How the US media backs Israeli colonialism
BY EDWARD SAID
In an article abridged from Al-Ahram Weekly, November 2-8, 2000, Issue No. 506, noted Palestinian academic, author and human rights campaigner DR EDWARD SAID discusses the biased coverage of the US media towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That coverage, he says, amounts to a victory for Zionism, a travesty of justice given the reality of ongoing Israeli repression and the denial of rights to the Palestinian people. He writes in a week when Israeli attack helicopters and warships have carried out a massive bombardment in the Gaza Strip in what Israel termed retaliation for an attack on a school bus.
The events of the past four weeks [now seven weeks] in Palestine have been a near-total triumph for Zionism in the United States for the first time since the modern re-emergence of the Palestinian national movement in the late 1960s. Political as well as public discourse has so definitively transformed Israel into the victim during the recent clashes, that even though 140 [the death toll now stands at 250, the vast majority Palestinian] Palestinian lives were lost and close to 5,000 casualties have been reported, it is still something called ``Palestinian violence'' that has disrupted the smooth and orderly flow of the ``peace process''.
There is now a small litany of phrases that every editorial commentator either repeats verbatim or relies on as an unspoken assumption: these have been engraved in ears, minds, and memories as a guide for the perplexed, a manual or machine for turning out phrases that have clogged the air for at least a month. I can recite most of them by heart:
• [Israeli prime minister Ehud] Barak offered more concessions at Camp David than any Israeli prime minister before him (90% of the territories and partial sovereignty over East Jerusalem);
• [Yasser] Arafat was cowardly and lacked the necessary courage to accept Israeli offers to end the conflict;
• Palestinian violence, directed by Arafat, has threatened Israel (all sorts of variations on this, including the wish to eliminate Israel, anti-Semitism, suicidal rage in order to get on television, putting children in the front lines so that they would become martyrs) and proved that an ancient ``hatred'' of the Jews motivates Palestinians;
• Arafat is a weak leader who allows his people to attack Jews and incite against them by releasing terrorists and producing schoolbooks that deny Israel's existence.
There are probably one or two more formulae that I have not cited, but the general picture is that Israel is so surrounded by rock-throwing barbarians that even the missiles, tanks and helicopter gun ships that have been used to ``defend'' Israelis from the violence are simply warding off a terrible force. Bill Clinton's injunctions (dutifully parroted by his secretary of state) for Palestinians to ``pull back'' goes a long way to suggest that it is Palestinians who are encroaching on Israeli territory, not the other way round.
It is also worth mentioning that so successful has this Zionisation of the media been that not a single map has been published or shown on television to remind American viewers and readers - notoriously ignorant of both geography and history - that Israeli encampments, settlements, roads and barricades crisscross Palestinian land in Gaza and the West Bank. Moreover, as happened in Beirut in 1982, there is a veritable Israeli siege of Palestinians, including of Arafat.
Completely forgotten, if it was ever at all understood, is the system of Areas A, B, and C by which the military occupation of 40% of Gaza and 60% of the West Bank continues, and which the Oslo peace process was never really designed to end, much less totally modify.
As suggested by the absence of geography in this most geographical of conflicts, the resulting void is a vitally important point since the pictures that are either shown or described are without context at all.
I think the omission by the Zionised media was a deliberate one at the outset and has now become automatic. It has allowed phony commentators like Thomas Friedman to peddle his wares shamelessly, droning on about American even-handedness, Israeli flexibility and generosity and his own perspicacious pragmatism with which he berates Arab leaders and stuns his bored readers. It has the result not only of permitting the completely preposterous notion of a Palestinian attack on Israel to prevail, but it also further dehumanises Palestinians as being beasts without sentience or motive.
When the figures of the dead and wounded are recited, no nationalities are given: this lets Americans assume that the suffering is equally divided between the ``warring parties'', and in fact elevates Jewish suffering and reduces or eliminates Arab feelings entirely, except of course for rage.
Rage and its cognates remain as the only and certainly the defining Palestinian emotion. It explains the violence, and indeed, it reifies it so that Israel has come to represent a decency and democracy that is forever surrounded by rage and violence. No other process can logically explain the stone throwers and the stalwart Israeli ``defence''.
