outstanding essay was written by Dr. Francisco Gil White and is from an article
which he posted on the web titled Is the U.S. an ally of Israel, a Chronological Look at the Evidence.
The main images of the 'intifada' were rock-throwing Palestinian Arab boys in confrontation with fully armed Israeli soldiers. With images like that, just a little bit of editorializing would produce an impression of supposed Israeli oppression of the Palestinian Arabs. The media editorialized it precisely like that, with gusto. And the PLO milked that for all it was worth.
However, it is important to understand that who the good guys are is not directly established by who is holding a rock and who is holding a gun. Consider the following, from the very beginning of the unrest:
"Khalil al Wazir, the senior military aide to Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat, has said that disturbances in the occupied West Bank and Gaza strip are certain to continue as long as Israeli troops continue their present tactics.
Al Wazir, better known by his codename Abu Jihad, spoke in an interview with the BBC correspondent in Tunis, blaming the recent wave of violence on what he called savage behavior by Israeli soldiers.
In the latest incident, Israeli soldiers Monday shot and killed a Palestinian mother of five and wounded five others during protests in the West Bank city of Ramallah, 10 miles north of Jerusalem. The soldiers fired into the air and then at the legs of the protesters as they rushed to the scene after an Israeli woman motorist was injured by a rock thrown at her car, said the spokesman.
A military source said the Arab woman killed in the clash, identified by the hospital as Amayat Hindi, 35, was apparently a passerby and not among the protesters. The army was investigating the shooting, added the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Four of the wounded were treated in nearby Ramallah hospital, while a fifth, who was slightly injured, was treated briefly at the scene and released, the military added."[134b]
So the PLO blamed the unrest on supposedly "savage behavior by Israeli soldiers." What savage behavior?
We hear of a "Palestinian mother of five" killed by the Israelis, by name Amayat Hindi. The PLO implies that she was willfully killed; the Israelis claim that she was an accidental casualty. According to the Israelis, the soldiers were not trying to kill anybody, and so had fired into the air and then at people's legs. But they did have to do something because an "Israeli woman motorist" was in danger of being killed by the rock throwers. Who's right?
A UPI wire of the same day, reporting on the same event, had more detail about this. There are some discrepancies with the above. For example, the woman's name is not given as Amayat Hindi but as Inayad Hindi, and in the UPI wire she is not a mother of five but of eight. However, UPI concurs that she was 35 years old, that the number of people wounded in the same incident was five, and that the trouble started when the rock-throwers injured an Israeli motorist.
Why did Inayad Hindi die? UPI explains:
"Cornered Israeli troops shot and killed a mother of eight and wounded five people during a general strike by Arabs protesting an attempt by Jews to pray at one of Islam's holiest sites.
Inayad Hindi, 35, a school teacher and a mother of eight, was hit by gunfire from Israeli troops who were trapped by a mob in the center of Ramallah, about 9 miles north of Jerusalem, Israeli military sources said."[134c]
If the Israeli troops had been "cornered" and "trapped" by the rock-throwing mob, then, since rocks can maim and kill, and since there were quite a few rock throwers, the soldiers had an obligation to defend themselves, and moreover to defend the Israeli motorist. But they obviously did not shoot to kill, otherwise a lot of people would have died. Only one person died, and it appears to have been an accident, because it is unlikely that a schoolteacher and mother of eight was throwing rocks. And the Arab and Israeli sides agree about this because, as the same wire explains, "A spokesman at Ramallah Government Hospital, where Hindi was pronounced dead on arrival, said she was shopping when she was shot."
We also learn above that the Arab rock throwers were not protesting Israeli oppression - they were upset that a few Jews wanted to worship, so they started throwing rocks, because that Jews should pray was very offensive to them. In the words of one Palestinian interviewed by UPI,
"'They're all so mad about the Jews who want to go to the mosque to pray,' said Omar Said, 32, who kept his brassware shop open."
Of course, Omar was putting it a bit tendentiously. It is false that the Jews wanted to go pray at the mosque, obviously, because Jews do not pray at mosques. What Omar leaves out is that the site of the mosque is also the site of Solomon's Temple. The Jews were few and they were not going there to drive the Arabs out; they just wanted to pray too.
So what emerges is that what the PLO calls "savage behavior by Israeli soldiers" was in fact perfectly decent behavior by Israeli soldiers, who, with minimum harm to their attackers, did their best to protect an Israeli civilian and then their own selves from a rock-throwing mob that had enraged itself merely because a few Jews wanted to pray.
But this information is in the wires, which almost nobody reads except for a few journalists. What people read is what appears in newspapers, and newspapers (and other mass media) tended to adopt the PLO interpretation of the unrest. To give you a taste for what usually happens in the major papers, consider what the three newspapers that covered this particular incident said.
First, the highly regarded Christian Science Monitor wrote:
"Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian mother of five and wounded five other people yesterday during protests that swept the occupied territories, an Army spokesman and witnesses said.
