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Myths & Facts - The Media

“Press coverage of Israel is proportional to its importance in world affairs.”
“Israel receives so much attention because it is the only country in the Middle East that affects U.S. interests.”
“Western media coverage of the Arab world is equal to that of Israel.”
“Media coverage of the Arab world is objective.”
“Journalists covering the Middle East are driven by the search for the truth.”
“The media lets Israel get away with more because of its alliance with the U.S.”
“Israel doesn't warrant so much attention because it is not one of America's allies.”
“Israel gets favorable coverage because American Jews control the media and have disproportionate political influence.”
“Arab officials tell Western journalists the same thing they tell their own people.”
“Journalists are well-versed in Middle East history and therefore can place current events in proper context.”
“The media effectively captures the danger average Israelis face from Palestinians.”
“Media coverage of the intifada was fair and balanced.
“Israelis cannot deny the truth of pictures showing their abuses.”
“The press makes no apologies for terrorists.”
“The Palestinian Authority places no restrictions on foreign reporters.”
“Al-Jazeera is the 'Arabic CNN' providing the Arab world with an objective source of news.”
“The media carefully investigates Palestinian claims before publicizing them.”
“The media treats terrorist attacks against Israel the same way as it does attacks on other nations.”
“There is a distinction between the political and terror wings of Hamas.”

MYTH

“Press coverage of Israel is proportional to its importance in world affairs.”

FACT

It is hard to justify the amount of news coverage given to Israel based on that nation's importance in world affairs or American national interests. How is it that a country the size of New Jersey routinely merits top billing over seemingly more newsworthy nations like Russia, China and Great Britain?

Israel probably has the highest per capita fame quotient in the world. Americans know more about Israeli politics than that of any other foreign country. Most of Israel's leaders, for example, are more familiar in the United States than those of America's neighbors in Canada or Mexico. In addition, a high percentage of Americans are conversant on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

One reason Americans are so knowledgeable about Israel is the extent of coverage. American news organizations usually have more correspondents in Israel than in any country except Great Britain.

MYTH

“Israel receives so much attention because it is the only country in the Middle East that affects U.S. interests.”

FACT

The Middle East is important to the United States (and the Western world) primarily because of its oil resources. Events that might threaten the production and supply of oil affect vital U.S. interests. The United States also has an interest in supporting friendly regimes in the region. Attention is warranted because the Middle East is the scene of repeated conflagrations that directly or indirectly affect American interests. Events in countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Iran have required the intervention of U.S. troops, and nothing focuses the attention of the public like American lives being endangered abroad. The United States has been deeply involved in each of the Arab-Israeli wars, but has also had its own independent battles, most notably the Gulf War with Iraq in 1991 and “Operation Iraqi Freedom” in 2003. The media is now very focused on Iraq because of the continuing U.S. troop deployment there.

On the other hand, Americans are not typically interested in the fratricidal wars of people in distant lands when the fighting does not appear to have any bearing on U.S. interests. This is true in Africa, Latin America and even the Balkans. Similarly, inter-Arab wars have not generated the kind of interest that Israel's problems have. However, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute — two people fighting over one land — is a particularly compelling story. It is made all the more so by the fact that it is centered in the Holy Land.

Another explanation for the disproportionate coverage Israel receives relative to Arab countries is that few correspondents have a background in Middle East history or speak the regional languages. Journalists are more familiar with the largely Western culture in Israel than the more alien Muslim societies.

Israel is the one Middle East country where a correspondent can find a girl friend.

— S. Abdallah Schleifer1

MYTH

“Western media coverage of the Arab world is equal to that of Israel.”

FACT

The journalistic community regards the Arab/Islamic world as the "arc of silence."2 The media in those countries is strictly controlled by totalitarian governments. By contrast, Israel is a democracy with one of the most freewheeling press corps in the world.

The limited access is often used as an excuse for the media's failure to cover news in the region. This was the case, for example, during the Iran-Iraq war — one of the bloodiest conflicts in the last four decades. Still, given the resourcefulness of American journalists, it is shocking that so little coverage is given to even the most authoritarian of regimes.

MYTH

“Media coverage of the Arab world is objective.”

