Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

At Princeton, Activist Ali Abunimah Critiques U.S. Media Coverage of Al-Aqsa Intifada

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

At Princeton, Activist Ali Abunimah Critiques U.S. Media Coverage of Al-Aqsa Intifada

Article excerpt

At Princeton, Activist Ali Abunimah Critiques U.S. Media Coverage of al-Aqsa Intifada

Jane Adas is a free-lance writer based in the New York metropolitan area.

Addressing the Princeton Middle East Society Nov. 19, media activist Ali Abunimah said Palestinian grievances during the current al-Aqsa intifada, as in the first intifada, are about land and occupation. U.S. media rhetoric, Abunimah pointed out, also is the same: Palestinians are portrayed as people who do not want freedom and do not love their children.

Abunimah outlined several ways in which the mainstream American media reveal a pro-Israeli bias. Rarely, he noted, do they refer to the West Bank and Gaza as occupied territory. Abunimah cited a study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) that found only four of 99 network reports on the Middle East from Sept. 28 to Nov. 2 mentioned occupation. Because the media talks about "violence in Israel," the public is not made aware that the Israeli army is in Palestinian cities in violation of international law, or that all but two Israeli deaths occurred in occupied territory.

Secondly, Abunimah said, the media obscure the nature of Israeli settlements. The New York Times, for example, repeatedly has referred to Gilo and Har Homa as neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Gilo, however, was built on land belonging to the Palestinian villages of Beit Jala and Beit Safafa prior to Israel's 1997 expansion of Jerusalem's boundaries. And Har Homa, the Jewish settlement built on land belonging to Bethlehem, is not yet even inhabited.

Thirdly, American media present the conflict as though it were between equally matched opponents, with the Israeli army defending itself from Palestinian gunmen. Armed Israeli settlers are not called "gunmen," Abunimah pointed out, and most of the more than 250 Palestinians killed were civilians who were not carrying guns.

Abunimah cited an NPR report that stated, "Three Israeli soldiers and six Palestinians died in heavy fighting." When he checked other news sources, he found that two of the Palestinians were killed by helicopter gunfire, a third was shot dead while standing on his own porch, and three others who were throwing stones at tanks were killed when the tanks fired back with 50 mm shells.

News reports keep statistical track of Palestinian deaths, but hide how the deaths occur or who the dead are. Meanwhile, Abunimah said, any Israeli death leads the news, usually with the comment that "violence is escalating." In media language, he contended, Palestinians kill Israelis, but Palestinians die as a result of "clashes," as though it were some newly discovered disease.


Salman Abu-Sitta, an authority on the Palestinian refugee situation, spoke on "Realistic Solutions and the Feasibility of Return" at the New School in New York City on Nov. 27. The event was sponsored by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, The American Committee on Jerusalem, and Al-Awda.

In introducing Abu-Sitta, Roger Normand, founder and co-director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights, noted that international law seems irrelevant in the face of Israel's force. At their first congress in Basel in 1897, Normand said, Zionists sought "to establish a Jewish state secured by international law." However, he continued, by expelling 85 percent of the population in 1947-48, in what today would be labeled ethnic cleansing, and by occupying all of Mandate Palestine in 1967, Israel has violated international law.

The Jewish state's continued violation of the human rights of Palestinians, according to Normand, is the main reason Israel has not been able to achieve full legitimacy. He characterized the Oslo peace process as Israel's attempt to achieve by negotiation what it has failed to do by force. The paradox of Oslo, Normand said, is that it has led to a major increase in human rights violations and considerably worsened the situation on the ground. …

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