Well, it depends what you mean by 'meeting'...

Collected by En Camino

May 20, 2003

On May 3, 2003, En Camino published a media alert and an article written by International Solidarity Movement (ISM) volunteer Paul Burrows. Burrows was responding specifically to a Globe and Mail article by Doug Saunders that repeats insinuations that the ISM had a 'meeting' with suicide bombers in the occupied Palestinian territories. Burrows's article refuted this vicious lie, and one of our readers wrote a letter to Mr. Saunders. An interesting exchange between our reader, Mr. Saunders, and Paul Burrows ensued, which we place here.

The debate seems to hinge on the meaning of the word 'meeting'. Mr. Saunders, a writer who makes his living writing articles, seemed incapable of understanding the accepted meaning of the word 'meeting', and defended his use of the word. While this kind of falsification is particularly blatant, it's also important to remember that a systematic analysis of media coverage (see our other Globe and Mail media alert, for example) shows distortions that are both more subtle and more pervasive.

The overall pattern is clear, however. Many kinds of distortion are acceptable, so long as they distort in the right direction: in this case, in support of the crimes that are being carried out against the Palestinian population, by the state of Israel, with the support of the United States-- and, for that matter, the Globe and Mail.

En Camino

Here is Joe Emersberger's first letter to the Globe and to Doug Saunders:

Mr Saunders,

In your article of May 3, "Israel vows to deport peace activists" you
make the following assertions:

1) That "ISM said Asif Mohammed Hanif, the suburban-London 21-year-old man who killed himself and three other people on Wednesday, had met activists recently at a memorial service for Rachel Corrie,"

2) That Jonathan Peled and other Israeli officials also claim that this "meeting" took place and that it is the reason they now want to deport peace activists.

Can you point to any official statements by ISM in which they say they met the suicide bombers?

What is your source for your quotes of Mr. Peled?

Can you reference staments by any Israeli officials saying that ISM had a
"meeting" with suicide bombers?


Joe Emersberger

Doug Saunders Replies:

Dear Mr. Emersberger,

I believe your questions stem from an understandable confusion about the order in which events occurred.

The news about the suicide bombers' meeting with activists at the memorial did not come from Israel; it came from the International Solidarity Movement activists who had met the bombers. Let me provide you a precise chronicle of events; this should clear things up:

1) Late Tuesday night, the suicide bomb was exploded at the Tel Aviv bar. Most newspapers carried this news, too late for Wednesday papers, on Thursday morning.

2) On Thursday, several ISM activists saw news reports, and recognized photos of the two bombers. They had spoken with the two young men at a memorial for Rachel Corrie.

3) The activists phoned the Israeli investigators and the Guardian newspaper in England. The Guardian ran a report that appeared in their paper on Friday.

4) On Friday, some reporters, including me, picked up on this, phoned ISM and received confirmation of the meeting -- although a clarification that the bombers had not joined the group or received training (a confirmation that we reported prominently). Other ISM officials later pointed out that the bombers had also spent time at the ISM offices, although this detail did not make it into our report.

5) Also on Friday, Israeli officials responded to the Guardian's report of
the meeting by declaring action against peace activists.

Your confusion probably stems from the fact that our reporting on Saturday carried both news of the meeting and news of Israel's response to news of the meeting. On the other side of the Atlantic, the two stories were a day apart, and the distinction (and origins) were probably clearer.

I hope this helps,
Doug Saunders

Here is Paul Burrows's letter to Mr. Saunders

In your May 3rd Globe & Mail article ("Israel Vows to Deport Peace Activists") you wrote that the ISM admitted that it "met" with the two British men involved with the recent Tel Aviv suicide attack. That's it. That was the end of your sentence. In recent correspondence with Joe Emersberger, you repeated this claim without qualification.

The problem with this claim is that it's false. The ISM made no such admittance. At last Monday's press conference (May 5th) in East Jerusalem, the ISM's Raffael Cohen said that the two British citizens (who no one knew) showed up at an ISM apartment/office in Rafah without any advance knowledge or invitation. A different group of 4 British citizens, as well as three Italians, also showed up at that time. ISM people there offered everyone who showed up tea, and asked some basic questions like who they were ,and what they were doing in Gaza. The two Britons said they were there as "alernative tourists." After about 15 minutes all of them left, and went to the place where Rachel Corrie had been murdered, and where a public memorial had been planned. The ISM people then went to the house of the family that Rachel Corrie had died trying to protect from demolition. Everyone else went their separate ways.

