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Israel's Approved Ethnic Cleansing, Part 3
How the U.S. media protects it
Edward S. Herman
The U.S. mainstream media have followed closely their government's agenda of giving Israel carte blanche in dealing with their Palestinian subjects, both within Israel and in the occupied territories. This has involved a major intellectual and moral challenge, given the facts of serious racist discrimination, the long Israeli refusal to exit the occupied territories as demanded by an overwhelming international consensus, Israel's daily violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention requirements on treatment of people in occupied territories—including a massive ethnic cleansing openly designed to benefit the “chosen people”—and their clear intention to create a Palestinian system of dependent and poor bantustans in the occupied territories, organized strictly for the advantage of the ethnic cleansing state.
Let us review briefly, with some recent illustrations, some of the modalities by which Israel's more than half-century long, massive ethnic cleansing has been made palatable.
1. Language: Ethnic Cleansing, Violence, Terrorism, Clashes. The phrase “ethnic cleansing” is far more applicable to Israeli actions than to those of the Serbs in Kosovo. The brutal Serb mistreatment of Kosovo Albanians was a feature of an ongoing civil war, and the killings and large-scale expulsions during the NATO bombing were war-related actions; they were not part of a long-term project to “redeem the land” from non-Serbs. Albanians in Belgrade have not been limited in property ownership as Arabs are in Israel and the occupied territories and Kosovo Albanian homes were not demolished for the purpose of providing space for Serbs. Despite this reality, in the three year period 1998 through 2000, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Time, and Newsweek used the phrase “ethnic cleansing” some 1,200 times in discussing Kosovo, in about four-fifths of the cases in reference to Serb policy, whereas during the entire decade of the 1990s they used the phrase only 14 times in discussing Israel, and only five times referring to Israeli policy. This reflects massive internalized bias.
In media reporting on Intifada II, “violence” means stone throwing and shooting, it never refers to the “structural violence” of expropriating land, evicting people from their houses and demolishing them, seizing and diverting their water resources for the use of the chosen people, building roads that destroy communities' access to former neighbors and jobs, closing down access directly by army orders and barricades, and tolerating and protecting settlers' attacks, destruction, and seizure of Gentile property. Even though there have been a substantial number of killings and injuries inflicted on the Gentiles by army and settlers in this process, this massive low-intensity violence has been entirely acceptable to the Clinton, Bush II, and predecessor administrations, so for the mainstream media it is not classified as violence or given serious attention.
But even within their limited conception of violence, the media's bias displayed during Intifada II has been spectacular in giving far greater attention and exclusive indignation to stone-throwing and suicide bombings by Palestinians, than to the more cruel and deadly violence of the Israeli army. The better than six to one ratio of killings and far higher ratio of Palestinian injuries to those of Israelis is neutralized by greater attention to—and much greater humanization of—Israeli victims. In a simple and rough measure of this bias, of eight front-page photos of Intifada victims in the New York Times from September 28, 2000 through March 9, 2001, six were of Israelis and two were of Palestinians. This, along with massive suppressions, helps sustain the identification of “violence” with the stone throwing and suicide bombing of the population in revolt.
Similarly, the media have continued their long tradition of finding the Palestinians terrorists, the Israelis victims—even “under siege”—and engaging in retaliation only. Almost without exception the media make deadly Palestinian actions terrorism, and with indignant language attached—the killing of two Israeli soldiers was a “sickening lynch-murder,” a Palestinian attack on a settlers' bus was “unspeakable” and a “terrorist outrage” in the New York Times—but none of the 400 Palestinian deaths were worthy of such adjectives. Thus, regarding a massive Israeli bombardment of a civilian area in Gaza, this was “predictably...a strong Israeli response” to a previous bombing of a settlers' bus. Only the Israelis respond and retaliate, and do this “predictably” (meaning responsively and reasonably). “Yesterday's Palestinian terrorism and Israeli retaliation...”(ed., NYT, November 21, 2000) is the formulaic language of deep bias.
