Ignore The Whys Of
By Sharif Hikmat
15 September, 2004
Arab Media Watch
reporting of suicide bombings in Israel and the occupied Palestinian
territories is as predictable as it is inadequate, for while such attacks
are rightly given much coverage, the necessary context and background
information are almost always totally absent, giving the false impression
that such events occur out of the blue, irrationally, to provoke an
innocent, peaceful Israel.
Israel's daily injustices
and provocations leading up to suicide bombings are often not reported,
even less so now with the carnage in Iraq, Sudan and elsewhere, as the
media falls into the trap of reporting "big" news such as
explosions, while ignoring the "drip, drip" effects that lead
to acts of horrendous, desperate, indiscriminate revenge.
The twin suicide
bombings in Beersheba on August 31 typify all that is wrong with the
"Hamas reignites conflict" read one broadsheet headline, "violence
returns to Israel" read another, "Israel shaken by return
of the suicide bombers" read another.
The articles proved
no better, reporting that a "five-month lull", a "period
of relative peace", had been "shattered". One broadsheet
reporter went so far as to claim that "a sort of peace has hung
over Israel and Palestine for much of the summer."
Nothing could be
further from the truth. In that "five-month lull" between
the Beersheba suicide bombings and the previous one at Ashdod on March
14, Israel killed 436 Palestinians and injured 2,221, according to the
Palestine Red Crescent Society. In this "period of relative peace",
more Palestinians were killed than the total number of Israelis by suicide
bombings throughout the entire four-year uprising against the longest
military occupation in modern history.
During that time,
Israel made thousands homeless through house demolitions, and continued
its settlement expansion, arrests, military attacks, barrier construction
and land expropriation. Meanwhile, 30 Israeli Jews were killed and 57
injured, almost all of them soldiers and settlers in the occupied territories,
according to Israel's Foreign Ministry. That is a ratio of almost 15
Palestinians killed for every Israeli, and almost 39 Palestinians injured
for every Israeli.
Is none of this
worth reporting? The media doesn't seem to think so. In fact, out of
all the British national dailies, the only person that did was the Guardian's
Middle East editor Brian Whitaker, who reported that "the killing
of Palestinians continues unabated, with 2004 set to become the second
worst since the uprising began."
These glaring omissions
are inexcusable. One cannot claim that such information is hard to find
it is readily available on the websites of the PRCS and Israel's
Foreign Ministry. The former even allows one to view fatality and casualty
figures for any desired date range instantly.
One also cannot
claim that there is no space or time for such background information.
Besides the fact that articles on suicide bombings often remind people
that they have killed hundreds of Israelis, it is our job, our duty
as journalists to report not just the what, where, when and how, but
perhaps most importantly, the why.
This certainly does
not mean excusing suicide bombings, which in my opinion are as reckless
and damaging to Palestinians as Israelis. However, failing to provide
such background decontextualises suicide bombings, giving people a blinkered
view of what is happening in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It also
results in Palestinian suffering being ignored or trivialized as somehow
less important than the suffering of Israelis. We are constantly told
of the effect, but seldom the cause.
omission in the media's coverage of suicide attacks is any background
detail of the bombers. Again, this is not to excuse their actions, but
to investigate what may have happened to those people for them to consider
taking their lives and those of surrounding innocents.
Such detail is easy
to come by through an internet search of the bombers' surnames and their
towns of origin. In the case of the Beersheba bombings, the families
of the perpetrators, Ahmed Qawasmeh and Nasim Jaabari, both from Hebron,
had been subjected to a horrendous series of killings, injuries, house
demolitions and detentions by Israeli forces. It is difficult to see
how such experiences would not fill someone with hopeless, lethal rage.
The Mirror quoted
Eaatadal Qawasmeh in June 2003 as saying: "When these youths are
harassed by the Israelis, when they see their families beaten and killed,
when they close their universities and take away their futures, they
become time bombs."
That same month
I wrote an article about suicide bomber Hiba Daraghmeh, and pointed
out what the media had failed to that she had lost 10 relatives,
including children, during this intifada.
A recent phenomenon
in the media's coverage of suicide bombings is the supposed link with
Israel's barrier. All news organizations reported that it has not yet
been built in Hebron, the closest Palestinian town to Beersheba. None
reported that the planned Israeli route will entail annexing large swathes
of Hebron land.
Many used the subjective
term "security barrier", as if to back Israel's justification
for its construction, and some reported that it had reduced Palestinian
attacks in Israel. Ignored was the fact that Israel has yet to provide
a reasonable explanation for why the barrier is being built on Palestinian
land rather than its internationally recognized borders. It is this
that led the International Court of Justice to rule that the barrier
is illegal and should be dismantled, and affected Palestinians compensated.
This did not stop the Daily Telegraph publishing the headline "Deaths
are proof for Israel that barrier must be finished quickly".
Giving context to
suicide bombings will no doubt be resisted by apologists for Israel
and those afraid of coming under pressure from them, but this resistance
is short-sighted, for there will be no end to such carnage as long as
journalists, decision-makers and the public are blind to its root causes.
In this case, everybody loses.