Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 04/12/2012: Lessons of Jenin Massacre Libel

From DG:

1) Accomplices to the libel

Gerald Steinberg wrote Recalling the Jenin 'massacre' libel.
The "Jenin Massacre" proved that the Durban Strategy could be used successfully to wage political war. The Israeli government and military were unprepared to defeat this attack. Eventually, the facts began to replace the myths, but by then, the demonization campaign had already achieved its goals. On the basis of the Jenin fabrications, the first round of BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) efforts began.
This template was repeated many times afterwards, and perfected in the selection of Judge Richard Goldstone (a confidant of HRW's Kenneth Roth) to head another pseudo-investigation based again on NGO allegations and inventions.
Belatedly, Goldstone had the courage to acknowledge that the framework was biased against Israel, and the NGO "evidence" did not support the allegations.
The campaign against Israel did not operate in a vacuum. Tracing the accounts of the battle of Jenin through selected articles in the New York Times is instructive.

The first was In New Rebuff to U.S., Sharon Pushes Military Sweep by James Bennet from April 11, 2002:
Late tonight, an Israeli official said as many as 200 Palestinians had been killed in Jenin. Most, he said, were armed men. Palestinian resistance in Jenin, the fiercest that Israeli forces have encountered, appeared to be ebbing.
The Israeli Army continued to block journalists from entering Jenin, saying it feared for their safety. But Israeli officials were also nervously looking ahead to the eventual withdrawal, fearful that Palestinians would try to present the many corpses as evidence of an Israeli massacre.
Palestinians accuse Israeli ground forces of firing randomly into their neighborhoods. But many soldiers and Israeli officials said the Israeli Army was acting morally, and was even endangering its own men by applying force cautiously in an effort not to harm civilians.
The second report was Jenin Refugee Camp's Dead Can't Be Counted or Claimed on April 13, 2002.

In the middle of the article, Bennet quoted a young man who claimed that his mother and brother were killed by "...bullets from an Israeli helicopter...," but he makes no judgment about the credibility of his witness or whether he attempted to verify the story.

On April 14, 2002, Bennet followed up with Refugee Camp Is a Scene of Vast Devastation. Bennet described two bodies he had seen in a tour of Jenin given by "local guides." Both bodies are apparently those of children; no others are described.

While he mentions that the number of dead could have been one and two hundred according to Israel or much higher according to the Palestinians, these examples went to show that non-combatants were killed. No doubt his guide realized this. Bennet should have emphasized what role his guide had in determining what he reported.

In general these reports discuss how both Israel and the Palestinians were attempting to frame the events in Jenin, but the specific, personal accounts come mostly from the Palestinians and the general arguments come from Israeli officials. Bennet, then, was consciously or not, helping frame the debate in a way that gave greater weight to the Palestinian narrative.

On April 23, Serge Schmemann wrote From Oslo Talks to Jenin: U.N. Aide Comes Under Fire, defending Norwegian Terje-Roed Larsen:
Since he visited the Jenin refugee camp last week and expressed his horror at what he saw, Terje Roed-Larsen, the chief United Nations representative here and the man who began the secret contacts that led to the Oslo agreements, has come under an unusually harsh personal attack by the Israeli government. He has been accused of ''record-high audacity'' and ''anti-Semitic ideas,'' and officials in the prime minister's office have talked of having him expelled.
The attacks may be the most furious the 54-year-old Norwegian has faced, but they are hardly the first. As an active supporter of the land-for-peace process that he helped begin in Oslo a decade ago, he has been assailed by both Israeli and Arab foes of the agreements. His denunciations of suicide bombings have also prompted some accusations of bias from the Palestinians.
''I feel supremely confident because I know I did the right thing and I know I'm doing the right thing,'' Mr. Roed-Larsen said in a telephone interview. ''Any decent human being in that place on that day, seeing corpses dug out just below the surface, smelling the stench of decay, would have been shocked and horrified. That is not an accusation. That is a reaction to human tragedy.''
As an aside it's quite remarkable that Schmemann could write (without irony) that Palestinians considered Larsen's condemnations of suicide bombings as a sign of bias. If they really believed that (and if he does too) it's an indictment of their society (and of his own moral compass.) Moreover, Schmemann also ignored the role Larsen played in covering up the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers a year and a half earlier.

Schmemann also quoted then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan defending Roed-Larsen, on account that the Norwegian never used the term massacre. Still as the BBC reported, Roed-Larsen's language about Israel was quite harsh:
A United Nations envoy has said that the devastation left by Israeli forces in a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank is "horrific beyond belief".
Terje Roed-Larsen, who toured the Jenin refugee camp on Thursday, said it was "morally repugnant" that Israel had not allowed emergency workers in for 11 days to provide humanitarian relief.
Did Roed-Larsen need to say "massacre" to have been slandering Israel? And why didn't Schmemann quote from Dr. David Zangen who had been in Jenin?
"I was incensed by Larsen's remarks. He must not be allowed to continue with these lies", stated Dr. Zangen to Maariv. "I was there during the fighting, and I saw close up what was happening. I know that the IDF did everything it could to prevent civilian casualties. It is clear to everyone that if the IDF had resorted to aerial bombardment or heavy artillery, we would have completed [our mission] in the refugee camp within half a day, without suffering any casualties on our side. We did not adopt that policy, and we took risks in the fighting, in an attempt to rescue those innocent civilians that were caught up in the battles. Anyone who says that Israel carried out a massacre is lying and inciting the Arabs. Instead of acting to bring about reconciliation and peace, Larsen is creating hatred."
This article was more like a press release defending Larsen than a news story.

