Friday, February 06, 2009
By Alison Weir
The Hillsboro Argus
Opinion Column for the Argus
Eight years ago I shared the typical American's lack of information on Israel-Palestine. I had watched "Exodus," was sympathetic to Israel and horrified at the Holocaust. I knew little about Palestinians beyond what I read in newspapers and saw on TV.
Then when the Palestinian uprising began in 2000, I grew curious. I started reading books, including footnotes (I want to see the documentation), by diverse authors and was increasingly surprised at what I learned. Finally, I quit my job as editor of the Sausalito, Calif., newspaper, and in February and March of 2001 traveled to Gaza and the West Bank. I have now taken a number of such independent trips.
Through this research, including interviewing historians and former foreign service officers, ambassadors and military officers, I have discovered that the history and current reality of this urgent issue are considerably different than many intelligent and conscientious people believe.
This misunderstanding is not just an intellectual quibble; it has led to policies that are disastrous for the region and profoundly damaging to our nation. Out of deep concern for people in the Middle East and for Americans here at home, I founded If Americans Knew to provide facts. Here are a few:
1. Israel was created through ruthless expulsion of over three-quarters of a million Christians and Muslims from their homes and ancestral land in order to create a Jewish state. Imagine how we would feel if a group moved to Oregon to create a Jewish-only state and then proceeded to push out over 96 percent not of this ethnicity.
One of the best authors on this topic, Donald Neff, described the situation: "Confusion about the origins of the conflict all too often has obscured Americans' understanding of its true dimension. It began as a conflict resulting from immigrants struggling to displace the local majority population. All else is derivative from this basic reality."
As Israeli historian Ilan Pappe and others have detailed, the displacement was one of the modern world's most successful ethnic cleansings with 33 massacres and the obliteration of over 500 towns and villages. An entire people, history and culture were for years largely erased from world view.
These ethnic cleansings continues today. On an ongoing basis, Palestinian Christians and Muslims are injured and killed on their own land by invading soldiers. Their property is regularly confiscated, and over 11,000 Palestinians are in Israeli prisons. Many have never even been charged with a crime.
2. The media, across the political spectrum, consistently provide Israeli-centric reporting. Our statistical studies of prime-time network news broadcasts during the current uprising, for example, revealed reporting of Israeli children's deaths at rates up to 14 times greater than reports on Palestinian children's deaths. As a result, almost no one knows that 82 Palestinian children were killed before a single Israeli child, that 140 Palestinians were killed before a suicide bombing or that it is Palestinians who are retaliating, not Israelis.
Most recently, while the media - again, across the board - were reporting that Palestinians had broken the latest cease-fire in Gaza, Israel had already violated the cease-fire at least seven times, including killing two and shooting a child. Since these violations were not reported to the public, once again the chronology is reversed in people's minds.
3. Israel has, on many occasions, harmed - sometimes fatally - Americans. It has spied on the U.S., supplied our secret technology to the Soviet Union and China, tortured Americans and tried to sink a U.S. Navy ship, killing 34 and injuring over 170. A commission chaired by former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Thomas Moorer said this act was "an act of war against the United States of America." That this didn't appear on the nightly news or in daily newspapers indicates the level of omission on this issue.
It is critical we learn the facts - that we go beyond the headlines and our media-induced assumptions, and investigate for ourselves. Lives depend on it.
Alison Weir is executive director of Portland-based group If Americans Knew. She writes in response to the column by W. Clark Gallagher, "Watching Pioneer Square's Lunatic Fringe," which appeared in the Jan. 23 Argus.