By the same rule of bias Ariel Sharon, whose record of responsibility for killing unarmed civilians exceeds that of Carlos the Jackal by a factor of 20 or more, is never a “terrorist” or “war criminal” in the mainstream media, although occasionally it is said that “they” (Arabs) so designate him. Rather, he has a “new air of electability” (Philadelphia Inquirer, January 7, 2001) or is “tough” and a “warrior” as the New York Times describes him on their front page of February 7, 2001 (earlier, and shortly after the Sabra-Shatila massacre, “the forceful general intent on security for Israel,” NYT, February 11, 1983).
Robert Fisk says that when he reads of death in “a cross-fire” or “clashes” he knows that this means the Israelis did the killing. Fisk notes that even when CNN's Cairo bureau chief, Ben Wedeman, was shot in the back in a gun battle in Gaza, almost certainly by Israeli soldiers, CNN could not bring itself to suggest who was to blame “at this time.” And AP reported that Wedeman had been “caught up in a crossfire” (Fisk, “Media: The Biased Reporting that Makes Killing Acceptable,” The Independent, November 14, 2000). Fisk also notes how easily the media refer to a “suspected Palestinian gunman” or “presumably by Palestinians” when Israelis are shot at, whereas Palestinians always die “in clashes”—“as if they were accidentally shot rather than targets for Israeli snipers.” And if these snipers shoot numerous children, often in the eyes or other vulnerable spot, the media—who never use the numerous photos of Palestinian children with eye damage—are pleased to give credence to Iraeli army suggestions that the soldiers are perhaps just a bit trigger-happy (Joel Greenberg, “Israeli Military Worries Some Troops May Be Trigger-Happy,” NYT, January 17, 2001).
The Israelis are not only “worried” about over-zealous soldiers, they admit making “mistakes,” and the media sometimes acknowledge that their responses may be “excessive,” “heavy-handed,” or “disproportionate” in retaliating to terrorism—but they are never engaging in state terrorism and killing civilians, including children, deliberately and “unspeakably.” Their killings are never “massacres,” as Serb killings in Kosovo were often designated. Palestinian violence is never a “predictable” response to Israeli structural violence and direct state terror.
2. Critical Frames: Featuring the Violence of the Ethnic Cleansing State. Framing bias is closely linked to bias in language, and there are powerful frames that put the locus of blame for violence on the ethnic cleansing state and its sponsor. These critical frames are spelled out by Israeli journalists like Amira Hass and Danny Rubenstein, but they are as scarce as hens' teeth in the U.S. mainstream press, although they flourish in the alternative media.
2A. The Injustice Frame. The primary alternative frame we may call the injustice model. As I showed in Part 1, Amira Hass writing in Ha'aretz employs a clear critical frame that explains Intifada II as an inevitable response to the failure of Oslo to do anything whatever for the Palestinians, and their further decline in welfare and morale. Robert Fisk says the same: that the Intifada “is what happens when a whole society is pressure-cooked to the point of explosion” (“Lies, Hatred and the Language of Force, The Independent, October 13, 2000). Hass, Fisk, Danny Rubenstein in Ha'aretz, and other reporters and analysts have given similar interpretations that stress the continued expropriations by settlers and the army, the racist and humiliating treatment meted out to the Palestinians by their overlords, and the fact that recent Israeli-U.S. plans not only ratify the illegal post-Oslo “facts on the ground,” they provide for no meaningful resolution of the refugee crisis, no credible East Jerusalem sovereignty, and no viable and independent Palestinian state.
In this critical frame, the Palestinian uprising is rooted in extreme abuse and injustice, disappointed hopes, disillusionment with both Oslo and the corrupt and pitiful Arafat leadership serving as Israeli enforcers, and the final provocation of Sharon and Barak at al-Aqsa. The explosion was widely expected, “predictable,” and understandable, and in these senses it was a “rational” response to extreme abuse and the absence of peaceable options.
