They Don’t Deliberately Target Innocent Civilians, Mr. Jordan?

CNN Whitewashes Israeli War Crimes

On June 22, three Palestinian children, Ahmed Abu Aziz, his brother Jamil Abu Aziz, and Sajedah Famahwi, ages 6, 13, and 6 respectively, were killed by a hail of Israeli tank fire in Jenin. The children were among many Palestinian civilians trying to flee from oncoming Israeli forces. A third brother, Tareq, age eleven, was critically injured.

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) issued the usual empty apology, but aver that the Palestinians were heading towards them and were violating a curfew.

Eyewitness reports and videotape footage of the incident obtained by the BBC belie Israel’s claim. The Palestinians were in fact running away from the Israelis, and were being fired upon at close range. Eyewitnesses say the residents left their homes because they had heard the curfew had been lifted.

The IDF says it will investigate the incident, but if history is any guide, no one will be punished or even tapped on the wrist, and the matter will soon be forgotten. One can browse over many reports and complaints over the years by the leading Israeli human rights group B’Tselem to know this is as predictable as bullshit coming out of the mouths of politicians.

That same day in Jenin, a 12-year-old Palestinian child was crushed to death in the course of yet another Israeli army home demolition. That incident elicited barely a word in the US press.

Outside the vapid media coverage of the Israel-Palestinian conflict in the US, anybody with an open mind that reads the European and Israeli press, along with reports by international human rights organizations, knows that deliberate attacks on civilians by the Israeli military are the norm rather than the exception.

Last week, CNN aired a five-part special on the Israeli victims of suicide bombings, and posted a memorial website for the slain. A fitting gesture no doubt. Suicide bombings that target innocent civilians are, no matter what the motivations may be, simply reprehensible.

Yet if we are to have any moral consistency or semblance of balance, when is there going to be a documentary on the even larger number of Palestinians killed by Israeli occupation forces? 563 Israelis have been killed and 4,122 injured since the start of the second intifada on September 29, 2000 to July 1, 2002. 1,638 Palestinians have been killed and almost 20,000 injured in the same period.

Is CNN also going to air a segment on the daily humiliations Palestinians suffer in the course of Israel’s illegal occupation and colonial conquest of Palestinian lands? The devastation of the Palestinian economy from the closures? Of the Palestinians who have suffered terrible medical problems because they can’t get to a hospital because they’re barred by (often sadistic teenage) Israeli soldiers manning a veritable Berlin Wall of checkpoints, including pregnant women whose babies died at birth? What of the psychic effect on a culture and society when people can’t even travel a few miles to see friends and relatives? Or the epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorders in Palestinian towns that are invaded, and re-invaded, again and again? What about a news segment on the demolition of Palestinian homes and the cancerous growth of illegal Israeli colonial settlements on Palestinian land? Or Israel’s barring of international humanitarian aid to the West Bank and Gaza Strip? Or the over 800,000 Palestinians under virtual house arrest by the IDF? Or the life-threatening obstacles Palestinian students face just trying to access educational facilities?

Journalistic “balance” is often a misleading concept, especially in an asymmetrical conflict as this. Simply giving equal treatment to every Israeli and Palestinian killed misses the larger issue. Israel is carrying out a decades-long colonial war, and it illegally occupies someone else’s land. Israel has the 3rd or 4th most powerful military on the planet. It receives the latest and most sophisticated armaments from its superpower patron — our tax dollars at work. And Israel can get away with ignoring international condemnation and telling the world to bugger off because the US allows it to. The toll of the occupation on Palestinian people and society is far worse than anything Israelis have had to suffer. To talk of stone throwing Palestinian resisters and the PA’s military and police units in a comparable breath with the Israeli military is beyond the level of a stupid joke, though one the American press and pundit class are adept at sinking below. But even such a context-ignoring “balance” would be a great improvement from the current rubbish.

CNN exec Eason Jordan has stated that there will be no five-part (or any part) special on Palestinian suffering; ditto any web memorial. Here is what he had to say on the PBS Newshour (7/3):

NewsHour’s Terence Smith: “Eason Jordan, let me ask you what changes you’ve made in response to some of the complaints. We mentioned a couple in the setup, the series that you did on some of the Israeli victims. Are you going to do a comparable series, for example, on Palestinian victims?”

Eason Jordan: “Well, I think we’ve done many, many stories on Palestinian victims, and we will continue to do so. Just in the week I was in Israel over the past couple of weeks, we actually did a series of reports out of Jenin. There was a really tragic incident where an Israeli tank fired on a marketplace. Some civilians were killed. Israel said it was an accident. We reported it with that attribution, as Israel said it, but it was a tragedy and innocent civilians were killed. We did, of course, did a week- long series of reports on Israeli victims, but there’s a big difference, I would state, between what’s happening in Israel and what’s happening in the Palestinian territories, because while it’s disputable whether Israel is targeting civilians, there’s certainly no irrefutable evidence of that in the territories. There’s no doubt that suicide bombers are going into Israel and intentionally killing civilians at random.”