FACT

When journalists are allowed to pierce the veil of secrecy, the price of access to dictators and terrorists is often steep. Reporters are sometimes intimidated or blackmailed. In Lebanon during the 1980s, for example, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had reporters doing their bidding as the price for obtaining interviews and protection. During the “al-Aksa intifada,” Israeli journalists were warned against going to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and some received telephone threats after publishing articles critical of the PA leadership.3

When asked to comment on what many viewers regard as CNN's bias against Israel, Reese Schonfeld, the network's first president explained, "When I see them on the air I see them being very careful about Arab sensibilities." Schonfeld suggested the coverage is slanted because CNN doesn't want to risk the special access it has in the Arab world.5

In Arab countries, journalists are usually escorted to see what the dictator wants them to see or they are followed. Citizens are warned by security agencies, sometimes directly, sometimes more subtly, that they should be careful what they say to visitors.

In the case of coverage of the PA, the Western media relies heavily on Palestinian assistants to escort correspondents in the territories. In addition, Palestinians often provide the news that is sent out around the world. “By my own estimate,” journalist Ehud Ya'ari wrote, “over 95 percent of the TV pictures going out on satellite every evening to the various foreign and Israeli channels are supplied by Palestinian film crews. The two principle agencies in the video news market, APTN and Reuters TV, run a whole network of Palestinian stringers, freelancers and fixers all over the territories to provide instant footage of the events. These crews obviously identify emotionally and politically with the intifada and, in the ‘best’ case, they simply don't dare film anything that could embarrass the Palestinian Authority. So the cameras are angled to show a tainted view of the Israeli army's actions, never focus on the Palestinian gunmen and diligently produce a very specific kind of close-up of the situation on the ground.”6

A particularly egregious incident occurred in October 2000 when two non-combatant Israeli reservists were lynched in Ramallah by a Palestinian mob. According to reporters on the scene, the Palestinian police tried to prevent foreign journalists from filming the incident. One Italian television crew managed to film parts of the attack and these shocking images ultimately made headlines around the world. A competing Italian news agency took a different tack, placing an advertisement in the PA's main newspaper, Al Hayat-Al-Jadidah, explaining that it had nothing to do with filming the incident:

My dear friends in Palestine. We congratulate you and think that it is our duty to put you in the picture (of the events) of what happened on October 12 in Ramallah. One of the private television stations which competes with us (and not the official Italian television station RTI) filmed the events; that station filmed the events. Afterwards Israeli Television broadcast the pictures, as taken from one of the Italian stations, and thus the public impression was created as if we (RTI) took these pictures.

We emphasize to all of you that the events did not happen this way, because we always respect (will continue to respect) the journalistic procedures with the Palestinian Authority for (journalistic) work in Palestine and we are credible in our precise work.

We thank you for your trust, and you can be sure that this is not our way of acting (note: meaning we do not work like the other television stations). We do not (and will not) do such a thing.

Please accept our blessings.

Signed
Ricardo Christiano
Representative of the official Italian station in Palestine7

If a news organization strays from the pro-Palestinian line, it comes under immediate attack. In November 2000, for example, the Palestinian Journalist's Union complained that the Associated Press was presenting a false impression of the "al-Aksa intifada." The Union called AP's coverage a conscious crime against the Palestinian people and said it served the Israeli position. The Union threatened to adopt all necessary measures against AP staffers as well as against AP bureaus located in the PA if the agency continued to harm Palestinian interests.8

MYTH

“Journalists covering the Middle East are driven by the search for the truth.”

FACT

It will come as no surprise to learn that journalists in the Middle East share an interest in sensationalism with their colleagues covering domestic issues. The most egregious examples come from television reporters whose emphasis on visuals over substance encourages facile treatment of the issues. For example, when NBC's correspondent in Israel was asked why reporters turned up at Palestinian demonstrations in the West Bank they knew were being staged, he said, “We play along because we need the pictures.”10 The networks can't get newsworthy pictures from closed societies such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran or Libya.

Israel often faces an impossible situation of trying to counter images with words. "When a tank goes into Ramallah, it does not look good on TV," explains Gideon Meir of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. "Sure we can explain why we are there, and that's what we do. But it's words. We have to fight pictures with words."10a

The magnitude of the problem Israel confronts is clear from Tami Allen-Frost, deputy chairman of the Foreign Press Association and a producer for Britain's ITN news, who says "the strongest picture that stays in the mind is of a tank in a city" and that "there are more incidents all together in the West Bank than there are suicide bombings. In the end, it's quantity that stays with you."10b

“We were filming the beginning of the demonstration. Suddenly, a van pulled in hurriedly. Inside, there were Fatah militants. They gave their orders and even distributed Molotov cocktails. We were filming. But these images, you will never see. In a few seconds, all those youngsters surrounded us, threatened us, and then took us away to the police station. There, we identified ourselves but we were compelled to delete the controversial pictures. The Palestinian Police calmed the situation but censored our pictures. We now have the proof that those riots are no longer spontaneous. All the orders came from the Palestinian hierarchy.”