2B. The Israeli Provocation Model. A secondary alternative frame, that actually supplements the primary injustice model, starts with the fact that Intifada II was clearly begun by Ariel Sharon's visit to the al-Aqsa mosque on September 28, 2000. Even Thomas Friedman and the mainstream media acknowledge that this was a “provocation,” but by various tricks they make the Palestinian response causally more important than the provocation.
One trick has been to portray Barak as a person of peace who was offering a reasonable settlement, and distancing him from the provocation. Thus, Thomas Friedman says that “In short, the Palestinians could not deal with Barak, so they had to turn him into Sharon. And they did” (“Arafat's War,” NYT, October 13, 2000). But Friedman suppresses relevant facts. First, Arafat, his chief negotiator Saeb Erikat, and Palestinian official Faisal Husseini, all pleaded with Barak not to allow the Sharon visit because of its destabilizing potential, and Barak not only turned them down he supported Sharon's provocation with 1,000 border police. Second, on the day after Sharon's visit, Barak's police were massively present at al-Aqsa and fired to kill in the turmoil that ensued, leaving seven dead and several hundred wounded. Third, following this further provocation Barak did nothing to reduce the tensions, and in fact offered a further show of force. But for Friedman and the mainstream media, this series of provocations and failure of Barak to do anything peaceable does not make him responsible; it was Arafat who had to call off his people.
By rule of deep bias, while the media have speculated freely on Arafat's motives in possibly influencing the Palestinian response—his “chancy gamble” as Time put it (October 23, 2000)—they never even raise the possibility that the Israeli leaders might have had political aims leading them to provoke and that might explain their response. That the Sharon provocations, with Barak's cooperation, might have been intended to induce violence and might be explained by Israeli political dynamics is simply outside the apologetic frames of reference. Eduardo Cohen argues that the Sharon-Barak provocations flowed from their political calculations: Sharon wanting to take center stage before Netanyahu's recovery from his scandal—he was exonerated in a court case on alleged corruption on September 27, 2000, the day before Sharon went to al-Aqsa—and knowing that a tough stance and renewed war would serve his political interests; Barak hoping to undercut Sharon and precipitate a crisis and early election in which his chances would also be better than if he waited for the political recovery of Netanyahu (Cohen, “American Journalists Should Have Looked a Little Deeper,” undated). Whatever the merits of this line of argument, the failure of the U.S. media even to discuss possible political reasons for the provocations, and whether they might have been intended to provoke the ensuing violence, reflects overwhelming bias.
3. Apologetic Frames: Those That Blame any Violence on the Victims of Ethnic Cleansing. Almost without exception the U.S. mainstream media frame their presentations of the issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so as to apologize for Israeli policy and put the blame for any violence on Israel's victims.
3A. The Injustice Model: Barak's Generous Offer, Arafat's war, Irrational Palestinian Outburst. Essential ingredients of this dominant mainstream frame are the assumptions that Barak was a “moderate” and that his offers and the “peace process” have been reasonable, so that any disturbances or uprisings are therefore irresponsible, unjustifiable, or irrational. Trudy Rubin, the editorial foreign policy commentator of the Philadelphia Inquirer, is not alone in finding that “Irrationality drives violence in the region” (October 18, 2000). Absolutely essential to propagating this frame is the refusal to discuss issues of justice and to evaluate those in detail—so you will never find Friedman, or Rubin, discussing the Israeli policy of systematic expropriation of Palestinians in the occupied territories, the demolitions, the appropriation of water for Jewish use, the doubled settler population since 1993, the road construction that makes a Palestinian state unviable, or the policy of killing and injuring Gentiles freely, but not Jews. They never seriously discuss—let alone urge—the right of return of expelled Palestinians, although both Friedman and Rubin were aggressively supportive of the right of return of Kosovo Albanians. The news columns in their papers, and the mainstream media more generally, also follow the official (U.S. and Israeli) party line.