Troops opened fire in Ramallah to disperse about 500 Palestinian students who marched in the main square, the spokesman said."[134e]
That's it. The entire context is missing, and it makes the Israelis look very bad. The soldiers fired "to disperse about 500 Palestinian students"? Well yes, but what happened to the fact that these students were throwing rocks and had endangered the life of one innocent Israeli citizen? What about the fact that these students had "cornered" and "trapped" the soldiers? These facts are not mentioned.
The Toronto Star ran the headline, "Palestinians riot as mom shot by Israelis." But, of course, the only way to write a correct title with those words is to put them like so: "Mom accidentally shot by Israelis as Palestinians riot." What the Toronto Star wrote suggests that the riots were caused by the death of Inayad Hindi, something that is not true. The body of that article 'reported' as follows:
"Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian mother of five and wounded five other people yesterday in demonstrations that quickly spread in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip...
The demonstrations had several causes but participants told reporters they were mainly to protest Israeli police action near Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem Sunday."[134f]
The explanation is of course false. The Palestinian Arabs were not protesting "police action." They themselves explained how they were upset that a few Jews wanted to pray. And nothing is said about the fact that the rock throwers had attacked an Israeli civilian whom the soldiers rushed to protect.
Finally, The Herald ran the headline "Mother Killed." Not "Arab intolerance reaches rock-throwing pitch as Arabs riot to protest Jewish prayer," or "Protecting a civilian, Israeli soldiers trapped by enraged Arab mob." No, what you must remember is that the Jews killed a mom. Monsters. Underneath the "Mother Killed" title, The Herald writes simply "Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian mother of five who was searching for her children today, during a violent protest by about 500 Arab students."[134g] Nothing more.
Of course, this is only one incident, but it is instructive. The main lessons are three.
a) It is possible for the 'bad guys' to be the ones throwing rocks at fully armed soldiers, and therefore if Palestinian Arabs throw rocks at Israeli soldiers we cannot rush to conclude that they are responding to supposed Israeli oppression.
b) Since the PLO tried to claim that the obviously correct and compassionate behavior of the Israeli soldiers in this case was supposedly "savage," it follows that we need to examine PLO accusations of supposed Israeli brutality during the intifada with the utmost skepticism.
c) We cannot trust the mass media which people consume to report things accurately. There is a very strong bias to distort the truth in order to make the Israelis look like oppressors, and to make the Palestinian Arabs look like victims.
One final point, here: it is important to remember that rock-throwing is not 'non-violence.' And yet there was a big push in the mainstream Western media to represent the Palestinian 'intifada' as supposedly non-violent. For example, an article that appeared in the Financial Times towards the beginning of the intifada went so far as to compare the PLO terrorist George Habash (who "remains an influential and durable figure in the PLO") to Mahatma Ghandi.
"Dr George Habash, leader of the revolutionary Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, seems an unlikely advocate of a Gandhi-style campaign of civil disobedience in the West Bank and Gaza Strip."[134h]
But Ghandi's followers were not throwing rocks; they were non-violent. Therefore, a rock-throwing campaign cannot be called "Ghandi-style." Moreover, Ghandi never in his life advocated terrorism. By contrast, as the same Financial Times article explains,
"Dr Habash's PFLP was behind a series of spectacular terrorist actions carried out in the early 1970s by an organization calling itself 'Black September.' These included the 1972 Munich Olympic Games massacre of Israeli athletes which outraged world opinion.
He said the 'methods and means' practiced by the PFLP in the early 1970s had been discontinued because 'it made us lose the support of international opinion.' But he added that his organization 'had the right' to use all legitimate means, including armed struggle, to achieve its aims."
Habash was making it clear that he had no philosophical commitment to rock-throwing (which is very different from non-violence), and that the present strategy had been adopted merely because it was better at building sympathy for the Palestinian Arabs. He reserved the right to return to outright terrorism (that's the kind of "armed struggle" that the PFLP waged) when he saw fit.
And I must also point out that the intifada did not limit itself to throwing rocks. A year after the intifada started, the New York Times wrote the following:
"...after 12 months...the stone throwing, hurling of firebombs, painting of graffiti slogans on walls and other longstanding tactics of the uprising 'have become institutionalized, a way of life,' Mr. Barghouti [a Palestinian newspaper editor in East Jerusalem] said."[134i]
Notice the phrase, "Hurling of firebombs...". And this sort of thing was one of the "longstanding tactics" that had been "institutionalized" in the intifada.
There can be no argument here: firebombs are not merely weapons (as rocks also are), they are explosive weapons. So it should be obvious that the intifada was quite violent. The image of supposedly non-violent "civil disobedience" defended by the media rested merely on the force asymmetry: the Israeli soldiers had bigger weapons. But a force asymmetry - as the example of the incident in which Inayad Hindi accidentally died demonstrates - is insufficient to establish who has the moral high ground.