Here we are, twenty years on , and many of the reports of what’s been happening as the Israeli army smashes its way through Ramallah and Bethlehem and the other Palestinian towns remind me of what came out of Lebanon in 1982 as Sharon and his invading army raced north: Israeli troops beating, looting, destroying; Palestinian families huddling in refugee camps, waiting for the killers to come.
But there is a difference. A huge one. Twenty years ago, at least for people living here in the United States, it was harder, though far from impossible, to get first-hand accounts of what was going on. You had to run out to find foreign newspapers, or have them laboriously faxed from London, or Paris. Reporting in the mainstream corporate press here was horrifying tilted into putting the best face on Israeli deeds. Mostly, it still is. But the attempted news blackout by the Sharon government and the Israeli military simply isn’t working.
Here’s Aviv Lavie, writing in Ha’aretz: "A journey through the TV and radio channels and the pages of the newspapers exposes a huge and embarrassing gap between what is reported to us and what is seen, heard, and read in the world On Arab TV stations (though not only them) one could see Israeli soldiers taking over hospitals, breaking equipment, damaging medicines, and locking doctors away from their patients. Foreign television networks all over the world have shown the images of five Palestinians from the National Security forces, shot in the heads from close range; one was apparently the manager of the Palestinian Authority orchestra. Some of the networks have claimed they were shot in cold blood after they were disarmed. The entire world has seen wounded people in the streets, heard reports of how the IDF prevents ambulances from reaching the wounded for treatment. The entire world has heard testimony by Palestinian families who have been imprisoned in their homes for 72 hours, in some places without electricity or water, and the food is running out."
As always, there are the courageous witnesses. These days we have the enormously brave young people in the International Solidarity Movement sending back daily e-mails and phone calls to the United States that flash their way round the internet and even translate into important interviews in the mainstream press, or on tv news shows.
Meet a few of them. Here’s Jordan Flaherty, filing this account from a few days ago: "Last night the Israeli Military tried to kill me. I’m staying in the Al Azzeh refugee camp, in Bethlehem, along with about twenty other international civilians. We’re here to act as human shields, because we’ve heard an Israeli invasion is imminentOn the hill above the camp is a Israeli military sniper’s post. The main street that runs down the village is in plain sight of the snipers’ post. To get where we were staying in the village, most of us had to cross this street. It was a quick, low, dash across the street. As I ran, the sniper fired. I heard at least six shots fired in the short distance I ran, exposed. The shots began as I came into view, and stopped shortly after I made it to the other side. They were clearly aimed at me. And, by the sound of them, they were close. All night long, there was the sound of gun shots, as the military shot into our village. We stayed clear of the windows. Some of the windows were blocked with sandbags. The gun and bullets were, no doubt, paid for by my tax dollars. Which is, of course, why we are here."
Or Tzaporah Ryter, filing this account for the Electronic Intifada: " I am an American student from the University of Minnesota. I currently am in Ramallah. We are under a terrible siege and people are being massacred by both the Israeli army and armed militia groups of Israeli settlers. ..On Thursday afternoon, the Israeli army began sealing off each entrance to Ramallah. Those traveling in began desperately searching for alternative ways and traveling in groups, but the Israelis were firing upon them and everyone was running and screaming. Women carrying their children were trying desperately to flee from Ramallah, carrying infants and toddlers, and their young children were running along in the rain through the fields, slipping and falling on the rocks, trying to reach safety. Israeli jeeps were speeding across the terrain pulling up from every direction and shooting at the women and children, and also at me, as we ran in opposite directions. They were chasing down people, hunting them like that in the fields."
Or the extremely articulate and self-possessed Adam Shapiro, whose testimony ended up in the New York Daily News and on CNN, where he told Kyra Phillips: "This is not about politics between Jew and Arab, between Muslim and Jew. This is a case of human dignity, human freedom and justice that the Palestinians are struggling for against an occupier, an oppressor. The violence did not start with Yasser Arafat. The violence started with the occupation."
PHILLIPS: "I’m just curious, have you — did you take the opportunity to say to Yasser Arafat, why not come and condemn what is going on, come out and make a statement in Arabic because that is what the President of the United States is just asking for?"
SHAPIRO: "President Arafat has done this repeatedly. I understand Arabic. I read the newspapers and I listen to the TV stations here. President Arafat, after every terrorist incident, every suicide bombing, after every action, has condemned this loss of life, of civilian lives on both sides. The Sharon government, sometimes will apologize after it kills an innocent civilian, but it does not apologize for raping the cities and for going in and carrying out terrorist actions, going to house to house much like the Nazis did in World War II, going house to house to house tearing holes through the walls, roughing up people, killing people, assassinating people."
Most of the time you open up a newspaper, as I did the Los Angeles Times the other day and read a robotic column by Ronald Brownstein about Palestinian terrorism and the wretched Arafat’s supposed ability to quell the Palestinian uprising with a few quick words. And then you turn on the Lehrer News Hour on PBS and there, of all people, is Zbigniev Brzezinski, stating the obvious, on April 1. "The fact of the matter is that three times as many Palestinians have been killed, and a relatively small number of them were really militants. Most were civilians. Some hundreds were children In the course of the last year, we have had Palestinian terrorism but we have also had deliberate, overreactions by Mr. Sharon designed not to repress terrorism but to destabilize the Palestinian Authority, to uproot the Oslo Agreement, which he has always denounced, in a manner which contributed to the climate, that resulted in the killing of one of the two architects of the Oslo Agreement."
After predictable dissent from Henry Kissinger, Brzezinski went on, "It’s absolute hypocrisy to be claiming that Arafat can put a stop to the terrorism – and it’s — let’s put it mildly — poor information on the part of the President to be maintaining that. This guy is sitting isolated. Sharon is trying to repress the Palestinians and terrorism is not stopping. How is Arafat supposed to put a stop to it? but the fact of the matter is that his ability to control the situation would be greatly increased if there was serious movement towards political process, towards a political settlement and that the United States took the lead."
Between this brisk statement of the obvious and the eloquent courage Adam Shapiro and his brave fellow internationalists, the truth is getting out, not fast enough, not loud enough, but better than twenty years ago.