Israel/Palestine and 'Canada's National Newspaper'
En Camino Media Alert 2
May 3 , 2003
By Daniel Freeman-Maloy
Two events in occupied Palestine
On April 11, 2003, Tom Hurndall was shot in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Palestine. Hurndall, an activist with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), was attempting to move children out of Israeli soldiers' line of fire when a high caliber sniper bullet hit him directly in the head. The targeting of a UK-based activist, clearly identifiable in an orange vest with reflective stripes, could be considered newsworthy.
But the event did not receive mention in the Globe and Mail, 'Canada's National Newspaper'. Instead, the Globe took the opportunity to run a different kind of update on the ISM. An Israeli military investigation had cleared itself of any responsibility for the death of ISM activist Rachel Corrie who - on March 16, 2003 - had been crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer while speaking to the driver through a bullhorn. She was killed while trying to prevent the bulldozer from destroying a Palestinian family's home. The Israeli military's report explained that responsibility for Rachel Corrie's death lay not with the Israeli authorities, but with the ISM's "illegal, irresponsible and dangerous" behaviour. Corrie had not been "run over by an engineering vehicle, but rather … struck by a hard object, most probably a slab of concrete."(1) The Globe relayed this report without critical analysis.
On May 3, the Globe's Doug Saunders followed this up with a report on Israel's
banning of international solidarity activists. Saunders' report repeated various insinuations made by the Israeli authorities. It did not, however, question the legality of this Israeli ban on international activists. Nor did it ask how Israel would distinguish an "activist" from anyone else trying to enter the territories.(2) Is Israel going to render "illegal" all travel to the Palestinian territories which it is illegally occupying? Could that represent an attempt to block scrutiny of the same occupying army that had - the same day the ban was announced - killed 13 Palestinians, including one toddler, in what the Globe and Mail called a "gun battle"? One wonders if the two-year-old child was a "suspected militant" in this fight, or merely "collateral damage."
An evaluation of the Globe and Mail's coverage during the three weeks between
the shooting of Hurndall and the banning of peace activists from the territories found that the Globe's apparent indifference to both the shooting and the implications of the removal of any independent witnesses from the conflict zone was symptomatic of a more general whitewash of ongoing Israeli crimes. This coverage has life-and-death consequences for people in Israel/Palestine.
The use of violence and "terror" in Israel Palestine:
The relationship between Israelis and Palestinians is not nearly so much an ethnic or religious conflict as a conflict between (primarily European) settlers and Palestine's indigenous Arab population. The point was put simply by Moshe Dayan, a prominent Zionist soldier and Israeli statesman who held such posts within the Israeli government as Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Defense, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister: "We came to this country which was already populated by Arabs, and we are establishing a Hebrew, that is a Jewish state here… There is not one place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population."(3) Israel's establishment was largely facilitated by the removal and subsequent marginalization of that "former Arab population," through the expulsion of some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs by Zionist paramilitary forces in 1948-1949, and by the continuing subjection of Palestinians to the Israeli state's policies of expulsion and colonial domination.(4)
Given that this reality is even acknowledged by an elder statesmen of Israel, it would have been reasonable for Globe and Mail reporters to draw a qualitative distinction between Israeli and Palestinian violence - between violent maintenance of a colonial system on the one hand, and violent resistance to it on the other. However, the Globe framed the issue in the opposite way; the violence of the colonized Palestinians was consistently framed as "terrorist" in nature, while the violence of the occupying Israeli forces was depicted as somehow reactive, aimed at promoting security rather than creating terror.
Treating anti-colonial violence as somehow more terroristic than colonial violence promotes misunderstanding of the conflict; it is especially troubling given the fact that Palestinian violence occurs on a much smaller scale than the violence carried out by the Israeli state. From April 11 to May 2, 8 Israelis were killed by Palestinian violence (this includes military personnel).(5) During the same period, 45 Palestinians were killed by Israeli violence.(6)
As a Globe and Mail piece written by Paul Koring and Paul Adams explained on May 1, disproportionate numbers of Palestinian deaths have been incurred throughout the recent conflict: since "September of 2000…more than 2,200 Palestinians and 700 Israelis have been killed in the cycle of violence."(7) The association of the Palestinian side of this conflict with terrorism is hardly consistent with the actual lopsidedness of the "terrorism" - an asymmetry made much more extreme by the daily reality of occupation.
