Israel Report

May 2002         

Silence of the Lambs

By Bret Stephens- May 23, 2002
According to data compiled by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center - a Palestinian research organization - 1,296 Palestinians were killed by Israelis in the period between September 30, 2000 and May 7, 2002. Of that number, 37 were women, or 2.8% of the total. (A less credible Palestinian organization puts the tally at 65 women, or 5.3%.)

Similarly, Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs records 496 Israeli deaths (including 138 uniformed soldiers or policemen) due to Palestinian terrorism over the same time-frame, among which were 126 women. That's a little over 25% of the gross toll.

Breaking it down further, another Palestinian group, the Palestine Monitor, provides an age distribution for Palestinians killed. It shows that 75.1% were between 16 and 39. Another 11.7% were under 15, and only 11% were over 40.

By contrast, a back-of-the-envelope calculation shows the equivalent Israeli figures were 57.7%, 7.4% and 34.9%, respectively.

Put another way, proportionally more than three times as many middle-age and elderly Israelis have been killed than Palestinians in those age groups. For women, the ratio is nine-to-one. Among children, Palestinian fatality rates are somewhat higher than Israeli ones. But Israeli children do not, as a rule, march on Palestinian military outposts, stones in hand. Then too, the high Palestinian number includes all Palestinian suicide bombers operating within the territories and the Gaza Strip, as well as 210 members of the PA's security forces and about 100 members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

TO REPEAT: The Palestinian numbers come from Palestinian sources, not Israeli ones. They also give little indication of just what those Palestinians were doing when they met their untimely ends. What is clear, however, is that the raw figures tell us nothing about the real nature of the conflict.

US News and World Report, for instance, is correct when it states that there has been "no appreciable change in Israel's 3-to-1 'kill ratio,'" just as Newsday is correct when it reports, as it did last year, that "at least 425 Palestinians, 80 Israelis and 13 Israeli Arabs have been killed since the Intifada [began]."

But the usual inference - that Palestinians have suffered the most because they've been killed in greater numbers - misses the story. If there is a "moral ratio" to accompany the "kill ratio," then surely there can be no better indicator of it than the proportional number of women, children, and the elderly killed on both sides. And here the brunt of the suffering has very lopsidedly been borne by Israelis.

Indeed, getting it right while getting it wrong has probably been the chief hallmark of most Western media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although there have been some notorious exceptions, particularly in European media, and particularly in its coverage of events like the Mohammed al-Durra killing and the Jenin "massacre," the norm tends to be one of strict factual accuracy and routine contextual dishonesty.

Little history is given. The sequence of events gets confused. Normal moral judgments are eschewed in order to ensure the supposed balance of reports. Words like "violence" are used constantly to befog distinctions between murdering civilians and killing terrorists.

Most seriously, key details are routinely and inexplicably omitted from stories, to slant reports in ways that all but the best-informed readers are bound to miss. Consider the following examples:

* On May 3, the London Times ran an admirable essay by Michael Grove on the "encroaching darkness" of anti-Semitism in the UK. Alongside, The Times' editors ran a portion of the poem written by Ghazi al-Gosalbi, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Britain, praising suicide bombers. And yet the verses selected by The Times were the most anodyne and exculpatory of the poem:

Suicide?! No, it is us who
committed suicide.... In our impotence, we made
impotence want us no more;
We cried until tears held us in contempt;
We kneeled until kneeling/ became disgusting;...
We appealed to the tyrants of a White House....
We kissed Sharon's slipper....
Omitted by The Times, however, is al-Gosalbi's paean to teenage suicide bomber Ayat al-Akhras -
"The beautiful - kissed her death while smiling with good tidings"
- as well as the poem's remarkable ending:
When the call comes for Jihad
It is a time for the ink and paper,
For the books and the 'Learned men'
To be silent.
When the call comes for Jihad
There's no need for a referendum or a 'Fatwa.'
The Day of Jihad is the Day of Blood."
* In an April 4 dispatch in The Los Angeles Times, reporter Bob Drogin spoke of the question of Arafat's link to terrorism as a "sideshow to the bloodletting on the ground" - as if the question of just who's responsible for that bloodletting is of no consequence.

Referring to the "so-called terror invoice that Israel says its troops found," Drogin goes on to inform readers that "if real, the document offers the first public evidence of direct support by someone close to Arafat."

Which is true, strictly speaking, at least if you erase from memory Arafat's avowed links to terrorism in pre-Oslo days.

