In the January 25th episode of CBS's 60 Minutes, correspondent Bob Simon teamed up with Palestinian politician and partisan Mustafa Barghouti in a segment entitled "Is Peace Out of Reach," to promote the Palestinian view of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which heaps blame on Israel and exculpates the Palestinians for lack of peace. He ignores the Palestinians' responsibility for their own situation and reduces everything to a two-dimensional, villain-and-victim scenario, with Israel cast in the role of villain and Palestinians in the part of victim.
To support this one-sided and extremely distorted view, CBS gives a welcoming platform to Palestinians and other harsh critics of Israel. The Israeli perspective, by contrast, is given a fraction of the time. And most of that time is devoted to an Israeli settler leader whose views represent neither the Israeli mainstream, the Israeli government or even most of the settlers.
But the program itself is much more lopsided than even the imbalance of speakers indicates, since correspondent Bob Simon — whose voice dominates the segment — clearly sides with the "blame Israel" chorus.
While parroting Palestinian talking points and accepting without challenge the most extreme Palestinian anti-Israel propaganda (e.g. the slur that Israel practices apartheid and that settlements are like "crusader fortresses"), Simon overlooks recent history and key events and at one point even heckles an Israeli soldier as if in a schoolyard argument. ("Have you lost your voice?," he contemptuously asks an Israeli soldier who is seemingly not authorized or prepared to speak with the press.)
The entire premise of Bob Simon's segment — that the key to solving the Arab-Israeli conflict lies entirely with the Israelis, who make peace impossible by building settlements in the West Bank — is false and devoid of connection to recent history.
Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip and dismantled all of its settlements there. The Gaza disengagement, though, did not bring peace to Israel's south, but rather the opposite. What makes Simon think a similar withdrawal from areas closer to Israel' s major cities won't bring even more violence? And why does he also ignore reasonable Israeli concerns that if it withdrew from the West Bank "Hamas would take over the institutions and apparatuses of the Palestinian Authority within days"?
Simon also ignores the fact that the Palestinians were offered, in exchange for peace, a state eight years ago in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They not only failed to accept the peace offer, but chose a terror war against Israel instead. Had they accepted the offer, the Palestinians would have a state, settlements deep inside the West Bank would be gone, and, the hope was, Palestinian terrorism that fuels the conflict would be reined in. Instead, Palestinian terrorism prompted Israeli defensive measures, and thus changed the face of the West Bank.
They not only failed to accept the peace offer, but chose a terror war against Israel instead. Had they accepted the offer, the Palestinians would have a state, settlements deep inside the West Bank would be gone, and, the hope was, Palestinian terrorism that fuels the conflict would be reigned in. Instead, Palestinian terrorism prompted Israeli defensive measures, and thus changed the face of the West Bank.
Just as Simon ignores Israel's offer to dismantle settlements and create a Palestinian state, he also ignores the violence that followed Palestinian rejection of the offer. The words "terror," "terrorism" or "terrorist" do not appear even once in the transcript of the segment. Nor do the words "violence," "war," "gunmen," "militants," "attacker," or "suicide bombers."
The one reference to guns during the 60 Minutes segment, in fact, was Simon's assertion that "the Israelis," as opposed to the Palestinians, "have the guns." The one reference to "security" was Mustafa Barghouti's claim that most Israeli checkpoints cannot be justified by security concerns.
Although Simon ignores Palestinian violence against Israel, he nonetheless faults Israeli response to the violence. Stripped of its context, Israel's attempts to protect its civilians is framed as gratuitously causing inconvenience, oppression, and "humiliation" to Palestinians.
The security barrier (which Simon absurdly says Israel refers to as a "wall") is said to "appropriate" land and "separat[e] farmers from their land." But its essential purpose, to protect Israelis and prevent suicide bombers from reaching their targets, is ignored. Likewise, Simon describes checkpoints as "humiliating," and allows Barghouti to allege that they primarily exist "to block the movement of people from one place to another," but fails to reference the number of Palestinian attacks that they prevented, and fails to mention that, like the barrier, most checkpoints didn't exist before the Palestinians initiated their war of terror in late 2000.
