In launching an emergency appeal for aid on July 24, the United Nations estimated that the lives of 800,000 Lebanese civilians have been disrupted by Israeli bombing. Hundreds of bridges and virtually all road networks have been systematically destroyed across the country, making relief efforts almost impossible. BBC and other journalists report many civilians trapped in the rubble of villages in the south of Lebanon cut off from medical aid by air strikes. ReliefWeb comments:
“As the conflict continues, food stocks in many parts of Lebanon are running low. Shortages of water are already a reality in parts of southern Lebanon due to a lack of electricity and fuel. The possibility of shortages of medical supplies in health facilities in the coming weeks is of growing concern. While medical and food stocks are available delivery is almost impossible in many parts of the country.” (‘Flash appeal on the Lebanon crisis launched today,’ ReliefWeb, July 24, 2006; http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/RWB.NSF/db900SID/SODA
To date, some 377 Lebanese and 17 Israeli civilians have been killed in the conflict. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,,1828142,00.html)
Save The Children reports that 45% of the Lebanese dead are children, as are 200,000 of the 500,000 refugees forced to flee the bombing. (Save The Children, ‘Crisis in middle east – children hit hardest,’ July 21, 2006; http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/scuk/jsp/resources/details.jsp?id=4281&group=resources§ion=news&subsection=
The Red Cross reported (July 23) that five of its volunteers and three patients were wounded when Israeli aircraft attacked two ambulances in successive missile strikes. The attacks took place near Qana when an ambulance arrived to evacuate three patients from the border town of Tibnin. The drivers said that two guided missiles were fired at each ambulance. Three injured patients – a woman, her son and grandson – were all injured again, the son losing his leg to a direct hit from one of the anti-tank missiles. (Ed O’Loughlin, ‘Ambulances fired on by Israel, says Red Cross,’ Sydney Morning Herald, July 25, 2006)
According to Human Rights Watch, Israel has used artillery-fired cluster munitions in populated areas of Lebanon. Researchers on the ground confirmed that a cluster munitions attack on the village of Blida on July 19 killed one and wounded at least 12 civilians, including seven children. Eyewitnesses and survivors described how the artillery shells dropped hundreds of cluster submunitions on the village. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, commented:
“Cluster munitions are unacceptably inaccurate and unreliable weapons when used around civilians. They should never be used in populated areas.” (‘Israeli cluster munitions hit civilians in Lebanon Israel Must Not Use Indiscriminate Weapons,’ HRW, July 24, 2006; http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/EKOI-6S2458?OpenDocument&rc=3&cc=lbn)
Blair – We Must Act
The day before British and American bombers began attacking Serbia on March 24, 1999, Tony Blair told the House of Commons: “We must act to save thousands of innocent men, women and children from humanitarian catastrophe.”
“Let me give the House an indication of the scale of what is happening: a quarter of a million Kosovars, more than 10 per cent of the population, are now homeless as a result of repression by Serb forces. 65,000 people have been forced from their homes in the last month, and no less than 25,000 in the four days since peace talks broke down. Only yesterday, 5,000 people in the Srbica area were forcibly evicted from their villages.”
