By George S. Hishmeh – Washington
The Israeli narrative, thanks to Israel’s wealthy and well-connected supporters and the many politicians who, in turn, are desperately in need of their financial backing and votes, is prevalent in the West, especially in the United States.
This is evident daily – in the halls of U.S. Congress, the American media and at mushrooming think-tanks in key cities, particularly Washington, and, needless to say, among some senior U.S. officials who are sensitive to their pull.
In the U.S. media, for example, the country’s two leading dailies have correspondents in Israel, one of them an Israeli citizen and the other has a son serving in the Israeli army. The tendency is for them to sometimes disregard the facts and use the term “disputed” rather than “occupied” areas when reporting on clashes between Arabs and Israelis inside Arab East Jerusalem. Israel had illegally annexed the Arab sector of the Holy City after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and less than a handful of countries recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In fact, none of the big powers, including the U.S. maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv.
Similarly, the word “besieged” is hardly used when reporting on the over-populated Gaza Strip where no American correspondent is stationed.
Why any violent action taken by Palestinians is always described as “terrorism” while bloody attacks by Israeli occupiers or colonialists — the preferred description — in the West Bank the Gaza Strip, both constituting about 22 percent of historic Palestine, are not seen as bloody or criminal, if not abhorrent?
Why can’t the Palestinians defend themselves, just like anyone in any country will do when their property is attacked, or their son is killed as happened last week. A 16-year-old, who was with two schoolmates was throwing stones at a passing car, was shot dead by the driver, an Israeli colonialist. I wonder whether this Israeli will be investigated and punished but more severely than the one who was fined one piaster – less than a quarter — for the murder of 49 Palestinian villagers, including women and children. All were returning home in October 1956 after a day’s work in the fields of their village, Kufr Qassem, without realizing that the curfew hours have been abruptly cut short by an Israeli officer. Colonel Yishishkar Shedmi was much later found guilty for “exceeding his authority”!
Equally disappointing is the failure of the so-called “public editors” or “ombudsmen” that some papers have and whose role is to respond to readers’ complaints and/or point out in a weekly column the inaccuracies of their colleagues’ reportage. I have yet to see any criticism about the coverage of the Middle East.
What is more agonizing is the absence of any serious responses from Arab governments, especially the Palestinian Authority, which has a major stake in the decades-old dispute. Palestinian Ambassador Maen Areikat says he has submitted Op-Ed’s to “several major American newspapers” in response to Elie Wiesel’s full-page ad on Jerusalem (which contained several mistakes and was criticized even by several Jewish writers). “Unfortunately,” he continued, “they declined to publish them.”
The Washington-based Arab League Ambassador Hussein Hassouna, who was participating in a conference in Geneva, reported that U.S. officials he talked to believe the recent advertising media campaign had “backfired” on the position of the hawkish Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
He also echoed Areikat’s view that “what is needed is a coordinated Palestinian and Arab response to counter these false allegations and propaganda." But both seemed hopeless in convincing Arab leaders that it is high time to grasp the importance of reaching out beyond U.S. officialdom.
Although in the sixties there were a few Arab-Americans who can be counted on to help in reversing the anti-Arab or anti-Islamic tide, the situation has now changed markedly. The number of Arab-American university professors who can contribute articles to newspapers has increased since the days of Edward Said. Equally, there is now a much larger group of Arab American journalists working on leading newspapers and television networks.
But the near cataclysmic change has been in the Internet, where many computer-savvy Arab Americans and others elsewhere have launched well-read blogs. Prof. John J. Mearsheimer told the Jerusalem Fund lately that “Israel and its supporters have been able to do a good job of keeping the mainstream media in the United States from telling the truth about what Israel is doing to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.”
The co-author of the pace-setting book, “The Israel Lobby,” went on to emphasize that “the Internet is (now) a game changer.” He added, “It not only makes it easy for the opponents of (Israeli) apartheid to get the real story out to the world, but it also allows Americans to learn the story that The New York Times and The Washington Post have been hiding from them. Over time, this situation may even force these two media institutions to cover the story more accurately themselves.” (In fact, so far only the Times has published belatedly Israel’s refusal to allow Noam Chomsky, described as “the icon of the American left” and a Jewish critic of U.S. and Israeli policy, to enter the West Bank last Sunday from Jordan to speak at Birzeit University.)
But the bottom line here remains the urgent need for generous Arab funding of such a coordinated project in the United States.
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.