In his “Arafat's War,” which gives us Friedman's standard “injustice” model, characteristic of the Times as an institution, and predominant throughout the mainstream media, Friedman mentions the “old complaints about the brutality of the continued Israeli occupation and settlement building. Frankly, the Israeli checkpoints and continued settlement building are oppressive.” He finesses this huge set of issues by making them “old” (stale), and avoiding details, numbers, or discussing the racist violence in expropriation for Israeli Jews only, the large-scale violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, or the beggaring of the Palestinians under Oslo. He also argues that such matters are now irrelevant because Barak offered “unprecedented compromises,” so that if the Palestinians don't fall in line with these any violence is their fault. He never discusses why Sharon engaged in his provocation or explains why this act by an Israeli leader does not deserve considerable weight; and he fails to acknowledge Barak's support of the provocation and never suggests that these Israeli actions might be related to Israeli politics. And he has not one word of criticism of the Israeli killings of September 29 or the ensuing brutal repression. He mentions the “gleeful savage mob murder of Israeli soldiers in Ramallah,” but otherwise there was only a “week of Israeli-Palestinian killings,” but no “murders” let alone “gleeful savage murders” of Palestinians.
Friedman never mentions that the vague terms of the Oslo deal allowed Israel, with total U.S. support, to double settlements and create facts on the ground extremely damaging to Palestinian welfare. Thus the “old complaints about brutality” etc., continued despite that prior good deal. Now the new good deal gives the Palestinians a fine alternative—“more than 90 percent of the West Bank for a Palestinian state, a partial resolution of the refugee problem and Palestinian sovereignty over the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem...” Even Bill Clinton likes this plan, so what more need be said about fairness? The “90 percent” figure is the Israeli version, that allows a “facts on the ground” Greater Jerusalem to be counted as part of Israel—so that 70 to 80 percent may be more accurate. There is also the question of the quality of the land, the implicit Israeli control of the mountain acquifer under the West Bank, and the fact that the land allocations, Jewish settlements, and “for Jews only” road networks have broken the “90 percent” into unconnected enclaves, with no borders except with Israel. This is a bantustan solution that does not yield a viable or independent state; and of course it does not return to the Palestinians any of the property stolen even since 1993 for Israel's “security” and lebensraum for some of the chosen people.
Friedman is satisfied with the “partial resolution” of the refugee problem that involves Israel recognizing Palestinian “pain” and promising to allow a “return” to “historic Palestine,” which includes the West Bank where the refugees are already congregated, not to their original homes and not promising compensation in lieu of such return. Palestinian sovereignty over the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City does not include Harim Al Sharif, and those Muslim and Christian quarters have been broken into pieces by expropriations and massive Israeli construction for Jews only since the last good deal (1993).
“Arafat's War” rests on the failure of the Palestinians to acknowledge total defeat: their unwillingness to accept all the past injustices, including post-1993 expropriations, a bantustan system worse than that imposed by South Africa under apartheid, and continued military domination by a country that has been a wee bit “oppressive” (Clinton and Barak demanded a demilitarized Palestinian state, and continued Israeli occupation rights in the West Bank, out of consideration for Israeli security). If Arafat wouldn't accept this, and sign another agreement that once again left much to the goodwill of Israel and its sponsor, all the violence is his doing.
This is the “injustice model” that amounts to crude apologetics for ethnic cleansing. And it was hardly confined to Friedman and the New York Times editorial pages. It was pretty standard in the news as well as editorial pages that it was Arafat's choice of “Peace or Victimhood” (Jane Perlez, “Fork in Arafat's Road,” NYT, December 29, 2000).
3B. Arafat And The Return To Terrorism. For years Arafat and the PLO were terrorists for Israeli and U.S. officials, and therefore for the mainstream media. Israel has only engaged in retaliation and counterterror, by rule of political bias, whatever the facts. Then in 1991, when Arafat surrendered and allowed himself to be sucked into a “peace process” that made him the Israeli enforcer, but gave his people absolutely nothing, he suddenly ceased to be a terrorist and became a statesperson. With Intifada II, however, and his failure to perform his function of keeping his defeated people under control, he has been tentatively returned at least in some media to the terrorist class.
