A Tale Of Two 'massacres' - Jenin And Racak
A Tale Of Two 'massacres' - Jenin And Racak
"I think newsmen are inclined to side with humanity rather than with authority and institutions." (Quoted Schechter, The More You Watch, The Less You Know, Seven Stories Press, 1997, p.36)
Or so U.S. TV anchorman, Walter Cronkite, would have us believe. Leading New York Times intellectual, Thomas Friedman, provides some of the reality:
"Like it or not, we are at war with the Serbian nation (the Serbs certainly think so), and the stakes have to be very clear: Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set your country back by pulverising you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too." (Thomas Friedman, The New York Times, April 23, 1999)
Prior to becoming the BBC's political editor, Andrew Marr discussed how 'we' had moved from Cold War stalemate to 1999 hot war with
"After the permafrost, the beasts. We are not well-prepared for this. The idea that our people should go and die in large numbers appals us. Killing our enemies appals us too. The war-hardened people of
Ex-CBS producer Richard Cohen explains the underlying reality of the media-politics relationship:
"Everyone plays by the rules of the game if they want to stay in the game." (Quoted, Schechter, op., cit, p.39)
One of the most important rules of the game is that the media present the
To select examples at random, on
In 1979, when killing by the West's Indonesian allies in
In 1999, long after it became clear that
Sometimes the propaganda is close to subliminal. In January, ITN reported that British troops had been sent to
In April, in similar vein, Rory Carroll of the Guardian wrote:
"Whoever is trying to destabilise
The broken cities and scorched hills were +not+ "rediscovering fear" after being "liberated", of course - mass starvation exacerbated by bombing, violence and rampant warlordism ensured that fear and uncertainty were ever-present. Two months before Carroll's comment, Refugees International reported:
"A new wave of flight from
One month before Carroll's comment, humanitarian agencies reported on what they had seen, and asked:
"Why, eight weeks after the worst of the war in Afghanistan was over, were people still eating grass just one inch away on a highway map from the major Afghan city of Mazar-I-Sharif?" (Jonathan Frerichs, Lutheran World Relief and Action by Churches Together, March 7, 2002)
Imagine the media of some superpowerful foreign coalition describing how British people subsisting on grass had been liberated by coalition bombs from fear, uncertainty and chaos.
The reality is not allowed to interfere with the key propaganda messages to be absorbed, namely: 1) Western military action +did+ free Afghanistan from fear, uncertainty and chaos, but meddlesome Afghans are now undermining our good work; and 2) The U.S. and UK +always+ act benignly, and 'humanitarian' military assault is always beneficial. These are vital - when the time comes to launch the next punchbag war, journalists will point to 'successful' interventions alleviating misery in Kosovo and
Consider also as examples the reporting of alleged massacres in Racak in 1999, and Jenin now.
The assault on Jenin refugee camp by
Peter Beaumont of the Observer, however, was in no doubt that this was not a massacre.
"It is easy to be distracted by the presence of the bodies. On Friday, in their white plastic shrouds, they were stacked like stinking chords of wood outside the main hospital in the northern
Some of the darkness of what happened in Jenin was thereby lifted by
"History will judge that the defining moment for the international community took place on 16 January this year... Albanians returning after an attack by Serb security forces discovered the bodies of men they had left behind to look after the houses. The dead of Racak, 45 in all, included elderly men and young boys, most shot at close range, some mutilated after death, eyes gouged out. One man lay decapitated in his courtyard. William Walker, U.S. head of the international monitoring group, called it unequivocally a Serb police 'massacre'." (Peter Beaumont, Justin Brown, John Hooper, Helena Smith and Ed Vulliamy, 'Hi-tech war and primitive slaughter - Slobodan Milosevic is fighting on two fronts', the Observer, March 28, 1999)
"Feriz Brahimi was returning to a village empty except for the dogs. After the massacre, no one wants to live here. Those who come - Brahimi, an Albanian actor and comedian, among them - visit only to make sure that their houses still stand." (
Like so many mainstream journalists,
"His [Slobodan Milosevic's] troops in
This was a remarkable statement, given the sheer scale of the claim - the Observer was drawing comparisons between Serb actions and one of the most appalling atrocities in all history - but it becomes truly mind-boggling when we consider the Observer's own assessment of the credibility of the evidence on which it was based:
"Without the humanitarian monitors, who left the south Serbian province seven days ago, and journalists, who were expelled last Thursday, it is impossible to verify the dark stories that are emerging." (Ibid)
This presents no problem - with Serbia designated an official enemy of the West, journalists were free to present a "Balkan Final Solution" as fact, in the knowledge that no questions would be asked (talk of a 'U.S. Final Solution in Iraq' would have different consequences). In fact the tribunal investigating war crimes in Kosovo has discovered evidence for fewer than 4,000 casualties on all sides. In the months leading up to the start of NATO bombing, the alleged 'massacre' at Racak was exceptional, with deaths occurring at an average of one per day. The last NATO report prior to the bombing (January 16-March 22, 1999) cited dozens of incidents, with about half initiated by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and half by Serb security forces. Casualties were mostly military and at comparable levels to preceding months. This was horrific enough, but to make a comparison with the Nazi's 'Final Solution' is absurd.