Jordan merely reiterates, as does the rest of the press, Israel’s claim that its attack on the marketplace where the three children were killed was an accident, a tragic mistake.

Yet his more audacious claim is that it’s “disputable” whether the Israelis intentionally target civilians.

Really, Mr. Jordan?

This is the same Israeli army that has been condemned by leading human rights groups for targeting civilians [1]; medical personnel [2]; carrying out assassinations (“targeted killings”) of Palestinian activists and leaders, which have often resulted in the deaths of bystanders [3]; firing on Palestinian residential areas with US helicopter gunships [4]; using civilians as human shields [5], and on and on.

The US State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2001 states that the IDF employed “excessive use of force” against the Palestinians, including use of live ammunition in instances when they were not in imminent danger. The report also notes the IDF “shelled Palestinian Authority (PA) institutions and Palestinian civilian areas in response to individual Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians or settlers.” (released March 2002)

Last March, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan conveyed to the US his concern about Israel’s use of American weapons:

I feel obliged to call your attention to disturbing patterns in the treatment of civilians and humanitarian relief workers by the Israeli Defense Forces.” Judging from the means and methods employed by the IDF — F-16 fighter-bombers, helicopter and naval gunships, missiles and bombs of heavy tonnage — the fighting has come to resemble all-out conventional warfare. In the process, hundreds of innocent noncombatant civilians – men, women and children – have been injured or killed, and many buildings and homes have been damaged or destroyed. Tanks have been deployed in densely populated refugee camps and in towns and villages; and heavy explosives have been dropped mere meters from schools where thousands of children were in attendance. (New York Times, March 19, 2002)

A report by Amnesty International Australia states:

Educational, cultural institutions, government offices and especially police stations were destroyed by missiles and explosives. Bethlehem University’s new Millennium Hall, opened in 2000, costing $2million, of which $1.2million was provided by USAID’s ASHA program (American Schools and Hospitals Abroad), was destroyed by four TOW missiles, each costing $180,000, provided in aid to the IDF by the US Government.

Curt Goering, Deputy Executive Director of Amnesty International USA said: “It is difficult to imagine that the strike on the university was not intentional.” [6]

Eason Jordan’s comment is especially lacking when one looks at the plight of Palestinian children.

Defense of Children International/Palestine Section estimates that 317 Palestinian children have been killed and over 7,000 injured during the second intifada as of August 15, 2002. Many have been maimed and crippled for life.

In an article I wrote last year, I cite at length an interview with an IDF sharpshooter conducted by Israeli journalist Amira Hass of Ha’aretz. In the course of this chilling interview, the sharpshooter admits that IDF policy allows troops to fire at children over the age of 12. I also cite a report by B’Tselem concerning an incident in which Israeli troops fired on a group of children who had finished playing soccer at a refugee camp in Rafah, killing an eleven-year-old boy. B’Tselem concludes:

An eleven-year-old child was killed and two children were injured for no reason. However, the army failed to open any investigation against the soldiers responsible, even though all the army officials involved in the review of the incident clearly knew that the soldiers had used lethal weapons when their lives were not in jeopardy and had violated army regulations.

B’Tselem goes on to note:

Over the years, B’Tselem has received hundreds of letters from the Judge Advocate General’s office regarding events in which Palestinians were killed, injured, or beaten by soldiers. In some of the cases, Military Police investigations were opened, and in some, the Judge Advocate General’s office only conducted an internal investigation. Most of the replies that B’Tselem received state that the soldiers acted properly and that no action was taken against the soldiers involved. [7]

Impunity equals carte blanche for more atrocities. That in my book comes with the turf of deliberately targeting civilians, as reprehensible if not more so than the inexcusable murder of Israeli civilians by Palestinian individuals because we’re talking about state terrorism, backed to the hilt by the world’s lone superpower.

Further contradicting Mr. Jordan’s distortions are the (largely ignored) observations of former New York Times Middle East Bureau Chief Chris Hedges. In an article in Harper’s magazine, Hedges writes this about the Israeli military:

Children have been shot in other conflicts I have covered — death squads gunned them down in El Salvador and Guatemala, mothers with infants were lined up and massacred in Algeria, and Serb snipers put children in their sights and watched them crumple onto the pavement in Sarajevo — but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport. [8]

In an October 30, 2001 interview with NPR, Hedges states:

And I walked out towards the dunes and they were — the — over the loudspeaker from an Israeli army Jeep on the other side of the electric fence they were taunting these kids. And these kids started to throw rocks. And most of these kids were 10, 11, 12 years old. And, first of all, the rocks were the size of a fist. They were being hurled towards a Jeep that was armor-plated. I doubt they could even hit the Jeep. And then I watched the soldiers open fire. And it was — I mean, I’ve seen kids shot in Sarajevo. I mean, snipers would shoot kids in Sarajevo. I’ve seen death squads kill families in Algeria or El Salvador. But I’d never seen soldiers bait or taunt kids like this and then shoot them for sport. It was — I just — even now, I find it almost inconceivable. And I went back every day, and every day it was the same.

