Our correspondents are hiding the truth

Dutch correspondents in Israel are not interested in Palestinian victims of Israeli violence. Their emotional bond with the country prevents objective coverage. That is wrong.

When I came back from the Westbank on Monday 16 October, I had witnessed six days of excessive violence committed by the Israeli army and settlers. In al-Bireh I saw Palestinian youth from long distance being shot by high-velocity bullets, shot by snipers. According to the human rights organisation LAW (funded by the Dutch government) 186 Palestinians have been killed and over 8000 injured after 44 days of uprising against the Israeli occupation. Among those killed, more than 30 precent are children, three-quarter of those injured are children.

The day before my departure I spoke to Pieter Bult, project-leader of UNICEF who has been responsible for two years for the rehabilitation of Palestinian children who have been disabled during clashes. He told me that in those two years none of the Dutch correspondents had ever asked him about the fate of the children who suffer from the daily violence of the occupation. Neither did they contact Defense for Children International, supported by UNICEF, said Catherine Cook. After I came back I noticed that the daily releases from LAW are not to be found in the media. None of the known correspondents are on their mailinglist.

In the largest Palestinian hospital in Jerusalem, Dutch speaking anesthesist dr. Dajani lead me to the bed of a 14-year old boy from Hebron. Standing on the balcony of his home he was shot by three high velocity bullets, two in his stomach, on in his shoulder. I saw the sceleton of a pupil attached to an infuse, he couldn’t move his left arm, from the 5 meter intestine a human being normally has, only 30 centimeter was left.

None of the Dutch correspondents has reported about this or another Palestinian hospital where heavily mamed or starving children are. Dutch parliamentarians from the Greenleft did visit this hospital. When they contacted correspondents about this, none of them seem nterested. “We were surprised”, said Bert Herberigs, spokesman of the members of parliament.

Martin van Amerongen, chief editor of De Groene Amsterdammer, once wrote that “most of the correspondents, besides being Jewish journalist, also are eligible citizens of the Jewish state”, pointing to their personal interests. This could lead to a conflict of loyality. To give an example: how could a correspondent, whose children are serving in the Israeli army, really report unbiased on violation of human rights committed by that same army? RTL-correspondent Conny Mus told me that he was once called by the daughter of Joop Meijers, correspondent of the EO and Algemeen Dagblad, whether he was interested to make a nice story about the Israeli army. There is a situation of conflict in that case. Meijers himself once said that he had trouble to report about massacres committed by Israeli soldiers. The question is simple: how could Jewish colleagues do their job normally when they have emotional and national bonds with Israel? Most of them don’t report about the other side. Eddo Rosenthal from NOS-Journal is based in Israel, awaits usually when they have footage in Holland en writes a text under it. He doesn’t do his own research.

This was affirmed by Gert de Bruine, who works for the Palestinian Hydrology Group. “I live here for ten years now and I know the correspondents. They don’t take their own initiative when it concerns matters in the occupied territories. By coincidence Eddo Rosenthal called me recently, first time since years”. The reason was the news about Beit Jala, which was being bombed by Israeli tanks and helicopters, after an Israeli settlement was shot at. De Bruine told the correspondent that this was a response to attacks from extremist settlers” to which Rosenthal responded: “Yes, in Israel we don’t know this”. According to De Bruine, such a response is striking. “As if he is a reporter for Israel while he gets his salary from the NOS and viewers in Holland have the right to a balanced coverage about the daily reality here”.

Only on Thursday 26 October, four weeks after the start of the clashes, NRC Handelsblad reported “It is striking that a significant number of schoolchildren are victim of the Israeli army”. This was not written by correspondent Salomon Bouman in Israel, but Joris Luyendijk, correspondent in Egypt. The viewers of the NOS journal had to wait longer. Only on 4 November they heard on the TV that “the Palestinians have often accused the Israeli army that they shoot-to-kill. That would explain the great number of injuries to head and neck”. Probably this accusation was not interesting enough to be reported earlier.

That Israeli peace activists and independent human rights organisations have also reported this a month earlier, is still not reported. “You have to be careful with such reports”, says Eric Zuilhof, bureauchief of the newsservice. It’s striking that CNN and BBC already reported this a month ago. There is no lack of correspondents, no single country has as many as correspondents in Israel as Holland.

A possible explanation for such a delay has been given three years ago by Jacqueline de Bruijn in her master’s thesis. Her conclusion was that “the Dutch correspondents due to their social circumstances and backgrounds are too much involved in one side of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, hence the conflict is covered from the Israeli side”.

However, finally the reality comes through other channels in the Dutch media. The hiding of vital information in a world of internet, fax, and mobile phones becomes harder and harder. The new means of communication have touched the power of the ideological view on the reality. The role of correspondents is no longer crucial to keep up-to-date with the facts. Our correspondents and their chief-editors should make up their own conclusion.

Stan van Houcke is journalist and producer of VPRO-radio. This article was originally published in Dutch and translated for EI by Arjan El Fassed