The World, a co-production of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Boston’s public broadcasting station WGBH, and Public Radio International (PRI) — not to be confused with National Public Radio — is heard on 129 public radio stations throughout the United States. From May 20 through May 24, 2002, The World’s Patrick Cox presented a special report entitled “A Middle East History” with text and audio available on its Web site.
In the five-part radio production, host Patrick Cox attempts to sum up the complex history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in brief soundbytes, drawing heavily on Arab propaganda claims, omitting relevant information, and skewing the facts.
To wit, the series dismisses Jewish claim to the land of Israel, falsely implying that the land was entirely Arab before 1948. It erroneously states that the British had an open-door policy toward Jewish immigration following World War II. It wrongly claims that the U.N. Partition Plan granted Israel 56 percent of historic Palestine. It suggests that five Arab armies invaded the fledgling State of Israel in response to the Deir Yassin incident. It scandalously indicates that “village by village, they [the Zionists] pushed Palestinian civilians out of what is now Israel to the West Bank and beyond.” It wrongly asserts that the 1978 Camp David accords promised “a freeze on settlements in the occupied territories and the prospect of a Palestinian state.”
Although this “special report” purports to present us with a history of the Israeli-Arab conflict, there is no discussion of the anti-Jewish riots in 1920-21, the Arab massacre of the Jews living in Hebron in 1929, the rampant Arab terrorism against Jewish communities during the Arab Revolt of 1936-39, nor anything of the numerous documented episodes of anti-Jewish violence and terror by Arabs throughout the pre-state period. Nor are listeners provided any information about the many Arab terrorist raids into Israel after it became a state. The only references to Arab terrorist attacks within Israel come within lengthy discussions of Israel’s responses. For example, a comparison of Israel’s military actions in Qibya (Kibya) in 1953 and Jenin in 2002 draws this fleeting mention of Arab attacks against Israeli civilians:
From Qibya to Jenin nearly 50 years later, a similar scenario has played itself out time and again: the murder of Israeli civilians, a counter-attack by Israeli troops that leaves dozens dead and more homeless and international outcry.
Not surprisingly, there is no mention of the number of Israelis murdered or maimed in Arab terrorist attacks. Nor is there reference to Jenin as a hotbed of Palestinian terrorist activities, nor to the armed Palestinians who fought fiercely against Israeli soldiers (killing 23 of them), nor to the boobytrapping of civilian homes by Palestinian fighters, nor to anything that would draw attention to the extent of Arab anti-Jewish violence. There is only the false implication that Israel and Ariel Sharon have historically incurred international condemnation by using disproportionate force.
Israeli defensive military strikes and wars were fought is either omitted or distorted. While a detailed description is provided of a 1955 Sharon-led Israeli army strike on an Egyptian base in Gaza, nothing is said about the numerous murderous Fedayeen attacks against Israelis, sponsored by Egypt and launched from the Gaza base, that preceded this action. Neither are the full spectrum of contributing factors and the real threat to Israel’s existence conveyed when discussing the 1956 war or the 1967 war. Among the precipitants of the 1967 war omitted by Cox are:
• the complete Egyptian naval blockade of Eilat
• the rising frequency of Arab terrorist attacks
• the virulent rhetoric issuing from Cairo (examples: “Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel…” Nasser, May 27, 1967; “With the closing of the Gulf of Aquaba, Israel is faced with two alternatives either of which will destroy it: it will either be strangled to death by the Arab military and economic boycott, or it will perish by the fire of the Arab forces encompassing it from the South from the North and from the East” Cairo Radio, May 30, 1967).
Cox further distorts history with innuendo suggesting that then-Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol conspired behind the scenes to cover-up Israel’s supposedly belligerent intent. Cox contends:
President Johnson…instructed [the Israelis] not to attack first. But Prime Minister Levi Eshkol was told by his generals that he had the best army since King David. He ordered an attack on Egypt’s airfields. A different story was fed to the media.
The implication here is that Israelis attacked first but fed false information to the world.
