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May 25, 2005

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You're absolutely right, Leila. The Palestinians' best weapon is the Israelis and Americans who do want them to get their land back and despise the settlement policy, but aren't going to go to bat for them unless they change their image.

The above post is incredibly offensive to me as a Palestinian on so many different levels. The Palestinians do not need to "change their image" so that people can support what is morally and ethically the JUST thing to do. And if Americans are not willing to speak out against: ethnic cleansing, illegal land expropriation, torture, illegal arrests, collective punishment, the slaughter of innocent civilians (most of whom are children)--then Americans can go to hell.

"but aren't going to go to bat for them unless they change their image."

On the other hand some Americans don't go to bat for the Palestinians because they understand to do so is career suicide. All the "image changing" in the world by the Palestinians isn't going to change that.

And if Americans are not willing to speak out against: ethnic cleansing, illegal land expropriation, torture, illegal arrests, collective punishment, the slaughter of innocent civilians (most of whom are children)--then Americans can go to hell.

I'm sorry I offended you, but this is the reality. The Palestinians need the Americans to put pressure on the Israelis to do the right thing. The Palestinians are not seen as sympathetic by most Americans. The way to get their land back is to change that equation, and the way to change that equation is to adopt a "Gandhi strategy."

On the other hand some Americans don't go to bat for the Palestinians because they understand to do so is career suicide. All the "image changing" in the world by the Palestinians isn't going to change that.

On the contrary, it will cease to be career suicide when the Palestinians can no longer be portrayed as supporters of terrorism. Then the Israelis will no longer have any claim whatsoever to the moral high ground.

"The Palestinians are not seen as sympathetic by most Americans."

That's purely because of the way the US media covers the conflict, combined with the one-sided, pro-Israel stance of the US gov. How to explain broad support for the Palestinian cause everywhere else except for the US?

"On the contrary, it will cease to be career suicide when the Palestinians can no longer be portrayed as supporters of terrorism. Then the Israelis will no longer have any claim whatsoever to the moral high ground."

Sorry, I doubt that. The smear tactics directed toward those who support the Palestinians will continue, whether there is Palestinian violence or not.

"That's purely because of the way the US media covers the conflict, combined with the one-sided, pro-Israel stance of the US gov. How to explain broad support for the Palestinian cause everywhere else except for the US?"

Okay, tell me how to change that.

I fall slightly closer to As'ad Abu Khalil than you, but I must say that you've forward put a very persuasive argument.

It reminded me of one of the few good news stories about Palestinians I've ever seen on CNN. What was it about? Kite flying in the West Bank a couple of years ago.

We are losing the media war badly. But I don't believe that's all down to the armed resistance. I think it's a wider picture of political apathy amongst most (non-Palestinian/Iraqi) Arabs. We love to shout slogans, but hate to engage. It's easier to support the bomb than the kite.

There are a lot of non-violent, and to some extent sucessful, peace movements in Palestine and Israel and we should draw attention to them. If colourful kites are one way, then I'll be the first one to look to the sky.

I fall slightly closer to As'ad Abu Khalil than you, but I must say that you've forward put a very persuasive argument.

It reminded me of one of the few good news stories about Palestinians I've ever seen on CNN. What was it about? Kite flying in the West Bank a couple of years ago.

To Leila who posted above: 'we don't need to change, let Americans go to hell'. Fine, lets just accept that America will never stop supporting and funding expansionary Zionist politics. Let's forget about them. We can deal with the occupation quite well on our own.

We are losing the media war badly. But I don't believe that's all down to the armed resistance. I think it's a wider picture of political apathy amongst most (non-Palestinian/Iraqi) Arabs ('Americans can go to hell' to sue one example). We love to shout slogans, but hate to engage. It's easier to support the bomb than the kite.

That's what I hope my blog achieves on some tiny scale. By explaining to the world that Syria isn't the den of evil and repression that some would like to believe.

There are a lot of non-violent, and to some extent sucessful, peace movements in Palestine and Israel and we should draw attention to them. If colourful kites are one way, then I'll be the first one to look to the sky.

