“Relative Calm” in the Middle East




Today’s ambush of an Israeli bus in the West Bank that killed 7 Jewish settlers officially ended a 3 week period of what the American news media have called a “relative calm” in Middle East violence. In other words, the average American citizen who doesn’t keep up with the Middle East as I do would naturally assume that there have been no killings during this 3 week period. This assumption would be correct if the terms “relative calm” was to define any other conflict. The distiction in the Middle East is that this is not just any other conflict. This is not just a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians but a conflict between Israel and the news media. Whatever the case may be, there’s no doubt that journalists generally understand critical words about Israel to be hazardous to careers. And not only do the journalists feel the threat, but the News Outlets themselves have gotten the message.

There was a time when we could at least depend on CNN to give us a balanced account of the happenings in the Middle East but, if you’ve noticed lately, CNN seems to report only the news that is favorable to the public image of the Israelis. This all began about 3 weeks ago when the Israelis threatened to pull the plug on CNN unless they immediately tiltled all the news in favor of Israeli victims of terrorist attacks and stop all interviews with Palestinan victims. CNN immediately sent over their senior vice president to Israel to resolve the problem while correspondent Wolf Blitzer spent one week in Jerusalem airing nothing but Israeli victims. Since then, CNN bends over backwards to insure only news of Israeli victims makes the airwaves.

Up until today, and during these last 3 weeks of “relative calm” there hasn’t been one single Israeli killed or wounded and not one suicide bombing had been committed. Instead, there have been 43 Palestinians killed, most of them unarmed civilians, including 9 children and two young Palestinian mothers. Just 3 days ago the Israelis machine gunned and killed an innocent mother and her 2-year-old son, a 13-year-old boy and a Palestinian free-lance photographer. In addition to these unprovoked killings, there have been dozens of men, women and children maimed and injured by the Israeli occupation forces, and dozens of homes have been demolished including the complete destruction of the Palestinian Authority offices in Hebron. In addition there are over 3 million Palestinians confined to their homes and placed under long curfews for more than three weeks.

Have we heard any criticism or condemnation from President Bush, or Secretary of State Colin Powell? Have we seen National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice step up to the podium on the White House lawn to speak to reporters about Israeli violence? Have we seen Congressman Tom Lantos introduce any written document to withhold any more economic aid to Israel unless the violence stops? Of course we haven’t. It only happens when the violence is Palestinian violence. And don’t be surprised if you don’t see the above actions taken today, not at Israel but at Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians after today’s bus ambush that killed 7 Israelis.

I should also warn you to be prepared for the blitz of news coverage of today’s Middle East violence. The 3 week period of “relative calm” will be over and our local and national news media will present headline coverage of today’s bus attack where 7 innocent Jewish settlers were ambushed and killed. No mention will be made of Israeli troops killing the Palestinian mother and her 2-year-old son nor will there be any mention of the 13-year-old Palestinan boy who was killed by Israeli machine guns. Neither will there be any mention of the 35-year-old Palestinian journalist Emad Abu Zahra, who was shot and killed by Israeli troops–if only he could get a fraction of the coverage that Wall Street journalist Danny Pearl received.

Since this report was written in December 1999, the number of innocent Palestinian homes demolished has almost doubled to 4700, causing more than 30,000 men, women, and especially children to become homeless with very little clothing and food.

The fact that today’s news media consistently and deliberately ignores these dozens of Palestinians brutally killed by Israel demonstrates in the clearest possible terms that only Israeli lives are valued and only the concerns and security of Israel are taken seriously. Rarely since the Second World War has a people been so vilified as the Palestinians and rarely has a people been so frequently excused and placated as the Israelis.

James J. David is a retired Brigadier General and a graduate of the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College, and the National Security Course, National Defense University, Washington DC. He served as a Company Commander with the 101st Airborne Division in the Republic of Vietnam in 1969 and 1970 and also served nearly 3 years of Army active duty in and around the Middle East from 1967-1969.