The Palestinian people, as a whole, portrayed as supportive of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon

Yesterday and today, following the inhumane use of passenger planes as flying missiles to attack people visiting and working in the World Trade Center buildings in New York and in the Pentagon in Washington, most of the media broadcast footage depicting Palestinians celebrating.

The brief footage was typically broadcast cyclically and used as an interview aid, with anchors asking U.S. government officials and others how they felt about the images.

Almost universally on U.S. networks, anchors presented the footage as if it were representative of all Palestinians, additionally failing to note any context to the images.

A number of points must be made, first about the actual footage:

  • There are three million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank including Jerusalem, one million Palestinians living inside the borders of Israel, and another four million Palestinian refugees living elsewhere in the world, including the United States. The footage in question depicted between 20 and 40 individuals.

  • The Palestinians in the footage were mostly young children. Most of their behaviour in the footage appeared to be no different from how Palestinian children always behave when foreign journalists turn up in their towns, crowding and smiling at the camera and giving the victory sign that has been a symbol of Palestinian steadfastness under Israeli military occupation since the first Intifada in 1987. There is not a single reporter with any experience of carrying a camera into the Palestinian West Bank under any circumstance who couldn’t get similar footage on any day they visited the occupied territories.

  • Where genuine rejoicing at the attacks was indeed apparent in the footage, anchors interpreting the footage made no effort to offer any context or background to the images, nor any attempt to separate those Palestinians portrayed from Palestinians as a whole. A comparable situation would be television anchors angrily reacting to scenes of the 1991 riots in Los Angeles, lamenting that “blacks do not respect law and order”, while failing to note the preceding attack on Rodney King or endemic racial profiling of the black community in the U.S. by police forces.

  • The overwhelming number of Palestinians, like people of all nationalities, were sickened by the events in New York and Washington. Palestinians with relatives in New York and Washington spent much of yesterday worriedly trying to phone to check they were safe, exactly as many Americans did. Palestinian citizens of the United States will also turn out to be among the victims of the tragedy. Whatever a group of 20-40 Palestinian children happened to be doing yesterday morning in Nablus, East Jerusalem, or Ein Al-Hilweh Refugee Camp in Lebanon is no more representative of all Palestinians than the Klu Klux Klan rally — which happened recently just down the road from where I live, in St. Paul, Minnesota — is representative of all Americans.

    In addition, there is an all-important context of brutalisation — that anchors completely failed to note — which explains why even a single person would find any cause to celebrate yesterday’s terrible carnage:

    For the last year now, Palestinian civilians have been living through a nightmare in which Israeli occupation forces have been nightly shelling their towns using tanks, helicopters, and other heavy weapons. Palestinians do not need a subscription to Jane’s Defence Weekly to learn the origin of many of these weapons when they can pick up shell casings from the floors of their homes and from their backyards with MADE IN THE U.S.A. stamped on them. Weaponry used against Palestinians during the Intifada, much of which has been supplied to Israel by the United States or covered at some level by U.S. aid includes:

    Heavy weapons:

    F-16 fighter planes, Apache and Cobra attack helicopters, and Reshef patrol boats to attack Palestinian buildings and vehicles; and

    Armoured pile drivers and armoured bulldozers to destroy Palestinian homes and agricultural land.

    Heavy ammunition:

    Naval and tank artillery including 76mm, 105mm and 120mm high explosive rounds;

    M114 TOW rockets and Hell-Fire air-to-ground missiles;
    Shoulder-fired, anti-armour Light Anti-tank Weapons (LAW) rocket launchers firing 84mm or 90mm rockets;
    M203 and MK19 grenade launchers;

    40-90 mm mortars; and

    A modified version of the M494 105mm, an anti-personnel cluster bomb.

    Smaller ammunition:

    5.56 mm bullets for M-16 machine guns;

    7.62 mm high velocity bullets for general purpose machine guns and Galil sniper rifles;

    12.7 mm bullets for Browning machine guns and Barret sniper rifles; and

    The “less lethal” rubber-coated and plastic-coated metal bullets.

    See more on LAW: Israeli arms and human rights

    The U.S. weaponry listed above has not been used proportionally for the purpose of defending Israel — as one would hope any military aid is used — but rather has been used disproportionally and offensively to kill over 600 Palestinians, one-third of whom are children, 60 percent of whom were killed outside of clash situations. The U.S. weaponry listed above has additionally been used to seriously injure another 15,000 Palestinians, 1,500 of whom have been crippled for life. That Israel has used “excessive force” to suppress the current Palestinian uprising against 34 years of its military occupation is a fact according to the United Nations Security Council, other UN bodies, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, and the US State Department. However offensive the images of the small groups of Palestinians that were celebrating may be, the fact is that all those depicted in the images — if they are under 34 years of age — have known nothing but military occupation for the entirity of their lives. That celebration was the reaction of only a tiny minority of people in such a situation is a testimony to the Palestinians’ maintainance of human values in a situation devoid of them.

    Not only does the United States sell weapons and ammunition to Israel, but many of these weapons are supplied as U.S. aid to Israel. A current figure for U.S. aid currently given to Israel is $3 billion per year, which includes $1.2 billion in economic aid and $1.8 billion in military aid. It is difficult to offer this as a conclusive figure since additional money is given to Israel that is buried in the budgets of individual government agencies such as the Defense Department. Every Palestinian is aware that the U.S. supplies the weapons that Israel uses against them. That celebration was the reaction of only a tiny minority of people in such a situation is a testimony to the Palestinians’ maintainance of human values in a situation devoid of them.

    Every Palestinian is also aware that their television screens are never filled with images of Americans protesting the use of their tax dollars to pay for the missiles that shake their cities and create similarly distressing scenes of injured and shocked civilians, as seen yesterday in New York. That celebration was the reaction of only a tiny minority of people in such a situation is a testimony to the Palestinians’ maintainance of human values in a situation devoid of them.
    The U.S. media broadcast the footage yesterday without explaining any of the above, something that is neither new nor — any longer — acceptable in light of the anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and the anti-Muslim sentiment it creates. No organisation of journalists who seek to bring their viewers an accurate representation of reality should be broadcasting contextless, unrepresentative images that encourage racism against nationalities and their associated ethnic groups.

    In the first few days following the 1995 attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma, Arabs and Muslims in the U.S. reported more than 200 incidents of harassment, threats and actual violence. According to reports received by The Electronic Intifada and a press release yesterday from the Council on American-Islamic Relations there have already been reports of harassment and attacks against Arabs and Muslims in the United States. Hate mail and threats have also been directed at The Electronic Intifada and other Palestinian, Arab and Muslim websites.

    As those of us who live in the U.S. are currently feeling justifiable anger at the perpetrators behind yesterday’s shocking and horrifying events in New York and Washington DC, let us not misdirect it at an entire people who continue to suffer through one of the darkest periods of their already bleak history. The Palestinian people, who sit glued to their television sets in disturbed silence like the rest of the world, are actually better placed than most to understand what those of us living in America currently feel and are finding it hard to express.