Killings of dozens once again called “period of calm” by US media

Many US media reports were quick to declare that two suicide bombings in Israel on September 18 and 19, in which eight Israelis were killed, had brought an end to a period of “calm” simply because there had been no similar attacks for six weeks and few Israelis had been victims of Palestinian violence.

In fact, the bombings came at the end of a particularly bloody period in which dozens of Palestinians, most of them unarmed civilians, and a large number of them children, had been killed and injured by Israeli occupation forces. In effect, the definition of “calm” or a “lull in violence” inherent in these reports is ‘only Palestinians are being killed.’

The Chicago Tribune ran a prominent headline above a report about the September 18 bombing in which one Israeli police officer was killed, declaring “Bomb breaks 6-week calm” (September 19). The Washington Post called the bombings a “flare-up in violence” which broke the “relative calm in the Middle East.” (“Violent reminder of a simmering issue,” September 20).

The Baltimore Sun ran a continuation headline reading “Bombs shatter 6 weeks of relative calm” and asserted “a six-week lull in violence had given both Israelis and palestinians hope that two years of violence might be ending.” (“Tel Aviv bus bomb kills five, injures 50,” September 20).

NBC news anchor Brian Williams told viewers that,

“After six weeks of relative calm today, a second straight day of violence in the Middle East. Another suicide bombing, this time on a crowded Tel Aviv bus, that killed five people, injured more than 50. As a result, Israeli tanks are once again surrounding Yasir Arafat’s compound in Ramallah in the West Bank.”

Following that introduction, NBC reporter in Tel Aviv, Jim Maceda, declared,
“Well, after those six weeks with no suicide bombings either in Israel proper or the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, some observers here believed that they actually saw Palestinians and Israelis inching towards a truce, even a peace. But all that was shattered today.” (The News with Brian Williams, CNBC, September 19, 2002)

In other words, according to NBC, only suicide bombings, and nothing else, fit the definition of violence and if there are no suicide bombings, then peace may be at hand. Similarly, on CNN’s morning news on September 19, Mike Hanna informed viewers that the bombings had ended a period of “comparative calm.”

The Los Angeles Times declared that the September 19 bomb in Tel Aviv “seemed to burst any illusion that the relative calm of the last six weeks was a precursor to peace.” Contradicting and making a nonsense of its own characterization of the situation, while revealing the underlying reality, the same report stated later

“Not that the lull has been without violence. Several dozen people - soldiers and civilians - have died on both sides, with the heavier toll falling on the Palestinians. Most of the violence has been in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where Palestinians are living under Israeli military authority.” (“Blast kills Israeli, Ends a lull in suicide bombings,” September 19, 2002)

The last few weeks have been anything but a period of “calm” relative or otherwise for Palestinians. On September 19, Abdul Salam Sumerin, a 9-year-old Palestinian school boy was shot dead when, according to Haaretz, Israeli occupation forces “used live fire to disperse a crowd of school children challenging the army’s attempt to impose a curfew on the El Amari refugee camp, in El-Bireh” near Ramallah. (IDF kills 9-year old boy in El-Bireh, September 20, 2002). According to other reports Israeli forces fired at the children using heavy machine guns mounted on armored vehicles.

Khalid Amayreh writing in the September 13 issue of Middle East International reported the following recent attacks against Palestinians which would seemingly refute the notion of “comparative” or “relative” calm”:

Just after midnight on August 28 four sleeping Palestinian civilians — a mother, her two sons, and a cousin — were killed in Gaza by an Israeli tank firing flechettes, a grisly American-made weapon which tears human bodies into unrecognizable fragments of flesh. Eight other civilians were injured in that attack. Shortly thereafter an Israeli armored vehicle opened fire with heavy machine guns, killing a 10-year-old boy and injuring eight other people in Rafah, Gaza.

Two children aged 8 and 10, two teenagers and a 29-year-old Fatah activist were killed in an Israeli missile strike on a civilian car and a nearby house in Tubas, near Jenin, on August 31 — an area under full Israeli military occupation. CNN persisted for weeks in calling the teens, aged 16 and 17, “bodyguards” despite the fact that no credible news agency made the same claim.

Four Palestinian quarry workers were killed by Israeli soldiers near the Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba on September 1. A witness, who survived by hiding in a latrine, said that the soldiers shot his co-workers dead one by one. On September 3 in the village of Burin two more young men, reportedly uninvolved in resistance activity, were killed by Israeli shells.

Between September 6 and 10 five more Palestinians, three of them civilians, were killed by Israeli forces.

On September 3 an Israeli army bulldozer almost crushed an entire family in Rafah in their home. Several homes were bulldozed there on September 1 and hundreds of palm and fruit trees in central Gaza were bulldozed between September 8 and 9. Just a day before the apparent resumption of suicide bombings, eight Palestinian children were injured when a bomb, that Israeli authorities suspect was planted by Jewish settlers, exploded in their West Bank school.

Amayreh cites Haaretz’s Amira Hass reporting on September 2 that at least 39 Palestinian civilians were killed from Aug. 1 to Sept. 1, including seven children, 15 teenagers, and two women.

In addition to dozens of killings and injuries of Palestinians, Israeli occupation forces have carried out countless invasions of towns and villages, often with columns of twenty tanks or more. These invasions leave widespread destruction and terror in their wake. Such attacks can hardly be characterized as being an aspect of “calm.” According to Amayreh, Israeli journalist Danny Rubinstein wrote in Haaretz on September 2:

“The Palestinian media is full of horrific photos of children wounded or killed by IDF fire. Hundreds of photos of the dead and wounded, elderly and women, beside tank tracks, fill their pages, as do pictures of disabled people in wheelchairs trying to make their way over hills, and houses, sometimes entire neighborhoods, reduced to rubble.”

Even Israel’s president, Moshe Katsav, suggested on September 1 that Israeli soldiers had become “trigger-happy,” after a weekend in which Israeli soldiers killed eleven Palestinians, including six unarmed adults and two children. (“Israelis becoming ‘trigger happy,’ President questions army’s tactics as 11 die,” Daily Telegraph, September 2, 2002)

An Israeli commission looking into three incidents in Gaza, Tubas, and Hebron in which Palestinian civilians had been killed determined on September 6 that Israeli soldiers had “acted properly in accordance with standing orders.” CNN’s domestic network gave significant attention in its coverage to official Israeli expressions of regret about killing civilians, but passed over the results of the investigation almost entirely.

These numerous examples demonstrate that there is a widespread tendency in the US media to simply ignore or severely underplay violence when its victims are Palestinians, while focusing intensely on incidents when the victims are Israeli. One of the reasons for the disturbing and persistent phenomenon of devaluing Palestinian life and death, is a structural geographic bias - most US news organizations who have reporters on the ground base them in Tel Aviv or west Jerusalem, very far from the places where Palestinians are being killed and bombarded on a daily basis.

But these geographical basing decisions in themselves may reflect an underlying calculation that what happens to Israelis is inherently more important and newsworthy than anything else in the conflict. What it boils down to is that from the perspective of many in the US media, Israeli lives are just worth more than those of Palestinians.

Related links:

  • A non-existent “lull”, “quiet”, or “calm” — the blatant semantic clues of journalists admitting they fail to consider Israeli violence against Palestinians noteworthy, by Ali Abunimah and Nigel Parry, The Electronic Intifada, 10 January 2002