As the violent Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people continues unabated, the U.S. media continues to paint a distorted picture of the situation on the ground. Instead of providing fair and balanced coverage of the Middle East conflict, American journalists report the accolades of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak as the only Israeli leader to have offered the Palestinians so much. We hear in countless opinion columns and editorials of how Barak has no choice but to "retaliate" against Palestinian-instigated violence. They portray Palestinians as ungrateful, resentful, and a stubborn lot who reject Barak's every offer, and pointlessly battle on, fighting worthless fights. As the old saying goes, these half-truths and lies have been told so often, they have suddenly become accepted as fact.
The harsh reality is that Barak is offering the Palestinians what is not for him to give away in the first place. The Occupied Territories, including Jerusalem, already belong to the Palestinians as stated in numerous UN Resolutions.
On December 1, 2000, the UN Security Council passed a resolution stating Israel's decision to impose "its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the Holy City of Jerusalem is illegal and therefore null and void and has no validity". It deplored the transfer by "some states" (i.e., the United States) of their diplomatic missions from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move the assembly said was contrary to a UN Security Council resolution on the undecided status of Jerusalem. The U.S. was one of 5 countries (in addition to Nauru, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Angola) that abstained from the UN resolution passed 145-1, Israel being the only country that opposed it.
Yet only a few, if any, American newspaper reported this UN resolution. This blatant omission served to eradicate the entire international community's voice and reinforce the idea that the American administration's opinion on the Middle East is the only one worth having. When we hear of Barak, we hear of his clever politicking, the stress of his position, his desire to achieve further peace talks--but never his senseless use of violence or the fact that he has grossly violated the human rights his indigenous population. Furthermore, journalists rarely quote Palestinian opinion on Barak's policies and election drama.
We are never reminded that the most recent unofficial figures demonstrate the budget for illegal settlement construction has been cut. In fact, since Barak replaced his hard-line predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, construction has begun on 3,000 new homes in just 18 months; despite the fact international law forbids the building of settlements on occupied territory.
Rarely do we hear of statistics put out by groups like Peace Now, a leading Israeli human rights organization, which has called for a halt to the settlements. The organization reports that illegal building of settlements has increased by at least 40 percent since the Oslo Accords were signed, and settlement construction has been at a peak under Barak's leadership. The residents of many of these settlements are often considered to be ultra-orthodox nationalists, even by Israeli standards. These right-wing extremists often terrorize Palestinians in their own home. Furthermore, they are protected under ethnocentric laws, which allow them to bear arms and at the same time fail to adequately punish them for their aggression.
This encroachment on Palestinian land, of course, is in addition to the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people--humiliating searches, illegal detention, systematic torture, police harassment, extended curfews, economic sanctions, raids, and discriminatory laws all perpetrated by the Israeli government. In fact, when the Israeli army attacked Palestinian neighborhoods in early November, they were passed off as "retaliation" for random acts of violence. No media outlet questioned these attacks.
Instead we mostly hear about Palestinians making calls to jihad, or holy war. The aggressor is made out to be the victim and the real victims are blamed. Repeatedly, the news media has called attention to Arafat's violent aggressive past and his "terrorist" activities, but nowhere is Barak's career of killing Arabs called into question.
The American media has created a cultural climate that has reduced the conflict to a religious one, by reporting the same so-called Biblical claims by the Jewish population. Rarely does the American media inform it public about the complexity of the Palestinian identity, and facts about an active Christian Palestinian presence in the intifadah.
We only hear of "uncontrollable Arab rage", never an explanation as to why Palestinians are upset. Of course Palestinians are angry--they have no reason to trust a government or a leadership that has continued to deny them their basic human rights. Rarely do we hear that Amnesty International's report in recent weeks said that Israel's actions "constituted war crimes".
If Barak is truly interested in a just and lasting solution to Israel's conflict to the Palestinians, he must start by obeying international law. He must adhere to all UN Resolutions, especially 242, 194, and 338. If he expects the Palestinian leadership to follow all peace agreements, he must do the same. He must review his government's ethnocentric policies and evaluate his military's gross violation of human rights. He must speak out against the illegal building of settlements, and have them come to a halt.
Barak must begin to acknowledge the grievances of the largest refugee group in the world, and speak with the Palestinians as human beings, not as sub-humans. And if Barak truly cares about his own Israeli citizens, then he will end occupation before Palestinian attacks against Israelis increase. As it stands now, Barak's "restraint" is only creating a situation where suicide-bombers are bound to thrive. Above all, Barak must review what peace for Israel and the Palestinians truly means, that a peace lacking in justice is no peace at all. When will the American media be brave enough to ask him that?
Sarah Waheed is writer living in Chicago, Illinois.