Nigel Parry: US Media and Genocide
- Time to put the US media on trial for complicity in genocide?
Nigel Parry, The Electronic Intifada, 4 June 2004
Following pressure from the Israeli public, international
condemnations and a UN resolution, and a flurry of rare coverage of
Rafah from American cable news networks, Israel's "Operation Rainbow"
was 'concluded' in Rafah on 24 May 2004. According to Israel at least.
Since then, during a one week period in Rafah (27 May-2 June 2004),
Israel destroyed another 39 Palestinian homes, leaving at least
another 485 Palestinian civilians homeless, and razed another 24
dunums of Palestinian land.
Google News continuously crawls more than 4,500 news sources from
around the world, yet a search for the keyword "Rafah" shows that,
beyond the Israeli press, supplementary news websites such as the
Electronic Intifada, and a handful of US newspapers, coverage of the
latest demolitions following "Operation Rainbow" has been minimal,
particularly in the United States.
CNN's most recently published article on Rafah "Israelis: IDF forces
out of Rafah camp" is dated Monday 24 May 2004, and reads as if it
were an Israeli government press release:
JERUSALEM (CNN) Israeli military officials said Monday evening that
all Israeli troops and tanks have withdrawn from Rafah refugee camp
in southern Gaza, marking the end of Operation Rainbow.
The officials said that during the operation three arms-smuggling
tunnels under the border into Egypt were found and destroyed, 40
armed militants were killed, and other wanted militants were arrested.
Twelve civilians were killed and 56 buildings were destroyed during
the mission, according to the officials.
The article, credited to CNN's Jerusalem Bureau, is a good example of
CNN's lack of credibility in covering the Israeli-Palestinian
The fact that this "It's all over in Rafah" article is the most
recent article that CNN.com's search engine or archive returns for
the keyword "Rafah" when the following week was characterised by
massive Israeli violence against Palestinian civilians and their
property says much about CNN's priorities in covering stories in
which Palestinians are the victims, and not Israelis.
One is left imagining that CNN's editors took the Israelis at their
word, and ceased their Rafah coverage after being told it was 'all
Jarringly, at no point in the article does CNN even consult any
Palestinian sources for comment, only a variety of "Israeli military
officials" and senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon,
And then there's the problem with statistics.
In the 24 May 2004 article, CNN's total reliance on Israeli military
sources for the grim statistical tally of the human cost
of "Operation Rainbow" is unacceptable for any international media
organisation that claims balanced coverage.
Israel claims that during the 1324 May 2004 "Operation Rainbow"
(which saw a brief pause between May 15-17), that 40 "armed
[Palestinian] militants" and 12 Palestinian civilians were killed,
and 56 buildings were demolished. No figure for the number of injured
Palestinians or land razed was given.
During the same period, fieldworkers from the Palestinian Center for
Human Rights, based in Gaza, recorded that "56 Palestinians, 45 of
whom are civilians, including 10 children, were killed and at least
200 others were injured"
PCHR continues to note that "220 houses were completely destroyed and
140 others were partially destroyed, leaving 4,847 people (821
families) homeless. 220 of these houses were destroyed in al-Brazil
and al-Salam neighborhoods, 9 in Um al-Nasser village, north of
Rafah, 15 in Qeshta and al-Sha'er neighborhoods and 128 in Tal al-
Sultan neighborhood. At least 700 donums of agricultural land were
razed, and 46 shops, several civilian facilities, including a mosque
and cemeteries, and the civilian infrastructure were destroyed."
CNN vs. Reality: "Operation Rainbow" statistics
Deaths (Civilians) Deaths ("armed militants") Buildings Demolished
Israel/CNN 12 40 56 No mention
PCHR 45 11 220 homes (complete), 140 homes (partial), 46 shops
Israel/CNN Disparity -33 +29 -350 -700 dunums
CNN's reliance on Israeli sources for what happened during "Operation
Rainbow" and its lack of attention to what happened after the
operation, convey a grossly misleading impression of recent events in
Rafah. Regardless of how this came to be, CNN's selective coverage of
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict undeniably acts to obscure the true
scale of Israel's genocidal policies in Rafah, just one Palestinian
area among many that suffers ongoing Israeli attacks.
For years, EI team members and correspondents have approached CNN
executives privately and in public action items with specific
examples such as the one above, with no real improvement in the
network's coverage. To date, CNN has been called on:
Describing periods in which many Palestinians but no Israelis were
killed as "relative calm" or "comparative calm". (See FAIR's advisory
about exactly the same issue during another period.)