What should be a worthy topic for discussion here in the US is the question: how can the US media go on putting the onus of blame for the bloodshed in Israel/Palestine squarely on the Palestinians, ignore a mountain of evidence that the Israeli military deliberately targets civilians, ignore the open discussion in the Israeli press and among Israeli intellectuals of Israel’s visions of colonial conquest, not view the plight of the victims of that conquest as newsworthy, and completely whitewash the overwhelming military, economic and diplomatic support the United States bestows on its client?

CNN’s refusal to air a series on the suffering of Palestinians should be vigorously protested. Palestine Media Watch, a media watchdog organization, is leading such an effort and their website has all the pertinent details and contact info.

We might also want to discuss the well-documented inculcation of ridiculous stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims by the US media and what passes for “scholarship” in American academic literature.

We should ask how is it that people in the US don’t crack up in ridicule when the judicially-installed squatter in the White House mouths platitudes about the Palestinians needing to adopt democratic practices? As much as I despise Arafat, I do recall his election was deemed fair by official observer Jimmy Carter. And then there’s the small matter of apartheid in Israel proper, as the Arab minority faces discriminations in every aspect of life: land ownership, equality before the law, access to education, freedom to travel, and more. [9]

We might also want to ask how is it that House Majority Leader Dick Armey can appear on national television and advocate the expulsion of Palestinian Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza to other Arab countries, i.e. a war crime, and elicit not even a yawn from American commentators or his colleagues in Congress (MSNBC’s Hardball, May 1, 2002). Indeed, the inhabitants of the open sewer we call Congress followed up by passing resolutions calling on America to stand even more decisively behind Israel. All this after Israel’s war crime outrages in Jenin this past April garnered worldwide condemnation.

In short one wonders if what is badly needed in the US is a serious dose of de-nazification.

As for the Israelis, the message from the US remains clear: you have a big green light to consummate the conquest. Just do it!

Are we going to be accomplices and stand by and permit this to happen?

FOOTNOTES

1) See for example: B’Tselem (Israeli Human Rights Roganization), “Trigger Happy: Unjustified Gunfire and the IDF’s Open-Fire Regulations during the al-Aqsa Intifada,” March 2002; Amnesty International and International Commission of Jurists “Joint Statement Given In Jerusalem,” April 7, 2002; The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights & the Environment, “Report To The United Nations Commission Of Inquiry: Grave Breaches and Other Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law,” February 23, 2001; Physicians for Human Rights, “Medical Group Examines Use of Force in Israel, Gaza and West Bank; Issues Conclusions on Death of Issam Judeh,” November 3, 2000, among many reports.

2) B,Tselem, “Impeding Medical Care and Harming Medical Personnel,” November-December 2002; Amnesty International: “Israel/Occupied Territories: Israeli military action is collective punishment,” April 12, 2002; Human Rights Watch, “Israel: Cease Attacking Medical Personnel,” March 9, 2002.

3) The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights & the Environment, “Extra-Judicial Executions September 2000-September 2001“; Peter Beaumont, “‘They’re shooting to kill, regardless of the target’,” The Guardian (UK), October 28, 2001.

4) Amnesty International, “Excessive force in Israel and the Occupied Territories: Imported arms used in unlawful killings,” June 2001; Federation of American Scientists et al letter to US Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, October 18, 2000.

5) B’Tselem, “Human Shield: Use of Palestinian Civilians as Human Shields in Violation of High Court Order,” November 2002. Human Rights Watch, “In a Dark Hour: The Use Of Civilians During IDF Arrest Operations,” April 2002; Human Rights Watch, “Jenin: IDF Military Operations,” May 2002.

6) Amnesty International Australia, “Demolitions and Destruction,” May 2002.

7) Sunil K. Sharma, “Suffer Palestine’s Children,” Dissident Voice, November 25, 2001; Amira Hass, “Don’t Shoot Till You Can See They’re Over the Age of 12,” Ha’aretz (Israel); November 20, 2000; B’Tselem, “Whitewash: The Office of the Judge Advocate General’s Examination of the Death of Khalil al-Mughrabi, 11, on 7 July 2001,” November 13, 2001.

8) Chris Hedges, “A Gaza Diary: Scenes From the Palestinian Uprising,” Harper’s, October 2001.

9) See for example Amira Hass, “For Jewish Cars Only,” Ha’aretz, July 18, 2001; Edward S. Herman, “Israeli Apartheid and Terrorism, Part One,” Z Magazine, May 1994, among many others.

Sunil K. Sharma is a musician and activist based in Santa Rosa, CA, and is the founding editor and publisher of Dissident Voice. He retired from Dissident Voice in the summer of 2010. Read other articles by Sunil, or visit Sunil's website.