Rules for Reporting on the War

August 17th, 2006 - by admin

Stephen Gowans / SF Indymedia – 2006-08-17 23:08:37

(August 14, 2006) — “At least 20 bombs hit a Beirut suburb in the space of two minutes yesterday afternoon, almost immediately after the Israeli cabinet had endorsed the UN’s truce plan.”

The bombs are thought to have been GB U28 1000-lb bunker busters, rushed to Israel by the country’s arms supplier, the United States, with the complicity of London, on whose territory US transport planes refuelled.

“The bombs demolished 11 nine-story residential buildings in the Rweis district of southern Beirut.”

“Witnesses reported seeing children playing in the streets in front of the buildings moments before they were hit.” (1)

The ostensible trigger for this carnage – and for the mountains of blasted and bloodied Lebanese bodies piled up in other equally gruesome attacks — is that Israel needed to respond, as a matter of self defense, to the capture of three Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah guerrillas on July 12th.

Were this a legitimate justification – and it most assuredly is not – the response could not be said to be evenly remotely proportionate to the alleged cause.

The destruction of apartment buildings, scores of roads, 71 bridges, an airport, UN convoys carrying food and medicine, drilling rigs, minivans carrying fleeing civilians, a youth center, more than 400 fishing boats, refugee camps, hospitals, electricity generation stations, oil tanks (infrastructure Israel should be compelled to indemnify Lebanon for) and more than a thousand civilians, cannot be justified as a response to the capture of three Israeli soldiers.

Especially when Israel, itself, is holding thousands of captured Lebanese.
Especially when the July 12th border skirmish said to trigger the war is only one of a series of cross-border incidents involving Israel and Hezbollah, in both directions. (2)

So preposterous is the claim that over a thousand civilians can be killed and a country laid to waste in retaliation for the capture of just three soldiers, that it is hardly made anymore.

Instead, Israel’s right to defend itself is sanctimoniously – and misleadingly — invoked.

But it isn’t Israel that is being attacked. It’s Lebanon.

There were 1,056 civilian deaths on the Lebanese side versus 37 on the Israeli, from July 12th to August 11th, just before Israel escalated its assault on Lebanon in an attempt, before the UN Security Council-directed cease fire kicked in, to consolidate its occupation of its northern neighbour up to the Litani River. (3)

This is territory Israel’s first leader, David Ben-Gurion, and the World Zionist Organization founder Chaim Weizman, believed should form part of a Jewish state.

Israel now occupies this territory with the approval of the thieves’ kitchen called the UN Security Council. It can, with the UN imprimatur it has now been handed, bomb more apartment buildings, attack more convoys, and kill more civilians, in “self defense.”

Hezbollah, on the other hand, ordered to cease all military activity, can do nothing to drive the invaders from its territory – nothing, that is, that will have the blessing of the Security Council. Instead, any action on Hezbollah’s part to throw off the invader will be denounced as a defiance of the Security Council.

It’s plain to see whose side the thieves are on.

Three percent of civilian deaths — a pittance in comparison to the number blasted apart by Israeli bombs and missiles — have come at the hands of the side the Western media calls the “terrorists,” Hezbollah.

The bulk of the civilians killed in this war, 97 percent, have been killed by Israel – belying Tel Aviv’s patent lies about taking pains to limit civilian casualties, and the absurd claim, which appeared in my morning newspaper, that “Hezbollah and other like-minded groups…pose the most immediate threats to our collective health and security.” (4)

If you accept that a country that is armed with nuclear weapons, continually attacks, invades and occupies its neighbors’ territories, and routinely attacks civilians, is more a danger than, what’s by comparison, a lightly armed resistance organization, then this is like saying the most immediate threat to our collective health and safety is the smallpox vaccine, and not smallpox itself, because the vaccine will reliably kill an infinitesimally small fraction of those who receive it.

What’s more, the deaths of Israeli civilians came only after Israel launched its attack on Lebanon, plans for which The San Francisco Chronicle (5) said were finalized a year ago and shared with US journalists, diplomats and think tank ideologues.

“The rocketing of the settlements is a reaction, it is not an action,” explained Hezbollah’s leader Sheik Nasrallah. “You attacked our cities and villages, and at any time you decide to stop your aggression, we will not hit any settlement or any Israeli city.” (6)

Still, the deception, helped along by the frequent invoking of the red herring of Israel’s right to self defense, is that Hezbollah is attacking Israel. Sure, Israel has a right to self defense, but what does that have to do with this war? Nazi Germany had a right to self defense too, but that didn’t include invading Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, the Soviet Union and on and on.

The standard operating procedure, where Israel is concerned, is to turn the truth on its head. And the chief truth inverter is the Western media.

Rule #1. The “who started it?” rule. It is always the Arabs who attack first, and always Israel that retaliates in self defense. The current Israeli assault on Gaza is attributed to the capture (called a kidnapping) of corporal Gilad Shalit, by a group of Palestinians who tunnelled under the border and attacked an Israeli watchtower.

But the day before Shalit’s capture, Israeli forces crossed into Gaza and captured (that’s captured, not kidnapped) a Palestinian doctor and his brother. Israel has kidnapped 64 Hamas members, including cabinet ministers, mayors and legislators. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Rule #2. The terrorism rule. When Arabs kill Israelis, it’s called terrorism.

Rule #3. The self defense rule. When Israelis kill Arabs, it’s called self defense.

Rule # 4. The reaction of the international community rule. When Israel kills too many civilians all at once, the West calls for restraint. Israel pledges it will take care to limit civilian casualties, then goes about its merry way, blasting apart civilians, blaming the deaths on the militants. “We had to take out the civilians. They were in the way. But we didn’t mean to.”