Yet as my colleague Andrea Levin of CAMERA points out, Drogin omits from his report Arafat's other forms of support for terrorism: writing a condolence note to the family of the suicide bomber who murdered 21 teenagers at the Dolphinarium disco; the statement by Arafat spokesman Mohammed Odwan that the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade is "loyal to President Arafat," (echoed by al-Aqsa leader Maslama Thabet that "our commander is Yasser Arafat himself"); and Arafat's March 9 speech, following terror attacks in Netanya and Jerusalem, urging Palestinians to "sacrifice themselves as martyrs in jihad for Palestine."

* But perhaps the most remarkable instance of journalistic omission, albeit a somewhat dated one, came from New York Times' reporter William Orme. In an October 24, 2000 piece titled "A Parallel Mideast Battle: Is It News or Incitement?" Orme quotes Gaza Sheik Ahmad Abu Halabaya as saying,

"Whether Labor or Likud, Jews are Jews."
This is the only example of "incitement" that Orme provides, and to the ears of the undiscerning it sounds like an anti-Semitic comment of the sort one might have heard in a Connecticut country club. In fact, Sheik Halabaya said rather more than that. For instance:
"Oh brother believers, the criminals, the terrorists - are the Jews, who have butchered our children, orphaned them, widowed our women and desecrated our holy places and sacred sites. They are the terrorists. They are the ones who must be butchered and killed...."
"Even if an agreement of Gaza is signed - we shall not forget Haifa, and Acre, and the Galilee, and Jaffa, and the triangle and the Negev, and the rest of our cities and villages. It is only a matter of time."
"Have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country. Fight them, wherever you are. Wherever you meet them, kill them. Wherever you are, kill those Jews and those Americans who are like them."
And - you get the picture. But Orme leaves all this out, as well as the fact that Halabaya was an Arafat appointee to the PA's "Fatwa Council." Instead, Orme devotes the bulk of his piece to a friendly portrayal of Ibrahim Milhen, a Palestinian talk-show host who opines that "Every word the Israelis hear on the Voice of Palestine they think is incitement, but what they are hearing is Palestinians demanding our rights."

Of course, in the absence of any real evidence of Palestinian incitement, readers may be inclined to agree.

ALL THIS RAISES the question of why presumably competent journalists choose to be so discriminating with la verite. "Is it possible," wonders Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler in a May 5 column, "that so many major American news organizations are getting this story wrong; that some sort of national media conspiracy is at work here?" Echoing the sentiment, New York Times columnist Frank Rich opines that Jewish suspicion of Western media "seems the mirror image of the Palestinians' charge that their case has been distorted by the pro-Israeli slant of America's 'Jewish controlled' media."

For both Getler and Rich, the idea that there may be something amiss with Western news coverage is nonsense. "News organizations will persevere in reporting this story in an unflinching, unintimidated fashion," says Getler. "What has changed is not the American press," adds Rich, "but the mood among American Jews.... [which is starting] to consume some of Judaism's fundamental values."

Well, maybe. Then again, how would they know if the media is getting it right or not? I do not know much about Getler, though I rather doubt he's a Mideast expert. As for Rich, he is a former theater critic who now opines on matters general. Both men likely get their information about the Middle East by reading the very press in which they can find little fault.

It's likely, too, that they have few outside sources against which they can check mainstream reports. So who else are they going to believe? As long as media accounts contain few overt errors of fact, as long as they maintain the veneer of "balance" - demonstrated by the fact that they are disliked by Palestinians and Israelis equally - and as long as they furnish evidence that the liberal instincts that go into supporting the peace camp are sound, they will continue to believe what they already read.

This is normal, in the sense that normally opinionated people like to see their prejudices confirmed and their hopes boosted. And just who among normal liberals wishes to discover that, when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, so much of what they want to believe is wrong; that Israel has no partner in a "peace process" that no longer exists; that military solutions have in fact proved remarkably effective in curbing terrorism; that the goal of Palestinian statehood has been rendered at best a distant prospect on account of the sundry cultural pathologies now afflicting too large a part of the Palestinian population; and that continued Israeli occupation (if one is to use this term) of lands that might otherwise form the bulk of a Palestinian state is probably the only effective means of holding radical Palestinian irredentists in check and safeguarding Israeli security?

Answer: Very few. So Western reporting of the conflict goes on as before, fixated on balance and willfully blind to all countervailing data.

WHEN NINE TIMES as many Israeli dead as Palestinian ones are women, it's awfully hard to believe in allegations of indiscriminate Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians, to say nothing of an even division of claims on victimhood and blame. It's such a nagging little truth - and so easy to ignore. Then again, as a sage British politician once observed, "nagging is the repitition of unpalatable truths."

It'll take a lot of nagging yet before Israel's peril is properly understood.

©2002 - Jerusalem Post

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