(CAMERA recently examined incidents at one checkpoint, the Hawara over the course of one month, October 2008. on October 5, a Palestinian was stopped carrying a suspicious parcel containing two pipe bombs; on October 12, a female soldier prevented an attack when she discovered nine pipe bombs in the bags of three Palestinian traveling companions; on the following day, soldiers stopped a man who was trying to cross the checkpoint with explosive devices. He was shot and lightly wounded as he tried to escape in a get-away car; on October 15, soldiers confiscated a 10 cm knife from a man trying to pass through the checkpoint; a week later on October 22, the checkpoint was temporarily closed as a 17-year-old youth was detained with several firebombs and an explosive device. On October 25, a Palestinian youth was taken for questioning after soldiers found a pipe bomb in his bag.)
IN NABLUS, TOO, ONLY ISRAELIS TO BLAME
Likewise, Israel's periodic use of a strategically-located Palestinian home in Nablus owned by the Nassif family, which is discussed at length in the segment, can't be understood in a vacuum. After Simon and the Palestinian residents slam Israel for taking over the upper floors of the house on certain days, the CBS correspondent's paraphrasing of a brief statement by Israel — he said that "an army spokesperson told us the army uses the Nassif's house for important surveillance operations" — does little to explain Israel's concerns and rationale.
Israel sees Nablus as a continuing hotbed of terrorist efforts and the central district of the West Bank from which attempted attacks on Israel emanate. According to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, in 2007 the Hamas networks in Samaria, especially in the Nablus region, were defined by the Israel Security Agency as dangerous and working avidly to rehabilitate themselves after the damage done by Operation Defensive Shield. In 2007 a series of counterterrorist activities was directed against the networks including the detention of many operatives, some of them senior.
(See, e.g., here and here) The terrorist activity and murder of hundreds of Israelis in 2001-2003 has been dramatically diminished through a combination of the security barrier and intense, round-the-clock vigilance inside the West Bank. Because much of Nablus lies in a valley, Israel can survey the camps, casbah and city below from strategic hills, and this surveillance sometimes entails using private homes. IDF soldiers are instructed not to harm anyone or to damage property.
Even the BBC, which is not generally regarded as sympathetic to Israel, alerted its readers to Israel's position in a more journalistically responsible manner. In a piece about the house, a reporter notes:
Over the last six years, the Israeli army has made frequent incursions into the city, to arrest and kill militants. When it does, the soldiers often return to bang on Mr Nasif's door. ...
Nablus does have a history of militancy. In the past, perpetrators of bombings in which Israeli civilians were killed, came from the city.
Although those attacks have dramatically decreased in number over recent years, the army says that does not mean attacks are not still being planned. That is why it says it needs to keep on making its raids into Nablus.
In other words, unlike 60 Minutes, the BBC acknowledges that the murder of Israeli civilians, and Israel's attempts to act against potential killers, is an essential part of the story.
As with his discussion of the West Bank, Simon misleads viewers to present Palestinians in Jerusalem as blameless victims of Israeli oppression:
The army is evicting Arabs from their homes in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians hoped to make their capital. Outraged, Arabs tried to save their homes, but the Israelis have the guns. Israel demolished more than 100 Arab homes in the past year, ruling they'd been illegally built. Arabs say this is just another tactic to drive them out.
"Drive them out"? Under Israeli control, the Arab population of eastern Jerusalem has increased dramatically, and in fact grew much faster than the Jewish population of western Jerusalem. And Israel also demolishes illegal structures in western Jerusalem. Does this mean it is trying to "drive out" Jews from Jerusalem? And Palestinians themselves have also demolished illegal homes under their control. Would CBS take seriously allegations that the Palestinian Authority is trying to "drive out" Palestinians from Gaza because it demolished illegal building?
ECHOING FALSE PALESTINIAN CLAIMS
Simon abandoned all pretense of journalistic impartiality with prejudicial language that clearly echoed Palestinian allegations. For example, he talked of Israelis "slic[ing] up [land on which] Palestinians had hoped to establish their state"; of Palestinians having to "submit to humiliating delays at checkpoints"; of Israeli settlements "dominating the lowlands like crusader fortresses"; of Israeli soldiers who "corral" Palestinians as they requisition their houses for security reason. He similarly championed and emphasized the Palestinian spokesman's claims, as well, telling viewers "here's what [Barghouti] is up against"; and "Here's how they block Barghouti."
By contrast, he shows utter contempt toward an Israeli soldier, heckling him: "Why don't you tell us what you're doing here? Have you lost your voice?"
Moreover, Simon did much on his own to mislead viewers. Here is one typical statement by the correspondent:
Palestinians had hoped to establish their state here on the West Bank, an area the size of Delaware. But Israelis have sliced it up with scores of settlements and hundreds of miles of new highways that only settlers can use. Palestinians have to drive or ride on the older roads. When they want to travel from one town to another, they have to submit to humiliating delays at checkpoints and roadblocks. There are more than 600 of them on the West Bank.