The use of "anti-terrorist" rhetoric:
Of the 48 times that Globe and Mail writers made use of the discourse of "terrorism" to cover events relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - referring to acts as "terrorism" or "terror," to organizations or individuals as "terrorist(s)," etc. - 42 were references to Palestinian violence or violent actors, while another 5 were too vague or decontextualized to be associated specifically with either national group.
The closest that any Globe and Mail writer came to applying the discourse of "terror" to Israeli activities was when Russell Smith, in an article appearing in the Review section on April 16, remarked that "the gangs who killed British troops and committed acts of sabotage in British-occupied Palestine after the Second World War - groups whose tactics were terrorist by anyone's definition - later formed the state of Israel."(8) In all the Globe's coverage of from April 11 to May 2, then, no violence directed at Palestine's indigenous Arab population was deemed terroristic, nor were any actions taken by the Israeli state.
Given reporters' obvious eagerness to apply "anti-terrorist" terminology to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - again, 48 usages in three weeks - the exclusive reservation of such terms for Palestinian violence is puzzling.
Nonetheless, Globe writers uniformly described support for violent Palestinian organizations as "support for terror," with any state's support for these organizations indicating a country's status as a "rogue state." For example, a letter published on April 11 explained that Syria should learn from the U.S. aggression on Iraq "that support for terrorism is intolerable, [and] that is expected not to play spoiler as the Bush administration considers restarting Israeli Palestinian peace talks." Otherwise, there may be grounds for a U.S. led process of "regime change in Damascus."(9) This logic was applied time and time again by a variety of pieces appearing in the Globe and Mail.(10)
Contrarily, the billions of U.S. dollars that flow annually to Israeli terrorists were never held up as evidence of the U.S. state's support for terror or of its rogue status. Indeed, acceptance of the perspective of strategic Israeli state interests was so complete that on April 19, Jeffrey Simpson cited as one of the war in Iraq's strategic benefits the fact that it would "make Israel more secure by … weakening the Palestinians who counted on Iraqi support," without bothering to comment on the legitimacy of this goal (11). Is it imaginable that a commentator would have assessed a massive war on the United States in the same way, evaluating whether the attacks had "made Palestinians more secure by weakening the Israeli military which relies on U.S. support"?
Associating Palestinians with 'terrorism'
Even discussion of Israeli crimes indirectly validated the association between Palestinians and terrorism. For example, in "Son 'wanted to be a martyr,' now his family pays the price" - a piece, notable for its humanization of Palestinian victims, that appeared in the Globe on April 19 - Middle East correspondent Paul Adams went through the story of a Palestinian woman whose family has been deeply hurt by the Israeli state. "The Israeli army shot dead one of her sons, who was a suspected member of the Hamas militant group," Adams explains. "They rounded up four of her eight remaining sons, and a daughter-in-law, and sent them to Israeli prisons, where they remain without charges.
"Last September, the Israeli military also blew up her house, which sheltered 35 members of her extended family. The blast sent debris into the head of her four-year-old grandson." This is the unfortunate outcome, Adams goes on, "of Israel's remarkably effective…campaign to contain the wave of terror that had swept over it last year and the year before. In March of 2002, at the height of the intifada, 16 suicide attacks killed a total of 80 people." Adams did not bother mentioning that Israeli forces killed 234 Palestinians during that same March of 2002, but rather framed Israeli violence as a response to terror, indeed as a sort of anti-terrorist activity. And so with house demolitions: "the Israeli government has demolished 271 homes belonging to terrorist suspects."(12)
Israeli "gestures of goodwill"?