There was no "meeting," in the accepted sense of that word. Yes, you can have the satisfaction of being technically right, and of having used some dictionary definitions of "met" and "meeting" correctly. According to some definitions, it is enough to "come into contact" with someone, to "touch" them, or simply "to be introduced to someone," in order to have "met" them. But in everyday usage of the term, when one says that two people had a "meeting," or someone had a "meeting" with a specific organization, it connotes something more than passing in the night, shaking hands, or being introduced. Without qualification, use of the term "meeting" in this way has connotations of forethought, mutual planning, and possibly shared agendas or vision. This is precisely how the Israeli government and military spokespersons have presented it. They have recognized that the term "meeting" -- when unqualified -- can also suggest "linkage" or "connection," and that these words can, in turn, suggest political and ideological and organizational affinity.

You may reply to me by saying it is not your fault that people misinterpret the technical meaning of the word "meeting," but I think you know perfectly well that your article would be understood in this way. The first three paragraphs of your front-page article were devoted to the notion of this "meeting" and/or devoted to Israeli officials' statements and claims about this so-called "meeting." If I may speak candidly, I think this is shameful journalism, and there's no excuse for it, precisely because this is not the accepted sense of the word. Whether you used the word "link" or not is irrelevant. Everyone reads the word "meeting" in this context and assumes there's a link. In paragraph four of your article, you quote an Israeli official saying exactly that: "and now there is this connection....[allegedly between the ISM and terrorists]."

In my opinion, this is absurd. This is shoddy journalism. This is pandering to Israeli and U.S. official positions. And this is precisely the kind of coverage that allows the charade of an American-backed "peace process" to continue (a "peace process" that has nothing to do with peace or social justice), and which allows the ongoing dispossession and slaughter of Palestinian civilians. It's precisely the kind of coverage that allows Israel to justify its further clamp-down on the presence of international witnesses of any kind in the Occupied Territories, a clamp-down that it has always wanted because peace activists, human rights monitors, and independent journalists offer direct, first-hand testimony about the nature of Israel's brutal military occupation. Israel wants NO witnesses -- and this, in and of itself, should send shivers up the spine of anyone who knows the history of colonization, tyranny, or warfare.

Why is this shoddy journalism? Let me give you an analogy (you can decide if it's a fabrication, or based on real events). Suppose I were to tell you that a neo-Nazi skinhead -- accused of killing a man in Winnipeg who he assumed was homosexual -- was previously spotted at a Canada Day rally at which a Liberal Party MLA had given a speech. Suppose this same neo-Nazi was also recognized, after the fact, as having visited a Liberal Party campaign office, where he had been offered free coffee, asked questions about Liberal Party immigration policy, and picked up a few Party brochures.

Would you -- or anyone else at the Globe & Mail -- turn around and write a front-page "news" story about a "meeting" between the Liberal Party and neo-Nazis, or quote people suggesting a "link" between the Liberal Party and organized fascism or white supremacy?

I would suggest to you that this story would never get written, because it is both patently absurd, and also constitutes slander and libel.

Some MIGHT write a news story, if there was some relevant reason to do so, that indicated this neo-Nazi wandered into a public office and left again, but one certainly would never see a single article (let alone the avalanche of mainstream media speculation and distortion) suggesting some kind of "meeting" took place. And I have serious doubts that people would get quoted speculating about the "links" between the Liberals and white supremacy.

But this is precisely what your article has done regarding the ISM, and what many mainstream media outlets have done around the world.

The mainstream media in Canada and elsewhere is suddenly very interested in these allegations, calling up the Montreal office of the ISM asking for statements and responses about Israeli claims. But when U.S. peace activist Rachel Corrie was deliberately crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16th, no such phone calls were made. When British ISM activist Tom Hurndall was shot in the head, and declared "brain dead," no such calls were made. When U.S. ISM volunteer Brian Avery was shot by an Israeli APC, losing part of his cheek, no such calls were made. Articles in the Globe & Mail and other Canadian newspapers were
either non-existent at the time, or buried in the back pages, or written in a way that cast doubt upon the victims' motivations.

Where are the front page stories about the fact that fifty Palestinians have been killed in the last month in Gaza alone? Where are the stories about the one-year old boy shot in the head on Israel's "Independence Day" this past Wednesday? Where are the stories about the Israeli army raid on the ISM's headquarters in Bethlehem/Beit Sahour yesterday? Or about the new Israeli military waiver that all foreigners must now sign in order to get into the Occupied Territories, saying that they will NOT hold Israel accountable if they get shot or killed by the Israeli military? What about the stories on Israel's violation of United Nations resolutions -- more than any other country in the world -- and possession of weapons of mass destruction? Why don't journalists such as yourself write critical responses when Israeli officials say foreign internationals are in the Occupied Territories illegally? Why aren't you laughing hysterically at the sheer audacity and hypocrisy of Israel's reference to "law," when the ENTIRE occupation, and every single Jewish settlement, is a violation of international law?

