Friday, May 15, 2009

Israel Seeks Justice; AP Makes Propaganda

By Barry Rubin

Every week I write a column on AP coverage of the Middle East and every week I am appalled anew at the profound and omnipresent bias in the coverage. I am not looking to bash the AP. On the contrary, when I find something fair and balanced I’m extremely pleased. It happens all too rarely

Sometimes it’s the simplest stories that draw one’s attention and linger in one’s memory. So here’s a little 257-word article which well illustrates the problem. You can find many other examples on this blog and at our other site,  [and you can subscribe to our shorter articles or MERIA Journal there if you would like.]

The article, by Joseph Marks of AP was published May 12. The information is pretty much all taken from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Basically here’s the story:

“Israeli military police arrested two soldiers as part of an investigation of alleged looting during Israel's invasion of Gaza in January, the military said in a statement Tuesday.

“A newspaper said the two soldiers were suspected of stealing and using a stolen credit card.
The statement said the military prosecution is investigating complaints from human rights groups and lawyers about behavior of Israeli forces during the operation, which was aimed at stopping daily rocket fire at Israel by Palestinian militants.”

Let’s consider what this means. The Israeli government is seriously investigating every complaint from groups—many of which are supportive of the Palestinians and even of Hamas and severely critical of Israel in general—to try to discover honestly whether they are accurate. This takes up the time of a limited staff and funding that might be better used elsewhere, but it is an attempt both to maintain standards and to show the world the basic decency of the country.

One would expect, but in vain,  some complimentary quotes or language to this effect in such articles.

In one case out of many—not to mention the wild accusations and claims without evidence which has shaped the world’s image of the Gaza war—there is some evidence of wrongdoing, specifically that two soldiers seem to have stolen a credit card and run up a $400 bill on it. They might also have damaged the property of the Palestinian family.

It’s pretty admirable that Israel’s army has tried so hard first to avoid civilian casualties and then to investigate any possible criminal actions during the war. And of course if the evidence so indicates the two soldiers will be tried and if convicted they will be punished. (In comparison, under international pressure, the Palestinian Authority imprisons terrorists who have attacked Israel--but only on charges of damaging Palestinian interests--and often let them quietly out of jail at the first possible opportunity. No scandalized articles or international pressure results from this behavior.)

To its credit, this article, unlike many, at least mentions that there were daily rocket attacks that provoked the war. That is far better than usual. Still, one might expect that it would also add that Hamas rejected the ceasefire, thus making the war inevitable.

But then the article drops in some additional information that really has nothing to do with this specific story:

“At least 1,100 Palestinians were killed during the three-week offensive, many of them civilians.”

Since presumably these two soldiers didn’t kill 1,100 Palestinians, what is that doing here? Moreover, detailed studies are now showing that claims about the casualty figures are seriously misleading. Hundreds of alleged civilians have been shown, using Palestinian media sources, to be gunmen, often members of the Hamas-dominated police or military forces.

Actually, to be fully accurate, I will add that the article states, according to Haaretz—which is known for emphasizing any possible criticism of Israel and its government—that one alleged killing is being investigated. That’s it, and we are not talking here about what Israel’s government claims but the sum total of specific accusations presented by all human rights’ groups and critics.

Unmentioned are Israeli casualties, both civilian and military, which are much lower than those of Palestinians. But if one is going to mention casualties in a war, why not both sides? The intention, of course, is to give the impression that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Yet to date, no journalist or human rights’ group or pretty much anyone else with any minimal credibility has provided details of any alleged actions that could be described as wrongdoings, much less the massive war crimes often charged.

And presumably, no Hamas soldiers or officials are going to be investigated by the radical Islamist regime. Moreover, there have been credible reports—including from Palestinian sources—of killings, shootings, and beatings of Palestinians who either criticized Hamas or supported its rival, Fatah. These have been publicized in some media but not very much, especially compared to the high visibility and length exposition of accusations against Israel.

But there’s no hint of all of this in the article. Here is the final paragraph:

“An overall inquiry by the military of its own actions during the conflict cleared soldiers of wrongdoing, infuriating human rights and Palestinian groups, who charged that killing civilians was the result of an Israeli policy to use extra firepower in built-up areas to protect the soldiers.”

I have previously analyzed the AP’s coverage of the report and showed how its stories mainly gave massive space to such criticisms and little to anyone explaining or defending the report.

Moreover, despite these generalized statements intended to discredit the report, again, no specific evidence has been presented.

But note as well a very interesting point here which even if no other problem with this article existed would show its profound bias. The charge against Israel is made--“extra firepower”--but the Israeli explanation—that Hamas deliberately used civilians as human shields and violated international law by employing hospitals, mosques, and schools as military bases—isn’t even mentioned.

And even aside from this, no opportunity is given to point out that even if this claim were to be proven the alternative would be for Israeli commanders to consciously sacrifice their own soldiers in the hope of reducing casualties on the other side.

I know of no other army in the world that would act in this way—I am talking about reasonable margins and not carpet bombing or other measures which Western countries have done in similar circumstances.

But I am aware of a case in which Israel did risk and lose soldiers due to an overly conscientious caution. It was in Jenin during the second intifada. And Israel’s reward for this strategy of going house to house with infantrymen rather than use artillery or tanks—at the cost of three dozen casualties—was to be falsely accused of waging a massacre on the basis of no evidence and to be vilified worldwide.

So, as in many AP articles, the intention is to make Israel look bad, to whitewash its enemies, to magnify their arguments and to muzzle any response. Day after day, week after week, this pattern prevails.

If an AP journalist or editor insists that their coverage is fair or balanced please laugh in his face.

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