Dear NPR News, I find it astonishing that your only acknowledgement of the massacre yesterday of 8 Palestinians and a German by Israeli occupation forces, has thus far been limited to a report on All Things Considered this afternoon by Jennifer Ludden about what it is like to be an Israeli soldier guarding a settlement in the occupied West Bank.

NPR–Taking Israel’s word for it

November 16, 2000

Dear NPR News,

I find it astonishing that your only acknowledgement of the massacre yesterday of 8 Palestinians and a German by Israeli occupation forces, has thus far been limited to a report on All Things Considered this afternoon by Jennifer Ludden about what it is like to be an Israeli soldier guarding a settlement in the occupied West Bank.

In the hypothetical situation where you are reporting fairly, consistently and accurately on the deaths of Palestinians, Ludden’s report would not be so terrible. But in the context of routinely ignoring Palestinian deaths, while graphically and extensively reporting every Israeli casualty, as I have carefully documented, the report was an outrage.

Only the host’s introduction to the report acknowledged that 8 Palestinians were killed yesterday and very misleadingly suggested that they had died in nighttime gunfights with Israeli occupation forces reflecting a “change of tactics” by Palestinians. In fact, most, if not all of them were shot dead in daytime demonstrations. The German doctor (not mentioned by NPR) who died was killed by a rocket attack as he was going to aid injured neighbors in the town of Beit Jala. In addition, at least two Palestinians were shot dead today, and two more, including an 11-year old boy died of previously inflicted injuries. None of this has been deemed interesting or important by NPR in recent days.

Yet in Ludden’s report, the Israeli soldiers stated that they had “strict rules of engagement,” and only fired when fired upon. This is the standard Israeli line, but it is belied by the evidence. Sadly and inexplicably, Ludden did not challenge this version with independent sources which are readily available and which have seldom been used by NPR. The Yugoslav Army was never given the privilege by NPR, as Israel’s soldiers have, of being the sole judge of their own human rights record and actions, nor did NPR spend much time learning what it is like to be a Serbian soldier defending against Albanian “terrorists” as the Yugoslav government called them. This is truly remarkable.

Is there any level of documentation which would lead NPR to go beyond describing the slaughter in terms of claim and counterclaim by Israelis and Palestinians? Can there ever be a finding of fact by your reporters, or is it all a matter of “perception”? What about this evidence? Would any of it convince you that the Palestinians are not making it all up?

In a November 3 statement on an investigation by a medical team from Physicians for Human Rights (USA) that went to the occupied territories, the group said that “Physicians for Human Rights USA finds that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has used live ammunition and rubber bullets excessively and inappropriately to control demonstrators, and that based on the high number of documented injuries to the head and thighs, Israeli soldiers appear to be shooting to inflict harm, rather than solely in self-defense.”  (www.phrusa.org)

Human Rights Watch stated in a recent report:

“Human Rights Watch’s investigation of clashes in the Israeli town of Um al-Fahm, the West Bank town of al-Bireh/Ramallah, and the Netzarim junction in the Gaza Strip documented repeated excessive use of lethal force against unarmed Palestinian demonstrators who posed no imminent danger of death or serious injury to security forces or to others, and indiscriminate use of force in responding to situations involving gunfire from the Palestinian side. In addition to its frequent use of live ammunition, Israeli security forces relied heavily on rubber bullets and plastic-coated steel bullets, despite their lethality in such situations, for purposes of crowd control and dispersal. By contrast they made significantly little use of tear gas, even when evidence suggests that tear gas was more effective in dispersing protestors.” (INVESTIGATION INTO UNLAWFUL USE OF FORCE IN THE WEST BANK, GAZA STRIP, AND NORTHERN ISRAEL October 4 through October 11) (www.hrw.org)

A report by an Amnesty International delegation also found indiscriminate and excessive use of force by the Israeli occupation forces, and noted that “The impunity for those who commit human rights violations and the lack of investigations into so many deaths at the hands of security forces has led to a breakdown in the rule of law which has grave consequences for the region.” (Israel/Occupied Territories: Findings of Amnesty International’s delegation, October 19, 2000) (www.amnesty.org)

The rapidly accelerating Palestinian death toll suggests that Israel’s tactics are becoming more, rather than less lethal and indiscriminate over time. Today, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak stated, “If we thought that instead of 200 Palestinian fatalities, 2,000 dead would put an end to the fighting at a stroke, we would use much more force.” (AP, Israel Rockets West Bank Targets, November 16, 2000).

This statement is a clear indication that the Israelis are not using force in “self defense,” but as a form of punishment and reprisal. It also indicates that Barak does not recognize any moral or legal limits to the force that can be used against civilians. The only limit is what Israel deems appropriate. This is the definition of a war crime.

When Palestinians are killed it is often ignored by NPR. When it is reported it is rarely with the care and detail accorded to Israelis. Israel’s gross, documented abuses of human rights are being ignored, and NPR continues to pretend that there are “two sides” which one must treat with equal respect and scepticism.

This is a totally anti-journalistic way of doing business. You are ducking the challenge and responsibility of informing your listeners what is happening by hiding behind a notion of “balance” which really means treating the claims of the occupier and the occupied as being equally plausible, and ignoring almost all independent sources of fact and analysis.

The occasionally excellent reports filed by some of your correspondents are marred and lost by the CONSISTENT inaccuracy and disregard for the catastrophic situation the Palestinians are living in. If there were a daily suicide bombing or attack by Palestinians which each day claimed the lives of between two to eight Israelis you would treat the situation completely differently. Therein lies your shameful double standard.

Ali Abunimah
ali@abunimah.org
http://www.abunimah.org