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Thursday, June 15, 2006


Palestinian and Israeli casualties

Knight-Ridder's Dion Nissenbaum, who I just had occasion to mention yesterday in conjunction with his almost balanced coverage of the deaths on the beach in Gaza, does it again today in an article headlined "Palestinian civilians bear brunt of conflict; fewer Israelis slain." That may not be news to most Left I on the News readers, but it is news to most Americans, in part because of one of the things Nissenbaum highlights in his article: "most of the Palestinian deaths received little media attention." Indeed, that disparity in media coverage is one of the focuses of the group If Americans Knew.

Nissenbaum is head and shoulders above most other American reporters covering the subject, but that doesn't mean his coverage is without problems. For example, he makes this claim:

To be sure, there's a significant distinction between the two sides: Palestinian suicide bombers and rocket teams target Israeli civilians, whereas Israel is aiming at Palestinian militants.
The problem here is two-fold. First of all, Palestinian attacks have been aimed at Israeli soldiers as well as civilians, not to mention the armed settlers who may be legally "civilians" but hardly qualify as innocent. Nissenbaum's wording makes it appear as if all Palestinian attacks are aimed exclusively at Israeli civilians. Second, Israel may often be "aiming" at Palestinian militants, but when those militants are driving along a crowded street, civilian casualties are virtually guaranteed. Not to mention that small boys playing soccer, or little girls on the way to school, or countless other Palestinian children and adults intentionally targeted by Israelis under similar situations, hardly qualify as "militants." Nissenbaum actually mentions those incidents, and others, which is the kind of thing that sets this article and Nissenbaum apart from the average American reporter, but evidently he thinks they qualify as "aiming at Palestinian militants." In a similar vein, he writes:
Over the same period, a conservative review of statistics shows, at least 47 innocent Palestinians have been killed by Israeli artillery shells, missiles and bullets. B'Tselem, which compiled the data, gives a higher number, 156, but that figure includes demonstrators throwing stones, militants trying to evade capture and Palestinians whom Israel targeted for assassination.
So, evidently being a demonstrator throwing stones disqualifies you as an "innocent Palestinian," and makes your murder not worth counting. Nissenbaum also allows the following remark by IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz about missile murder of eight civilians on a street in Gaza to go unchallenged: "We are saddened by the deaths of these innocent Palestinians but hold absolutely no responsibility for them." This is completely outrageous, and, unacceptably, Nissenbaum fails to remind his readers of the details of that atrocity. We have no way to know how isolated the car carrying the militants was when Israeli jets fired the first missile, and how big a chance the Israelis were taking with the lives of nearby civilians. But we know exactly how isolated it was when the Israelis deliberately fired the second missile -- it was surrounded by a crowd, including medical workers rushing to the aid of the victims of the first attack. The second missile was aimed at that crowd of civilians. "No responsibility"? In a just world, everyone involved, from the pilots to Dan Halutz would be headed to a war crimes trial.

But I don't want to be too harsh on Nissenbaum. For example, in conjunction with this week's murders on the beach in Gaza, he chooses his language carefully: "the military has cleared itself of responsibility," and balances that by noting "that conclusion is being challenged by human rights groups." He also provides his readers with the total figures which again, most of them are unlikely to be familiar with since they rarely, if ever, appear in the American press: "Over the past six years, according to B'Tselem, Israelis have killed more than 3,500 Palestinians, while Palestinians have killed about 1,000 Israelis."

Readers with very good memories may remember that last August, Nissenbaum actually reminded his readers in an article that Israeli settlements were in defiance of international law (an astonishing event in current-day American corporate journalism), and that he was briefly kidnapped last October when doing something else few corporate American journalists do -- reporting from Gaza, instead of from the comfort and convenience of Jerusalem.

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