So we find regular media references to Arafat's responsibility for failing to contain the violence, speculations on whether he actually stirred it up to improve his bargaining position with Israel, and admonitions to Arafat to get his people under control. Among many other cases, Time had him taking a “chancy gamble”; the Inquirer's Trudy Rubin said he “fanned, or failed to calm, religious and national passions” (October 18, 2000), and she asked “Can Arafat stop the violence” (November 1, 2000). Some of the claims of his deliberate incitements have come from Israeli army and intelligence sources, which the media find highly newsworthy (Tracy Wilkinson, “Is the violence beyond Arafat's control?,” Los Angeles Times, October 4, 2000). Jane Perlez asks “Can Arafat Turn It Off?,” subtitled “U.S. Officials Debate Degree of His Control” (NYT, October 17, 2000). There have not been any articles entitled “Is the violence beyond Barak's [or Sharon's] control?,” nor have the media been able to locate anybody to assess Barak's or Sharon's motives and responsibility. And in a spectacular display of bias they rarely if ever suggested that Barak could or should have stopped the wholesale violence that he carried out from September 29, 2000; only “Arafat had a choice” (Rubin), not Barak, or Sharon, who are implicitly engaging in “retaliation” and “counter-terror,” in a longstanding propaganda tradition.
3C. Pushing The Children Forward As Martyrs. In a similarly disgusting pattern, the mainstream media also latched on to the claim that the Palestinians are callously pushing their children forward to die, that they suffer from a martyr syndrome, and that the parents, Arafat, and the penchant toward martyrdom are therefore responsible for the numerous shooting deaths of children (Chris Hedges, “The Deathly Glamour of Martydom,” NYT, October 29, 2000). This penchant for martyrdom is also responsible for the breakdown of peace (John Burns, “the Promise of Paradise That Slays Peace,” NYT, April 1, 2001).
The Philadelphia Inquirer played this line with relish, with a news article on “Grieving Arabs find comfort in concept of martydom” (October 25, 2000), an op-ed column by Rubin on “The children's crusade” that blames the Palestinians for the death of their children (October 25), and a cartoon by Tony Auth showing Arafat urging children to plunge to martyrs' deaths over a cliff (October 26). Auth has twice had cartoons showing Arafat with blood on his hands, but never an Israeli leader.
Uri Avnery notes that this ready attribution of responsibility for the child killings to the Arab parents “betrays an obnoxious racism” (“Israel/Palestine: Twelve Conventional Lies,” October 21, 2000). He also observes that Palestinian parents can hardly restrain their children “when they live under a cruel occupation and their brothers and sisters provide examples of heroism and self-sacrifice” in a tradition going back to 16-year-old Joan of Arc. He also points out that there is a Jewish tradition of children fighters and heroes, and that the settlers routinely exploit their children, “not hesitating to put them in harms way,” and without eliciting any suggestions of irresponsibility and a desire for martyrdom on the part of the critics of Palestinian parents.
“The right question is why do our soldiers kill these children? And in some cases in cold blood?” But that is Eyad Serraj writing in Le Monde Diplomatique (November 2000), not a U.S. mainstream news source. Rarely if ever do the media point out that the Israelis are doing the shooting, that many of the children are shot with the intent to seriously injure or kill them, and that non-lethal methods of crowd control are used by the Israelis, but only when dealing with protests by Israeli Jews.