Rule # 5. The kidnapping rule. Palestinians do not have the right to capture Israeli soldiers, not even a limited number, not even one or two.

Rule # 6. The war on terrorism rule. Israel has the right to capture as many Arabs as it wants. There is no limit. Israel doesn’t kidnap Arabs, it arrests them. This creates the impression of legality, and that Israel is simply carrying out a police action. Legitimate authority arrests “suspects” and “terrorists.” Criminals kidnap.

Rule # 7. The David vs. Goliath rule. When you say Israel, never say “supported by the US and Britain.”

Rule # 8. The destablizer rule. When you say Hezbollah, always add “supported by Iran and Syria.” Iran and Syria are a “destabilizing” force in the region, in the same manner Venezuela is a destabilizing force in Latin America. They resist the hegemony of the US and its subalterns. That’s why they’re destabilizing.

Rule # 9. Things we don’t mention rule. Don’t mention the occupied territories, ignored UN resolutions, or violations of the Geneva Conventions.

Rule # 10. Amplify the voice of the Israelis and minimize the voice of the Arabs. Let Israelis speak out as much as possible, so they can explain rules one through nine. (7)

On Saturday, August 12th, I attended a local demonstration against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Lebanese flags flew. Palestinian flags flew. Hezbollah flags were nowhere to be seen — though the sight of one or two or many wouldn’t have distressed me. Hezbollah is many things – a political party, a charitable organization (which covers medical bills, school fees, and provides essential services that the Lebanese government doesn’t provide), and a militia. It is also a legitimate resistance organization, one its suits Israel and its backers, for obvious reasons, to demonize.

My local newspaper, part of a large chain owned by an unabashedly pro-Israeli Jew, fulminated against the protests.

The newspaper reported that “thousands of Lebanese supporters” demanded the “government call an end to the bombing in Lebanon. Some of the protestors carried Hezbollah flags, openly flaunting their support for the organization.” (8)

In case it’s not clear I support Hezbollah in its fight to drive Israel from Lebanon, let me flaunt it now.

“The demonstrations,” the report goes on, “sparked outrage from the president of B’Nai Brith…who demanded the federal government crack down on pro-Hezbollah demonstrations.” (9)

There are scores of newspapers in this chain, and somehow the editors, all reputedly selected for their independence, think the smashing of Lebanon is a good thing. This calls to mind the old aphorism. The only people who enjoy a free press are those who own one.

And if the president of the B’Nai Brith has his way, the only people who will be able to demonstrate are those who openly flaunt their support for a terrorist state. Certainly not those who openly flaunt their support for Hezbollah, which, to be fair, wasn’t what most of the demonstrators were doing on Saturday. Not at the demonstration I was at. What most of them were doing was opposing Israel’s war on Lebanon — hardly the same thing.

Significantly, many of these demonstrators would be mortified, if not more than a little frightened, to think their marching against Israel’s attack on Lebanon had got them tarred as Hezbollah supporters.

Which is precisely the point of the B’Nai Brith president’s denunciation – to scare off opposition to Israel, in the same way the accusation of anti-Semitism is hurled at anyone who thinks Israel shouldn’t be invading other people’s countries, occupying their land, and imprisoning, torturing and assassinating those who fight back.

Ever mindful that I’m going to irritate the president of the B’Nai Brith further, let me be clear on what, at the minimum, should happen, and would happen, in a perfect world.

Israeli forces should withdraw completely and immediately from Lebanon and Gaza, and all other territory it has occupied since the 1967 war.

All prisoners, including the Hamas legislators and cabinet ministers Israel kidnapped, should be released.

The United States should stop arming Israel, and running diplomatic interference for it.

Israeli military leaders should be tried for war crimes.

Israel should pay war reparations to Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority.
A genuinely independent Palestinian state should be established.

Palestinian refugees, and their descendants, should be allowed, as is their right under international law, to return to their homes in what is now Israel. If this means the end of Israel as a state where Jews are in the majority (because anyone threatening this contrived demographic fact has been chased out and barred from returning) so be it.

That’s what should happen, but won’t happen any time soon, because the US and Britain, the enabler states, will to see to it that it doesn’t.

What’s more likely to happen is that Israel will become bogged down in a war of attrition in southern Lebanon. It will continue to bomb apartment buildings, hospitals, and bridges, and will continue to depopulate the south, through intimidation, threat and slaughter – something it has done for many years and has decades of practice at.

Its activities will be sanitized as “self-defense” by the discreditable UN Security Council, while the legitimate actions of Hezbollah to oust the brigands from their land will be denounced as terrorism by the same discreditable organization.

Effective opposition to Israel’s outrages will come from three sets of forces. Hamas and Hezbollah and other resistance organizations on the ground, the states that support these groups materially, and from opponents in countries whose governments back, arm and run diplomatic interference for the terrorist state.

Active support in the West means undermining and disrupting the activities of the governments, media and public policy apparatus of Western states which support Israel’s annexationist, expansionist and aggressive foreign policy.

One of the ways to do this is to challenge and debunk the lies and nonsense used by Israel and its backers to justify the terrorist state’s bad behavior.

The other is to refuse to be bullied into silence.

1. The Guardian, August 14, 2006.
2. Seymour Hersh, “Watching Lebanon,” The New Yorker, August 21, 2006; George Monbiot, “Israel responded to an unprovoked attack by Hizbullah, right? Wrong,” The Guardian, August 8, 2006.
3. The Guardian, August 11, 2006.
4. The Ottawa Citizen, August 14, 2006.
5. July 21, 2006.
6. The New York Times, August 3, 2006.
7. Adapted from “Ten rules for reporting on Middle East conflicts,” .
8. The Ottawa Citizen, August 14, 2006.
9. Ibid.