Sunday, June 13, 2004

Israel’s Other War

Israel has been forced to wage a military war of self-defense in the face of Arab violence. This violence includes both terror (suicide bombers) and low-intensity actions (rockets). Israel is also waging a diplomatic battle against decidedly pro-Palestinian elements in various countries who have traditionally been unfavorably disposed towards Israel. In addition, Israel is fighting a war of words, a bitter and frustrating campaign in the media, whose battlefied is newsprint, electronic images and sound-bytes.

The media transfers information and imagery perception in a powerful fashion. Public opinion is generated by news stories. America’s war against Spain was a conflict launched in the pages of yellow journalism. The media is one front that cannot be ignored or pooh-poohed.

The media acts to intensify, to sensationalize and to spin the news. Reporters and their editors feel obligated to humanize the story, even when the truth is stretched for the sake of a good picture. In acting as agents of communication, the media alters facts from the field, even imperceptibly, by the time the media consumer sits down before his TV set or opens his paper over morning coffee. The old-time stolid hard news approach is no longer with us.

* * *

I live in Shiloh. But do I also live in Israel, in the West Bank or in the “occupied” or “disputed” territories? Is Shiloh too “Biblical”-sounding for our modern reporters, very few of them comfortable with religion (but Jerusalem sounds just fine)? Have they actually read the 1949 Geneva
Convention to understand that “occupied territory” applies only to High-Contracting Parties, which excludes any so-called Palestinian entity?

Are they aware that the Jewish National Home received international legal recognition, by the League of Nations and the two houses of the U.S. Congress, in 1923? It is probably news to most reporters that the word “Arab” did not exist in any of those ratifications but rather “non-Jewish communities”. If they are woefully lacking in basic facts, it is no wonder that Israel’s actions assume a media presence that appears provocative and aggressive with a bit of inhumanity tossed in between the lines.

It is media byword that my home in Shiloh is “settlement”. That the term “settlement” implies something that is a foreign implant and intrusive, something even temporary, doesn’t bother the foreign correspondents who traipse through the hills of Judea and Samaria. Wouldn’t it be most natural for a Jew to reside where his forefathers dwelled, where the Tabernacle was erected? If I suggest to them, though, that Shiloh could also be a community, a village, a rural town or even, as is the case with Ariel, a
city, they will accuse me of attempting to manipulate their readers. On the other hand, inner-city neighborhoods in Arab towns are always “refugee camps” although tents no longer exist and a good many of the homes there could be described as opulent.

* * *

Among many diplomats, Secretary of State Collin Powell has called upon Israel to act “proportionately” in response to the Arab violence. Did Powell expect Israel then to send suicide bombers into Ramallah restaurant or Jericho junk-food joints? Does he expect Israel to shoot up Muslim
religious or ceremonial affairs, what happens in the Jewish sector, as an expression of that proportion? Would that be an acceptable course of action instead of disarming Palestinian gunmen in their hideouts?

Another point. Who is perpetrating the violence on the Arab side?

Are they “militiamen”, “gunmen”, “dissidents”, “activists” or the ever-ubiquitous “militants”? When I was in university, the activist was the one who picketed outside the campus official’s office and the militant was the one
who sat inside. But that a militant took up arms to kill innocent civilians was defective speech. A survey of written and broadcast media reports over the past 18 months of violence will reveal that “terrorists” rarely exist.
Most media people, it is no secret, would sympathize with the term “freedom fighter” but as yet, their foreign news editors back in New York and London will not allow that nomenclature on the news pages. As yet.

* * *

The inability or even the unwillingness of the media to add depth to their reports also places an almost insurmountable burden on Israel’s information services and the effort of their sympathizers the world over. That certain news people have even been intimidated, in Lebanon and in the Palestinian Authority, is also a fact of life and death. Yassir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization was founded in 1964, three years before the 1967 Six Days War. Israel did not administer any “West Bank territory” at that time; neither did Israel establish “settlements”.

Any person with a modicum of logic and honesty would ask himself would a solution to the conflict, then, depend on the surrendering of these “territories” or the dismantling of these “settlements” which didn’t exist when Arabs tried to destroy Israel. Reporters, though, never seem to ask
their Arab interviewees those questions.

The dismantling of the Jewish civilian communities in portions of the historic Jewish homeland is a de rigueur media slogan. The communities are “unhelpful” and even an “obstacle”. Yet the media never engages in a
flip-side aspect of this policy: if Jews need to be moved from their homes in a future “Palestine”, would it not follow that Arabs may need to be moved from their homes in Israel? Why should only one populace suffer the threat
of a transfer? The media never discusses this issue.

* * *

Many, but not all, foreign press representatives, do not speak Hebrew or Arabic. The intricacies of the 100 years of conflict escape them. Jewish secondary personnel, cameramen, soundmen and researchers, cannot work in
Palestinian territories. The principles of professional media ethics ­fairness, objectivity and balance ­ are too difficult to maintain. The right of the people to know and the obligation of the media to provide that knowledge is not working in Israel today. What does exist is a bias. The bias is perhaps not intentional, or even unavoidable. Nevertheless, it is there. Media consumers need to know at least that.

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