Nothing is said of house demolitions, land expropriations, illegal arrests, torture and the like. Nothing is cited about what is (except for the Japanese occupation of Korea) the longest military occupation in modern times; nothing about UN resolutions; nothing about Israeli contraventions of all the Geneva Conventions; nothing about the sufferings of one entire people and the obduracy of another.
Forgotten are the catastrophe of 1948, ethnic cleansing and massacres, the devastation of Qibya, Kafr Qassem, Sabra and Shatila, the long years of military government for non-Jewish Israeli citizens, to say nothing of their continued oppression as a persecuted 20% minority within the Jewish state.
Ariel Sharon at best is a provocation, never a war criminal, Ehud Barak a statesman, never the assassin of Beirut. Terrorism is always on the Palestinian side of the ledger, defence on the Israeli.
What Friedman and pro-Israeli ``peaceniks'' fail to mention when they extol Barak's unprecedented generosity is the real substance of it. We are not reminded that his commitment to a third withdrawal (of about 12%) made at Wye 18 months ago has never occurred. Of what value then are more such ``concessions''?
We are told that Barak was willing to give back 90% of the territory. What gets left out is that the 90% is of what Israel has no intention of giving back. Greater Jerusalem is well over 30% of the West Bank; large settlements to be annexed are another 15%; military roads of areas have yet to be determined. So after all this is deducted, 90% of the balance isn't so much after all.
As for Jerusalem: the Israeli ``concession'' was principally in being willing to discuss and maybe, just maybe, to offer shared authority over the Haram Al-Sharif. The breathtaking dishonesty of the matter is that all of west Jerusalem (principally Arab in 1948) was already conceded by Arafat, plus most of a vastly expanded east Jerusalem.
The mind-set I have described is truly staggering in its recklessness and, were it not very much a practical as well as actual distortion of reality, one could quite easily be talking about a form of private mental derangement. But it corresponds very closely to the official Israeli policy of dealing with Palestinians not as a people with a history of dispossession, for which in large measure Israel is directly responsible, but as a periodic nuisance for whom force, and neither understanding nor full accommodation, is the only possible response. Everything else is literally unthinkable.
Zionism requires that any - and I mean literally any - criticism of what Israel does is simply intolerable and the rankest anti-Semitism. And this despite the fact that (again literally) the entire world has criticised Israel's policies of military occupation, disproportionate violence, and the siege of the Palestinians.
The further peculiarity of American Zionism, which is a system of antithetical thought and Orwellian distortion, is that it is impermissible to speak of Jewish violence, or Jewish actions when it comes to Israel, even though everything done by Israel is done in the name of the Jewish people, for and by a Jewish state. That such a state is a misnomer, since almost 20% of the population is not Jewish, is never mentioned and this too accounts for the amazing, entirely deliberate discrepancy between what the media calls ``Israeli Arabs'' and ``the Palestinians'': no reader or viewer could possibly know that they are the same people divided by Zionist policy, or that both communities represent the result of Israeli policy - apartheid in one case, military occupation and ethnic cleansing in the other.
This consensus might be somehow tolerable were it not for the fact that it makes the continuing punishment and dehumanisation of the Palestinian people an actual virtue. There are simply no other people in the world today whose killing on television screens seems to be considered by most American viewers to be acceptable as well-deserved punishment. This is the case with Palestinians whose daily loss of life in the past month is herded under the rubric ``the violence on both sides'', as if the stones and slings of young men thoroughly tired of injustice and repression were a major offence rather than the courageous resistance to a demeaning fate meted out to them not just by Israeli soldiers armed by America, but by a peace process designed to coop them up in Bantustans and reservations fit for animals.
That the US supporters of Israel could have plotted for seven years to produce a document designed essentially to cage people like inmates in an asylum or prison - that is the real crime. And that this could be passed off as peace instead of the desolation that it really has been all along, that surpasses my powers to understand or adequately describe as anything less than untrammelled immorality.
The worst thing of all is that so iron-like is the wall protecting American discourse about Israel that no questions can be put to the minds that produced Oslo and that for seven years have been passing off their scheme to the world as peace. One scarcely knows which is more pernicious, the mentality that thinks of Palestinians as not entitled even to express a sense of injustice (they are too low a form for that) or the one that continues to plot their further enslavement.