|How the Western Media Smear Israel|
By Tal Sadeh
FrontPageMagazine.com | April 15, 2002
I KNOW it is disturbing to see this presentation , but that exactly is its power. There are many not-nice photos of Palestinians taken by foreign press, but they seldom reach your TV and newspapers because western media are almost intentionally trying to support the narrative of the oppressed Palestinians. I do acknowledge the difficult situation of many Palestinians, and I do acknowledge that there are many innocent Palestinians, ones we could live with peaceful.
However, many Israelis feel abused by western Media and their clear Pro-Palestinian bias. Quite simply, you are often watching Palestinian propaganda in the guise of objective reporting. Perhaps the bias is the results of the hate reporters and editors feel towards Sharon, towards the settlers, and in some cases, to Israel altogether. Perhaps reporters are favorable to the weaker side in the conflict. The bottom line is that while the presentation may not be representative of Palestinians, what you get by western media is also quite removed from reality.
Here are some of the techniques I noticed that CNN, BBC and SKY News use:
1) The body count. Comparing the numbers of casualties on both sides suggests an overwhelming imbalance in Israel's favor. Many people are led to interpret this as evidence of Palestinian superior morality and their just cause. A closer look reveals that many Palestinian casualties are terrorists and armed gunmen, dying on their way to a terrorist attack or in battle, while many Israeli casualties are innocent civilians on their way to work. Adjusting for that would lead to a more balanced balance. Western Media rarely make this point.
2) The unbalanced coverage of the human side of the conflict. Western Media covers with great length the plight of, say, a Palestinian pregnant woman who was prevented from reaching the hospital and consequently had to deliver in her bedroom. Old women are shown crying, and a family fridge is shown to be empty of food. This is troubling indeed. But rarely do you see items that follow the agonized family of an Israeli victim of a suicide bomber. The most disturbing item I saw was one trying to "understand" the suicide bombers, talking to their families and in this way making them human. While this could be an interesting academic issue, it leaves the wrong message with ordinary TV viewers.
3) The moral basis. While western media are efficient in reporting innocent Palestinian casualties, they rarely report Palestinian polls that show that 80% of Palestinians support the suicide bombings (even before the latest Israeli military operation). To many Israelis this fact that they want to indiscriminately kill each and every one of us wherever they can greatly erodes our sensitivity to the Palestinians' plight. Israeli support for intentionally killing innocent Palestinians is still negligible. The Arabs often argue that the suicide bombings are the Palestinian response to Israel's use of F-16s. However, that argument is troubling. In what way are Palestinian bombings of Israeli coastal cities' night club districts different than Saddam's Scud missile attacks on Israel a decade ago? He too was arguing that he was doing it for the sake of freeing the Palestinians from Israeli occupation. And one should recall that suicide bombers (though much fewer in number) were se! nt against innocent Israelis even at the best of the Oslo process' times (1994-1995), when no F-16 was in sight.
Another part of the battle over morality involves the reports on Palestinian ambulances being fired at. Rarely do western reporters try to investigate, or just mention the Israeli claim that the Palestinians often use these ambulances as disguised troop carriers, and load them with explosives and arms. They definitely never tell their audience that many Palestinians are treated in Israeli hospitals and sometimes by Israeli military paramedics.
The same goes for the Church of Nativity: It was the armed Palestinians who either forced the monks to give them shelter (which suggests that the monks are hostages), or the church who willingly let them in (which means it sided with the Palestinians in this war). Israel never wanted the violence to reach that church. The Palestinians use the church to fire at Israelis, which are morally prevented from firing back. And what about the poor children that get hurt? Indeed it is terrible. But rarely do western journalists take care to report how the Palestinians themselves are careless with their children, firing at IDF soldiers from within a crowd of kids. That poor Palestinian kid who was shot at the beginning of the Intifada - Mohammad Dura - There's no proof at all that the IDF shot him. A recent German TV show found mixed evidence. Anyway, he was caught in the firing zone, nobody tried to purposely kill him. But like in many libels, the "sorry, we were wrong" part comes in ! small print and not in the front page.
4) De-legitimization of the IDF. It is very difficult for some western journalists to hide their frustration and anger at restrictions that the IDF imposes on their freedom of movement. They would like to cover the war right were it all happens. So they sometimes disobey the army and get hurt in the war, blaming it on the IDF. They come to resent the IDF and it affects their reporting. At some point I saw a BBC TV reporter saying, "We were prevented from going into that street. Something terrible may be happening there that the IDF does not want us to see." Is TV reporting about facts and their interpretation or about conspiracy theories? I think part of the problem of reporters is that they are prisoners of the "Lebanon 1982" concept. Many of them are conditioned by Sharon's last war, the one in 1982 in Lebanon. So they expect a massacre, and would invent one to fit the story, even if none happens.
5) Confusing the evidence. In a number of cases I saw reporters talk about Palestinian victims while showing pictures of Israeli victims. No matter if you can't get proof of Palestinian claims. You can still prove Israeli aggression with evidence of Israeli victims.
