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Killings of dozens once again called "period of calm" by US media

By Michael Brown and Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada
20 September 2002


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, being 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.


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