Reporting on events in which Israelis were killed while ignoring
simultaneous events in which Palestinians were killed
Misrepresenting the facts of where Israel's West Bank barrier runs,
again and again
Using misleading terminology to describe Israel's West Bank barrier
Presenting attacks on Israeli military positions in occupied
territory as if the the target was located inside Israel's borders
Failing to report that the Israeli cabinet formed by Ariel Sharon in
February 2003 included parties with an ethnic cleansing platform
Falsely claiming that Al-Qaida was loose in Gaza
Falsely portraying an attack on Israeli soldiers in occupied Hebron
as a massacre of "worshippers"
Claiming that two Palestinian children killed in an Israeli attack
Covering the 30th anniversary of the Munich Olympics massacre while
ignoring the 20th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre
Describing lethal rubber-coated metal bullets with the diminutive
term "rubber bullets"
Repeating Israeli claims that all Palestinians inside the Church of
the Nativity during the siege were "armed"
Portraying a period of intense violence perpetrated by Jewish
settlers as taking place by both sides
Under-reporting the number of Palestinians killed
Producing a lavish series and website on "Israeli victims of terror"
without mentioning in either the killing of more than 1,000
Palestinian civilians, one quarter of them children, and the 19,452
Promoting misleading Israeli documents as proving a link between
Arafat and suicide bombings
Correspondent Jerrold Kessel presenting the existence of the Israeli
military occupation as a Palestinian 'point of view' and again
Referring to the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of Israel
Misrepresenting the Nakba as an anti-Israeli protest instead of a
Describing the occupied territories as "disputed territories", in
defiance of their international legal status
CNN: "jingoistic, amateurish, shallow, and speculation-crazy"
In a 13 January 2003 article entitled 'Lovely Outrage' on
TomPaine.com, award-winning journalist Russ Baker reported on a media
training visit he made to Belgrade. Baker wrote:
Vladimir Milic, a producer with Mreka, a news production company,
expressed the group's disillusionment succinctly:
"What a paradox: the United States is the global leader, yet you
can't find information about the world your country controls."
To Milic, local TV news programs where statistics show most
Americans get their "news" came across as bewilderingly provincial.
He swears he saw a segment labeled "international news" that featured
a story on... Nevada.
He's right, of course: Frontline aficionados to the contrary, most
Americans today are woefully uninformed about the world in general
compared to their Serbian counterparts who know not only a lot
about the United States, but about scores of other countries.
Even CNN, America's premier showcase for international news, struck
the Serbian journalists as jingoistic, amateurish, shallow, and
speculation-crazy, especially when compared to the generally calm and
thoughtful BBC. As for the Fox News Channel, its daily fare sounded
suspiciously like the rabidly nationalistic, pro-Milosevic propaganda
the Serbs are still trying to flush out of the system here.
The unaccountability of the media
Unlike the UK, which has a Press Complaints Commission, there is no
ethics mechanism in the US through which inaccurate and distorted
coverage can be challenged, beyond direct appeals to the media
organisations to self-regulate or suing them in court (which is
almost impossible due to a requirement that the media organisation's
intent is proven to be "malicious").
Palestinians and Israelis continue to die because citizens of the US
the country that intervenes more than any other to perpetuate the
status quo on the ground are offered a grossly distorted account of
events on the ground that gives them no real sense of the imbalance
of power between the two sides in the conflict, no idea of the extent
of the US role in the conflict, and little impetus to call for a more
even-handed US foreign policy in the Middle East.
It is hard to quantify in absolute terms, but most regular readers of
the extremely detailed Palestinian Center for Human Rights' Weekly
Reports on Israeli Human Rights Violations in the Occupied
Palestinian Territories would be willing to make a safe guess that
somewhere in the region of 98% of the violence perpetrated against
all civilians in the conflict is violence perpetrated by Israel
against Palestinian civilians, their property, and their land.
Consumers of the US media can be forgiven for concluding that the
majority of violence is perpetuated by Palestinians against Israeli
civilians, as this violence receives grossly disproportionate
In the same way that Serbian state television was considered
complicit in Serbian war crimes by communicating a distorted view to
its people of the decade-ago conflict in the former Yugoslavia, it is
time that people begin to consider the culpability of the US media.
In the case of CNN's coverage of Palestine, the lie is one of
omission. The effect of the majority of US news coverage is to
promote an unbalanced view of who is perpetrating the violence, which
has the potential to affect reality in disturbing ways.