I really don't buy the media-bias theory. For one thing, there's a fairly broad range of opinion in the US media, with Palestinian figures regularly featured on the op-ed pages of major dailies. For another, it's not as if the media in the "rest of the world" is perfectly objective - foreign papers have their own biases toward the conflict. Not to mention that support for the Palestinian cause isn't as absent in the United States, or as universal in "the rest of the world," as it's often portrayed. (For instance, compare Jimmy Carter's opinions on the Middle East with Milos Zeman's.)

I don't think the explanation for American affinity with Israel can be reduced to such terms, nor is it artificial. The United States played an intimate part in the birth of Israel and is historically connected with Israeli development. Many Israelis have family connections in the United States and vice versa. The Israeli narrative of environmental reclamation has resonance in American history. Americans, who are citizens of a settler state themselves, don't necessarily see anything existentially wrong with other settler states (which may also explain why Australians tend to have fairly good opinions of Israel.) And then there's the whole Christian Zionist, millennial theology which I don't quite understand. All organic, and all independent of the media.

None of this is relevant to the merits of Israeli policies, mind. The point is not whether American affinity for Israel is wrong or right, but that its explanation doesn't involve people being duped.

At any rate, to bring this back to the main topic: Kite-flying, and similar activities, are potentially useful because they build social networks. Social networks, in turn, can (1) turn into political networks, and (2) counteract each side's mutual propaganda about the other. Given that peacemaking will require attitude adjustments all around, beginning those adjustments at a grass-roots level can't do any harm and may do a great deal of good.

The Ghandi Option? Laughable.

Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?" is a quite popular question, especially abroad. You won't often hear it asked (with the inevitable self-righteous shrug) here in Israel: after all, the Israeli culture itself worships violence, with the semantic field of "war" being the richest in the modern Hebrew language, with militarism as the state religion, and with popular wisdom expressed in rules of thumb such as "where force won't do, try more force."

But Americans love the Gandhi riddle. While their governments give Israel gigantic military aid, private Americans with the best intentions – and Britons such as actor Ben Kingsley – translate the film Gandhi into Arabic and screen it all over the occupied territories as an example for the Palestinians to follow.

The intentions of "the Gandhi Project" must be noble. And though international law and conventions unambiguously acknowledge the right of occupied peoples to use violence against their oppressors – just like guerrilla fighters did under Nazi occupation – the question whether violence or nonviolence serves their cause better is for the Palestinians to decide. There are, of course, several convincing arguments in favor of abandoning the violent resistance, most notably the huge benefits that Israel draws from portraying the Palestinians as "terrorists" to legitimate the use of its overwhelming military superiority against them.

If "the Gandhi Project" wants to be truly helpful, however, I have a better idea for it. Instead of screening Gandhi in the occupied territories, let it screen throughout America the footage of the recent demonstration in the Palestinian village of Bil'in (to be found on Gush Shalom's Web site). This footage can help inform Americans about the realities of the occupation largely equipped and financed by their taxes – a much more urgent task than teaching Palestinians about the late Indian leader. It also suggests an unusual solution to the puzzle of the "Palestinian Gandhi."

The Bil'in Demo

Bil'in is a small village in the occupied West Bank. The apartheid wall, advancing full speed ahead behind the effective smokescreen of the "disengagement plan," is now being built there, almost touching the houses of the village and separating it from most of its lands. These lands will be given to the illegal settlement of Kiryat Sefer, which is built on lands taken from the Palestinian villages all around it and inhabited by ultra-orthodox Jews (the Zionist state managed to mobilize even parts of this traditionally non-Zionist Jewish sector for its colonialist project).