Blair also reported deaths:
“Since last summer 2000 people have died.” (Blair: ‘We must act – to save thousands of innocent men, women and children,’ The Guardian, March 23, 1999; http://www.guardian.co.uk/Kosovo/Story/0,,209876,00.html)
No one, of course, not even Blair, was suggesting that the killing was all on one side – the Kosovo Liberation Army had been responsible for hundreds of deaths. But journalists lined up to declare Serb actions ample justification for military intervention. On the day of his speech, a Guardian leader backed Blair all the way:
“The only honorable course for Europe and America is to use military force to try to protect the people of Kosovo… If we do not act at all, or if there is a limited bombing campaign which still fails to change Milosevic’s mind, what is likely to be Kosovo’s future? The Serbs would certainly try to wipe out the Kosovo Liberation Army completely. They might well go in for large-scale evacuation of villages, so as to control the population more effectively, and deny popular support to what KLA fighters might remain.” (Leader, ‘The sad need for force, Kosovo must be saved,’ The Guardian, March 23, 1999)
Warnings that resonate strongly in July 2006 as the media report, with minimal discernible outrage, Israel’s enforced “large-scale evacuation of villages” in Lebanon. Thus the Independent on July 22:
“Israeli aircraft dropped leaflets over southern Lebanon yesterday warning civilians to leave border villages. The area is normally inhabited by about 300,000 people.” (Donald Macintyre, ‘Israel calls up 3,000 reservists to prepare for ground invasion,’ The Independent, July 22, 2006)
The Evening Standard reported in an article titled, ‘The “get out or die” text message’:
“Israel is waging war by text message as it steps up attacks on Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. Mobile phones are being bombarded with messages and voicemails telling civilians to leave areas earmarked for bombardment or risk being killed.” (Evening Standard, July 24, 2006)
In March 1999, the Guardian editors’ outrage at the suffering of displaced civilians was palpable:
“The Serbs are even now attacking in the Pagarusa valley, where 50,000 displaced Kosovars are sheltering behind makeshift Kosovo Liberation Army defences, and those people could, within a very short time, be fleeing, or being brutally herded, toward Albania. Among the many obligations the Nato countries owe these suffering folk is that of meticulously recording their stories, so that when they return to Kosovo full restitution can be made for their losses and full justice meted out to their persecutors. The Serbs have stripped them of their possessions and their documents and have tried to strip them of their dignity. All three must be restored, beginning with the last.” (Leader, ‘The human cost,’ The Guardian, March 31, 1999; http://www.guardian.co.uk/Kosovo/Story/0,,209737,00.html)
Compare and contrast to this recent, more matter of fact, Guardian editorial:
“For Israel, a ceasefire would mean respite from deadly rocket strikes, such as the one that struck a railway station in Haifa on Sunday, killing eight civilians. For Lebanon, it would have meant allowing its dysfunctional government to deal with the sudden population convulsions taking place as its citizens flee in panic at Israeli air attacks, and try to restrain the fanatics intent on provoking Israel further.”
The leader concluded:
“Israel has the right to defend itself, a task made harder by the hidden arsenal of Hizbullah, and it should object to any one-sided calls for restraint. But it cannot control its enemies’ responses: it can only control its own.” (Leader, ‘Middle East: On the brink of chaos,’ The Guardian, July 17, 2006; http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,1822165,00.html)
A week into the bombing of Serbia and the Independent was struck down by war fever:
“High-altitude hit-and-run bombing missions will have to be supplemented by lower- altitude attacks on infantry and vehicles… Second, Nato will need to decide how this campaign is to end. It has already gone on long enough without a focused picture of the status quo post bellum. Nato should send in ground troops to establish a protectorate over Kosovo.” (Leader, ‘NATO cannot delay in sending troops to protect Kosovo,’ The Independent, March 30, 1999)
John Sweeney wrote in the Guardian one day later:
“And still they come, a severed artery of human misery, spurting through the high mountain pass, beneath jagged peaks lost in sunlit clouds.
“And still they come, the sick, babies, women, rheumy-eyed old men and wild-eyed young boys, sardine-packed in rickety trailers pulled by clack-clacking tractors, some weeping, a few happy, but most just staring into the far distance.
“And still they come, past the concrete dragon’s teeth on the Serb side of the border, to the grotesque, pitiful but not murdering chaos of the poorest country in Europe.” (Sweeney, ‘Tide of misery flows into Albania,’ The Guardian, March 31, 1999)
How freely the tears flow when the compassion is government-approved. Last Sunday, the Observer made its position on the current conflict clear enough. Compare the moral outrage and impassioned literary flourishes above with this new-found ‘pragmatism’:
“Ideally, Israel’s reflex action to any threat would not be to respond with such massive force that significant civilian casualties become inevitable. Ideally, Hizbollah would not want to provoke the Jewish state by firing missiles into Israeli territory that kill Israeli civilians, or by capturing its soldiers… But we do not live in an ideal world. And in the Middle East it is reality that counts.”