— Jean Pierre Martin11

MYTH

“The media lets Israel get away with more because of its alliance with the U.S.”

FACT

Americans tend to have a double-standard about the Jews, expecting more from them than other peoples. This is in part due to the Jews' own high expectations and goal of being a "light unto the nations." Thus, when Israelis do something bad, it often attracts attention, whereas Arabs are usually held to a lower standard. For example, when Israel expelled four Palestinians, it generated banner headlines, but when Kuwait deported hundreds of thousands, it was a nonevent. Similarly, the death of one Palestinian in the West Bank received far more coverage than thousands of Arabs killed in Algeria. On a day when Israel got a banner headline for killing four terrorists, a story on page A19 of the Washington Post buried in the 12th paragraph the news that more than 80 people were killed in violence during a summit between Pakistan and India.11a Rightly or wrongly, the attitude of the public and press is that Jews should behave differently.

MYTH

“Israel doesn't warrant so much attention because it is not one of America's allies.”

FACT

Israel enjoys a unique relationship with the United States dating back to the early part of the century when the Congress endorsed the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine. Harry Truman is generally considered the midwife in the birth of the new state, and U.S. economic, diplomatic, and military support has been crucial to Israel's development and survival.

Americans feel a kinship to Israelis because of the values we share — democracy, love of freedom, a commitment to education — that translates into a broad range of people to people and government to government relationships. The public is fascinated by this People of the Book, who wandered from country to country through the centuries, suffered great persecution, returned to their homeland, built a thriving high-tech society, and have fought and defeated enemies with overwhelming superiority. Americans admire the pioneering spirit of the Jews who first settled in Palestine and created kibbutzim, in part because it mirrors their own history. They also like underdogs, which the Jews continue to be even as Israel has grown to be a military power.

As Israel has grown more militarily powerful, it has also become a strategic ally that enjoys the special status of Major Non-NATO Ally.

MYTH

“Israel gets favorable coverage because American Jews control the media and have disproportionate political influence.”

FACT

If Jews controlled the media, it's not likely you'd hear Jews complaining so much about the anti-Israel bias of the press. It is true that the amount of attention Israel receives is related to the fact that the largest Jewish population in the world is in the United States and that Israel greatly concerns American Jews. Large numbers of Jews do hold significant positions in the media (though they by no means "control" the press as anti-Semites maintain), and the Jewish population is concentrated in major media markets like New York and Los Angeles, so it is not surprising the spotlight would be directed at Israel.

Politically, Jews wield disproportionate power in the United States and use it to advocate policies that strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship; however, there is no evidence this has translated into favorable press coverage for Israel. It is possible to argue that pro-Arab forces, such as the petrochemical industry, have as much or more influence on the media and encourage an anti-Israel bias.

MYTH

“Arab officials tell Western journalists the same thing they tell their own people.”

FACT

Arab officials often express their views differently in English than they do in Arabic. They express their true feelings and positions to their constituents in their native language. For external consumption, however, Arab officials have learned to speak in moderate tones and often relate very different views when speaking in English to Western audiences. Long ago, Arab propagandists became more sophisticated about how to make their case. They now routinely appear on American television news broadcasts and are quoted in the print media and come across as reasonable people with legitimate grievances. What many of these same people say in Arabic, however, is often far less moderate and reasonable. Since Israelis can readily translate what is said in Arabic they are well aware of the views of their enemies. Americans and other English-speakers, however, can easily be fooled by the slick presentation of an Arab propagandist.

To give just one example, Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat is frequently quoted by the Western media. After the brutal murder of two Israeli teenagers on May 9, 2001, he was asked for a reaction. The Washington Post reported his response:

Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian official, said in English at a news conference that “killing civilians is a crime, whether on the Palestinian or the Israeli side.” The comment was not reported in Arabic-language Palestinian media.12

The unusual aspect of this story was that the Post reported the fact that Erekat's comment was ignored by the Palestinian press.