3D. The United States As Honest Broker. The Israelis do not want any interference with their ethnic cleansing, so they “rightly resist any shift to an international format,” as it was expressed in a New York Times editorial of November 13, 2000, and the Israelis are happy to have the United States, the 50-odd year sponsor and underwriter of their ethnic cleansing, as a substitute for a genuine international presence. The appropriateness of this arrangement thus becomes the U.S. official position and media truth, and the demand for international protection of the victims of Israel's ethnic cleansing becomes not a moral issue fulfilling that new Western dedication to protecting defenseless people but rather “a favorite of Palestinians” (Keith Richburg, “Israel rejects international presence,” Philadelphia Inquirer, November 11, 2000). Richard Holbrooke says that “no force would be supported without Israeli approval” (Nicole Winfield, “Arafat appeals for U.N. protection, but Israel, U.S. oppose,” Philadelphia Inquirer, November 11, 2000), so that settles the matter for the mainstream media. No comparison with Kosovo, no mention of the similar performance in East Timor where the Clinton team deferred to its Indonesia client, thereby allowing the destruction of East Timor.
Nor will the media ever discuss the huge, long-standing pro-Israeli bias of the U.S. government that has protected Israeli expropriations and ethnic cleansing for many decades. As noted earlier, Thomas Friedman cites Clinton's approval of Barak's peace proposal as if an assessment by an honest broker, not a partisan. On the aggressively pro-ethnic cleansing right, William Safire postulates that Clinton and company really are honest brokers, and decries this fact as “Israel Needs an Ally, It does not need a broker” (NYT, October 12, 2000).
Although the Palestinians have been militarily defeated and ethnically cleansed by a powerful combination of a superpower and its main client, it is essential that the mainstream press pretend that the supportive superpower is objective and not helping the ethnic cleansing state capture the fruits of this rather uneven military contest. The media have cooperated fully in doing this, although occasionally the Times, for example, allows it to be mentioned that the Palestinians are becoming a bit distrustful of the honest broker. (William Orme, “As New Peace Talks Go On, Palestinians Criticize Clinton,” NYT, January 23, 2001).
3E. Impatient Israelis versus Serbian Willing Executioners. The mainstream media repeatedly tell us that the Israelis have “lost patience” with the Palestinians, with the “peace process,” and with their leaders who have allowed this new spate of (Palestinian) “violence.” If they have voted in Sharon, and now support a more brutal response to the Intifada, this does not discredit the populace for murderous attitudes and extremism. On the contrary, it is a given to which the world must adjust. Back in 1999, Stacy Sullivan asked: what if a people “supports ethnic cleansing—actively or passively? In that case, we do have a quarrel with the...people... It is the very mentality of the nation.” But she was talking about the Serbs as “Milosevic's Willing Executioners” (New Republic, May 10, 1999), not a populace supporting an approved ethnic cleansing.
In reference to the Serbs, the official and therefore media party line was that what the Serb armed forces were doing to the Albanians in Kosovo was ugly and criminal and must be stopped, so the idea of Serb “impatience” with the Kosovo Albanians for their resistance and “terrorism” would have been viewed as outlandish. The question was: how guilty were ordinary Serbs for the crimes of their government, and even though the Serbs were alleged to be suffering under a “dictatorship,” Anthony Lewis, Blaine Harden, and Thomas Friedman in the Times and Stacy Sullivan and Daniel Jonah Goldhagen in the New Republic, and many others, found the Serbs guilty, either because of their indifference concerning their government's crimes or their positive support, as “willing executioners.”
In the case of Israelis, many more of them than Serbs have been openly in favor of violence against their state's victims, and there are numerous available quotes of Israelis saying “I would kill all Arabs,” “Arabs must be eliminated,” the Palestinians are mere “grasshoppers,” and that these “vipers” should be “annihilated” (Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of Israel's Shas party, speaking on April 9, 2001). But here, where ethnic cleansing is approved, the media never suggest Israeli citizen guilt, and Israeli support of escalated state terrorism against Palestinians is reported antiseptically and even sympathetically, as the Israelis are the victims of “terrorism” but never themselves terrorize. They may be killing and wounding innocent civilians at a rate 20 or more times the rate of their victimization by the “terrorists,” but that doesn't affect an equation where the value of lives of the terrorists and their families is zero.
