Mass amnesia hits the media concerning Israeli military incursions into Palestinian areas: Have we lost a clear sense of the scale of Israel repression during the 10-month-long Palestinian revolt against miltary occupation?

16 August 2001

SOURCES

14 August 2001

BBC: Spotlight on Israeli incursions

Israel’s incursion into Jenin on Tuesday was the first time Israeli troops have entered a city under full Palestinian control since parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip were handed over to Palestinian rule under a peace deal in 1994.

Although Israel has frequently attacked Palestinian towns using helicopter gunships, or shelled Palestinian positions from within Israeli territory, it has only sent tanks into Palestinian territory on rare occasions.

[….]

The first time it happened, when Israeli tanks rolled into the Palestinian refugee camp of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip in April this year, marked an important psychological turning point in the conflict with the Palestinians.

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15 August 2001

MSNBC: Threat of incursion looms for Arafat

Palestinians had expected a repeat of Tuesday’s incursion into Jenin, which was the first Israeli raid of a Palestinian town since West Bank population centers were handed over to Palestinian control in 1995.

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15 August 2001

ABC News: Upping the Ante

Tuesday’s Israeli troop movements followed Israel’s incursion into the West Bank town of Jenin before dawn in what was the first major Israeli incursion into Palestinian controlled area since the creation of the Palestinian Authority seven years ago.

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16 August 2001

The Times (UK): Leading article: Bombers of Jenin

Israel’s armoured drive into Jenin on Tuesday destroyed a police barracks but killed no one. The tanks and bulldozers then pulled out. This was hardly the bloodiest incident in 11 months of violence. But it crossed a symbolic, as well as a territorial, line because it was the first serious incursion into territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority under the terms of the 1993 Oslo accords.

PROBLEMS

1. NEITHER THE FIRST NOR THE SECOND TIME - The Jenin incursion on 13 August 2001 was not the second time Israeli tanks rolled into “Palestinian territory” (BBC), nor “the first Israeli raid of a Palestinian town since West Bank population centers were handed over to Palestinian control in 1995” (MSNBC), nor “the first major incursion into Palestinian controlled area since the creation of the Palestinian Authority seven years ago” (ABC News), nor “the first serious incursion into territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority under the terms of the 1993 Oslo accords” (The Times).

The facts of the matter are that Israel has regularly entered Palestinian territory and crossed the borders of Palestinian towns with tanks during the current Intifada. Additionally, Israeli tanks have repeatedly entered refugee camps and other populated areas in Gaza and the West Bank to demolish homes and bulldoze agricultural lands.

The BBC additionally stated that “The first time [when Israel sent tanks into Palestinian territory]… the Palestinian refugee camp of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip in April this year, marked an important psychological turning point in the conflict with the Palestinians.”

In fact as reported in Action Item #10, the first ‘deep’ or ‘major’ incursion that the BBC attempts to use here, to put the Jenin incursion into context, actually took place 4 months earlier than April 2000, on 13 December 2000. Of course, this kind of distinction assumes that tanks driving a mere 50 yards into one’s town should perhaps be considered a ‘shallow’ or ‘minor’ incursion.

2. IN GENERAL WHAT IS BEING COMMUNICATED BY THESE REPORTS? - The impression one gets from reports that attempt to set events such as the Jenin incursion into some sort of context with ‘comparable’ events is a reinforcement of the myth of Israeli ‘restraint’ and ‘proportional response’.

One is led to believe by these reports of “first” or “second” incursions that Israel only rarely crosses Palestinian borders or enters Palestinian communities with heavy weapons such as tanks.

Although the BBC was careful to note that “Israel has frequently attacked Palestinian towns using helicopter gunships, or shelled Palestinian positions from within Israeli territory” — a nightly occurance in many Palestinian areas, neither the MSNBC nor the ABC News nor The Times stories mention the regular use of heavy weapons, thus presenting the Jenin incursion as somewhat of an abberation.

The Associated Press, which began propagating the April 2001 “first foray” myth cited above by the BBC, which was the subject of Action Item #10, should perhaps not be singled out. After all the AP, although a wire service with greater responsibility, is merely suffering from the same ailment afflicting all media covering the conflict — namely that 90 percent of Israeli actions on the ground are never reported for the simple reason that media organisations can only employ a finite number of stringers and reporters, and because these journalists can only collect a finite amount of information in a situation where every Palestinian village and town has been made into a front line by an ongoing Israeli seige.