PRI listeners then heard Eshkol in a statement from the period stating that Israel needs no additional territory and wants only to develop what territory it has. Cox follows with: “The next day, Israel entered Syria and attacked the Golan Heights,” implying Eshkol was lying and Israel fought Syria merely to acquire more territory.
In fact, under threat of extinction, Israel launched pre-emptive strikes against the Egyptian forces that had massed along the Sinai border. While Israel kept silent about its victories, Cairo broadcast propaganda claims that Egypt was destroying Israel’s army and air force. These claims were accepted unquestioningly in the Arab world, convincing Syria, Jordan and Iraq to join in the fighting. Israel responded to Syrian strikes on June 9, 1967, capturing the strategic Golan Heights. This act of self-defense occurred after 19 years of attacks by Syria and unsuccessful efforts to get the international community to act. But Cox’s omissions and innuendo turn truth on its head to portray Israel as a conniving expansionist.
While great emphasis is placed on Sharon’s role in Israeli military actions, Arafat’s role in PLO terrorism and PLO attacks are downplayed. Arafat is said to have “engaged in a major diplomatic initiative” and to have “put forward a peace plan.” Terrorism is attributed to “others” who “attracted attention to their cause through political violence,” and there is no discussion of the fact that the PLO, under Arafat’s rule, not only carried out acts of terrorism which claimed thousands of victims — men, women and children — both Jewish and non-Jewish, but cooperated, funded, and provided arms and training to other terrorist organizations around the world. These included the Japanese Red Army, the Baader Meinhoff group, the Italian Red Brigades, the IRA and neo-Nazi organizations. Arafat’s 1988 statement renouncing “all forms of terrorism” is taken at face value and ensuing “complications” are all attributed to Israel although Arafat called for “jihad” against Israel soon after his statement and refused to condemn continuing attacks a gainst Israel by Palestinian infiltrators.
Loaded, prejudicial language is liberally sprinkled throughout the reports. Disputed territory is referred to as “Arab” and Israeli settlements are described as “a massive colonization project . . . in the Arab territories. . .” Even ancient history is not immune. Reference is made to Hebrews who “invaded the area some three millenia ago” yet the Romans who, in fact, conquered the region, merely “came and eventually banished” the Hebrews — suggesting that “Hebrews,” even in biblical times, were interlopers.
Negative editorial comments are limited to Israel or Israeli political figures such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (“whose policies and personality turned off the electorate…”) and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (who is described as “hardline”) while Hamas escapes criticism, being labelled a “homegrown Palestinian resistance movement.”
The Arab viewpoint is described in sympathetic and emotive language while the Israeli perspective is mentioned in dismissive terms. Arab rejection of the U.N. Partition Plan is implicitly rationalized by interviewee Mark Tessler with the following Arab analogy:
The analogy they often used was one of a house. This is the house in which we live and all of a sudden someone who used to live here many many years ago comes and says, “this is really my house but I’m only going to insist upon having the first floor, you continue to live on the second floor.”
Tessler does not employ a similar analogy when talking about the Israeli point of view; he does not refer to a family finally returning to their home from which they were chased and finding others there now who refuse to share it. Instead, he suggests that the Arab invasion of the fledgling state was merely an Israeli version of events:
So from the point of view of the Zionists, they were attacked and unless they were going to renounce their project of establishing a Jewish state and try to think about some alternative including perhaps leaving the area, they really had no choice but to defend themselves.
The PRI series relies heavily on interviews with historian Mark Tessler from the University of Michigan, hardly an impartial scholar. A review of his 1994 book, A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, pointed to Tessler’s selective citations of documentary sources, misleading quotes, one-sided reporting of facts and events, biased choice of language, and even the use of a fabricated quotation attributed to Israel’s then military chief of staff, Yitzchak Rabin. The review concluded that Tessler’s work presents only the version of events most damaging to Israel, doing “so much to promote myth and so little to advance the truth” (Midstream Magazine, May-June 1999). The same can be said to sum up The World’s special series on the history of the Middle East.