On Thursday, April 28, about 1,000 Palestinians and some 200 Israeli guests, invited by the people of Bil'in, participated in a demonstration against the wall. All the participants undertook in advance to avoid all violence, no matter whether they had seen the Gandhi film or not. But even before the demo could reach the site of the fence, it was savagely attacked by the Israeli security forces, which bombarded it with tear-gas bombs without the slightest provocation. Among the demonstrators were the Palestinian minister Fares Kadduri, presidential candidate Mustafa Barghouti, Uri Avnery, and Israeli Knesset member Muhammad Barakeh, who was wounded during the attack. The peaceful demonstration was a welcome occasion for Israeli special units to wound several demonstrators with the latest innovation, introduced here for the first time: especially painful plastic bullets covered with salt. Indeed, the so-called Jewish Genius is never exhausted.

Israeli Army Incriminates Itself

So far, you may say, there's nothing new. Gandhi never promised the British wouldn't use violence: he propagated nonviolent uprising in spite of British violence. Indeed, the army's provocation did not work and the demonstration remained nonviolent. So here is what happened next, as reported in Ha'aretz, April 29, 2005:

"During the clashes, undercover security forces mingled with the demonstrators and began to throw stones at the soldiers and police, demonstrators said. The undercover security forces had provoked the police and soldiers into opening fire with rubber bullets and tear gas. The demonstrators said they had not thrown stones at the soldiers and police."

The "undercover forces" mentioned are Israeli soldiers dressed as Palestinians who mingle in the crowd. Such forces – well-trained in Arabic language and customs – have been employed by Israel since the First Intifada in the late 1980s, often used also as death squads for the summary killing of "wanted" – i.e., unwanted – Palestinians. Now we hear that these undercover Israeli soldiers threw stones.

Well, you may argue, "demonstrators said." Demonstrators always say such things. Who said such undercover soldiers were present in Bil'in at all? After all, they were dressed as Arabs, so how can you tell? Even if the undercover soldiers were present, why should I trust the demonstrators' accusations?

Okay, good points. But listen to what the officer in charge had to say to Ha'aretz about the event:

"Military sources … added that the undercover forces had only started throwing stones after Palestinian youths had adopted such tactics. 'Stone-throwing by the undercover forces is part of the way in which they operate in such instances,' the sources said."

Oh, so undercover units definitely were present in Bil'in – the army itself admits that (in fact, it's very easy to spot undercover soldiers when they start making arrests). And not only did they throw stones on this occasion: stone-throwing is part of their job as a rule – again, the army itself says that! The only disputed point is whether they started throwing stones before or after demonstrators did so. Now think for yourself: why on earth should an undercover agent provocateur throw stones after some demonstrators do so? Give me one reason. Obviously, the Israeli officer (identified in Ha'aretz's Hebrew edition as "Lieutenant Colonel Tzahi") is lying on this point.

We've now got a clear confirmation of what Palestinian and Israeli peace activists have been saying all along: the Israeli army would not tolerate a Gandhi-style resistance. Someone up there in the occupation echelons must have studied Ben Kingsley's film long before "the Gandhi Project" got started and reached the conclusion that nonviolent resistance is not in Israel's interest. To thwart this threat, Israel employs soldiers whose task is to turn a peaceful demonstration into a violent one, by infiltrating it undercover and throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. During the demonstration, the army uses these stones as a pretext to break the demonstration by force, using tear gas, salt, or rubber-coated bullets and live ammunition. In the aftermath, this stone-throwing – pictured by army photographers who surely don't miss the stones thrown by their own comrades – enters the world media as propaganda, depicting the peaceful demonstrators as dangerous stone-throwers.

*

So the problem is the perpetrators, not the victims: it's Israel, not the Palestinians. The Palestinians don't have to watch the Gandhi film. They fought the First Intifada with stones (1987-1993) and were answered with Israeli bullets. They fought the Second Intifada (2000-2004) with weapons and were answered with Israeli tanks, Caterpillar bulldozers, and airplanes. And they now start a Third Intifada, a popular, unarmed, nonviolent struggle against the strangulating fence, which is answered with Israeli undercover soldiers who throw stones and want us to believe the Palestinians have done it.