Since the beginning of the Second Palestinian Intifada in 2000,
American politicians, entertainers, and religious groups have gone on
record calling for genocide of the Palestinian people. On 18
October 2003, The Forward reported that:
Thousands of Evangelical Christians waving Israeli flags cheered last
week as Knesset member Benny Elon called for the "relocation" of
Palestinians from the West Bank into Jordan.
The enthusiastic crowd at the annual convention of the Christian
Coalition in Washington also cheered House Majority Whip Tom DeLay,
who urged activists to back pro-Israel candidates who "stand
unashamedly for Jesus Christ."
Elon, whose Moledet Party advocates the "transfer" of Palestinians to
Arab countries,said that a "resettlement" of the Palestinians is
prescribed by the Bible.
Similarly, on 22 February 2002, EI reported that Emanuel A. Winston
wrote an article in USA TODAY that expressed extreme racist
sentiments towards Arabs and advocated the "resettlement" of
Palestinians in Jordan.
On 2 May 2002, EI reported how House Republican Majority Leader Dick
Armey (R-TX) recommended the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from
their land and endorsed Israel's illegal conquests of the occupied
territories on MSNBC's Hardball programme.
EI reported on 28 August 2002 that a US tax-deductible charity was
channeling funds to an Israeli political organisation that had
published detailed plans for the "complete elimination of the Arab
demographic threat to Israel."
On 6 February 2003, EI reported that comedian Jackie Mason published
an article in The Jewish Press stating "We will never win this war
unless we immediately threaten to drive every Arab out of Israel if
the killing doesn't stop".
All of these instances constitute public calls for genocide.
Hatred of Palestinians is apparently deeply rooted in some sectors of
American society. After suicide attacks, EI's mailbox is typically
flooded by people writing from US-based e-mail addresses,
many "Christians", many calling for the genocide of Palestinians.
Needless to say, there is no comparable response from the same people
after events such as Israel's May 19th use
The image formerly on the front of EI 2.0. Taken in Dheisheh Refugee
Camp on 2 July 2002, this image is one of hundreds of images showing
Palestinian children throwing stones at Israeli tanks that have
appeared on the wire services. This image was featured in MSNBC.com's
well-known Week in Pictures feature for the week of June 27-July 4,
2002. (Musa Al-Shaer)
of combat helicopters and battle tanks against a peaceful
demonstration in Rafah, killing nine.
The level of reflexive support for Israel is so entrenched in some
minds that, during the period of a couple of months last year, EI
received more than 5 e-mails from American supporters of Israel
making the same claim that the Agence Presse France/Musa Al-Shaer
photo on the front of EI which depicted a Palestinian child throwing
a stone at an Israeli tank was "faked", even though similar images of
children confronting tanks can be found on the wire services every
The shocking image contradicted their fundamental view of the
conflict, a view in which Israel while militarily occupying another
people's land is widely perceived to be under attack.
When one is regularly treated to lavish on-the-spot coverage of
suicide and car bombings by unelected Palestinian militant groups,
while brutal Israeli military operations sanctioned by a 'democratic'
state go completely unreported such as last week's events in Rafah
it is understandable that people draw the distorted conclusion that
Palestinians are the primary perpetrators of the current violence.
After all, that's what it looks like on TV.
Defendants and witnesses in US courts are asked to swear an oath to
tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." CNN's
inability to tell "the whole truth" is historically and empirically
demonstrable as in the case of last week in Rafah, the stunning
litany of examples above (by no means a total analysis of all of
CNN's Palestine coverage), and by the network's daily, studied
avoidance of acknowledging the most obvious root of the conflict
Israel's military occupation.
And CNN is just one of several American networks against which the
same charges could be leveled of grossly distorting the realities
of an ethnic conflict in favour of the aggressor and therefore
prolonging, thanks to our resulting ignorance, our societal apathy
about the ongoing genocide.
With no US ethical body to deal with the pervasive distortion, it is
time for international legal experts to begin exploring ways to hold
the US media legally accountable for its failure to report accurately
from both sides of the conflict specifically for the real-life
implications of that failure. Freedom of information is fundamental
to informed democratic choice, and lives on both sides of the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict literally depend on it.
Nigel Parry is one of the founders of the Electronic Intifada.
1. 1 dunum = ½ acre= 1000m². An English transliteration from the
Arabic, the area measurement is often spelt in a variety of ways, eg.
dunum, dunom, donum, etc.
2. Weekly Report on Israeli Human Rights Violations in the Occupied
Palestinian Territories No. 20/2004, Palestinian Center for Human
Rights, 20-26 May 2004.
3. Christians Hail Rightist's Call To Oust Arabs, Forward Staff, 19
4. For a discussion of the legal definition of "genocide", please see
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