Thursday 16 January 2003

False witnesses

by Tim Llewellyn

Since the creation of Israel in 1948, its supporters have been highly successful in ensuring that Israel's version of its and its neighbours' histories has been accepted as received truth. Dents have been made, notably by Israel's own historians as they have had greater access to official documents, in the Zionist myths. But they have usually been hammered out with alacrity, both by Israel and our domestic broadcasters.

Whenever Israel has been exposed as an aggressor - in Lebanon in 1978 and 1982, or during the first intifada of the late 1980s - its media doldrums have been temporary. The efforts of its spin doctors, the US government and media, in conjunction with a weak Arab communications operation, have usually combined to make Israel's broad version of events prevail.

These continue to give the impression of a struggle between equal forces: a beleaguered and misunderstood Israel, occasionally forced into excessive measures to clamp down on "terror", versus hordes of recalcitrant Palestinians careless of "western" values and endemically suicidal for obscure religious reasons. "Equivalence" is at the heart of Britain's misreporting of the crisis.

The fact of Palestinian resistance against a foreign occupying power is rarely emphasised. TV news viewers would have been unaware that last month Israeli soldiers killed 75 Palestinians, 14 of them children under 18. Then, two suicide bombers attacked Tel Aviv - the first such attack for six weeks. It was only when it had this "peg" that the BBC reported the rate of Palestinian casualties. Thus, suicide bombs are made to appear as the beginning of a new "cycle of violence", rather than an outcome of the occupation.

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