Over the years Yasser Arafat has consistently said one thing in English to the Western media and something completely different to the Arabic press in his native tongue. This is why the Bush Administration insisted that he repeat in Arabic what he said in English, in particular condemnations of terrorist attacks and calls to end violence.

MYTH

“Journalists are well-versed in Middle East history and therefore can place current events in proper context.”

FACT

One cause of misunderstanding about the Middle East and bias in media reporting is the ignorance of journalists about the region. Few reporters speak Hebrew or Arabic, so they have little or no access to primary resources. They frequently regurgitate stories they read in English language publications from the region rather than report independently. When they do attempt to place events in historical context, they often get the facts wrong and create an inaccurate or misleading impression. To cite one example, during a recitation of the history of the holy sites in Jerusalem, CNN's Garrick Utley reported that Jews could pray at the Western Wall during Jordan's rule from 1948 to 1967.13 In fact, Jews were prevented from visiting their holiest shrine. This is a critical historical point that helps explain Israel's position toward Jerusalem.

MYTH

“The media effectively captures the danger average Israelis face from Palestinians.

FACT

During the intifada it was common for the media to portray the battle in David versus Goliath terms, an image reinforced by pictures of children tossing stones at heavily armed soldiers. The situation was actually quite different, as U.S. journalist Sidney Zion discovered during an August 1988 visit to Bethlehem. Zion was nearly struck by a rock while riding in a taxicab. "It's a good thing the rock missed me," he said. "I didn't see it coming, and wouldn't have lived to see the next second had the driver been going a kilometer faster. Fortunately, nobody was in that seat, but it was clear that the Arabs weren't aiming at dead air."

Zion ? who had been writing about the Middle East for more than 20 years ? said that American media reports had led him to believe that "the rock-throwers were aiming at the Israeli Army, not at taxicabs. Did you ever see anything else on TV? Did you read anything to the contrary in the newspapers? Kids were tossing stones at soldiers, that's all."

"It simply didn't occur to me that American journalists would suppress news of a life-and-death danger. It was only later that I discovered that what happened to us was hardly uncommon," Zion wrote. "On any given day in the West Bank, Israeli civilians are getting brain-damaged from these nice little Arab youngsters and their pebbles."15

The "al-Aksa intifada" has featured many of the same images as the first uprising, and the media has continued to distort the impact on Israelis in the way Zion described.

MYTH

“Media coverage of the intifada was fair and balanced.

FACT

Candid members of the media admitted that coverage of the intifada was skewed. According to Steven Emerson, then a CNN correspondent, U.S. reporters acquiesced to Palestinian control over what was filmed. An Israeli cameraman who worked for several U.S. networks told Emerson that "if we aim the camera at the wrong scene, we'll be dead." In other instances, the networks handed out dozens of video cameras to Palestinians so that they could provide footage of strikes, riots and funerals. "There is absolutely no way to ensure the authenticity of what is filmed, nor is there any way to stop the cameras from being used as a tool to mobilize a demonstration," Emerson wrote.16

Although nearly one-third of all Palestinians murdered in 1989 were killed by their Arab brethren, only 12 of the more than 150 stories filed by U.S. networks from the West Bank that year dealt with the internecine warfare. "While Palestinian political terror on the West Bank fails to make the news," Emerson observed, "utter fabrications about Israeli brutality are reported uncritically."

For example, in early 1988, reporters were called to el-Mokassed Hospital in Jerusalem to film a dying Palestinian boy. His Palestinian doctor showed him hooked to life-support tubes, and claimed the child had been savagely beaten by Israeli troops. On February 8, 1988, ABC's Peter Jennings introduced the report by saying UN officials "say that the Israelis have beaten another Palestinian to death in the territories." NBC and CBS also gave the claims wide publicity.

But the story wasn't true. According to the child's autopsy and medical records, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage. He had been sick for more than a year. Overall, the U.S. networks, Emerson wrote, "have been complicit in a massive deception about the West Bank conflict."

NBC's Tel Aviv bureau chief Martin Fletcher acknowledged that the intifada posed a fairness problem. He noted the Palestinians manipulated the Western media by casting themselves as "David" against the Israeli "Goliath," a metaphor used by Fletcher himself in a 1988 report.

"The whole uprising was media-oriented, and, without a doubt, kept going because of the media," he said. Fletcher openly admitted accepting invitations from young Palestinians to film violent attacks against Jewish residents of the West Bank.