This article by Paul Adams is, we should again stress, unusual in its humanization of Palestinians' plight. However, having framed the violence of an occupying, colonizing state as somehow retaliatory or reactive in nature, the article is still underlay by a serious bias. This is true throughout all of the Globe's coverage, and certainly throughout this article. And so Adams goes on to recount that "Israeli news media have quoted officials saying that some Palestinian prisoners 'who do not have blood on their hands' may be released as a gesture of goodwill," admitting that "about 1,000 Palestinians…are believed to be in custody…without prospect of charge or trial."(13) Nonetheless, he tacitly accepted that the release of some few of these prisoners who are not "guilty" of violent resistance to occupation would constitute an Israeli "gesture of goodwill."
Who gets humanized, who gets criminalized
A few days earlier, Adams and Timothy Appleby had written about another event in Palestine that would presumably spur sympathy with the Palestinian cause. The morning of April 15 in the West Bank city of Nablus, "the reconnaissance unit of the Israeli army's elite Nahal Brigade…had surrounded a five-storey building" in which three lightly-armed Palestinians were trapped. A stand-off ensued, with helicopter gunships backing an elite unit of (illegal) Israeli occupation as they rooted out "suspected militants." Finally, two of the Palestinians surrendered. The third came out of the building shooting, killing an Israeli lieutenant before retreating into the building, wounded, later to be found dead.
More than 80 lines were spent personalizing the dead Israeli lieutenant, who had lived in Canada before settling in occupied Palestine because of "the age-old belief in a Jewish homeland." He was the object of a personalized description that included extensive quotes from his mother about how "he loved being in the army," and "was a very good, kind boy"; "a bloody innocent in this world," he "didn't have a bad bone in his body."(14)
Less than 10 lines were devoted to a resolution, put forth by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights the day of the stand-off, that voiced "grave concerns" about the continued existence and expansion of illegal settlements such as the one the lieutenant inhabited with his family in the West Bank. The resolution, or the implications of it being practically vetoed by the United States, received only this most peripheral mention in the Globe.
First put out the smoke, and then the fire will go out naturally?
Space was even given to the argument that, until the violent backlash to the occupation ends, the violent enforcement of that occupation is legitimate! As explained by an article in the Globe and Mail on April 14, reprinted from Reuters News Agency, "Israeli reservations exist about the road map's focus on its prescription for parallel steps by each side rather than initial, total end to violence by Palestinians"(15). Needless to say, the argument that calls for Palestinian passivity are unjustified until Palestinian legal and moral rights are respected by Israel went unmentioned.
The "road map"
It is within this framework, in adhering to and speaking from the perspectives of the interests of Israel, that Globe and Mail writers made their calls for "peace." The point was quite plainly highlighted by Shira Herzog in an April 15 article titled "Road Map to Peace: Time to take the bait." "Change is essential," Herzog explained, not because Israel is in breach of numerous United Nations resolutions, nor because Israel's expansionist policies are immoral, but rather because "Israel is experiencing its most serious economic crisis in decades and desperately needs political stability to spur investor confidence and growth." This is possible, she implied, because the appointment of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (known commonly as Abu Mazen) indicates that the Palestinian Authority may well "act decisively against terror"(16) - which of course means Palestinian violence.
"Correctly" putting "the onus on the Palestinian leadership"
On May 2, Marcus Gee summed up the point that had been framing the Globe's preceding debate regarding a resolution to the present conflict in Israel/Palestine: "The road map correctly puts the onus on the Palestinian leadership to stop terrorism and crack down on [Palestinian] militants."(17) Unabashedly, Globe writers thus put the onus on the colonized nation's representatives to ensure that their people are acquiescing peacefully to the colonial order as a prerequisite for having the moral stature to negotiate an amelioration of their people's plight.
