Ali Abunimah debates Israel Radio correspondent on BBC World Service

JUDY SWALLOW (HOST): Now the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat has admitted today that he is losing the war. He has appealed for help to win it. That appeal was made in Cairo to the information ministers of the Arab League, because the war Mr. Arafat was talking about was the war of public opinion. It was agreed in Cairo to spend a million dollars to combat as it was put, the media deception, and most of that money will be spent on advertisements in the western press. So have the Palestinians lost the battle of public opinion? I’m joined from Chicago by Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian media monitor with the network called The Electronic Intifada, and from Manchester, Jerry Lewis, the UK Correspondent for Israel Radio. Gentlemen, welcome to you both. Ali Abunimah, can I ask you first, do you think world opinion is against you?

ALI ABUNIMAH (ELECTRONIC INTIFADA): No, I think that world opinion is somewhat confused. I think that both Palestinians and Israelis have lost in international esteem. Neither side is winning the media war. The Palestinians have lost, but I think the Israelis have lost a lot more. But, the Israelis have scored some important media victories. I think the main one is that they have managed to erase from the world’s consciousness, particularly in the United States, the fact that this violence is taking place within the context of a thirty-five year old belligerent military occupation. With that context removed its impossible to understand the cycle of awful violence, including these horrific and unjustifiable suicide bombings.

JUDY SWALLOW: Jerry Lewis of Israel Radio, do you agree with that, that whatever battles the Israelis have won, they’ve certainly won the battle of misinformation to get the world, particularly the United States the key player, to overlook the reality of an occupation?

JERRY LEWIS (ISRAEL RADIO): I wouldn’t say misinformation. I do agree with his initial analysis. I’m surprised the Arabs feel that they’re losing. The Israelis tend to feel that they’re losing on the public relations side. It’s almost…if you go back to biblical days, the David and Goliath syndrome, where you’ve got David throwing small rocks at the Goliath, the Goliath being Israel and that’s the way its perceived by Israelis at the moment. There is an occupation which the Palestinians play up to a great degree. What is a problem for Israel is that each time there is an incident—if its a minor incident it gets very little publicity, if its a major incident it gets the sympathy of the world. But the minor incidents are the ones that are chipping away at Israeli society and worry the Israelis far more, but don’t get the publicity.

JUDY SWALLOW: Do you agree with that Ali Abunimah, that the sort of the daily misery of the Israelis is not being reported in the press?

ALI ABUNIMAH: It’s very possible that the daily misery of the Israelis is not being reported in the press. But I would say that the daily misery of the Palestinians, which is far far greater is also not being reported in the press. The example of this awful bombing in Jerusalem last week—a horrifying incident—in the United States, I could probably tell you the names of all fifteen of the victims. Rarely are any of the names of the six hundred mostly unarmed civilian Palestinians who were killed by Israeli troops ever mentioned in the US media, let alone their hobbies, their interests or what their lives were like. In the report we just heard, we had a very sympathetic Israeli and we heard that Palestinians like to send their children out to be killed. In a situation like that people sometimes hide their grief. I’ve been to the Cenotaph in London which is a celebration of British martyrdom. But to take that out of context and overlook the grief that Palestinians are feeling and to play up the very real grief that Israelis are feeling I think is a distortion.

JUDY SWALLOW: Jerry Lewis, isn’t that true, its sort of one or two Israelis dead—big story, one or two Palestinians dead no story at all?

JERRY LEWIS: Far from it. Certainly in the domestic media in Britain each time there’s been a Palestinian killed tragically—and it has got to be recognized that it is a tragedy—it gets a headline in the domestic newscasts in Britain, and sometimes even in the World Service of the BBC. Whereas if there’s a drive-by shooting affecting an Israeli it very rarely does get a news coverage at all. One of the problems we’ve now got is that the media in Israel—and they’ve got free access everywhere—are using Palestinian stringers and tend to get to the sites where there are incidents far quicker than sometimes even the Israelis are there. And Marwan Barghouthi, who’s the leader of the movement in Ramallah, has been according to Sam Kiley of The Times one of the arch-proponents of this. He arranges a demonstration, the TV cameras turn up and that’s where the news story comes from the day.

JUDY SWALLOW: Jerry Lewis, we’ll have to leave it there, I’m afraid. I’m not able to let Ali Abunimah come back in. Ali Abunimah from the Palestinian media monitoring group The Electronic Intifada and Jerry Lewis from Israel Radio thank you both very much for joining us. You’re listening to the BBC World Service in London.