Sunday, January 23, 2011

Letter To An Honest, Fair-Minded Journalist

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By Barry Rubin

A decent journalist at a small newspaper wrote a balanced piece on the Middle East only to get a long,  nasty "talkback" about how everything was always Israel's fault.

Specifically, his absolutely correct assertion that the Jews had accepted partition into a Jewish and an Arab state in 1947-1948 was challenged. The reader claimed that by conducting military operations proved that Israel rejected partition whereas, of course, the Zionist forces were simply responding to attacks from the forces of Amin al-Husayni, the Palestinian Arab leader who just two years earlier had been in Berlin helping the Nazi regime.

The journalist asked me to respond on the claims made. I answered in detail and then, when he thanked me, I wrote this to him:

I'm sure you are right in saying that the reader who attacked you was reflecting "the Palestinian position" but the way I'd put it to you is that this isn't the "Palestinian position" but just a lie. The Palestinian position was that they rejected partition because they should get the whole country. This is just a tailored argument meant only for a Western audience and having nothing to do with history.

As you will learn, unfortunately, this isn't some honest debate but a carefully coordinated propaganda campaign in which misstatements are consciously made. That's why we get a new atrocity story every day, see it disproven after being covered as true in most of the media, and then go on to the next one.

Here's the one for today: A Palestinian attacked an Israeli post shouting "Allahu Akhbar," was shot in the attack and has now been identified as a militant from Islamic JIhad, the most extreme terrorist group, the Palestinians released a claim he was a passerby shot for no reason.

Yesterday, a man was accidentally killed during a raid and the Israeli military responded by dropping the soldier responsible from its ranks. He made an honest mistake but a mistake. But it was not reported why the raid happened at all: the PA had released terrorists it had previously imprisoned (with a lot of publicity in the West) and Israel was trying to catch them before they did another attack. The fact that the PA steadily releases terrorists and doesn't really punish them is rarely if ever reported in the Western media though it has now been going on for 17 years.

Nor was it reported why such mistakes are made. [See appendix at the end of this article for examples.]

A day or so before that they claimed that a Palestinian woman was killed by tear gas in a war crime--and activists swore she was at the demonstration--when it has now been shown that she wasn't at the demonstration (and they admitted it), that no one has ever died of tear-gas especially from so far away, and the Palestinian hospital records show she died because they overdosed her with the wrong medicine.

And so on. This is a propaganda campaign by anti-democratic forces that refuse to negotiate a compromise peace. You are a sincere and honest person who is trying to be fair (and doing a good job of it). But they don't want fair coverage, they want to demonize Israel so they can wipe it off the map.

If you don't see this pattern yet, please keep watching and you will. And again thanks for your honest efforts to deal with the issue.


PS for readers: Not even the most obvious historical fact can be assumed. When I submitted a manuscript for a book on Palestinian politics to a prestigious academic publisher, the reader, who was clearly trying to prevent publication (it was published) said among other things that I inaccurately stated that Egypt and Syria attacked Israel in 1973 when, this person claimed, it was the other way around.

I ended up writing a 20 page response on this and various other points equally ridiculous. In one case, the reader misquoted an author and the author kindly wrote a note refuting the falsification (if you've ever seen the scene in "Annie Hall" with Marshall McLuhan you can appreciate this).

A few years later, however, the prestigious publisher refused to publish another book of mine. In the meeting someone said, "We can't have an Israeli writing about Arab politics." Thus, the era we live in.

Appendix: Why Israeli soldiers sometimes regrettably shoot civilians because of circumstances beyond their control (1) and makes every effort not to do so even at significant strategic cost (1, 2, and 3).


''You understand that if we find anyone else inside, we're going to shoot them,'' the deputy commander explains.

The man nods. ''Everyone is out.''

With the Palestinian man leading the way at gunpoint -- if there is a booby trap, he will trip it -- the Palsar search team moves slowly into the house. One unit cautiously advances from room to room, scanning each corner with rifle-mounted flashlights. Others stand post, their rifles aimed at every conceivable spot a gunman might appear: on the stairwell leading to the roof, into a storage alcove above the kitchen.

As the advance unit enters a back room, Ishai suddenly spots a figure moving in the dark. Shouting a warning to his comrades, he pushes up against the wall and raises his assault rifle to fire -- but then hesitates for a fraction of a second.

It is long enough for him to realize that the figure is not a gunman, but a young child. Cursing at the Palestinian man, Ishai grabs the child -- a boy of 8 or 9 -- and yanks him from the room, shouting at him to get outside with the rest of his family.

The search turns up no sign of the wanted man, and afterward Ishai is still trembling with both rage and adrenaline at the close call with the boy. ''Three times I asked the father if everyone was out,'' he mutters through gritted teeth, ''and three times he forgets his own son.'' Or maybe he was too frightened, or confused, or angry -- all of which Ishai now appears to be.


It was Sept. 6, 2003, a time -- much like today -- of open warfare between Israel and Hamas, which Israel, the United States and Europe have labeled a terrorist group, and which now controls the Palestinian Authority. Eight Hamas leaders had gathered to plan terrorist attacks, Israeli intelligence reported.

"It was like bin Laden, Zarqawi and Zawahiri in a meeting, and having the capability to hit them," said Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, then the air force chief, and now the military chief of staff.


The man, Gil’s superior officers told him, was a known Hamas terrorist. The neighborhood, a militant haven. So when the black blotch of a man stepped out into the alley, and began to fiddle with dark strings that looked suspiciously like wires,

Gil’s Colonel gave the order to a second aircraft, flying nearby: Take this man out. He’s setting up a booby trap for our soldiers.

The double-tailed, 40 foot-long Heron spy drone banked over the Gaza rooftops, and zoomed in on the man, to get a better look at the now-designated target. The man was tying the wire at about eye-level, from one home to another. It was an odd location for a booby trap. But a perfect place to hang clothes. Gil, his voice rising, told everyone to stop. "Don’t attack! Don’t attack!" he yelled. "The man, he’s doing laundry."

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

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