Saturday, February 19, 2005
What is this 'relative calm'?
When Israeli government officials report that there is 'relative calm' in the region, the American media line up to repeat the claim. But the reality, in almost every case where the term has been used, is that there is 'relative calm' only for the Israelis. Attacks by the Israeli army against Palestinian civilians have not ceased, or even decreased, in the periods of so-called 'relative calm'.
Take the week of January 22-29th, for example. Since Friday, the 22nd of January, there have been almost no shots fired or homemade shells launched by Palestinian resistance groups toward the illegal Israeli settlements and Israeli military bases built on their land. But eight Palestinians have been killed this week, only one of whom was identified by Israel to be a resistance fighter.
On Tuesday, an explosive left by the Israeli army went off near two children playing in Ramallah. Marwan Ghaleb Abu Alawi, 13, died of his wounds on Friday the 28th, while Saleh Daoud Abu Alawi, 11, who was also injured in the blast, remains in critical condition.
Rahma Ibrahim Abu Shamas, a three year old toddler, was inside her home with her family in Dair al-Balah in central Gaza on Wednesday January 26th, when a bullet struck her in the head, killing her instantly.
Ibrahim al-Shawas, 36, died on Saturday the 29th after being shot in the head near Khan Yunis a day earlier. Witnesses said he was approaching a border fence near the town when a shot rang out from the Israeli side. al-Shawas was on his way to his farm when he was shot and killed. He was a handicapped man, the second handicapped Palestinian to be killed Friday, and the third this week.
And this was an average week! Children and disabled people killed and maimed, dozens of military invasions and random shooting at civilian areas by the Israeli army -- this is their 'relative calm'?
Just two weeks ago, seven teenagers were torn apart by tank shells in northern Gaza while picking strawberries in their family's field, four brothers, two cousins and their friend. Instead of being outraged at the fact that seven children were needlessly and mindlessly blown apart, Israeli officials seemed more concerned that Palestinian President (then candidate for the Presidency) responded by saying "We are praying for the souls of the martyrs killed by the Zionist enemy." Their concern seems a bit misplaced in light of the fact that Israeli officials also refer to Israel as a "Zionist state." And using the term "enemy" to describe an occupying military force is not unrealistic. So why the outrage about his words, but not about the killing of these seven children?
The heartless response of Israeli officials reflects a policy in which Palestinians are considered less than human. Soldiers with assault rifles and artillery shells play cat-and-mouse with children throwing stones -- and when the children are killed, they are called 'armed combatants' and their deaths are somehow justified!
Since the start of the Palestinian intifada (literally 'shaking-off' -- a term used to refer to the 'shaking-off' of the Israeli occupation of Palestine) in September 2000, 4721 have been killed, including 3666 Palestinians and 981 Israelis. So why, in the US, do we hear mainly about the Israelis who have been killed? The daily killing of Palestinians is considered 'relative calm', while the rather infrequent attacks on Israelis are considered front-page news. Even National Public Radio, which claims to have 'balanced coverage' of the conflict, reports Israeli and Palestinian death at a 1:1 ratio, when in fact the reality is that there have been nearly four times as many Palestinians as Israelis killed in this war. Presenting a 1:1 ratio as 'balanced' gives a distorted picture of what is actually happening on the ground.
And what is actually happening is an ongoing military occupation of a civilian population in which families are walled-in, brutalized, intimidated and humiliated on a daily basis -- unable to travel, unable to go to work, unable to farm their fields......for the last four years nearly 80% of the population of the Gaza Strip (the most crowded place on earth) has been out of work. 400 military checkpoints control every part of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip. Families are isolated, children are unable to go to school, homes are continually being demolished and the Israeli annexation wall is creating a new de facto border for Israel that annexes half of what's left of the Palestinian area. Children are being killed in their homes and schools, and terrorized by tanks, guns and Apache helicopters wherever they go. UN Resolution after UN Resolution has been passed condemening the Israel government's actions, but the U.S. always vetoes the Resolutions.
The U.S. media is complicit in the oppression of the Palestinians when media corporations refuse to report the reality of Palestinians' lives. By using terms like 'relative calm' when there are no attacks on Israelis, the media is completely trivializing the reality of ongoing Palestinian deaths. This is not a new trend, either -- in 2001, a cease-fire declared by Yassar Arafat led to a period of very few Israeli deaths, but sustained Palestinian deaths-- and the American media repeatedly referred to it as a time of "relative calm"; in 2003, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) published a study entitled, "Journalists Find 'Calm' When Only Palestinians Die", giving examples of the bias shown in headlines like an Associated Press article stating that "from June 29 to August 19, 2003, 'more than 20 people have been killed on the Israeli and Palestinian sides.', leaving out the fact that of those 'more than 20', at least 21 were Palestinian." And now, with Palestinians dying at the rate of at least one a day, the New York Times and other major U.S. media outlets insist on using the term 'relative calm' to describe a situation that, for Palestinians at least, is anything but 'relatively calm'.