Book Review: Israel-Palestine on Record

Israel-Palestine On Record – How the New York Times Misreports Conflict in the Middle East.  Richard Falk and Howard Friel.  Verso, New York, 2007.

The American mainstream media ever since 9/11 has carried a peculiar and particular blindness to anything that denies and defies the patriotic rhetoric of good intentions, the promotion of democracy and freedom, and the benefits of capitalist free market economies.  As presented in focus in Israel-Palestine On Record, the New York Times, as one of the flagship papers of the country, performs its narrow patriotic duties very well.  

By examining the various front-page headlines and columns, by looking at the number and style of articles within the paper, and by checking the editorial comments, the authors present a picture of a singularly one-sided presentation that favours Israeli positive news overwhelmingly over Palestinian news.  There is no claim that the paper actually lies directly about the news – it does not fabricate it – but that it chooses the information it presents to give an obvious and dominant pro-Israeli tone to its work.  I would refer to it as ‘lying by dissimulation’, concealing information that in and of itself without the necessity of an editorial would deny the theme of Israeli heroes against the evil and over-whelming Arab “terrorist” forces aligned against them.  The subtitle uses the word “misreports” but I would suggest the authors are simply being kind in their judgement by choosing that word.

After a very brief historical introduction, the work examines the period between 2000, the beginning of the Second Intifada, and 2006, including the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the continuing assault on the Gaza Strip.  While the general historical trend is linear, the authors move around enough that some familiarity with events beforehand makes it an easier read (as always, the more background information a reader has, the easier it is to understand in whatever way some new information).

Whether familiar or not, “Israel-Palestine On Record” provides a condemning record of Israeli aggression and atrocities against the Palestinian people.  As much as the work is focussed on the New York Times, I sense the same issues could be applied to many other newspapers and many other media outlets of all types.  The examination of the New York Times – as flagship, as leader of the pack – becomes a vehicle to expose the dissimulation that conceals the Israeli record of aggression, atrocities, and abuse against Palestinians and latterly, the Lebanese, in fact, against “Arabs”, the inclusive term that presents all indigenous peoples of the Middle East into the same vague undifferentiated population.

International law is one of the main elements discussed throughout the work.  The 1949 Geneva Accords, General Assembly Resolution 181 (the original partition resolution), and UN Security Council Resolution 242 (the acceptance of the 1967 ‘green line’ border) are the basis for arguments that “lends credence to Palestinian claims of rights….[and] unless the solution approximates what was prescribed in Resolution 242, the result will not be treated as legitimate and will not be accepted by the Palestinians.”  The final realization is “the Palestinian right of self-determination.”

Israel’s actions are defined as being an “occupation” and within that “defies the authority of international law and the United Nations,” to the point of becoming “war crimes”.   This in turn leads to the claim that the “right to resistance is strengthened by the abusive and unlawful daily character of the occupation.”   The Times coverage of events in Palestine shows the “maximalist coverage of Palestinian violence and minimalist coverage of Israeli violence obscures the magnitude of Israel’s transgression.”

This is demonstrated in several ways.  The Times is compared to three Israeli newspapers, Ha’aretz, the Jerusalem Post, and Yediot Ahronot (the latter minimally so) all of which carry significantly more news about Israeli Defence Force (IDF) actions and significantly more critical oped columns and occasional editorials concerning IDF transgressions.   The Times coverage is also compared to the many reports that originated with Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and B’Tselem (the Israeli equivalent humanitarian watch dog).  Those comparisons fully demonstrate how the Times has carefully picked and chosen its information to create an image of Palestinian violence and terror against a peaceful and forward looking democratic state.

The sections that had the greatest impact, after the almost overwhelming evidence of the repetitive nature of the war crimes, concern the different perspectives of citizens and reporters.  The deconstruction of Alan Derswhowitz’s pro-Israeli arguments is very well documented, exposing him as bombastic, jingoistic, and in this case, a fabricator.  Robert Fisk’s excellent coverage of Middle East events is also held into juxtaposition with Ethan Bronner’s (Boston Globe) support of Dershowitz and again Bronner’s arguments are well deconstructed.  Beyond the newspaper arguments, the most powerful writing came from eye-witness accounts of the citizens and civilians in the areas involved (Gaza, Westbank, and Lebanon) concerning the obvious targeting of civilians, including a very high proportion of children, and civilian infrastructures, by the IDF.

From all these encounters, the authors return to international law: “Given the U.S. disdain for international law, there is little to deter others from disregarding it as well….When the U.S. and Israel so thoroughly violate international law, why should Iran be restrained…?”  Returning to their vehicle of instruction “when the New York Times ignores international law, other major news organizations…can easily ignore it as well.”  The final view is tragedy, as “applying international law to each of these areas would have improved Israel’s national security, the lives of Palestinians…and prospects for a permanent peace agreement respecting the legitimate rights of all parties involved.” 

This is a wonderfully instructive book:  instructive of media bias and language choice; instructive of international law and its total disregard by the U.S. and Israel, supporting if not necessitating the same from others; and instructive of the historical events that have occurred since the beginning of the Second Intifada.  More importantly, it adds to the record of the civilian struggle, the will to survive, against an army of occupation devoid of morals to the ‘other’ and supplied with the world’s best armaments.   Other works have also put these ideas on record.   Israel-Palestine On Record contributes a well-defined position to support them.

-Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews to Palestine Chronicles.  His interest in this topic stems originally from an environmental perspective, which encompasses the militarization and economic subjugation of the global community and its commodification by corporate governance and by the American government. 

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