Hishmeh: Has US media adopted a new line?
By George S. Hishmeh, Special to Gulf News
A five-column headline — ‘Brave keepers of the peace, or antagonists?’–in last Monday’s Washington Post has raised curiosity over whether there are signs that the American media is now willing to consider new approaches to covering the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Up to this point, they have unhesitatingly leaned towards Israel, which was created 1948 when the region was known as Palestine, a British mandate.
In fairness, the news article, written by the paper’s occupied Jerusalem-based correspondent, Ruth Eglash, was virtually even-handed, equally focusing on the two sides of the decades-long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians — a step superior to some earlier reports.
However, there are still a few flaws that foreign correspondents and readers ought to be aware of. For example, one side is often described by its faith — Jewish, while the other is identified by race as Arabs, who could be either Muslims or Christians.
Eglash described her focus on a “flashpoint” within an Israeli’s “French Hill neighbourhood” as “between the city’s Jewish and Arab populations”. She failed to explain whether this area was in the Israeli-controlled West Jerusalem or occupied East Jerusalem. Her report went on: “That is why, on a dirt hilltop, just beyond the carwash and gas pumps, the Israeli border police have set up a permanent lookout post,” claiming that this was “an attempt, they say, to keep the peace”.
She continued — my words in parenthesis: “From the (illegal) Israeli [colony] of French Hill, the security forces have a bird’s-eye view into one of [occupied] East Jerusalem’s most volatile Arab neighbourhoods, Issawiya. It is a place of angry protests against Israel, it has produced more than a handful of militants.” She added, appropriately: “They are a clear symbol of Israel’s occupation, Palestinians say.” She went on, “Assisting the Israeli police and the army in law enforcement and counterterrorism operations, the units often face sharp criticism for being too harsh or heavy-handed with Palestinians.”
At least 180 Palestinians — “more than half of them carrying out attacks against Israelis” — have been killed since the beginning of October, she reported, “the rest were shot dead during clashes with Israeli military or border-police units”.
Her praiseworthy coverage was noticeable for interviewing Palestinians, especially Diana Buttu, a prominent Palestinian lawyer and commentator, who underlined that the so-called Israeli border police have “become a symbol of the occupation”. She said: “It is a misnomer to call them border police (because) they are not protecting any border, but they are present in the heart of Occupied Palestinian Territories and often use the worst tactics to go after Palestinians.”
The other side of the coin in reporting, whether in the media or the American establishment, remains abhorrent. Here are two examples.
The pro-Israel Centre for Middle East Peace, run by S. Daniel Abraham, ran a full-page ad in the New York Times that maintains that “Israel’s freedom is best served by the creation of a Palestinian state”. It continued, “the only way Israel can remain Jewish, a democratic state, is to fully separate from the [Occupied] Palestinian Territories. There is no other way, otherwise the population from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River will soon be only 49 per cent Jewish. And over time, the numbers only get worse”.
The ad strangely argued that the idea of a “demilitarised” Palestinian state “is not a gift to the Palestinians; rather it ensures that Israel will still be a secure, democratic, Jewish state”.
The Palestinians, however, have not subscribed to this proposal, since Israel has yet to agree to start direct negotiations, a step that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has remained silent about.
Another aspect of the ongoing messy American presidential election has been the endorsement of 83 United States senators of a letter, urging US President Barack Obama to quickly reach an agreement on a new 2018 defence aid package for Israel worth about $40 billion (Dh147.12 billion) for the next 10 years. Interestingly, Senator Bernie Sanders, the Jewish Democratic presidential hopeful who has been critical of Israeli policies, was not among the 32 Democratic senators who endorsed the letter.
According to Reuters, the letter states: “In light of Israel’s dramatically rising defence challenges, we stand ready to support a substantially enhanced, new, long-term agreement to help provide Israel the resources it requires to defend itself and preserve its qualitative military edge,”
Whether Obama will go along with the senators is uncertain, primarily because his tense relationship with Netanyahu remains unclear since Israel’s assumed intention has obviously been to maintain a technological advantage over the Arab states.
George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org