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VIEWS AND VOICES
Media double standard in covering Sharon's stroke
Ignoring Israeli crimes

January 20, 2006 | Page 4

MAZIN QUMSIYEH is the co-coordinator of the Wheels of Justice tour and a member of the steering committee of the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation.

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MORE THAN a year ago, many in the U.S. media focused on how the passing of an ailing Yasser Arafat would be the key to unlock the deadlocked peace process (we now know this to be untrue or was vastly exaggerated).

There was hardly any U.S. coverage of the nature of his "mysterious illness" (to date, there has been no diagnosis). There was hardly any coverage of the good wishes he received from leaders around the world. Nor was there balanced discussion of his history or even of his Israeli supporters or his Palestinian critics (only Israeli critics were highlighted).

Now, Ariel Sharon is ailing, and the contrast could not be any more different. The double standard goes deeper and perhaps relates to the wider problem of U.S. foreign policy credibility around the world.

Arafat, while derided as an obstacle to peace and for his cronyism, was imprisoned in his compound in Ramallah by Israeli forces that controlled even his access to food and water. Arafat was actually challenged by nearly half of the Palestinian people for moving away from national liberation to unbalanced and unfair "negotiations," leading to agreements that failed to protect Palestinian human rights.

Sharon was a leader of the fourth- or fifth-strongest military power in the world, with extensive weapons of mass destruction and significant violations of international law. But Sharon was also responsible for massacres as Qibya in 1953, in Gaza in 1971, in Sabra and Shatila in 1982 (for details, see www.indictsharon.net), and, more recently, for the large-scale demolition of Palestinian homes and targeting of civilians (see reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, and Israeli Human Rights organizations like B'Tselem).

He was even held "personally responsible" for Sabra and Shatila massacres by Israel's own investigative commission. More recently, legal proceedings were brought against him under Belgium's Universal Jurisdiction laws, and huge pressure from the Israeli and U.S. governments was put on the judiciary in Belgium to drop the case.

Most of the world understands that the major obstacle to peace is Israeli colonization and oppression of a native Palestinians in contravention of international law and over 60 United Nation (UN) Security Council resolutions. Most of the world also recognizes that the support by the U.S. government of Israel was critical in the evasion of international law (e.g., the need to let Palestinian refugees return to their homes and lands). This support was buttressed by the influence of the Israeli lobby in Washington, D.C., and in some media outlets.

Most of the world knows it is a mere distraction and delays the approach of peace to personalize issues (around Arafat or Sharon), to focus on the violence of those resisting occupation and colonization (but not the violence of the occupier/colonizer), and to speak of unilateral "solutions" that involve walls and bantustans as advancing peace. Such distractions were attempted in apartheid South Africa and failed.

Yet many in the U.S. media persist in trying to use these fig leafs. It is not easy to understand who benefits from vilifying Arafat and making Sharon's policies of dictating unilateral "solutions" look good.

Why would one discuss the withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza without explaining that, per international law, Gaza remains occupied--or that in exchange for withdrawing the 2 percent of total settlers in Gaza, Sharon added 4 percent more settlers in the West Bank?

One can understand the media's concern for the health of an Israeli prime minister, but what should never be excused is shabby journalism and hypocrisy in covering illnesses of leaders like Arafat versus Sharon.

Perhaps other affairs give more hints of these double standards. Going back, one could cite the dubious reasons for invading Iraq while supporting Israel (Israel was and continues to be in violation of 10 times more UN resolutions than Iraq ever was).

More recently, the Jack Abramoff affair may also shed some light--and may be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

Abramoff pleaded guilty to defrauding Native American tribes of millions and directing the money through fake charities to gain political influence and help his pet causes. But why is it that many in the U.S. media, with few brave exceptions, failed to mention that his top "cause" and his passion was Israeli colonization of Palestinian lands?

Abramoff, for example, diverted money ("charity donations") to Israeli settlers living illegally on Palestinian lands. His "customers" were told this money was intended for poor inner-city Americans. Instead, the money bought military hardware to help settlers terrorize native Palestinians. Ironically, Native Americans were defrauded into funding oppression and the colonization of other native people.

Abramoff also used his influence with Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) to get a government contract worth $3 million to an obscure Israeli security company...and on and on.

But why is this information not being highlighted or even mentioned on the pages of major newspapers or discussed in TV programs? Could it be that this could harm the "special relationship" between the U.S. and Israeli governments, which is so well guarded now and so detrimental to U.S. public interests?

After all, even if one accepts the ludicrous suggestion that Israel is a democracy, why should we give Israel (0.1 percent of the world population) more money, resources and vetoes at the UN Security Council than sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and Central America combined? Why should U.S. taxpayers give more federal aid to Israel per capita than many states in the U.S.?

One can only be thankful that we have an international mainstream media, some courageous U.S. media outlets that publish such information.

Dare we hope that 2006 will be a pivotal year when the avalanche of information and public activism becomes so large that the fig leafs of misinformation, diversions and double standards will be swept aside?

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