In the aftermath of the suicide bombings in Jerusalem, CNN and other major North American networks were inundated with several Israeli public relations icons placing blame squarely on the head of Palestinian National Authority President Yasser Arafat. Amusingly so, some even called for his head on a silver platter.
Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner repeatedly blamed the Palestinians, not exclusively Islamic Jihad or Hamas. Pazner repeated his belief that Arafat was the mastermind behind the attacks and that this was a blatant attempt on the part of the Palestinians to scuttle the peace process. When pressed by CNN’s Jerrold Kessel concerning Palestinian claims that Israel’s earlier assassination of a Hamas leader was timed to torpedo retired U.S. Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni’s peace mission, Pazner simply ignored the question. He made no reference to the fact that Israeli soldiers had shot dead two Palestinian children near Jenin mere hours earlier. Or that five other Palestinian children were killed a week earlier by Israeli booby traps. Skilled at the blame game, the IDF had blamed the latter on Palestinians shelling their own people.
Maybe Pazner forgot these facts.
Maybe, just maybe, so did former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I think he’s squarely responsible,” Netanyahu told CNN. “I think it’s time to unmask this fraud and tell Arafat what you (the United States) are telling the Taliban in Afghanistan.”
Israelis have been desperately trying to achieve a mutated moral equivalency of the September 11th travesty and the events in Israel and the Occupied Territories by stating that Arafat is Osama bin Laden and the Palestinians the Taliban.
There can be no moral equivalency when one considers that the Palestinians are an occupied people. That is not to condone suicide attacks in any shape or form. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people. They are not diplomats. They are not politicians, bureaucrats, or nation-builders. They are misguided in the belief that suicide bombings against civilian targets will liberate their people or persuade Israel and the rest of the world that the Palestinians deserve a homeland.
Nevertheless, and irrespective of how grossly inhuman a suicide attack is, the Palestinians are under siege and face the most brutal form of apartheid occupation the world has seen in modern history. Yes, they are an occupied people. Let’s repeat it again just in case it was missed the first time. Or the second time. Or maybe, it was missed in the past 34 years.
This point seems to have been entirely disregarded and strategically ignored by CNN. Even though U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell used the word ‘occupation’ in his speech less than two weeks ago, CNN has seen to it that the word is completely stripped from any formal discussion of the Middle East. Instead, CNN volunteered to nickname the current spat of conflict as “Israel Strikes Back”, ominously similar to “America Strikes Back”. Is CNN trying to force the issue of moral equivalency?
The issue of equating Arafat to bin Laden is a veiled attempt to demonize the man and to call him a terrorist in lesser terms. By calling him a terrorist, Israel is coercing an immediate alliance with the U.S. in its global war against terrorism. By calling the Palestinians the ideological mirror images of the Taliban, Israel is seeking to unleash the fury of its military superiority and get full backing from the Bush Administration. Is this the moral equivalency CNN is pining for?
This is not a new phenomenon. In August, the BBC ordered its reporters to use the phrase “targeted killings” for Israel’s assassination of Palestinians. This was quickly followed by CNN; its journalists stopped referring to Gilo as a “Jewish settlement” opting instead for “Jewish neighborhood”.
The Independent’s Robert Fisk believes this to be strategic word play:
“However, by censoring the word “settlement” for Gilo, CNN is perpetrating a lie. Gilo was illegally annexed by Israel after the 1967 war é not just “occupied” as CNN wishes its viewers to believe é and far from being a “neighbourhood on the outskirts of Jerusalem”, it was built on land which Israel é again illegally é used to extend the boundaries of Jerusalem.”
Not surprisingly, this trend continued into events in Afghanistan. Quoth Fisk:
“Infinitely more shameful é and unethical é were the disgraceful words of Walter Isaacson, the chairman of CNN, to his staff. Showing the misery of Afghanistan ran the risk of promoting enemy propaganda, he said. “It seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan … we must talk about how the Taliban are using civilian shields and how the Taliban have harboured the terrorists responsible for killing close up to 5,000 innocent people.” Mr Isaacson was an unimaginative boss of Time magazine but these latest words will do more to damage the supposed impartiality of CNN than anything on the air in recent years.”
The current crisis in the Middle East proves that journalism is dead…at least in it’s purest form. As journalists, it is our responsibility to be objective, to ensure that governments function properly, to allow citizens their democratic freedoms to access information for the purpose of functioning responsibly in society. To ensure that quest is untarnished, journalists are committed to fairness and relaying all sides of the story. Journalism is not the realm of political motivation, sensationalism, rumor, gossip and hearsay.
CNN, it seems, has a different understanding.
Firas Al-Atraqchi is a Muslim Canadian journalist living on the Pacific Coast.