Ideally, half a million ordinary Lebanese civilians would not, in a matter of days, be transformed into refugees struggling to survive. Ideally, close to 400 Lebanese civilians would not be killed by indiscriminate bombing as an entire country’s infrastructure – roads, bridges, power stations, petrol dumps, sea ports, milk factories, TV transmission masts, mobile phone masts, and much else – is simply demolished.
The Observer continued:
“The only path is that of pragmatism. In other words, a compromise based not on rhetoric or ideals but on a realistic appraisal of our capabilities and influence. The immediate task is to try to ensure that Israel does not attempt to re-establish its occupation of southern Lebanon or trigger a full-scale escalation of a Middle Eastern war. We need to solve the problem, not pontificate.” (Leader, ‘Britain still has a role in our less than ideal world,’ The Observer, July 23, 2006)
Just four months ago this same newspaper claimed that, in response to conflict in the Balkans, “a new doctrine of humanitarian intervention emerged. It was led at first by President Clinton over Bosnia, and again in Kosovo. The rationale behind those interventions was then invoked for the invasion of Iraq…”
The “wisdom” of the latter had been questioned, the editors noted: “But the principle that a brutal regime does not have inalienable rights to do as it pleases within its borders… is a good one.” (Leader, ‘Let a dictator’s death remind us of the evil of unchecked nationalism,’ The Observer, March 12, 2006)
The Observer’s hypocrisy makes sense – “ideals” and “principles” are useful when brutal realpolitik can be sold as ‘humanitarian intervention’. But not even the Observer could sell US-UK support for the demolition of Lebanon as a moral cause.
As in Kosovo, crimes are being committed on both sides. Unlike Kosovo, the “humanitarian interventionists” have little to say. The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland wrote in 1999:
“How did the British left get so lost? How have its leading lights ended up as the voices of isolationism? How did it come to this…? Why is it the hard left – rather than the isolationist right – who have become the champions of moral indifference? For, make no mistake, that’s what opposition to Nato’s attempt to Clobba Slobba (as the Sun puts it) amounts to… either the West could try to halt the greatest campaign of barbarism in Europe since 1945 – or it could do nothing.” (Jonathan Freedland, ‘The left needs to wake up to the real world. This war is a just one,’ The Guardian, March 26, 1999)
Last week, with the destruction of Lebanon well under way, Freedland’s tone had changed:
“Both Hamas and Hizbullah captured soldiers. To outsiders, that would seem to be fair play under the rules of guerrilla warfare. But soldiers carry an almost sacred status in the Israeli imagination. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) is a conscript army, so the rhetoric about ‘everyone’s son or daughter’ is literally true. Its personnel are not seen as professionals hired to kill or be killed, but as citizens.” (Freedland, ‘There is a way out of this crisis, but the legacy of hatred will endure,’ The Guardian, July 19, 2006)
Where once Freedland was resolute in his “Clobba Slobba” view of international relations, he now gropes for answers: “Israel pounds Lebanon out of all proportion to the original provocation and Hizbullah replies with rockets landing deep in the Israeli interior. What might make this storm pass?”
In reality, Palestinian and Lebanese civilian deaths are mildly troubling for our media, little more. As with the early days of the Iraq catastrophe, there is the overwhelming sense that ‘It will be over soon’, that bitter medicine sometimes just has to be swallowed – there’s nothing much anyone can do. Previously outspoken commentators have sought shelter in the bunker of ‘objective’ journalism. The BBC’s Paul Reynolds wrote from Washington in 1999 of the NATO assault:
“One often wonders why America bothers. Kosovo, after all, is a far away place of which they know little. And yet the crisis shows that there is room in this great land for a sense of justice and responsibility, just as there was in imperial Britain… Great powers are capable of great oppressions, but also of great gestures. The Balkans, it seems, have not lost their fascination for the West, though luckily, this time round, the powers are not pitching in against each other as they did in 1914.
