Is a picture really worth a thousand words?

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Ray Hanania’s Column

American newspapers, television and radio stations are filled with reports that tried to cast the Palestinians as the evil force behind the attack against the World Trade Center bombing.

The most damaging was based upon the least credible, a video of about 45 seconds or more that ostensibly showed Palestinians celebrating in the streets as word reached them of the bombing of New York’s World Trade Center buildings.

Immediately after the attacks, Israeli officials went on the offensive making two strategic public relations moves: First, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called for a day of mourning. The second was the full court press by the Israeli media, with the Jerusalem Post leading the way, to elevate the perception of Palestinian support of the bombing.

Remember, in America, perception is reality. Once stated, it is accepted as fact.

The video was taken by an unknown British cameraman yet it was broadcast on nearly every major American television station.

It shows an elderly Arab woman wearing a Hijab and glasses dancing. Also shown were a few men laughing and waving, and a group of young children, boys, who were waving the Palestinian flags and laughing out loud.

On its face, the images of the 20 or so Palestinians could have reflected almost anything. No one was quoted. Yet, all the announcers insisted that the video showed “Palestinians celebrating” the bombing and handing out sweets, “a common Arab celebration custom.”

These 20 or so “dancing Palestinians” and this one woman with glasses suddenly became the symbols of more than 3.5 million Palestinians who live either under Israeli occupation or in refugee camps.

The fact that Palestinian Authority President Yasir Arafat and more than two dozens Palestinian organizations in the West Bank and Gaza had denounced the bombings seemed inconsequential in the face of this short, unconfirmed video report.

The fact that nearly every major Arab country had denounced the bombing didn’t matter either.

All that mattered was that it had been shown, and that pro-Israeli advocates who swarmed on the media in the hours after the bombing made reference to “the Palestinians who danced in the streets and handed out sweets to celebrate” the bombing in New York.

Sharon cleverly linked the bombing to the attacks against Israelis. His subordinates then went on a media offensive to “drill” the point meaning that they were to reinforce the concept in the minds of the Americans.

Other pro-Israeli writers made reference to the image of celebrating Palestinians and the Jerusalem Post made it the focus of its editorial, which was quoted as the source for the unverified charge.

This perception, which is false, has now become the moral foundation for the United States to act against Palestinian interests even more harshly than it already has done. It is conceivable that the United States will now step back as Israeli steps up its attacks against Palestinian cities.

Although the United States has sided with Israeli in a partisan show of anti-Arab sentiment, it has spoken out against the use of things like “extra-judicial” killings of targeted Palestinian leaders.

I am not even sure if the United States will protest against that practice from this point forward as Israelis now argue that the United States should employ the practice in its response to the yet unidentified masterminds of the World Trade Center bombing.

While the Palestinians do understand the concept of media relations and public relations spin as a necessary part of their war against Israeli oppression, they still do not grasp the process of PR spin.

It’s not enough to recognize what the issue is. You need to be able to quickly and effectively take that message to the primary media audience in the United States.

Several Palestinian leaders are capable of bringing that message to the American public, the real arbiters of the Middle East conflict.

But they haven’t done that yet.

Until they do, the Israelis will continue to exploit implausible evidence like the 45 second video clip of a handful of unknown Palestinians celebrating something, as if they were the official representatives of the Palestinian people.

Meanwhile, the official representatives of the Palestinians are being ignored because they just don’t know how to get the right kind of attention.

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