Mr. ABDUL NASSIF: We cannot speak with you. There are soldiers.
SIMON: There are soldiers?
Mr. NASSIF: Yes.
SIMON: What are they doing here?
Mr. NASSIF: We are in prison here.
SIMON: Well, what’s happening?
Mr. NASSIF: They are keeping us here, and the soldiers are upstairs. We cannot move, we cannot speak with you.
SIMON: You can’t leave the house?
Mr. NASSIF: No.
SIMON: They told you that?
Mr. NASSIF: Yes. I can’t leave.
SIMON: How long are they going to stay?
Mr. NASSIF: I don’t know.
SIMON: Are they paying you any money?
Mr. NASSIF: You are kidding.
SIMON: I’m kidding.
(Nassif talking with Simon)
SIMON: (Voiceover) Abdul Nassif, a bank manager, said he had to get to his bank to open the safe but that soldiers won’t let him go. He told us, when the soldiers come, they wake everybody up and herd them into a kitchen for hours while soldiers sleep in their bedrooms. They can’t leave or use the phone or let us in. He sent us downstairs to see if his brother would open the door so we could ask the soldiers why they keep taking over this house.
Unidentified Man #1: You want to come?
SIMON: Yes. Just open the door and then…
Man #1: The soldiers close the door from the keys. They take the keys.
(House; Simon talking to house occupants through gate; occupants and soldiers inside house)
SIMON: (Voiceover) So we left, and that night, so did the soldiers. But when we returned two days later, the soldiers were back for more surveillance. This time, they kept the women under house arrest, but let the men go to work and the children go to school. When the children returned, we caught a glimpse of two armed soldiers at the top of the stairs. Then, more children came home, but the soldiers wouldn’t open the door again.
Unidentified Man #2: They say if you don’t go back behind the wall, the children will not enter the house.
SIMON: But this is where the children live.
Unidentified Soldier: Yeah, but you need to go away from the door so I can let the children come in, OK?
SIMON: Who are you?
Man #2: He’s a commander here.
SIMON: He’s a commander here?
Man #2: Yeah.
SIMON: Can we talk to you?
SIMON: But we are talking to you now. Why don’t you tell us what you’re doing here? Have you lost your voice?
Well, they’ve closed the door now. They’ve closed the window. So I guess, if the children are going to get home, we have to–we have to leave, so that’s what we’ll do.
An army spokesperson told us the army uses the Nassifs’ house for important surveillance operations. The Nassifs told us the soldiers usually stay for a day or two, always coming and going in the middle of the night. When they do go, the Nassifs never know when they’ll be occupied again. It could be tomorrow, next week or next month. The only certainty, they say, is that the soldiers will be back.
(Men talking and walking on streets; building under construction; aerial view of settlement; workers; Israelis; man praying; women; children playing)
SIMON: (Voiceover) Another crippling reality on the West Bank is high unemployment, now about 20 percent. So some Palestinians can only find jobs building Israeli settlements. They’re so ashamed to work here that they asked us not to show their faces. The settlers now number about 280,000, and as they keep moving in, their population keeps growing about 5 percent every year But the two and a half million Arabs have their strategy, too. They’re growing bigger families.
Demographers predict that within 10 years, Arabs will outnumber Jews in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Without a separate Palestinian state, the Israelis would have three options, none of them good. They could try ethnic cleansing, drive the Palestinians out of the West Bank. They could give the Palestinians the vote. That would be the democratic option, but it would mean the end of the Jewish state. Or they could inflict apartheid, have the minority Israelis rule the majority Palestinians. But apartheid regimes don’t have a very long life.
Dr. BARGHOUTI: Unfortunately, and I have to say to you that apartheid is already in place.
SIMON: Apartheid is already in place?
Dr. BARGHOUTI: Absolutely.
(Aerial view of wall; soldiers at checkpoint; fountain; rocky, arid ground; Israelis at cafe; Meron Benvenisti walking with Simon)
SIMON: (Voiceover) Apartheid? Israel is building what it calls a security wall between the West Bank and Israel. The Palestinians are furious because it appropriates 8 percent of the West Bank. Not only that, it weaves its way through Palestinian farms, separating farmers from their land. They have to wait at gates for soldiers to let them in. Settlers get a lot more water than Palestinians, which is why settlements are green and Arab areas are not. Moderate Israelis who deplore the occupation used to believe passionately in a two-state solution. No longer. Meron Benvenisti used to be deputy mayor of Jerusalem.
Israeli leaders and Palestinian leaders are negotiating a two-state solution. What do you think the prospects are?
Mr. MERON BENVENISTI: Prospects are nil. The geopolitical condition that’s been created in ’67 is irreversible, cannot be changed. You cannot unscramble that egg.
SIMON: Does this mean that the settlers have won?
Mr. BENVENISTI: Yes.
SIMON: And the settlers will remain forever and ever?
Mr. BENVENISTI: I don’t know forever and ever, but they will remain and will flourish.
Mayor WEISS: The settlers, the attitude that I present here, this is the heart, this is the pulse. This is the past, present and future of the Jewish nation.
SIMON: So you’re saying basically that you and your fellow settlers are immovable?
Mayor WEISS: I say that we and the settlers here are immovable. We will stay here forever.
(Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni at events)
SIMON: (Voiceover) But one very important Israeli says she intends to move them out. She’s foreign minister Tzipi Livni, a candidate to become prime minister in elections next month. She’s also Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, and she told us peace is unthinkable with the settlers where they are.
Can you really imagine evacuating the tens of thousands of settlers who say they will not leave?
Ms. TZIPI LIVNI: It’s not going to be easy, but this is the only solution.
SIMON: But you know that there are settlers who say, `We will fight. We will not leave. We will fight.’
Ms. LIVNI: So this is the responsibility of the government, of the police to stop them, as simple as that. Israel is a state of law and order.
(Riot; soldiers patrolling)
SIMON: (Voiceover) And disorder. Here’s what happened three years ago when the army evicted just nine families from a West Bank settlement called Amona. It was chaos, the first time since the creation of the state that Jews were in pitched battle against Jews. To Israelis of all stripes, it was not a pretty picture, and it made the government loathe to try again. Officials fear that more battles to empty settlements could rip Israel apart. They’re afraid that religious officers in the army, and there are an increasing number of them, would disobey any order to evict settlers.
Mayor WEISS: There will be a mutiny in the army.
SIMON: A mutiny in the army?
Mayor WEISS: I think a mutiny against such an illegal order will make our army only stronger.
(House being demolished; soldiers battling civilians; building being demolished)
SIMON: (Voiceover) The army is evicting Arabs from their homes in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians hoped to make their capital. Outraged, Arabs tried to save their homes, but the Israelis have the guns. Israel demolished more than 100 Arab homes in the past year, ruling they’d been illegally built. Arabs say this is just another tactic to drive them out. But officials say they also knock down unauthorized Jewish buildings on the West Bank. They’re put up by youngsters, the next generation’s campaign to populate the land. Daniella Weiss told us they will not be stopped.
The army tore this down this morning…
Mayor WEISS: Yes.
SMITH: …and now you’re rebuilding it.
Mayor WEISS: Yes, and we will have the upper hand, I have no doubt.
SIMON: But the army will tear it down again.
Mayor WEISS: So we will rebuild it. The experience shows that the world belongs to those who are stubborn, and we are very stubborn.
(Men building dwelling; aerial view of countryside)
SIMON: (Voiceover) Stubborn, she says, because they were ordered to populate this land by no less an authority than God.
Mayor WEISS: This is the mission of our generation. The most important point is this, to hold strong to the soil of the holy land