The model for this "peace" is the Oslo framework, which Abu Mazen was central in negotiating: referring presumably to Oslo, Globe and Mail editor Edward Greenspoon wrote that "For an all-too brief moment, we…watched the Israelis and Palestinians work together towards peace."(18) Oslo was imposed shortly after the first Gulf War, as spearheaded by the Bush administration. And so Shira Herzog explains - in the same article cited above - that in wrapping up his sequel to Desert Storm, "George Bush II wants to follow in his father's path and present a skeptical Middle East with a new formula for peacemaking."(19)
Oslo as "peace"
The Oslo process is perhaps best illustrated by the progress it had made from its beginning, with the ratification of the "Letters of Mutual Recognition" and Declaration of Principles in 1993, to Oslo's eventual collapse in 2000. During this period, Israeli authorities confiscated more than 35,000 acres of Palestinian land in the occupied territories - some of the region's best land, including a huge proportion of its water resources. The Israeli settler population had increased from 110,000 to 195,000 in the West Bank and Gaza, and from 22,000 to 170,000 in annexed East Jerusalem.(20)
Meanwhile, Palestinians were left with a disempowered Palestinian Authority as their principal political structure - Israel retained complete control over the 78% of Palestine Zionist forces had seized in 1948-1949, as well as over East Jerusalem and over 59% of the occupied territories. Israel, furthermore, controlled security forces in a further 24% of the occupied territories, leaving 227 separate and disconnected cantons - a total of 17% of the occupied territories - for the Palestinian authority to police and administrate under Israeli auspices. (21)
The Right of Return as a mere "Deal Breaker"
The Globe and Mail consistently discussed Palestinians refugees' right of return as an obstacle in the "peace process". Paul Adams put the very words "right of return" in quotation marks.(22) Jeff Sallot wrote that "Palestinian politicians say that Palestinians have a right of return" (23). Jeffrey Simpson called it a "deal breaker born of Palestinian illusions. A two-state solution cannot be one in which Israel consents to be a country with a disappearing Jewish majority." (24) All of these dismissals avoid the substantial issues, such as 1) the conditions of Palestinians in refugee camps; 2) the fact that the right of return could be implemented feasibly in many ways that respect the human rights of all; 3) and that the right of return for refugees is not something "Palestinian politicians say" nor is it something "born of Palestinian illusions" but a fundamental human right enshrined in international law and specifically in this case in UN resolution 194.
Why so biased?
What is behind this consistent bias in the Globe and Mail's reporting? It is
certainly not a desire to differentiate itself from Canada's other major papers, the Toronto Star and the National Post, both of which also present the Middle East conflict in a similar way.
In the "Propaganda Model" that Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky outlined in Manufacturing Consent, reasons for systematic bias towards the powerful (the United States, and therefore in this case Israel) include: that the media are owned by a few corporations who see, and present, the world through the interests of big business; that the function of corporate media is to sell audiences to advertisers, not to sell information to the public; that the media rely primarily on "official sources," and inevitably present the view of these sources; that journalists accept a certain ideology that leads them to treat Western (in this case Israeli) lives and rights as more important than everyone else's (in this case Palestinian) lives and rights; and that when journalists step out of line, they get "flak" - punishment from high levels.
Does this apply to the Canadian media? The Canadian mainstream media are
certainly dominated by wealthy corporations. The Globe and Mail is owned by Bell Globemedia, one of Canada's dozen or so private media corporations that control the media market. In addition to the Globe, Bell Globemedia own 2 television networks including CTV, the largest private television network; it also controls Sympatico, a Web portal and high-speed Internet link., 28 TV stations, 16 specialty stations and 20 web sites. Bell Globemedia is a partnership between Thomson Corp. and Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) Inc., the telephone company. Michael J. Sabia is the Bell Globemedia president and CEO. Montreal-based BCE controls 70.1 per cent of Bell Globemedia, while Thomson Corp. and the Thomson family hold 29.9 per cent of the company. "You can fit everyone who controls significant Canadian media in my office," Vince Carlin, chair of the School of Journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto, told the Washington Post (1/27/02).
The media, and certainly the Globe and Mail, are certainly advertiser-funded.
The material in this media alert alone shows both the heavy reliance on official sources and the acceptance that Israeli security is more important than Palestinian security, by the journalists at the Globe and Mail.