“Some progress has been made in this violent century.” (Reynolds, ‘Kosovo: Clinton’s greatest foreign test,’ April 4, 1999; http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/from_our_own_
Media innocents might be forgiven for shuddering at the thought of the fierce managerial censure that surely followed this outpouring of personal opinion – BBC journalists, after all, are supposed to keep their views to themselves. We asked Reynolds last week if he thought Israel’s attacks on Lebanese roads, bridges, petrol stations, milk factories, and other civilian infrastructure were illegitimate – something he had not stressed in his BBC online articles. We wondered if perhaps the United States should again “bother” with some kind of “great gesture” of “justice and responsibility”. Reynolds replied:
“My views are not relevant.” (Email to Media Lens, July 20, 2006)
The rules are clear but never discussed – corporate reporters are free and happy to declare their personal views insofar as they accord with state interests, but not when they conflict. To criticise the powerful is to be ‘biased’ and ‘crusading’. To support the case made by power is to be ‘measured’, ‘objective’ and ‘balanced’. Journalists’ moral outrage is not relevant when the West does not give a damn about the men, women and children dying under its bombs.
MEDIA ALERT: DEMOLISHING LEBANON – PART 2
Israeli Propaganda – Never Had It So Good
Assaf Shariv, media adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, boasted to the Jerusalem Post last week that Israelis have been interviewed by the foreign press four times as much as spokespeople for the Palestinians and Lebanese. Shariv cited a poll of Sky News viewers that found that 80 percent believe Israel’s attacks on Lebanon were justified. A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Gideon Meir, added: “We have never had it so good. The hasbara [propaganda] effort is a well-oiled machine.” (Gil Hoffman, ‘Israel calls up media “reserves”,’ Jerusalem Post, July 17, 2006; http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?c=JPArticle&cid=1150886020429&pagename=
British and American journalists are certainly willing recipients of Israeli and US-UK propaganda. Thus, the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, “embarked last night on a mission to the Middle East to stitch together a peace plan”, the Guardian declared on July 24. (Ewen MacAskill, Ian Black and Brian Whitaker, ‘Rice finally sets out in search of ceasefire formula,’ The Guardian, July 24, 2006)
Unfortunately, “any deal put together by Ms Rice will take a minimum of a week to negotiate, allowing Israel the freedom to continue its war”. Perhaps this is a Natural Law of diplomatic negotiations, although honest journalists recognise that the timescale could be reduced – to the time it takes to make a phone call from the White House, to be precise – if peace, rather than US-Israeli interests, was on the Rice agenda. The Guardian writers sidled a little closer to the truth when they wrote:
“Agreement on a ceasefire will be harder to pin down. Ms Rice has made it clear that America does not want a quick fix ceasefire that keeps Hizbullah intact.”
Agreement is indeed made harder by the fact that the United States is backing Israel’s slaughter to the hilt – notably by supplying the state of the art missiles, bombs, attack helicopters and jets doing the killing. The Guardian noted that the world is witnessing “one of the slowest international responses to a crisis of such gravity”. The New York Times made a nonsense of that observation last Saturday:
“The Bush administration is rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, which requested the expedited shipment last week after beginning its air campaign against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, American officials said Friday.” (David S. Cloud and Helene Cooper, ‘US Speeds Up Bomb Delivery For the Israelis,’ New York Times, July 22, 2006)
An arms-sale package last year approved Israel’s purchase of as many as 100 GBU-28′s, which are 5,000-pound laser-guided bombs intended to destroy concrete bunkers. The package also includes satellite-guided bombs. But still, Rice is on a “mission” to stitch together a “peace plan” according to the Guardian in its scruplously unbiased news reporting.
Dr. Doug Rokke, former Director of the US Army’s Depleted Uranium project wrote on July 24:
“The delivery of at least 100 GBU 28 bunker busters bombs containing depleted uranium warheads by the United States to Israel for use against targets in Lebanon will result in additional radioactive and chemical toxic contamination with consequent adverse health and environmental effects throughout the middle east.”