"It's really a matter of manipulation of the media. And the question is: How much do we play that game? [We do it] in the same way that we turn up at all those Bush or Reagan photo opportunities. We play along because we need the pictures."17

 

Case Study

A Washington Post story about the “cycle of death” in the West Bank included an interview with Raed Karmi, an official in Fatah, the dominant faction in Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization. The report begins with the observation that Karmi is running out to join a battle against Israeli soldiers and grabs an M-16 assault rifle. What the story fails to mention is that only Palestinian police are supposed to be armed. The report implies that Israeli and Palestinian violence is equivalent in this “cycle” because Karmi said he was acting to avenge the death of a Palestinian who the Israelis assassinated for organizing terrorist attacks. Karmi admits that he participated in the kidnapping and execution-style murder of two Israelis who had been eating lunch in a Tulkarm restaurant. Karmi was jailed by the Palestinian Authority, but he was released after just four months and subsequently killed four more Israelis, including a man buying groceries and a driver who he ambushed. “I will continue attacking Israelis,” he told the Post.18

MYTH

“Israelis cannot deny the truth of pictures showing their abuses.

FACT

A picture may be worth thousand words, but sometimes the picture and the words used to describe it are distorted and misleading. There is no question that photographers and television camera crews seek the most dramatic pictures they can find, most often showing brutal Israeli Goliaths mistreating the suffering Palestinian Davids, but the context is often missing.

In one classic example, the Associated Press circulated the accompanying photo around the world. The dramatic image was in the New York Times19 and spurred international outrage because the caption, supplied by AP, said, “An Israeli policeman and a Palestinian on the Temple Mount.” Taken at a time when Palestinians were rioting following Ariel Sharon's controversial visit to the al-Aksa mosque, the picture appeared to be a vivid case of Israeli brutality. It turned out, however, the caption was inaccurate and the photo actually showed an incident that might have conveyed almost the exact opposite impression had it been reported correctly.

In fact, the victim was not a Palestinian beaten by an Israeli soldier, it was a policeman protecting an American Jewish student, Tuvia Grossman, who had been riding in a taxi when it was stoned by Palestinians. Grossman was pulled out of the taxi, beaten and stabbed. He broke free and fled toward the Israeli policeman. At that point a photographer snapped the picture.

Besides getting the victim wrong, AP also inaccurately reported that the photograph was taken on the Temple Mount.

When AP was alerted to the errors, it issued a series of corrections, several of which still did not get the story straight. As is usually the case when the media makes a mistake, the damage was already done. Many outlets that had used the photo did not print clarifications. Others issued corrections that did not receive anywhere near the prominence of the initial story.

Another example of how photos can be both dramatic and misleading is the Reuters photo shown below showing a young Palestinian being arrested by Israeli police on April 6, 2001. The boy is obviously frightened and has wet his pants. Once again the photo attracted worldwide publicity and reinforced the media image of Israelis as brutal occupiers who abuse innocent children.

In this instance it is the context that is misleading. Another Reuters photographer snapped the picture shown below just before the first one was taken. It shows the same boy participating in a riot against Israeli soldiers. Few media outlets published this photo.

MYTH

“The press makes no apologies for terrorists.

FACT

On the contrary, the media routinely accepts and repeats the platitudes of terrorists and their spokespersons with regard to their agendas. The press gullibly treats claims that attacks against innocent civilians are acts of "freedom fighters." In recent years some news organizations have developed a resistance to the term "terrorist" and replaced it with euphemisms like "militant" because they don't want to be seen as taking sides or making judgments about the perpetrators.

For example, after a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up a pizza restaurant in downtown Jerusalem on August 9, 2001, killing 15 people, the attacker was described as a "militant" (Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, NBC Nightly News) and "suicide bomber" (New York Times, USA Today). ABC News did not use the word "terrorist." By contrast, every media outlet called the September 11 attack on the United States a terrorist attack.

Clifford May of the Middle East Information Network pointed out the absurdity of the media coverage: "No newspaper would write, 'Militants struck the World Trade Center yesterday,' or say, 'They may think of themselves as feedom fighters, and who are we to judge, we're newspeople."19a

Rather than apologize for terrorists, the media sometimes portrays the victims of terror as equivalent to the terrorists themselves. For example, photos are sometimes shown of Israeli victims on the same page with photos of Israelis capturing terrorists, giving the sense, for example, that the Palestinian held in handcuffs and blindfolded by a soldier is as much a victim as the woman in shock being helped from the scene of a suicide bombing.