Mr. Saunders, if you wish to reverse your prior stenography on behalf of the powerful, then I will be the first to give you credit. But the framing of this particular article is deliberate misrepresentation in my opinion. And I feel that it would be a disservice to the 2,200 Palestinians killed since late-2000 to let Canadian newspapers and journalists get away with their routine support for Israeli state terrorism, and their denigration and contempt for both Palestinians and
peace activists in general.

I look forward to your response.


Paul Burrows,

Here is Saunders's reply to Burrows:

Dear Mr. Burrows,

I believe your concerns are best taken up with the Israeli government. As you point out, our story accurately described the meeting, including its very limited parameters. Anything beyond this involves one government's reaction to this news, which is beyond a reporter's purview.

Best regards,
Doug Saunders

And Paul Burrows's final reply:

Dear Mr. Saunders,

Your story did not accurately describe the facts, and this is solely the responsibility and purview of the reporter and newspaper editors. You keep referring to something that you call "the meeting" between the ISM and terrorists. As my lengthy prior letter demonstrated, this is deliberate misrepresentation of the facts. Now, you want to claim that I myself have ackowledged the "accuracy" of your story. This is a further misrepresentation.

Your article would have been accurate, and would have given the proper (meaning factual) impression to readers, if you simply stated that ISM members in the Occupied Territories acknowledged that the two Britons connected with the Tel Aviv attack had wandered into their public office in Rafah, posing as "alternative tourists," and then left again. THAT would have been accurate. THAT would have made it clear that there was a chance encounter, but no planned meeting, no connection, no link. THAT would have been an honest rendition of the facts.

But you chose not do write the basic facts about the incident. You chose to give your entire lead to Israeli government allegations, and leave readers with the impression that a planned or official meeting had taken place. Do you actually think that the word "meeting" is a technical term for "once having been in the same room, or showing up at the same public event, as someone else?"

Why not write some articles about a few REAL meetings, meetings in which the two sides actually planned in advance to talk about SHARED political agendas? How about reminding readers of the following meetings:

1) The meeting between Jean Chretien and Indonesian dictators and mass murderers, responsible for genocide in East Timor.

2) The meeting between Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein at the time of the gassing of the Kurds.

3) The White House invitation to, and meeting with what were then called Afghan "freedom fighters" (the mujahedeen), including Osama Bin Laden, when they were all on the U.S. payroll.

4) The meeting between Ariel Sharon and ... anybody! I mean, this guy was indicted in Belgium for "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity" committed under his command in Lebanon in the 1980's. Israel's own official Kahane Commission found him "indirectly" responsible. Why isn't this front-page news? Anytime Sharon shakes hands with someone, the media should be wondering aloud who has the fortitude to do it without vomiting, and should be wondering why they have an interest in dealing with an "alleged" war criminal.

A little honesty about who is having "meetings" -- and who is simply passing in the night -- should not be too much to ask from Canada's leading national daily newspaper.


Paul Burrows

And Joe Emersberger's final reply:

Mr. Saunders,

Thank you for your detailed reply.

I can only conclude that your article placed the Israeli government's desire to rid the occupied territories of ISM activists in a far more reasonable light than would have been the case if important information had not been omitted:

1) The alleged bombers arrived uninvited to the memorial service and were strangers to the ISM activists. From your article one might infer that the bombers were known to activists even if they weren't formally affiliated with ISM.

2) The total contact time, at the ISM office just prior to the memorial, and at the memorial was a about a half hour. This was reported on the Guardian on May 4 (http://www.observer.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,949100,00.html)

3) ISM contacted Israeli investigators when they later recognized the men on TV.

You might have summed this up as follows:

"ISM said they did see the men accused of the bombing at a memorial service for Rachel Corrie, a peace activist killed by an Israeli army bulldozer. According to ISM the men were strangers to the activists and spent about 1/2 hour in their presence. ISM said that they contacted Israeli investigators when they were recognized the men in televised newscasts after the bombing."

I'm sure you could have stated it less clumsily, but the point I'm trying to make is that brevity is no excuse for the omissions in your article.

It would also have been appropriate to point out that the Israeli government's hostility to international monitors, and to ISM in particular, existed long before the recent bombing.

Again, had all this information been included in your article the Israeli government's recent actions against ISM would appear, even to many casual readers, as a cynical and opportunistic attempt to get rid of witnesses to Israel's human rights abuses.

Accurate and balanced reporting could do a great deal to protect the lives of peace activists and regular Palestinians.

It is not too late to update your story so that the damage can be undone.


Joe Emersberger

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