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The Media and The Palestine-Israeli Conflict
By Karen Nakamura
March 16 is the Fifth Anniversary of Rachel Corrie's Death.
In conflict, both sides develop propaganda machines that "spin" reams of truths, half-truths and lies. One is the Israel Project (IP), which "provides journalists, leaders and opinion-makers [with] accurate information about Israel." Its influence is reflected in a Board of Advisers that includes Senators Evan Bayh, Saxby Chambliss, Susan Collins, Norm Coleman, Joe Lieberman, Arlen Specter and Ron Wyden. It also gives helicopter rides to the media and American dignitaries, supplying a birds-eye view of Israel and Palestine, including The Wall. Demonstrating a close relationship with the Jerusalem Post, it works on projects with AIPAC (American-Israel Political Action Committee).
That powerhouse makes it difficult to create a counter spin. Palestinian sympathizers try but most official Palestinian sites were destroyed by Israel or abandoned with the Hamas-Fatah split. In the US, the Israeli "lobby" reigns supreme. Take the dispute surrounding the killing of Rachel Corrie in 2003. Rachel is considered a martyr by civil rights activists the world over. The spin to negate that sentiment came in an email IP sent Jan. 8th concerning the young American activist's death.
"You are cordially invited to join us for a Conference Call on Grassroots Responses to the Play 'My Name is Rachel Corrie'." It goes on: "Two years after Rachel Corrie's death, a play based on her name premiered in New York City. In the spring of 2007, the Seattle Repertory Theater staged 'My Name is Rachel Corrie.' In both New York City and Seattle individuals and organizations mobilized to provide a counterbalance... Learn more about what you can do on the local level from leaders in these communities." The IP explained Rachel's death thus.
"On March 16, 2003, Rachel Corrie, with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), had gone to Rafah to prevent IDF [Israeli Defense Force] demolitions of smuggling tunnels. ISM activists repeatedly interfered with these operations, standing in front of the bulldozers and then leaping out of harm's way. The IDF was bulldozing shrubbery... Rachel apparently thought she was protecting the nearby home of a Palestinian pharmacist. She knelt in front of the bulldozer behind a pile of dirt. The ISM claimed the bulldozer intentionally ran her over and killed her. After investigation, the IDF concluded her death was an unfortunate accident. The IDF Judge Advocate's Office concluded: 'the driver at no point saw or heard Corrie. She was standing behind debris which obstructed the view of the driver and had a very limited field of vision due to the protective cage he was working in.' An autopsy revealed that the bulldozer never rolled over Corrie: she was killed by debris dislodged by the bulldozer, which struck her head."
There are two sides to any story. Wikipedia has eyewitness accounts from ISM activists Joe Carr and Tom Dale. Joe Carr stated:
"Two Israeli Army bulldozers and one tank entered Palestinian property and [were] demolishing farmland and threatening near-by homes." About a half dozen activists "began to disrupt the bulldozers ... Rachel and a British activist were wearing jackets that were fluorescent orange and had reflective stripping..." Rachel and two others began "interfering with the other bulldozer... They stood and sat in its path, and thought it would stop in time to avoid injuring them ...One bulldozer pushed an activist against a pile of barbed wire [but] withdrew to avoid injuring him seriously... [A] bulldozer began to work near the house of a friend of ours. Rachel sat in the pathway of the bulldozer ... [It] continued driving straight for Rachel. When it got so close that it was moving the earth beneath her, she climbed onto the rubble being pushed by the bulldozer. She got so high she was at eye-level with the cab of the bulldozer ... Despite this, he continued forward, and pulled her down out of view..."
ISM activist Tom Dale, just yards away, told Joshua Hammer of Newsweek magazine: "The bulldozer built up earth in front of it. Its blade dug into the earth. ...She tried to climb on top of the earth... As the bulldozer continued, she lost her footing, it seemed like she got her foot caught under the blade. The bulldozer continued so that the place where she fell down was directly beneath the cockpit." A Mother Jones reporter did find the bulldozer's cab had narrow vision. However, Joe Carr went further: "We ran towards him, and waved our arms and shouted with the megaphone. But [he] continued forward, until Rachel was underneath... Despite her position, the bulldozer began to reverse, without lifting its blade, and drug the blade over her body again until he was about 100 meters away, and left her crushed body in the sand."
The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG) says in its report Truth Under Fire that in the role of media in achieving peace in Israel/Palestine: "Language is largely used to shore up beliefs. Palestinians utilized the word "Intifada" or uprising, which fits their David-and-Goliath narrative of a people resisting an occupying power. Israelis fine-tuned their word 'an armed conflict against terrorism.'
"Language often entails legal obligations. Avoiding the word 'war' frees Israel from international laws that govern war. [While] Israelis and Palestinians use the same word, their meaning differs. For [ex-] Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a cease-fire connotes an end to all attacks against Israelis while his army continues using helicopter gun ships to kill militants. To Hamas, a cease-fire means an Israeli pledge to end helicopter strikes while they continue attacks against Israelis."
Human Rights Watch agrees indiscriminate Palestinian rocket and suicide attacks against Israeli civilians constitute war crimes, but states Israel's attempts to suppress those attacks violate international humanitarian law. Israeli officials have implicitly acknowledged that fuel and electricity cuts amount to collective punishment.
"There is no justification for demanding we allow residents of Gaza to live normal lives while rockets are fired" PM Ehud Olmert said Jan. 24. Previously, Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman Shlomo Dror commented: "If Palestinians don't stop the violence, I have a feeling the life of people in Gaza is not going to be easy."
Human Rights Watch continues. "Article 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention places a duty on an occupying power to ensure the food and medical supplies of the population In a conflict, each party must allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief to civilians. A deliberate refusal to permit access in response to military action can constitute collective punishment against the civilian population. Under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which governs occupations, collective punishments and intimidation are explicitly prohibited. Reprisals against civilians and their property are also prohibited."
"Israel should understand the danger of policies that justify the targeting of civilians," Joe Stork, HRW's Middle East director, said Feb. 7. "Having suffered so much from such attacks, it should reject anything that suggests targeting of civilians is acceptable."
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