In one of the most egregious examples, after a suicide bombing in Petah Tikva on May 27, 2002, CNN interviewed the mother of the bomber, Jihad Titi. The parents of a 15-month-old girl killed in the attack, Chen and Lior Keinan, were also interviewed. The interviews with the Keinans were not shown on CNN international in Israel or elsewhere around the world until hours after the interview with Titi's mother had been broadcast several times.

This was even too much for CNN, which subsequently announced a policy change whereby it would no longer "report on statements made by suicide bombers or their families unless there seemingly is an extraordinarily compelling reason to do so."20a

MYTH

“The Palestinian Authority places no restrictions on foreign reporters.

FACT

A case study of the Palestinian Authority's idea of freedom of the press occurred following the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States. An Associated Press cameraman filmed Palestinians at a rally in Nablus celebrating the terror attacks and was subsequently summoned to a Palestinian Authority security office and told that the material must not be aired. Yasser Arafat's Tanzim also called to threaten his life if he aired the film. An AP still photographer was also at the site of the rally. He was warned not to take pictures and complied.

Several Palestinian Authority officials told AP in Jerusalem not to broadcast the videotape. Ahmed Abdel Rahman, Arafat's Cabinet secretary, said the Palestinian Authority "cannot guarantee the life" of the cameraman if the footage was broadcast.20b

The cameraman requested that the material not be aired and, AP caved in to the blackmail and refused to release the footage.

More than a week later, the Palestinian Authority returned a videotape it confiscated from AP showing a Palestinian rally in the Gaza Strip in which some demonstrators carried posters supporting Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden. Two separate parts of the six-minute tape involving "key elements" were erased by the Palestinians, according to an AP official.20c

The Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel expressed "deep concern over the harassment of journalists by the Palestinian Authority as police forces and armed gunmen tried to prevent photo and video coverage of Tuesday's rally in Nablus where hundreds of Palestinians celebrated the terror attacks in New York and Washington." The FPA also condemned the threats against videographers and "the attitude of Palestinian officials who made no effort to counter the threats, control the situation, or to guarantee the safety of the journalists and the freedom of the press."

Israel Radio reported September 14, 2001, that the Palestinian Authority seized the footage filmed that day by photographers from various international (including Arab) news agencies covering celebrations of the attacks against America held in cities across the West Bank and Gaza by Hamas. The celebrants waived photographs of wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden.21 The very same news programs and networks that broadcast the photo opportunities produced by the Palestinian Authority (Arafat donating blood, Palestinian students in a moment of silence, posters supporting America) failed to broadcast the news that the PA is using terror and intimidation to discourage the airing of unfavorable reports.

In October 2001, after the United States launched attacks against Afghanistan, Palestinians supporting Osama bin Laden staged rallies in the Gaza Strip that were ruthlessly suppresed by Palestinian police. The PA took measures to prevent any media coverage of the rallies or the subsequent riots. The Paris-based Reporters Without Frontiers issued a scathing protest to the PA. "We fear the Palestinian Authority takes advantage of the focus of international media on the American riposte to restrain more and more the right to free information," said Robert Menard, general secretary of the journalists' organization. The group also protested Palestinian orders not to broadcast calls for general strikes, nationalistic activities, demonstrations or other news without permission from the PA. The aim of the press blackout was expressed by an anonymous Palestinian official, "We don't want anything which could undermine our image."22

In August 2002, the Palestinian journalists union banned journalists from photographing Palestinian children carrying weapons or taking part in activities by terrorist organizations because the pictures were hurting the Palestinians' image. The ban came after numerous photographs were published showing children carrying weapons and dressing up like suicide bombers. Shortly before the union acted, six children were photographed carrying M16 rifles and Kalashnikovs during a pro-Iraq rally in the Gaza Strip. Another group, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, issued a similar ban that included photographing masked men. The Foreign Press Association expressed "deep concern" over the effort to censor coverage, and the threats of sanctions against journalists who disregarded the ban.22a

In July 2004, as Gaza became increasingly unstable, and protests were being mounted against corruption in the Palestinian Authority and the leadership of Arafat, Palestinian journalists covering the crisis received death threats. They were told, for example, to stay away from a rally in Gaza to protest Arafat's decision to appoint his cousin as the commander of the PA security forces. One reporter who works for an international news organization said journalists were told that anyone who went to the rally would suffer the same fate as a Palestinian legislator who was shot after he called for reforms in the PA in a television interview. The Gaza rally was subssequently either downplayed or ignored by the Palestinian media.22b

