On December 25, an Israeli assassination squad killed five Palestinians in Gaza, and injured fifteen. Three of the dead were civilians. A short time later, a Palestinian blew himself up at a bus stop in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petah Tikva, killing four Israelis, three of whom were confirmed by Ha’aretz to be soldiers.
Many leading media organizations were quick to declare that these two incidents marked the end of a period of “relative calm” or “lull” in Israeli-Palestinian violence, that had supposedly lasted since the last Palestinian suicide attack in Haifa on 4 October.
In fact, the period since 4 October has been one of intense Israeli violence, in which 117 Palestinians were killed, including 23 children. At the same time, Israel destroyed almost five hundred Palestinian homes throughout the Occupied Territories.
Mass amnesia again strikes Middle East correspondents
A front-page Los Angeles Times headline declared “12-Week lull in Mideast Ends,” and misreported that the “back to back spasms of violence” on 25 December, “shattered more than two months of relative quiet and dealt a fresh setback to peace efforts” (26 December 2003).
“Mideast quiet shattered: Suicide bombing kills four Israelis shortly after assassination in Gaza,” declared The Montreal Gazette on Page 1 (26 December 2003).
The Chicago Tribune reported that “Coming less than an hour apart,” the 25 December “attacks broke a lull that had lasted more than two months and raised fears of a slide into violence” (26 December 2003).
CNN reported on its website that the Petah Tikva attack “was the first suicide bombing in Israel since an October 4 attack in Haifa. That incident killed 21 people. There has been a relative calm since the Haifa bombing” (“Suicide bomber kills three in Tel Aviv, ” 25 December 2003).
Even the usually careful U.K.-based Reuters news agency’s report (which had an identical headline to the CNN report) stated that, “the attacks on Thursday shattered well over two months of relative calm that had spurred efforts to revive talks between Israelis and Palestinians on a U.S.-led plan for ending more than three years of conflict” (“Suicide bomber kills three in Tel Aviv,” 25 December 2003).
In an extraordinary act of forgetfulness, a New York Times report by Richard Bernstein and Greg Myre declared that “The suicide bomb attack in Petah Tikva broke a tense sort of relative calm that has existed on both sides since October” (26 December 2003). But just a few paragraphs above this sentence, the same article reported that “Less than an hour before the suicide attack, Israeli gunships fired missiles at a car in Gaza, killing a commander of Islamic Jihad, who Israeli officials said was planning a ‘mega’ attack inside Israel” (emphasis added). The report also stated that four others were killed including “two bystanders” and 14 people were injured.
Not only did the Times forget what had happened just an hour before the Petah Tikva bomb, it had apparently wiped from memory a report by the same Greg Myre on 24 December, headlined “Israelis Kill 8 Palestinians in Raid on a Camp in Gaza.” According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), a total of nine Palestinians were killed in the Israeli attack on Rafah refugee camp about which Myre reported. Among the 37 injured, eight were children, and 116 families were made homeless.
What really happened during the period of “relative calm”
Contrary to the pervasive media claim that the period between 4 October and 25 December was one of “relative calm,” “quiet” or “lull,” it was actually one of intense Israeli violence on Palestinians throughout the Occupied Territories.
Using the meticulous weekly reports of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), EI counted that Israeli forces killed 117 Palestinians from 2 October to 25 December. The vast majority of the dead were civilians and 23 of them were children. Hundreds of civilians were injured by Israeli fire. During the same period, PCHR documented that Israeli occupation forces destroyed 486 houses and apartments, rendering thousands of Palestinians homeless.
During the same period, few Israeli soldiers and civilians were killed in Palestinian attacks, and there were indeed no suicide attacks since 4 October. Israel claims that the huge drop in violence against its civilians was largely because it “foiled” such attacks. But, the New York Times reported on 5 December that, “Israeli officials have concluded that the Islamic movement Hamas has suspended its suicide bombing campaign in recent months, a senior Israeli military officer said Thursday, citing that as one reason Israel has not suffered any deadly bombings in the past two months.”
What is indisputable is that Israel was killing and injuring Palestinians by the hundreds. Here are a few examples of incidents that occurred during the media’s period of “relative calm”:
In response to this incident, Amnesty International issued a statement saying “The repeated practice by the Israeli army of deliberate and wanton destruction of homes and civilian property is a grave violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, notably articles 33 and 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and constitutes a war crime.”
These are just four examples of the dozens of violent incidents that took 117 Palestinian lives, and injured hundreds more since early October.
Despite the continuous bloodshed, mainstream media organizations have habitually described this period as being one of “relative calm” or “quiet” that ended only when several Israelis were killed.
This widespread pattern is the most persistent and pernicious failure of the media in reporting the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It represents not only a shocking lack of professionalism and objectivity, but a double standard that treats the lives of one set of human beings as being inherently more valuable than those of another.
Ali Abunimah is a co-founder of the Electronic Intifada.