The first thing to get lost as a result of these limitations is the scale of Palestinian suffering on the ground during the last 10 months. Events are regularly presented in a way that suggests that they are the only instances of them. Journalists mostly turn up for the “main” events and, as a consequence, patterns of repression are not covered well. Putting this in plain English: unless a reporter is living at ground zero, they’re not going to ‘get it’ in quite the same way someone living there would.

For Palestinians who live on the edges of towns that border Jewish settlements, the last 10 months have been an unbroken continuim of nightly terror. Settlements are military bases for shootings, tank fire, and artillery shelling of Palestinian neighbourhoods.

To express this for the subject of this action item — for Palestinians on the ground, whether it is a tank entering their town to fire missiles, or a helicopter doing it from the air doesn’t make for a qualitatively different experience.

In addition, although Israeli spokespersons like to use the “retaliation” word, many residents of Palestinian towns during the Intifada, personally known to members of The Electronic Intifada team, have reported fire on Palestinian towns regularly starts from settlements. This is supported by documents from Palestinian human rights organisations including Addameer’s Latest Developments reports from the first 60 days of the Intifada, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights’ Weekly Reports, the “cease-fire” chronology on this site, and from the daily Hear Palestine briefings.

In the end, this kind of assertion may be hard to believe for those who are not present on the ground to see it for themselves. If only Israel was subjected to the same skepticism. Israeli spokespersons regularly claim that Palestinians were killed in “crossfire”, in “self-defense”, or while “attacking Israeli positions”.

At The Electronic Intifada we’re still waiting for the majority of media organisations — who regularly publish these statements without comment — to explain how out of the 600-plus Palestinians killed since 29 September 2000, 57.5 percent have been killed outside of clash situations [Source: Palestinians Killed During the Intifada from the Health Development Information, and Policy Institute (HDIP)].

Or more simply, why out of the four reports dealt with in this action item, only MSNBC saw fit to mention that all of this violence is taking place in the context of a Palestinian “revolt against Israeli occupation”.

SOLUTION

Write to any or all of the following sources:

* BBC Online: Nic Newman, BBC News Online World Editor, nic.newman@bbc.co.uk
* MSNBC: Robert Aglow, Executive Producer, MSNBC.com, robert.aglow@msnbc.com
* ABCNews.com: The Editors, editor@abcnews.com
* The Times: The Editor, letters@thetimes.co.uk

1. Citing the relevant report (in the gray box above) from the media organisation and any or all of the following documents that offer overviews of the human cost of the Intifada in the occupied territories:
* Palestinians Killed During the Intifada from the Health Development Information, and Policy Institute (HDIP).
* Palestinian human rights organisation Addameer’s Latest Developments reports from the first 60 days of the Intifada.
* The “cease-fire” chronology from The Electronic Intifada.
* The Palestinian Center for Human Rights’ Weekly Reports
* The daily Hear Palestine briefings.

2. Noting that the Jenin incursion of 13 August 2001 — rather than a “first”, “second”, or “third” event — is in reality simply another instance from a continuim of Israeli use of heavy weapons in Palestinian population areas.

3. Noting that statements which attempt to single out such events as ‘unique’ or ‘milestones’ are prone to innaccuracy given the limitations of the global news gathering infrastructure.

4. Stressing that the use of heavy weapons, particularly shells, has resulted in the deaths of 20 percent of the 600-plus Palestinians killed since 29 September 2000, according to the HDIP.

5. Asking the media organisation to consider undertaking a report that communicates a clear sense of the scale of Israel repression of the 10-month-long Palestinian revolt against miltary occupation. Continually communcating a false balance with action-reaction reporting detracts from the most important context — the Israeli military occupation and its daily repression of 3 million Palestinians.

6. Please write an original letter and do not simply copy & paste the information above. As always, be as BRIEF as possible, POLITE, quote accurately, and include your name, address, and telephone number (which most publications require to ensure publication or to officially register a complaint). Send a copy of any protest or response to info@electronicIntifada.net.

This action item (#19, 16 August 2001) was prepared by Nigel Parry and Ali Abunimah.