In 2002 there were about 20 news articles in all  between April and November that mentioned "Jenin" and "massacre" in the New York Times.

The next to last article was U.N. Report Rejects Claims of a Massacre of Refugees, again by James Bennet:

The United Nations study supported previously published accounts that said 52 Palestinians were killed in the Jenin refugee camp, along with 23 Israeli soldiers. In one of the study's equivocal judgments, it reported that "up to half" of the Palestinian dead "may have been civilians."
The United Nations report, attributed to Secretary General Kofi Annan, was largely based on published accounts and descriptions by humanitarian groups and other organizations, because Israel blocked the United Nations from conducting a first-hand inquiry unanimously sought by the Security Council. Israeli officials said they had feared an investigation by the United Nations would be biased.
And how did everyone react?
Today, Israeli officials seized on the conclusions as validating their version of the fighting in Jenin, a battleground of the 22-month conflict now accorded nearly mythic status by both sides. The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that the report "overwhelmingly negates this Palestinian fabrication" of a massacre.
Palestinian officials called the report an important step but expressed frustration that the United Nations conducted a limited inquiry.
Bennet opened his report describing the UN's findings as  "...dismissing as unsubstantiated Palestinian claims that 500 people were killed." Of course it would have been more appropriate to write that the report refuted exaggerated Palestinian claims. Israel needed to seize nothing.

Nor did this report inspire a follow up editorial to "Inching Forward in the Mideast" from April 30, that called for a fact finding mission acknowledging that Israel had been vindicated.

A year later reporter Greg Myre reported, New Battle Over Jenin, on Television. The article was about Pierre Rehov's "The Road to Jenin," "Jenin Diary -- The Inside Story," by Sgt. Gil Mezuman, and "Jenin, Jenin," by Mohammed Bakri. Even after acknowledging the results of the U.N. investigation, Myre added:
But many Palestinians still argue that Jenin was a massacre, and point to the Israeli Army bulldozers that crumpled apartment buildings in the center of the camp as an example of excessive Israeli force they say has been commonplace during 30 months of fighting.
''This is a film that saw things from an Israeli point of view, and I do not think it reflects reality inside the Jenin refugee camp,'' Fares Qadura, a Palestinian legislator, told Israeli television during a discussion after the program.
By doing this Myre gave credence to a demonstrably false story.

Though she didn't work for the New York Times, in July 2002 the Philadelphia Inquirer's ombudsman, Lillian Swanson made a very telling observation that applies to much of the American media:
So it goes in the media war, where American newspapers - by most accounts, far more pro-Israeli than their western European counterparts - take it on the chin from both sides. And keep on reporting.
It would be more correct to say that American newspapers are less anti-Israel and therefore more accurate than European newspapers. But Swanson (now the managing editor of the Forward) couldn't bring herself to acknowledge that Israel was in the right, even implicitly.

The NGO's cited by Prof Steinberg had accomplices in their goal of undermining Israel - the media.

2) Pesach 5762

Of course the Israeli attack on Jenin and the wider Operation Defensive Shield did not occur in a vacuum. Israel had been suffering from organized terror originating in territories controlled by the PA for 18 months when Defensive Shield was launched. Pesach of 2002 (5762 in the Jewish calendar) though, with the terror attack on a Passover Seder in Netanya was especially horrific.

The NGO and media assaults on Israel were especially noxious. The peace process and the legitimization of the PLO were premised on a commitment of Yasser Arafat to renounce terror and to fight future terror against Israel. The so-called Aqsa intifada demonstrated Arafat's insincerity and perfidy. Israel paid a terrible price for trusting its security to the nascent Palestinian Authority.

Yet every step Israel took to defend itself was criticized by these advocates of peace, whose premise had been shown to be false. Targeted killings of terrorists became "extrajudicial killings," checkpoints "humiliated" the Palestinians, military actions were "excessive force" and land used for building the security fence to hinder terrorists' access to Israel were "illegal expropriations." Instead of condemning Arafat's betrayal of the peace they promoted, the NGO's and media sought to prevent Israel from defending itself. There were few Palestinian violations of Oslo that evoked sustained outrage from these hypocrites; that was reserved for Israeli self-defense.

During Pesach ten years ago, there was too much tragedy and loss in Israel. But there was also some remarkable heroism. Haim Smadar was killed, but his sacrifice probably saved more than twenty lives.

Haim Smadar, who worked as a guard at a school, was only working as a security at the supermarket in Jerusalem's Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood during the Passover holidays. He usually guarded in a school, but it was closed for the holiday. On Friday afternoon, a 16-year-old female Palestinian suicide bomber, wearing a belt of explosives around her waist, walked into the supermarket on Friday afternoon and blew herself up. Haim Smadar, the security guard, who prevented the bomber from going deep inside the store, was killed in the blast along with Rachel Levy, a shopper; 28 people were injured.

Smadar, who was born in Tunisia, reportedly overheard the young terrorist warning Arab women near the store to move away. He didn't worry about his own safety; according to witnesses his last words were "You are not coming in here. You and I will blow up here."

In his final act, Haim Smadar demonstrated true courage.

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