“The use of uranium weapons is absolutely unacceptable, and a crime against humanity. Consequently the citizens of the world and all governments must force cessation of uranium weapons use. I must demand that Israel now provide medical care to all DU casualties in Lebanon and clean up all DU contamination.” (Rokke, ‘Depleted Uranium Situation Worsens Requiring Immediate Action By President Bush, Prime Minister Blair, and Prime Minister Olmert,’ July 25, 2006)
The British government’s feelings were made clear in a Daily Telegraph article (July 26) that reported Britain has been used as a staging post for major shipments of these bunker-busting DU bombs from America to Israel:
“Two chartered Airbus A310 cargo planes filled with GBU 28 laser-guided bombs landed at Prestwick airport, near Glasgow, for refuelling and crew rests after flying across the Atlantic at the weekend, defence sources confirmed. The airport has also been used by the CIA for rendition flights carrying terrorist suspects.” (Thomas Harding and Anil Dawar, ‘UK airport used to fly bombs to Israel,’ Daily Telegraph; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/07/26/wmid26.xml)
Continuing the required deception, Channel 4′s Jonathan Rugman declared:
“If you think in the last week the US has given up its role as honest broker in the Middle East then now, it seems, they’ve taken it back.” (Channel 4 News, July 21, 2006)
A Serious Escalation
On July 16, a BBC radio report described a “serious escalation” in the conflict. The report was not describing the killing, by then, of 130 Lebanese as a result of 2,000 sorties by Israeli war planes smashing bridges, roads, airports, oil refineries, and driving half a million people from their homes. Instead, the BBC referred to a Hezbollah rocket attack that day that had killed eight Israelis in Haifa.
A report on the attack by Channel 4 News was ironically titled ‘Lebanon burns’ (http://www.channel4.com/news/special-reports/special-reports-storypage.jsp?id=2788). The irony lay in the fact that three minutes of the four-minute film focused on the Haifa attack, while some ten seconds were devoted to Israel’s subsequent killing of 16 people in Lebanon’s southern city of Tyre in a building used by rescue workers.
The Channel 4 piece began by describing how Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had warned that the attack on Haifa was “just the beginning”. Like the BBC, the Financial Times, the Daily Mail and other news outlets, Channel 4 omitted to mention Nasrallah’s caveat that Haifa was only the beginning “if Israel continues its attacks”. (See Jonathan Cook, ‘Israelis are dying – it must be an escalation,’ ZNet, July 17, 2006; http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=10591)
A BBC online article covering the story was titled ‘Deadly Hezbollah attack on Haifa’. Much milder language has been used to describe Lebanese civilian deaths, as journalist Jonathan Cook writes on ZNet:
“Those dead, many of them women and children, hardly get a mention, their lives apparently empty of meaning or significance in this confrontation.” (Ibid)
Sometimes there is no mention at all. One Media Lens reader posed a simple question to the BBC on July 17:
“The closing headlines included the information that 24 Israelis have died in the current conflict. But no mention was made of the 200 Lebanese reported as killed and as reported by Ch4 News at 7pm.
“WHY EXACTLY IS THIS?” (Email copied to Media Lens, July 26, 2006)
One Debby Moyse, Assistant Editor to the Head of BBC TV News, replied with standard BBC audacity:
“You are right to point out that the number of people killed, in the current conflict, in Lebanon was not in the closing headlines and it would have been better to have reflected both figures. However the reporting from Lebanon, seen in conjunction with the pictures of people fleeing the country, clearly reflected the impact of the six days of air strikes. Also taken in the context of the overall coverage, the effect of the conflict on each country was balanced…” (Ibid)
And so on.