6) Double standard. This is a problem Israel has been suffering ever since 1967. We are always held to a standard that no other country is held to. Does anybody know how many innocent civilians died in Afghanistan? Did western media bother to try hard enough to find out? Isn't the concept of "carpet bombing" terrible (indiscriminate killing)? And what about the 800 Muslims who were killed in riots in India recently? Yes, you heard about it, but nobody is suggesting an embargo on India and sending UN forces. The argument that the disaster on September 11 is not like the suicide bombings in Israel is unacceptable to Israelis and infuriates them. We don't see the difference, and often feel that westerners think our blood to be cheaper than theirs. Trying Sharon in Belgium for the 1982 massacre (which he at most is only indirectly responsible to, and already have won a libel suit on this issue), while pardoning everybody else involved in that terrible atrocity. What about Dutch ! responsibility for a massacre in the Balkans? And so on and so on. This double standard is sheer anti-Semitism.
7) The role of the leaders in this crisis. Some journalists can't hide their anger or dismay at Israelis for electing Sharon. Arafat, on the other hand, is forever the only representative of the Palestinian people. It is amazing how quickly westerners can throw away their passion for democracy when it comes to the Palestinians. Arafat was elected in 1996 by a majority of more than 90% of voters. Does this look like democracy? The west keeps telling Israel that Arafat will forever be the only leader of the Palestinians. Does this look like democracy? Recently the French have been pushing for another round of staged elections to renew the "democratic mandate" of Arafat. I am not going to tell the Palestinians how to run their politics, but how can the west accept Arafat and not Sharon? Israelis kick their PMs out of office when they fail to be good on their promises. Even Sharon's opponents know that he will eventually be replaced. Arafat's eternity on the other hand, is the r! egion's tragedy.
It is not just a matter of fair reporting and justice. The problem (westerners' problem as well as Israelis') is that you end up with the wrong impression about the Middle East, you don't understand Israelis ("what has happened to Israel?" is a common question today among supporters of Israel), and you don't understand your governments (which know better than TV images, but are now often charged with being hostage to Jews). You will never resolve the situation unless you honestly try to understand the situation. Worse, Israelis are growing tired of decades of anti-Israeli western Media. Many Israelis are becoming desperate as a result of the world ganging up on us, and start to question the west's commitment to our existence. I remember Kofi Annan's recent words, that if the whole world is united against Israel, it is proof that Israel is wrong. And I say, on the contrary. When the whole world is united against Israel, this is exactly when the world should pause and reflect.! Previous periods when the whole world was united against so many Jews led to events that the world came later to regret. Ganging up on Israel is also counter-productive. Instead of splitting us, it makes us more resolved. It is time for westerners to question the way they are given information and the narrative that this information is filtered to support.
The main point is that while the Palestinians are in a dire situation, it is much their leadership's fault. It was their choice to turn to violence when what Barak offered at Camp David was not enough for them. He went even further in Taba, but they did not stop the violence. This refutes the Palestinian argument that if a political discussion started violence would subside. We tried that. It was their violence that brought Sharon to power. I personally voted for Barak, but many people in Israel thought that since the Palestinians forced a war on Israel, Sharon would be better to handle it. And it is Palestinian violence that prevents the establishment of a Palestinian state (70% of Israelis still support it, as long as it is not an enemy state). Israeli violence towards Palestinians is only a secondary factor in explaining their violence.
The current violence is Arafat's strategic choice. This is why:
1) Arafat bought that shipload of weapons from the Iranians (nothing on that scale and of that strategic importance could have taken place without his permission).
2) Arafat personally and his aids (that look so liberal on CNN) signed checks to the terrorists.
3) Arafat continently preached on Palestinian TV for a million martyrs to march on to Jerusalem.
4) The current violence is termed by Palestinians the Al-Aqsa uprising (a term which suggests both a Palestinian purpose in this violence, and a Palestinian initiative in it).
5) Arafat's men are actively involved in terrorism. All this refutes the argument that it is Israel's destruction of Arafat's security forces that prevents him from controlling the violence.
The fact that Palestinian violence is aimed at Israeli liberals sitting in Tel-Aviv cafes (rather than, say, at Israeli settlers or soldiers) is seen by Israelis as proof that all this is not about the Israeli occupation, but about the existence of Israel. The Palestinians were already offered a state but they want the Right of Return, which means Israel's right not to exist as a Jewish state.
I may have been provocative in sending you this presentation, and I apologize if you or your friends were hurt or offended by it. But I think it is mild compared with Arab propaganda (which accuses Israel of the worst things like genocide, mass rape and all sorts of blood libels to justify the atrocities they commit or would like to commit against Israel). I did not make that presentation, and I hate propaganda because as an academic I cherish the truth. However, I think Israel cannot afford to leave the propaganda arena to the Arabs, and I think the west needs to start a serious discussion of the role of the media in distorting reality to fit a desired narrative (Communication faculty even have an ideology in it - "New Journalism") and in exacerbating and inflaming conflicts (I have personally witnessed cases where Palestinians staged violence for the press).
I still hope the conflict can be resolved peacefully, but unfortunately I see a great potential for escalation, and little the west can do in the face of regional emotions.