There are thousands of Palestinian Gandhis out there, then: whole villages that demonstrate daily and peacefully against the robbery of their land and livelihood. Alas, their voices are unheard – because of the Israeli undercover soldiers who throw stones from within these peaceful demonstrations, and because of commentators and movie stars who then wonder, "Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?"


"None of this is relevant to the merits of Israeli policies, mind. The point is not whether American affinity for Israel is wrong or right, but that its explanation doesn't involve people being duped."

You are wrong yet again Jonathon, there have many, many, many studies done of the coverage of this conflict by mainstream American media and the common denominator in all these studies is that the American media is overtly biased against Palestinians. This might be an uncomfortable truth for you as an American Jew but that is the truth no matter how much you deny it. Furthermore, the amount of money that pro-Zionist organizations spend on "hasbara" a year in the US could probably feed the Palestinians in the territories for a year. The Palestinians are no match for Israel's military superiority and no match for the PR apparatus that Zionists have in this country.

For more information on media disinformation:

http://ifamericansknew.org/

_there have many, many, many studies done of the coverage of this conflict by mainstream American media and the common denominator in all these studies is that the American media is overtly biased against Palestinians._

Hell, I could cite studies concluding that the American media is biased the other way. The same is true of foreign media - in the past year, there have been two studies of the BBC, one concluding that it is systemically biased against Israel and one concluding that it's biased _in favor_ of Israel. Obviously it can't be both at the same time, so it's clear that the methodology produces the results. It all has to do with what criteria are used, what the authors of the study consider a "neutral" point of view, and very often the biases of the authors themselves. (Both of the BBC studies are flawed in this respect.)

Show me a study, conducted by a _neutral_ organization, concluding that American media are systemically biased in favor of Israel. And no, "If Americans Knew" isn't anywhere near neutral, as the New York Times readers' ombudsman found.

You may be interested in the following discussion about the measurability of media bias, in the context of one of the BBC studies:

http://justworldnews.org/archives/000766.html

And now I'll stop hijacking Leila's thread.

Jonathon, do you think FAIR is a neutral source? If so you can go on their website and do a search and find out what they have to say about media reporting. You can say what you want about If Americans Knew but their study was rather straight forward--they counted the number of articles written that could be construed as pro-Israeli and those that could be construed as pro-Palestinian. Guess which side won? If you want to negate these studies, of course it is your perogative to do so. I understand that such things make even the most "peace" minded American Jews or Israelis uneasy because it turns into a discussion of Jews "controlling the media." I am not going to debate whether the media is biased with you, not because I can't--but because it is a moot point. You probably know it deep down inside. And if you don't, you really are pretty ignorant of your surroundings. I am not opposed to peace as you and Leila might like to think. But as long as "your side" keeps denying and lying about the reality of this conflict it will never happen. Now, I will go back to As'ad's blog and leave you all to your kites and to the fog your are blinded by.

J.E. if you would like to continue this discussion I would be willing to do so on As'ad's blog but I can't keep jumping between the two...

_Jonathon, do you think FAIR is a neutral source?_

It's more so than IAN, although it has a self-acknowledged mission to counteract "right-wing" media coverage (which is a good thing in my view, but a bias that must be accounted for in evaluating its opinions).

I do, however, have some nitpicks with its assessments. To take one example, FAIR (like many other media watchdogs) counted stories and determined that Palestinian deaths were underreported as compared to Israeli deaths. This is true in my experience, but it can't simply be attributed to bias without further evaluation. Israeli deaths often occur under sensational circumstances (e.g., suicide bombings) that lead to greater media coverage. One of the purposes of suicide attacks is to cause terror, and part of that strategy is to carry out attacks in a way that leads to maximum publicity. The fact that such attacks _do_ get more publicity - as their perpetrators planned - may be more indicative of media sensationalism than media bias.

Using head-counting techniques to measure bias is flawed methodology. Another instance involves the Glasgow study of the BBC in which the fact that it interviewed more Israelis than Palestinians was cited as evidence of bias. Among the Israelis interviewed by the BBC, however, were Ahmed Tibi, Azmi Bishara and Amira Hass. No attempt was made to differentiate between them and members of the Israeli government - instead, the authors just counted heads. Without further analysis this just doesn't work.