4. Suppression of Inconvenient Facts: A Case Study in Normalizing the Structural Violence of Demolitions. Eye aversion is extremely important in protecting the approved system of institutionalized injustice and ethnic cleansing. Thus, the mainstream U.S. media simply won't discuss the laws applying to an occupying power and their responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention, and Israel's massive violations of these rules in expropriations, discriminatory use of water and other matters are barely noted. The violence of Israel in imprisonments, torture, beatings, killings, and injuries, and aid and protection to settler violence is enormously greater than Palestinian violence against Israel, but it is downplayed and relevant information on these matters is subjected to massive suppression.
The media's treatment of Israel's systematic demolitions of Palestinian homes provides an enlightening case study in suppression and bias. The policy of demolitions is horrendously inhumane, with its racist concentration on Palestinian homes. There has been a steady stream of stories on the web issued by the Ethnic NewsWatch, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICHAD), the Palestinian Land Defense Committee (PLDC), Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), the Hebron Solidarity Committee (HSC), and other groups, that describe army demolitions that push out Palestinians virtually without notice. (See the website of the Hebron Solidarity Committee: “CPT Hebron” firstname.lastname@example.org.)
These stories are numerous, dramatic, and often heart-breaking as Jewish Israeli protesters and Christian teams struggle to protect Palestinians from the racist onslaught of the army and settlers. The stories often describe demolitions of houses being rebuilt by protesters and then being bulldozed out of existence by the army for a second or third time. Amnesty International had a report on this savage policy (December 8, 1999), stressing the racist essence, the widespread Palestinian fear of being demolished, and the murderous character of the policy—in one case, 100 border police coming without notice, starting to destroy a house, Palestinians starting to throw stones, and the police shooting dead Zaki ‘Ubayd, a 28-year-old father. This AI report was ignored by the Free Press.
A Nexis search of coverage of demolitions of Palestinain homes in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Time, and Newsweek for the five years from January 1, 1996 through December 31, 2000, comes up with only 23 articles: none in Time, 1 in Newsweek, 5 in the New York Times, 11 in the Washington Post, and 6 in the Los Angeles Times. With only a single exception in the Washington Post, these articles never mention the Israeli Committee Against Demolitions, the Hebron Solidarity Committee, and the Palestinian Land Defense Committee. Only 2 of the 23 articles made the front page, and only 5 give substantial detail on the brutality of the practice and suffering of the Palestinian victims. Twenty of the twenty-three give the Israeli rationale that the Palestinian homes were illegally built, and nine mention the demolitions as being a response to Palestinian violence; only six note that Palestinians are not allowed to build, and only one suggests even indirectly that the demolitions and settlements violate the Oslo accords as well as the Fourth Geneva Convention.
In that single exceptional case, Steven Erlanger says that “While Labor governments have also expanded existing settlements and the Oslo accords do not limit them from doing so, the Palestinians have complained that Israel now builds large new neighborhoods near existing settlements in order to call them expansion, rather than label them new,” (NYT, September 12, 1997). Note first that Erlanger's statement that Oslo does not preclude expanding settlements is strictly the Israeli interpretation of general language; and he cannot admit that new settlements have taken place, but only speaks of Palestinian complaints. He does not discuss whether doubling the number of settlers and other Israeli actions might possibly violate the spirit of Oslo.
In sum, in a period of intense demolition activity by Israel, the five print media examined treated the issue in very low key, with zero editorial attention. They created a phony balance by giving serious weight to alleged building code-violations and responses to Palestinian terrorism as the basis for Israeli policy, downplaying the violations of Oslo and international law, the hugely discriminatory features of Israeli law, and the direct terroristic abuses of the army and settlers in demolishing and taking over Palestinian property. They handled the issue in such a manner that the U.S. public would hardly know of this practice, and would hardly be roused to indignation, in contrast with their responses to the media's focus on Palestinian stone throwing and other misbehavior.