Thus the indifference to the fate of the Lebanese civilians who fled their homes in the border village of Marwaheen on Israeli orders. As the villagers left in a convoy on July 15, Israeli jets attacked, killing 20 people, at least nine of them children. Robert Fisk wrote in the Independent of how the local fire brigade “could not put out the fires as they all burned alive in the inferno”. Fisk noted sardonically that another “terrorist” target had thereby been eliminated. (Fisk, ‘Hizbollah’s response reveals months of planning,’ The Independent, July 16, 2006)
The Daily Telegraph’s coverage of the atrocity was titled merely: ‘Iran blamed as Lebanon battle broadens.’ (Harry de Quettevill, Daily Telegraph, July 16, 2006) The BBC and other media described these and other killings as “retaliation” for Haifa, even though Israel had been launching such strikes for four days before the Hezbollah attack.
Indeed, with great consistency, the media describe Israel as merely “responding” or “retaliating”. In a 2002 report, Bad News From Israel, The Glasgow University Media Group (GUMG) provided numerous examples stretching over several years:
“The trigger for the Israeli offensive was a massacre on the West Bank.” (ITV early evening news, December 13, 2001)
“Palestinian suicide attacks trigger more Israeli raids.” (BBC 1, late news, January 5, 2002)
The authors commented:
“On the news, Israeli actions tended to be explained and contextualised – they were often shown as merely ‘responding’ to what had been done to them by Palestinians (in the 2001 samples they were six times as likely to be presented as ‘retaliating’ or in some way responding than were the Palestinians).” (http://www.gla.ac.uk/departments/sociology/
The report focused on a particular phase of reporting. The BBC described events thus:
“This cycle of violence began six weeks ago when an Israeli cabinet minister was shot.” (BBC1 News 24, December 2, 2001; http://www.gla.ac.uk/departments/sociology/units/media/
GUMG noted that this is also how the Israelis presented the sequence of events. The Palestinians, however, regarded the
killing of the Israeli minister as a ‘response’ to the assassination of one of their political leaders. In a rare departure from the norm, the Independent described the sequence as follows:
“The most notorious assassination came at the end of August when Israeli helicopters hovering over the West Bank town of Ramallah fired two missiles through the office windows of the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Abu Ali Mustafa, 64, decapitating him as he sat in his swivel chair. As the leader of an established PLO faction, who according to Palestinians, was a politician rather than a member of the PFLP’s military wing – he was the most senior figure to be picked off by the Israelis. Seven weeks later the PFLP sought revenge by infiltrating a Jerusalem hotel and assassinating Israel’s tourism minister, Rehavem Ze’evi, whose support for ethnically cleansing the West Bank and Gaza of Arabs had long made him an enemy of the Palestinians.” (November 9, 2001)
Exceptions of this kind aside, most media present a consistently biased version of events. Thus the BBC in 2001:
“Israel has been under intense pressure from the Americans to pull out of Palestinian areas it occupied last week +following the killing of the+ Israeli tourism minister.” (BBC1 late News, October 26, 2001 – GUMG italics)
“The assassination of an Israeli cabinet minister +led to the reoccupation+ of Palestinian areas.” (BBC News 24, November 3, 2001 – GUMG italics)
“Dozens of Palestinians and Israelis have been killed in a relentless round of suicide bombings and +Israeli counter-attacks+.” (BBC2 Newsnight 22:30, December 13, 2001 – GUMG italics)
“The Israelis had carried out this demolition +in retaliation+ for the murder of four soldiers.” (Channel 4 News 19:00, January 10, 2002 – GUMG italics)
In an almost child-like way, journalists take their lead from Israeli actions. A July 17 Guardian editorial reported that the sixth day of Israeli aerial attacks had killed 47 people and wounded at least 53. The editors noted:
“It is also worth remembering that the weekend’s chaos began three weeks ago, with the [June 25] provocative kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by allies of Hamas.” (Leader, ‘Middle East: On the brink of chaos,’ The Guardian, July 17, 2006)
The June 24 kidnapping of a Palestinian doctor and his brother by Israeli forces is thereby wiped from history. Inconvenient “chaos” is ignored more generally – for example, the fact that between January to May 30, 2006, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, the Israeli military launched 18 assassinations, described as “targeted assassinations of militants”. Between March 29 to May 30, there were 77 air strikes on Palestinian population centres, government offices and other infrastructure, with nearly 4,000 artillery shells being fired by Israel over the same period. Between May 26 and June 21, more than 40 Palestinians were killed, 30 of them civilians, including 11 children and two pregnant women. None of these are deemed “provocative” by our media.