Here, in just a few seconds of monologue, Simon falsely asserted that there are "hundreds of miles of new highways that only settlers can use" (in fact all Israelis, whether Jewish or Arab, Christian or Muslim, can use Israel's bypass roads, as can West Bank Palestinians who are believed to pose no threat to commuters); that Israelis prevented a Palestinian state because they "sliced ... up" the West Bank (in fact, as mentioned above, the lack of a Palestinian state is not because Israel "sliced up" — as Bob Simon and pro-Palestinian activists describe it — the West Bank, but because they rejected a state, started a terror war, and used territory abandon by Israel as a base for deadly attacks); and relayed the Palestinian view of checkpoints as "humiliating" while ignoring the fact that Palestinians' violent rejection of a state prompted most of the checkpoints).
THE CAST OF CHARACTERS
Simon carefully chose his guests to bolster his points, guaranteeing a warped picture of the conflict to accompany a skewed narration.
Mustapha Barghouti is quoted and paraphrased more than any other guest and is given an unchallenged platform to level a variety of extreme charges. Referring to him only as a "former candidate for Palestinian president" Simon gives no hint that he is a long-time partisan whose statements are often patently false and propagandistic – notwithstanding his role as a PA legislator.
* Commenting on the death of arch-terrorist George Habash, founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and mastermind of airplane bombings and hijackings, the Lod Airport massacre and the Entebbe hijacking, Barghouti praised the PFLP leader who he said left a legacy of "loyalty to the Palestinian cause in a very principled manner – honest, clean politics and great devotion to the Palestinian cause and to humanity." (Jerusalem Post Jan 29, 2008)
* On Dec 30 as the Gaza conflict erupted he stated on CNN that not a "single" Israeli had been killed since Dec 27, when in fact four had been killed.
* On CNN, he charged that Israel had broken the June 2008 cease-fire, when the Palestinians had broken it repeatedly by with the firing of rockets, mortars and light arms and with attempted infiltrations aimed at abducting Israelis.
* Barghouti's lies sometimes catch up with him as, for example, when the San Francisco Chronicle had to correct an absurd allegation he made that Israel's security barrier "was claiming 58% of the West Bank."
Barghouti and Simon lament that Barghouti cannot "ever" enter Jerusalem, implying he's barred because he moved away from the city. But Simon does not bother to investigate. Barghouti has been arrested several times for violating agreements not to engage in political electioneering in Jerusalem without a permit, and according to London's Independent (Jan. 8, 2005), he has deliberately "sought confrontations with the security forces as a tactic to gain badly needed publicity." Moreover, after an arrest in January 2006, he was ordered by Jerusalem police to stay out of Jerusalem for the next 30 days (Jerusalem Post, Jan. 4, 2006) -- not as Simon claims "forever." Apparently, the story is more complicated than the 60 Minutes host implies.
The Nassif family is granted almost as much time as Barghouti to give their view of events at their home overlooking Nablus, a sharp contrast with the ultra-brief paraphrased Israeli comment that "important surveillance operations" occur from the house.
Daniella Weiss, resident of the West Bank, is presented as a counterweight to Barghouti and voice for the settlement movement. Yet she represents the most extreme position of Israeli settler opinion, has sparred with settler leadership and advocates for illegal outposts – all of which are not positions of the vast majority of Israelis and Israeli settlers. Casting her comments as representative produces a highly distorted picture of settlements, ignoring the relevant legal, historical and religious issues.
Meron Benvenisti is identified as a supposedly "moderate" Israeli; but his stated views are far from moderate. He claims Israelis are not actually victims of Arab violence, but that "Jewish immigrants settled on the lands of Arab natives, met with violent resistance and responded as if they were the victims and the natives the aggressors" (The Nation, June 18, 2007). In the August 7, 2003 Ha'aretz, he wrote: "... the basic story here is not one of two national movements that are confronting each other; the basic story is that of natives and settlers." (Like Hamas extremists, he uses "settlers" here to refer to all Israelis, not just those living in the West Bank.)
He even claims Israel is worse in some respects than apartheid South Africa and he argues for a single binational state over the entirety of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip — a proposal far outside the Israeli political mainstream.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is very briefly interviewed, representing the official voice of Israel. She is only quoted discussing the possible need to remove settlements. If she commented on the need for checkpoints and other security measures or other context, it didn' t make it on the air.
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