Returning to Jenin, one might think that the bulldozing alive of men, women and children, the use of human shields, the hampering of medical aid to the wounded, summary executions, and the massive destruction of property bears comparison to the alleged slaughter at Racak. Other factors lend weight to the idea.
The Serbian action in Racak, a KLA stronghold, took place with TV journalists, and observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), invited and present, whereas the Israelis blocked all observers. In the Observer article, Beaumont et al quoted William Walker, the head of the OSCE's Kosovo Verification Mission, who denounced the alleged massacre.
"It looks like executions. From what I personally saw, I do not hesitate to describe the event as a massacre - obviously a crime very much against humanity." (Quoted, Philip Hammond and Edward S. Herman editors, Degraded Capability - The Media and the Kosovo Crisis, Pluto Press, 2000, p.118)
What the Observer failed to mention was that this was the same William Walker who was
Although the Guardian and other
The Guardian and the Observer also ignored a 2001 report in a German newspaper, Berliner Zeitung, on Racak. Deutsche Presse-Agentur gave a summary:
"Finnish forensic experts in a final report on the circumstances of the deaths two years ago of some 40 people in the
The report was by a panel of Finnish forensic experts, led by Helena Ranta, which was asked by the European Union to investigate the killings in the spring of 1999. The panel was unable to confirm that the victims were villagers from Racak. It was unable to reconstruct events prior to the autopsies of the bodies, reporting that even the exact site of the incident had not been established. There was also no evidence that the bodies had been disfigured after their deaths. The 40 bodies examined were found to show between one and 20 bullet wounds - only in one case did they find traces of gun smoke that might point to an execution. Deutsche Presse-Agentur noted that
Recall that this was described as "the defining moment" in Serb-West relations by Beaumont and his colleagues, and many other journalists.
Racak gave the West the pretext it needed for launching an assault on
Academic Philip Hammond indicates the scale of the truth buried by the mainstream media:
"We may never know the true number of people killed. But it seems reasonable to conclude that while people died in clashes between the KLA and Yugoslav forces... the picture painted by Nato - of a systematic campaign of Nazi-style genocide carried out by Serbs - was pure invention." (Hammond and Herman eds., op., cit, p.129)
By contrast, according to Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres initially characterised the Israeli military's action in Jenin as a "massacre", while unnamed military officers stated, "when the world sees the pictures of what we have done there, it will do us immense damage". (Quoted, Mouin Rabbani, 'Did Israel Perpetrate a "Massacre" in the Jenin Refugee Camp?', www.zmag.org,
Forensic pathologist Derrick Pounder, who recently spent several days in the Jenin refugee camp as part of an Amnesty International mission, concluded that it is "simply not true" that most of those killed were armed fighters. "In Jenin," he stated, "there have certainly been mass killings - both combatants and civilians." (Ibid)
On April 25, Justin Huggler and Phil Reeves reported in the Independent:
"It appears to be the case that a minimum of many dozens of Palestinian civilians were killed through a combination of the deliberate and indiscriminate use of excessive and disproportionate force in a densely-populated residential area, in a number of cases for purely punitive purposes; sniper fire; summary executions; and last but certainly not least the systematic interdiction of medical and rescue services from the very outset of the invasion until many days after the final cessation of hostilities. Many would indeed characterise the grim results of the sum total of these measures as a 'massacre' - particularly if persistent allegations that
Gore Vidal once noted ironically how the
Suffering caused by Western 'enemies' is forever highlighted, boosted and vilified. Suffering caused by the West and its 'friends' is forever ignored, prettified, explained away and forgotten. The effect of this continuous propaganda, is that many people find it literally inconceivable that the West could be doing anything very wrong in the world: We would not bomb a nation of starving civilians without very good reason, because we have always been a good people who do good things. We would not be imposing sanctions on
This conviction is utterly crucial - the public will not tolerate the mass killing of foreign innocents unless they believe an honourable goal is being served. And so the media - especially the 'liberal' media in which people place so much trust - are up to their necks in blood.
We live in a world made up of the outrageously rich and powerful few, of the unbearably poor and suffering many. It is a world dominated by rapacious Western corporations legally obliged to pursue the bottom-line, and by allied
If there is to be a way out of the nightmare of history, it will begin with our waking up to the complicity of the corporate mass media in mass murder.
Write to Peter Beaumont at the Observer:
Ask him why he so adamantly rejects the description of Israeli military action in Jenin as a 'massacre', while accepting events in Racak as a 'massacre'. Ask him why he failed to cover the 2001 final report by the Finnish forensic team casting doubt on the 'massacre' at Racak. Ask him if he still believes
Copy your letters to Observer editor, Roger Alton:
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