Journalists from Arab nations are also subject to censorship. In January 2003, for example, the PA's General Intelligence Service arrested a correspondent for al-Jazeera television. The journalist was accused of harming the national interests of the Palestinian people by reporting that Fatah had claimed responsiblity for a double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. In January 2004, journalists working for Arab satellite TV stations were told to refer to all Palestinians killed by the IDF as shaheeds (martyrs). Numerous incidents have also been reported of physical attacks on journalists who offended PA officials. A reporter for a Saudi-owned news channel was wounded by gunfire when he was driving through the Gaza Strip. He was then dragged from his car and beaten because his station had allowed criticism of Yasser Arafat and other officials. A week later, 100 Palestinian journalists went to Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah to pledge allegiance to him.22c

MYTH

“Al-Jazeera is the 'Arabic CNN' providing the Arab world with an objective source of news.”

FACT

Al-Jazeera is an Arabic-language television network based in Qatar that is widely viewed throughout the Arab world. The channel began in 1996 as a pet project of Qatar’s emir, Sheik Hamad bin-Khalifa al-Thani and gained prominence during the U.S. war in Afghanistan because of its longstanding contacts with the Taliban rulers and Osama bin Laden. By airing a variety of viewpoints, including those of Bush Administration officials, the network sought to create the impression that it is an objective news source for the Arab world. In fact, Al-Jazeera has a long history as a propaganda outlet for extremist views in the Arab world. One Muslim scholar blamed the network for inciting the Arab masses against the West and for making bin Laden and his aides celebrities. "There is a difference between giving different opinoions an opportunity [to be heard] and leaving the screen open to armed murderers to spread their ideas," said Dr. Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari, dean of Shar'ia and Law at Qatar University.23

In an interview on 60 Minutes, one Al-Jazeera correspondent was asked about coverage of the Palestinian issue. He refers to Palestinians who are killed as martyrs. When Ed Bradley pointed out that the Israelis would call them terrorists, he replied,"This is a problem for the Israelis. It's a point of view." When asked what he calls Israelis who are killed by Palestinians, the reporter answered, "We call it that: the Israeli is killed by Palestinians." Bradley added that Al-Jazeera's coverage of the Intifada was "credited with igniting pro-Palestinian demonstrations all over the Middle East."24

MYTH

“The media carefully investigates Palestinian claims before publicizing them.”

FACT

Palestinians have learned that they can disseminate almost any information to the media and it will be published or broadcast somewhere. Once it is picked up by one media outlet, it is inevitably repeated by others. Quickly, misinformation can take on the appearance of fact, and while Israel can present evidence to correct the inaccuracies being reported, the damage is usually already done. Once an image or impression is in someone's mind, it is often difficult, if not impossible to erase it.

It is said that there are three types of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics. One staple of Palestinian propaganda has been to distribute false statistics in an effort to make Israeli actions look monstrous. For example, if an incident involves some death or destruction, they can grossly exaggerate the figures and a gullible media will repeat the fabricated data until they become widely accepted as accurate. This occurred, for example, during the Lebanon War when Yasser Arafat’s brother claimed that Israel’s operations had left 600,000 Lebanese homeless. He made the number up, but it was repeated by the International Committee of the Red Cross and publicized in the media. By the time the ICRC repudiated the figure, it was too late to change the impression that Israel's military operation to defend itself from terrorist attacks on its northern border had created an unconscionable refugee problem.25

This happened again after Israel’s operation in Jenin in April 2002 when Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat told CNN on April 17 that at least 500 people were massacred and 1,600 people, including women and children, were missing. Erekat could produce no evidence for his claim and, in fact, the Palestinians’ own review committee reported a death toll of 56, of whom 34 were combatants. No women or children were reported missing.26

What is perhaps more outrageous than the repetition of Erekat’s lie is that media outlets continue to treat him as a legitimate spokesperson, giving him access that allows him to regularly disseminate misinformation. If an American official was ever found to have lied to the press, they would lose all credibility and would have little or no chance of being given a forum to express their views.

MYTH

“The media treats terrorist attacks against Israel the same way as it does attacks on other nations.”