5. Rewriting History. In systems of propaganda, not only are inconvenient facts blacked out or treated in very low key where awkward, but history is also rewritten. Thus it has long been an important part of Israeli, U.S. official, and hence mainstream media propaganda that Arafat and the PLO have always been “rejectionist” whereas Israel and its sponsor have been patiently awaiting a negotiating partner. However, it has been shown time and again that this is an Orwellian inversion—that in fact only the ethnic cleanser and its sponsor have rejected an international consensus, long accepted by the PLO and Soviet Union as well as everybody but the “nyet duo,” that would have returned the “occupied territories” to the Palestinians and involved mutual recognition.
Another key myth has been that the Palestinian flight of 1948-1949 was carried out voluntarily, not mainly by deliberate Israeli violence. This myth was long ago exploded by Israeli historians like Benny Morris and Simha Flapan, among others, but it also continues to live even today within the U.S. propaganda system. Thus, Elie Wiesel says that “Incited by their leaders, 600,000 Palestinian left the country convinced that, once Israel was vanquished, they would be able to return home” (“Jerusalem in My Heart,” NYT, January 24, 2001), and this fabrication is not only published by the Newspaper of Record, it is not corrected in the letters columns or “Corrections.” It also shows up uncorrected in the “news,” where reporter John Kifner says that 52 years ago “750,000 people fled the fighting that commenced with the Arab attack on the newly created state of Israel” (NYT, December 31, 2000). They didn't “flee the fighting,” most of them were deliberately driven out in the first phase of “redeeming the land.”
7. Conclusions: The Media's Supportive Role in Ethnic Cleansing; Where Will It End In Making a “Safe” Israel? Robert Fisk notes that “Oddly, you can now learn more from the Israeli press than the American media. The brutality of Israeli soldiers is fully covered in Ha'aretz, which also reports on the large number of U.S. negotiators who are Jewish. Four years ago, a former Israeli soldier described in an Israeli newspaper how his men had looted a village in southern Lebanon; when the piece was reprinted in the New York Times, the looting episode was censored out of the text” (Independent, December 13, 2000).
The U.S. mainstream media's coverage of Middle East issues shows a genuine propaganda system in action. As I have indicated, the media have done an outstanding job of supporting state policy by making Israel's ethnic cleansing palatable, finding the victims the source of the violence, and thus facilitating virtually any level of wholesale violence Israel deems necessary to protect itself against “terrorism.” As its ethnic cleansing policies inevitably produce secondary reactions to the primary (Israeli) violence, the media therefore contribute to an escalating process with no decent end in sight.
A “safe” Israel could be obtained by accommodation to a Palestinian presence with justice, but that has never been consistent with the Israeli policy of “redeeming the land” from the Gentiles, and there is no evidence that it has been seriously considered as a policy option in the Clinton and Oslo years or in any Bush signals or media perspectives. The other routes to a “safe” Israel, although cruel, dangerous, and almost certain to fail, are more consistent with the drift of actual policy, Sharon's victory, and media apologetics for everything Israel has done up to this moment. One route is a more aggressive policy of expulsions from any contested territory, a solution long advocated by Netanyahu and Sharon. The other route, easily combined with a policy of expulsion, is a still more violent crackdown that would kill or injure even larger numbers in the hope that this would escalate an exodus, directly deplete Palestinian numbers, and keep any remnants passive from fear.
I have no doubt that this semi-genocidal and dangerous policy, already approached in the Intifada II crackdown, would be effectively rationalized by the mainstream media as a regrettably necessary response to “violence” and the demands of Israeli “safety.” Z
Edward Herman is a professor emeritus of finance at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of numerous books, including: Manufacturing Consent (with Noam Chomsky), Triumph of the Market, and The Global Media (with Robert McChesney). He is just going to press with The Myth of The Liberal Media: an Edward Herman Reader. A longer version of this article can be seen on the ZNet web site.