Anyone following the mainstream media couldn’t miss the news today. CNN reported that two suicide bombers set off almost simultaneous blasts on buses in Beer Sheva, killing 16 people in addition to themselves. At least 93 people were wounded. Usually, such attacks are followed with a wide range of condemnations.
Ariel Sharon said: Israel will continue fighting terror with all its might.” The U.S. State Department, as well as the European Union, through its foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and the United Nations, through Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in addition to Andrey Denisov, the current president of the Security Council condemned the bombings.
Most news reports stated that Palestinian groups had not carried out a major attack inside Israel since March 14, when 11 Israelis were killed in the port of Ashdod. Only a few referred to the Israeli assassinations of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and his successor Abdel Aziz Rantisi afterwards. None, however, referred to the number of Palestinians, mostly civilians, killed in the months between. None referred to Israel’s military assault on Rafah in May 2004, when Israeli forces killed 44 Palestinians, including 18 children, and destroyed 400 homes, and Beit Hanoun from June to August.
While mainstream media tend to portray suicide bombings as a return to violence after a relatively peaceful period, there have been numerous killings in the weeks leading up to suicide bombings that underscore the lack of evenhanded attention given to loss of life in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
According to statistics from the Red Crescent at least 436 Palestinians have been killed since March 14 to August 31. This month alone, Israeli forces killed 43 Palestinians and injured 285. In May Israeli forces killed 128 Palestinians and wounded 545. In March Israeli forces killed 92 Palestinians, of which 44 Palestinians were killed in the first part of that month.
Members of the Security Council repeated the usual call on all parties for the continuation of the peace process. Solana even referred to the “implementation of the roadmap” as “the only way ahead”. US spokesperson Richard Boucher said: “There can be no excuse for violence and terrorist attacks the Israeli people have been forced to endure.” No words on the violence and terrorist attacks the Palestinian people have been forced to endure.
The secretary of state, Colin Powell, telephoned his Israeli counterpart, Silvan Shalom, to express Washington’s condemnation of the bombings and to offer condolences to the victims, something Powell has never done to the Palestinian side these past six months.
These statements seem empty when compared to actions. The “peace process” is dead. “The roadmap” is only referred to by members of the Quartet because they lack the courage to ensure respect for international humanitarian law. The roadmap is like a life-support system that has been tried to desperately keep the heart beating and the lungs breathing tough each and every brain scan reveals a flat line — one which points directly towards the final endorsement of an apartheid-like system.
Aaron Gandhi, grandson of the late Indian Prime Minister Mahatma Gandhi, described the situation in the Palestinian territories as similar to the apartheid that once preyed South Africa. Gandhi spent his childhood in South Africa. John Dugard, the UN Special Rapporteur, a South African law professor who served as a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission at the end of apartheid regime, said in his report to the UN General Assembly this month that the situation was even “worse than the one that existed in South Africa”. None of these statements have been taken up by mainstream media.
The media’s tendency to downplay — or completely ignore — Palestinian suffering and death is nothing new. In late 2001 and the beginning of 2002, for example, a loose cease-fire declared by Yasir Arafat led to a period of very few Israeli deaths, but sustained Palestinian deaths — and the mainstream media repeatedly referred to it as a time of “relative calm”.
Last year, when two Palestinian suicide bombers each killed an Israeli civilian along with themselves on August 12, 2003, news outlets depicted the attacks as an apparent resurgence in violence. “Summer truce shattered in Israel,” announced CBS, while NBC reported that “the attacks broke more than a month of relative silence.” However, during that six-week period of “relative quiet,” however, some 17 Palestinians were killed and at least 59 injured. Virtually none of the major news reports on the August 12 bombings alluded to the Palestinian death toll in this period. Mainstream media misses the point that violence has never ceased.
On December 25, 2003, an Israeli assassination 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. Mainstream media 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, during that period at least 117 Palestinians were killed, including 23 children. At the same time, Israel destroyed almost five hundred Palestinian homes throughout the occupied territories.
In order to convey the Mideast crisis in all its complexity, journalists need to take seriously the violence suffered by all communities. References to “relative calm” while Palestinians are being routinely killed only serve to trivialize human life and obscure the cycle of violence that afflicts the region.