As for whether or not journalists would face "flak" if they strayed from the standard presentation of information, we would have to await their straying from that presentation in order to find out. En Camino would ask the journalists at the Globe and Mail, for example, to present a consistent definition of terrorism: perhaps it could be "the targeting of civilians for political goals," and apply it consistently in their coverage of the conflict. We would ask that the G & M discuss the issues with the seriousness that they
deserve. Otherwise, Canadians will be forced to conclude that our "National Newspaper" is distorting the news and, by doing so, supporting and whitewashing crimes and human rights violations that are growing ever worse.
The idea for these media alerts came from the UK's 'Media Lens' (www.medialens.org) Like them, our goal 'is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.'
Writing about the "road map," Marcus Gee explained that "A new wave of terrorism could wreck everything. As one Israeli spokesman said this week, Israel is not going
to "talk peace by day and have Israelis blown up by night.". Ask him if he thinks that Palestinians should 'talk peace by day and be blown up by night', as happened to 13 Palestinians in Gaza the same day he wrote that sentence. email@example.com
Jeffrey Simpson wrote that "Regime change in Iraq will mean a U.S.-run -- and
supported -- country. This will deprive Palestinians of an ally, thereby making
them more realistic." Ask him if he would have written that the violent conquest of the United States by an Arab army would make Israel "more realistic" by "depriving them of an ally," and if he really thinks that the problem in Israel/Palestine is insufficient 'realism' on the part of Palestinians. firstname.lastname@example.org
Write to En Camino to receive more alerts: email@example.com
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(1) Globe and Mail, April 14 - "Israeli army clears itself in death of protester" (Reuters)
(2) Globe and Mail, May 3 - "[insert title here]" (Doug Saunders)
(3) Edward Said, The Question of Palestine (pg 14)
(4) As outlined in Norman Finkelstein's Image and Reality of the Israel/Palestine Conflict
(5) Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, http://www.israel.org/mfa/go.asp?MFAH0ia50
(6) Palestine Red Crescent Society, http://prcs.intellinetinc.com/df.pl?din=11&moin=04&yin=2003&dout=2&mout=05&yout=2003
(7) G & M, May 1 - "Powell to sell peace plan on trip to Middle East" (Paul Adams and Paul Koring)
(8) G & M, April 16 - "Facts fall victim to war jargon" (Russell Smith)
(9) G & M, April 11 - "The threat from Syria and the right response" (unsigned letter)
(10) G & M, April 15 - Washington counsels Syria to say 'whoa'" (Marcus Gee); April 16 - "With U.S. forces next door, Iran feeling the heat" (Marcus Gee); April 16 - "U.S. seizes terrorist Abu Abbas in Iraq raid" (Paul Koring); April 17 - "You can't force democracy" (Paul Adams); April 17 - "Abu Abbas still wanted in several countries" (Paul Adams and Paul Koring); April 17 - "After keeping quiet during Iraq war, Israel starts verbal attack on Syria" (Paul Adams); April 24 - "Palestinian progress" (unsigned letter); May 1 - "Bush draws 'road map' to a Palestinian state" (Paul Adams and Paul Koring)
(11) G & M, April 19 - "When you ignore unintended consequences" (Jeffrey Simpson)
(12) G & M, April 19 - "Son 'wanted to be a martyr,' now his family pays the price" (Paul Adams)
(14) G & M, April 16 - "Canadian in Israeli army killed in shootout" (Paul Adams and Timothy Appleby)
(15) G & M, April 14 - "Israeli PM sees chance to end conflict" (Reuters News Agency)
(16) G & M, April 15 - "Road Map to Peace: Time to take the bait" (Shira Herzog)
(17) G & M, May 2 - "A time to hope: This road map to peace just might work" (Marcus Gee)
(18) G & M, April 12 - "Writing history's first drafts" (Edward Greenspoon)
(19) G & M, April 15 - "Road Map to Peace: Time to take the bait" (Shira Herzog)
(20) Steve Shalom's "Background to the Israel-Palestine Conflict": http://www.zmag.org/shalom-meqa.htm
(22) G & M, May 1
(23) G & M, May 1
(24) G & M, May 3