FACT

Terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens are often treated by the media in an entirely different way than similar atrocities committed against other nationalities. Many press outlets are reluctant to call attacks against Jews terrorism and frequently attach more benign labels to the murderers such as “gunmen” or “militants.” For example, when a Palestinian woman walked into a crowded beach restaurant in Haifa and detonated a bomb that killed 21 people, including four children on October 4, 2003, the Reuters account said she had waged an “attack” in retaliation for previous Israeli army actions and that the bombing showed that Palestinian officials had failed to “rein in the militants.”27

One of the best examples of how the press sometimes distinguishes terrorist attacks against other nations was a list of “recent terror attacks around the world” disseminated in November 2003 by the Associated Press, probably the most influential news service in the world. The list cited 15 terrorist incidents during the five-year period between August 1998 and August 2003. During that period, more than 800 Israelis were murdered in terrorist attacks, but not one of the incidents in Israel made the list.28

Similarly, when AP released its Year in Photos 2003, six of the 130 photos chosen related to human suffering in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All six were of Palestinians.

“By any logic, militants engaged in warfare don't blow up little babies.”

— Tom Fiedler, Executive Editor, Miami Herald29

MYTH

“There is a distinction between the political and terror wings of Hamas.”

FACT

Apologists for Palestinian terror, especially in the media, sometimes argue that Hamas shouldn’t be labeled a terrorist organization because only some members engage in murder while others perform charitable activity. The ombudsman for the Washington Post, for example, argued that , since Hamas is a “nationalist movement” engaged in “some social work,” the perpetrators of Palestinian suicide and other attacks should be described in the press as “militants” or “gunmen.”30

A false distinction is made between the “political” and “military” wings of Hamas. All of the activities of Hamas are intertwined, and serve the organization’s primary objective laid out in its covenant, namely, to “raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.”

Hamas’s leader, Sheikh Ahmad Yasin, denies that Hamas has uncoordinated wings: “We cannot separate the wing from the body. If we do so, the body will not be able to fly. Hamas is one body.”31 And the “political” leaders of Hamas freely admit their relationship to the murderers. “The political leadership,” Hamas spokesman, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ar-Rantisi said, “has freed the hand of the [‘Izz ad-Din al-Qassam] brigades to do whatever they want against the brothers of monkeys and pigs [i.e., Jews].”32

While Hamas does engage in social work, this is closely connected to the “armed struggle.” Various charitable activities are used to recruit young Palestinians for terrorist operations. Hospitals, mosques, sport clubs, libraries, and schools serve not only their expected roles but also act as covers for hiding weapons, obtaining supplies, and indoctrinating future suicide bombers.

The education system is used to incite young Palestinians to become martyrs.“The children of the kindergarten are the shaheeds [martyrs] of tomorrow,” read signs in a Hamas-run school, while placards in classrooms at al-Najah University in the West Bank and at Gaza’s Islamic University declare that “Israel has nuclear bombs; we have human bombs.”33

Hamas operatives use Islamic charities and social welfare programs to skim and launder funds, and to earn money to live on while they engage in terrorism. Recipients of Hamas charity also understand there is a quid pro quo. If they are asked to provide assistance, whether it be to hide weapons, provide a safe house for a fugitive, or act as a courier, few are likely to refuse.34

The United States government recognizes the connection between the charitable activities of Hamas and its terrorist campaign, which is why the Treasury Department designated six senior Hamas political leaders and five charities as terrorist entities. According to Treasury, “the political leadership of Hamas directs its terrorist networks just as they oversee their other activities.”

Notes

1The Long Shadow: Culture and Politics in the Middle East
2
3Jerusalem Report
4Jerusalem PostJewish Telegraphic Agency
5New York Jewish Week
6Jerusalem Report
7Al Hayat-Al-Jadidah
8Al Hayat-Al-Jadidah
9Jewish Telegraphic Agency
10Near East Report
10aJerusalem Report
10bJerusalem Report
11
11aWashington Post
12Washington Post
13CNN
14Al-Hamishmar
15Penthouse
16Wall Street Journal
17Near East Report
18Washington Post
19New York Times
19aWashington Post
20Washington Post
20aForward
20b
20cJewish Telegraphic Agency
21Jerusalem Post IMRAJewish Telegraphic Agency
22Jerusalem Post
22aJerusalem Post
22bJerusalem Post
22cJerusalem Post
23Al-Raya
2460 Minutes"Inside Al Jazeera,"
25Washington Post
26New York Post
27Miami Herald
28WorldnetDaily
29Miami Herald
30Washington Post
31
32
33USA Today
34The Middle East Quarterly

See also: Israel
The Arab World

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