_You can say what you want about If Americans Knew but their study was rather straight forward--they counted the number of articles written that could be construed as pro-Israeli and those that could be construed as pro-Palestinian._

But what is "pro-Israeli" and what is "pro-Palestinian?" Deciding which way an article can be "construed" involves a judgment call. If you believe that Israel is a legitimate state, then you will "construe" any article that treats it as legitimate as "pro-Israeli." If you're a Kahanist who happens to believe there is no such thing as a Palestinian nation, then you will construe any article that uses the word "Palestinians" without scare quotes as biased in their favor. The bottom line is that for anyone who doesn't agree with IAN's criteria (which are largely unspoken), their "count" is meaningless. I could easily go through the same list of articles and come up with a different count.

Measuring bias is a fairly major exercise in futility unless there's agreement on what constitutes a neutral point of view, and there isn't such agreement with respect to this issue. You're sure that the American media is biased against Palestinians; I've spoken to people who said, with equal certainty and sincerity, that it's precisely the opposite. I'll agree that - on average, and with a wide degree of overlap - American media is more pro-Israeli than European media, but this means that they reflect different biases, not that one is biased and the other isn't.

_I understand that such things make even the most "peace" minded American Jews or Israelis uneasy because it turns into a discussion of Jews "controlling the media."_

That's pretty much a red herring. Some of the most pro-Palestinian media in the United States and abroad - e.g., the _Independent_ in the UK - is Jewish-owned. Then again, media bias in general is a red herring. Believe it or not, it's possible for people to support the existence of Israel despite its faults (and to wish to correct those faults) with their eyes open.

I'm out of this thread now; please don't hesitate to get in the last word if you wish.

Jonathan,

What a load of huey. Let's look at the NY Times for a moment. I think most would agree it is considered "the paper of record" and arguably the most influential newspaper in the US.

Leaving aside all these studies, from both sides, and regardless of what Daniel Okrent wrote in his column on this subject, where he generously and falsely equates the opinions and infuence of Andrea Levin of Camera with those Michael Brown of Partners of Peace - the reality is quite different.

How do I know this? Because a good friend (Jewish) is a NY Times reporter who is stationed in Jerusalem. He relates that Times reporters (and their editors at the foreign desk and in NY), covering the I/P conflict, are subjected to relentless criticism of their reporting - every article is picked apart word for word, by pro-Israel media watch-groups, from "Camera", to "Honestreporting", to the ADL, the AJC, and others. There simply is nothing comparable on "the other side", according to him.

Also, influential Jewish advertisers threaten to withdraw their ads, if they percieve the Times reporting as "pro-Palestinian". All this takes it's toll. Reporters are careful in their reporting to use terminology favorable to Israel and omitt references that reflect poorly on Israel, and even then often their pieces are edited at the foreign desk to be more "friendly" to Israel.

I also know someone who attends "Camera" conferences, and regardless of all the "complaining" Camera does on it's website, the fact is that Ms. Levin is quite satisfied with the Times reporting on the conflict, although of course it "could be better" in her eyes. Not only would I (and Ms. Levin) describe Camera as pro-Israel, many would describe it as pro-Likud and pro-settlements. Her satisfaction with the Times reporting is telling to say the least.

A contact of mine at CNN relates similar conditions. And this is from the center left, mainstream media, obviously, high profile conservative media outlets like the Wall Street Journal, or FOX NEWS take far less pains to present their coverage as "balanced".

PS. Just to be clear. Pro-Palestinian media groups, behind the scenes, are extremely dissatisfied with the Times reporting; they just don't have anywhere near the same resources to mount the same kind of campaign as the pro-Israel groups.

Jonathan, on a point of fact the Independent is owned by Irish media magnate Tony O'Reilly. I may be wrong, but I very much doubt that he is Jewish.

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