“The leader of Israel’s opposition Labor Party, who guided the party to its worst election defeat in 55 years, resigned Sunday, throwing Israel’s peace camp into further disarray.”
So reads the beginning of an Associated Press story last week that passes for objective but betrays the kind of insidious bias that permeates most mainstream news reports from Israel. This particular story is certainly no worse than many, and may in fact be better than most, which makes it useful as an example of what’s wrong with the usual reportage.
Our first clue that the story suffers from a biased subtext are the words “peace camp.” Unencumbered by scare quotes, they imply that all those on the Israeli side willing to make peace with the Palestinians belong to this group. You can almost hear them now, singing “Kumbaya” and “Michael Row the Boat” from around their peace-camp campfire.
Meanwhile, huddled in a garrison on the outskirts, waiting to sabotage the peace, are the warmongering bad boys who prefer to kill for no reason. They’re led, of course, by Ariel Sharon, Israeli’s “hardline” prime minister, as the story’s fifth paragraph calls him — again, without scare quotes. But according to the report, Labor’s next leader may himself be more of a hardliner, leading to the possibility that the party could rejoin Sharon’s governing coalition.
This, the sixth paragraph tells us, “would be seen as another blow to Israel’s ‘peace camp’” — the scare quotes finally in play — “which championed the effort to reach peace with the Palestinians in exchange for land captured in 1967.”
Now comes the kicker: reference to the “peace process” (without scare quotes), which “collapsed in late 2000 amid violence that continues.”
Where to begin? The word “collapse” is probably as good a place as any.
Dragged along in a wimpy passive construction that seeks to avoid blame where blame is due, “collapse” appears in a vacuum, without reference to the refusal by Yasser Arafat to accept, on behalf of his poor people, the offer made in late 2000 by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak for 97 percent of the disputed territories (so says Dennis Ross, the U.S. chief negotiator). Not only didn’t Arafat accept, he didn’t propose a counter offer. When President Clinton, the driving force behind the settlement talks, asked him why he refused to run with the deal, Arafat said he had no wish to sign his own death warrant — meaning he feared assassination for making peace with the “Zionist entity.” That admission didn’t resonate for long with Western reporters, who soon focused on the resulting “violence” — that is, the Intifada.
But as usual, the AP story doesn’t explain that the violence had been admittedly planned far in advance, using the pretext of Sharon’s scheduled visit to the Temple Mount as a visible catalyst for the rocks, Molotov cocktails, suicide bombings, and lynchings. (“Provocative” is the word generally used to describe Sharon’s visit by mainstream reporters who would rightly never blame a woman’s rape on her “provocative” attire.) For that matter, there’s not even a sentence pointing out that Hezbollah and Hamas, among other terrorist groups — the ones that Arafat himself was afraid of — continue to state publicly and proudly that they will never make peace with the Jewish state, no matter what the borders are. “Until the last Jew is driven into the sea” is a common rallying cry.
Also ignored in both context and content is that Palestinian violence was what brought Sharon to power in early 2001, long after he’d been forced into retirement and political seclusion by a populace eager for peace and willing to bet that Labor could deliver it to them, even if terrorist Arafat was the man they had to trust. Instead, what they got was mass murder on a scale not seen for decades. The number of terrorist acts in the nine years after the Oslo Accords was many fold higher than the number in the nine years prior, and that includes the first Intifada. It was left to the so-called warmongers, like Sharon, to point out that Arafat was either incapable of delivering peace through compromise, or was unwilling do so.
No matter. The world urged Israel to continue “the peace process”; stick with Oslo; trust in Arafat; believe in fairy tales. And so Israel gave Palestinians guns to form a police force, and continued to cede control over the major population centers in the West Bank and Gaza, leaving well over 90 percent of Palestinians under PA control.
But peace has not come; quite the opposite. Those guns are now used to shoot Israelis, and suicide bombers stream out of the refugee camps still operated, for more than 50 years now, by an agency of the United Nations.
This is not a truth that appeals to Europe, the U.N., and indeed, most Western reporters like the AP writer quoted here, who continue to insist that Israel make even more concessions; that Israel can, by itself, impose peace on a people of whom a large minority, if not majority, hate Jews more than they love themselves.
It is a position of such profoundly moral and logical foolishness that its perpetuation requires a scapegoat. Hence, the fiction of the provocative (that word again) settlements — as though Arab armies had not, for the third time, tried to wipe out Israel in 1967, which was by the way three years after the founding of the PLO and countless acts of terror intended not to dislodge Jews from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, because those were under the control of Jordan and Egypt respectively, but to wipe out the Jewish presence entirely. The fact that Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula in a defensive war is too inconvenient for assimilation into the conventional storyline of the little country as a colonial oppressor, as is the fact that Israel returned the oil-developed Sinai to Egypt more than 20 years ago in exchange for nothing more than a cold peace. Most reporters prefer to stick with the “cycle of violence” storyline
You might think that any objective observer, as reporters aim to be, would admit that Israel has the firepower to wipe Palestinians off the map within any given hour but won’t do it; but that if the Palestinians had the same firepower, they’d very likely use it against the Israelis. Then, too, if the Palestinians were to put down their rocks, guns, and Semtex tomorrow, not one of them would be killed by Israeli soldiers and tanks. The same, alas, cannot be said in reverse. The refugee camps are bomb factories, and only preemptive strikes and patrols keep Israel relatively safe, stopping about nine in ten terror attacks.
There are allowable degrees of foolishness for any human being, but for mainstream influential reporters to continue such willful disregard for history has become foolishly dangerous. They refer to Amram Mitzna and his political brethren (like former premier Shimon Peres, a man who never met a terrorist he couldn’t do business with) as members of the “peace camp” instead of the “peace-at-any-cost-camp” or the “let’s-make-the-same-mistakes-over-and-over-again-and-maybe-this-time-it’ll-be-different” camp. Why don’t they place Sharon in the “peace-through-strength” camp or the “democratically-elected-to-protect-his-people-against-terror” camp instead of the “hardline” camp, the “provocateur” camp, and the “butcher-of-Jenin” camp?
Their words have consequences. Their words embolden the Palestinians, the entire Arab nation, the elites of Europe, and all the people who read their dispatches and don’t know the deeper story to believe that Sharon, not their narrative of moral equivalence, is the impediment. Pretending that Oslo represented “peace for our time” is to forget what those words meant in history, and will only delay the moment when peace does come — because it can’t be on those murderous terms.
— Joel Engel is an author and journalist in Southern California.