The Right Of Self-Defence
This preferential reading of recent history allows the media to portray Israeli actions as being consistently in “self-defence”. The Financial Times reported:
“The world’s big powers were at odds over Israel’s strikes on Lebanon yesterday, with US President George W. Bush invoking Israel’s right of self-defence and Russia and European Union officials accusing the country of ‘disproportionate’ actions.” (Martin Arnold, Caroline Daniel and Daniel Dombey, ‘World powers split over strikes,’ Financial Times, July 14, 2006)
The Daily Mail wrote:
“Whatever provocation Israel has suffered and the murderous fanaticism of Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon is a cause of despair this brutally disproportionate action is an unworthy and ultimately self-defeating response from a great liberal democracy.
“Of course, any country has a right to self defence. But this deadly cycle of tit-for-tat offers no solution.” (Leader, ‘Stumbling to the brink of the abyss,’ Daily Mail, July 15, 2006)
Over the last month, there have been dozens of references of this kind in the British press to the issue of Israel’s right to self-defence. We have been able to find just one reference to the possibility that Palestinian violence, for example, might be justified on the same grounds.
Chris Hedges, formerly foreign correspondent for The New York Times and currently a senior fellow at the Nation Institute, has noted some of the missing context:
“This isn’t the first time that Israeli soldiers have been captured. We’ve had long and painful negotiations over kidnapped Lebanese, and Israel has made cross-border incursions into Lebanon to capture Lebanese for years and years and years. That’s something well known to Lebanese and probably not as well known to other people.” (‘United States and the Context Behind Israel’s Offensive on Lebanon,’ Democracy Now! July 17, 2006; http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/07/17/1423257&mode=thread&tid=25)
Hedges also recalled that massive aerial bombardment has not always been deemed the necessary Israeli response – in January 2004, Israel freed more than 400 Arab prisoners in return for an Israeli spy.
But kidnapped Lebanese and Palestinians do not exist for our media, just as Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli artillery in May and June are ignored in seeking the causes of conflict. The poverty, malnutrition and oppression within the giant open prison that is Gaza also do not exist as any kind of justification for actions in “self-defence”.
Conclusion – Purely For The Cameras
The public is relentlessly bombarded by the fraudulent media version of events: Israel is merely ‘retaliating’ in ‘self-defence’. Condoleeza Rice (often referred to, affectionately, as ‘Condi’) is an honest broker seeking peace. And, the icing on the propaganda cake, Britain is biased +towards+ Arabs. Patrick Wintour and Ewen MacAskill wrote in the Guardian on July 21:
“In private, the Foreign Office, which has a reputation as being traditionally pro-Arabist, is sceptical about the Israeli strategy and its impact on the wider Middle East.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/syria/story/0,,1825645,00.html)?
We asked British historian Mark Curtis for his response:
“This is the traditional mainstream media view – ‘pro-Arabist’ being some nice, meaningless term. In fact, the record clearly shows that Britain has played it both ways – both strongly backing its favoured Arab dictators (‘pro-Arabist’) and at the same time arming Israel and supporting its aggression. Current policy is a good example. Traditionally, Britain has also armed both sides. Of course it is by no means against UK interests to have ongoing instability and conflict in the Middle East – the goals are control over oil and having pro-Western regimes in place, after all, not weird notions of peace or democracy, which are purely for the cameras.” (Email to Media Lens, July 26, 2006)
Curtis points to a dark, and for the mainstream media all but unthinkable, truth – when state goals are best achieved by exploiting an overwhelming military advantage, peaceful negotiation, diplomacy and compromise can come to be seen as threats to be crushed at every turn. From this perspective, the more vicious the killing, the more wanton the destruction, the better.