Al-Ahram Weekly Online   20 - 26 July 2006
Issue No. 804
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Never wrong

Portrayed as the world's eternal victim, Israel in the eyes of the Americans is unquestioned, even when it is bombing civilians, writes Emad Mekay, in New York

Click to view caption
Petrol tanks are seen on fire at Al-Jieh electricity station following an Israeli air strike; A Lebanese youth lifts a child's bicycle from the rubble of a destroyed residential building in the southern city of Tyre

For the United States, Israel is always the victim when at conflict with its Arab neighbours. Otherwise, the zealous mobilisation of US politicians and intellections in support of Israel's war against Lebanon and their justification of the bloodshed it has caused would be ludicrous.

On Sunday morning millions of Americas watched former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (Republican, Georgia) tell them that Israel's demolition of Lebanese infrastructure, targeting of civilians and total blockade of Lebanon was an act of self-defence. He and many other public figures in the US also parroted the Israeli line of blaming Iran and Syria for the events. There is, Gingrich said, a "Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas alliance trying to destroy Israel".

"You clearly have Iranian involvement; there are at least 400 Iranian guards in south Lebanon," he added without citing any evidence.

The US continues to back Israeli aggression with weapons and aid, justified by claims made by many pro-Israel intellectuals that this conflict is a world war that includes the United States. "I mean, this is absolutely a question of the survival of Israel, but it's also a question of what is really a world war," Gingrich said

Other neo-conservatives and staunch pro-Israel allies also saw opportunity in the lethal violence gripping Lebanon. William Kristol, editor of the right-wing Weekly Standard, told Fox News Sunday that the Israeli attacks were in response to the Hizbullah operation that lead to the capture of two Israel soldiers, failing to mention how the Lebanese government and Hizbullah have been pleading with Israel to return maps of some 140,000 mines it left when it was forced out of Lebanon in 2000.

Israel still holds Lebanese prisoners and thousands of Palestinians in its US-funded prisons. It has also rejected calls for a withdrawal from the Shebaa Farms area that it continues to occupy.

Kristol -- a main propagandist for the US invasion of Iraq -- also said that the Hizbullah operation was an "opportunity" for the US to be back on the offensive in the region after a series of setbacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. "This aggression is a great opportunity to begin resuming the offensive against the terrorist groups," he said.

"Israel is fighting four of our five enemies, in a sense, in the Middle East: Iran and Syria, sponsors of terror, Hizbullah and Hamas. Al-Qaeda doesn't seem to be directly involved. We have to take care of them in Iraq," Kristol added. "This is an opportunity to begin to reverse the unfortunate direction of the last six months to nine months and get the terrorists and the jihadists back on the defensive," he said.

The US media has also played a role in downplaying scenes of civilian causalities on the Lebanese side. On Monday, the front-page picture of The Washington Post depicted Israeli rescue workers operating in Haifa. The day before was a bland, practically generic, picture of an explosion in Lebanon. Most headlines have either sympathised with Israel or undermined the gravity of Israel's attacks.

Alternatively, many TV stations sought to present the current crisis in terms of equal suffering; that Israeli civilians suffered under Hizbullah rockets as much as Lebanese civilians under Israeli aerial bombing.

More than 250 Lebanese, most of them civilians, including women and children, were killed in Israeli raids using 500-pound laser guided US-made bombs. The Lebanese economy suffered billions of dollars worth of damage after Israel targeted Beirut's airport, bridges, roads and factories. To date, 24 Israelis have been killed -- half of them uniformed soldiers in combat with Hizbullah fighters.

'Syrian President May Hold Key to Mid-East Crisis' read the headline of The Wall Street Journal Tuesday. 'Toll Climbs In Mid- East As fighting Rages on' was the uninformative Washington Post headline. In editorial after editorial, Israel is portrayed as the victim. "Make no mistake about it: Responsibility for the escalating carnage in Lebanon and northern Israel lies with one side, and one side only. And that is Hizbullah, the Islamist militant party, along with its Syrian and Iranian backers," said The Los Angeles Times editorial on Monday.

Palestine Media Watch has said that it had to call CNN's international desk Sunday complaining about the network's lack of coverage of civilian suffering on the Lebanese side. The pro-Arab organisation reported that the answer they got from CNN was they did "not have enough equipment and could not be everywhere at the same time".

"I think it's been strikingly one-sided in the coverage. The downplaying of the civilian casualties in Lebanon, I think, is fairly remarkable," said Jim Naureckas of the New York media-watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). "And the sort of acceptance that Israel is engaging in some kind of normal behaviour by responding to the one violent incident on the border by declaring war on an entire country is treated as a matter of course by US media commentators when it is really an amazing escalation."

Analysts say that with the US media coverage so biased, the American public and politicians would be very hard pressed not to take sides with Israel. "Certainly by giving only one part of the narrative where you have Israeli victims as the victims of unprovoked violence, it would be hard not to take Israel's side. If you are taking your information from the US media, it'll be hard to construct a different way of looking at it," said Naureckas.

Meanwhile, more US lawmakers came to the defence of Israel, regurgitating the Israeli line that it was provoked and that its military action was self-defence. Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton pledged support for Israel. Clinton, regarded as a possible presidential candidate for the 2008 elections, criticised the "unwarranted, unprovoked attacks from Hamas, Hizbullah and their state sponsors" and named them "the new totalitarians of the 21st century."

"We will stand with Israel because Israel is standing for American values as well as Israeli ones," Clinton said.

On Tuesday, the US Senate was still preparing a resolution supporting Israel in its conflict in Lebanon.

Nobel laureate and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, joined dozens who rallied outside the United Nations in support of Israel's aggressive stand. In Washington, Christians United For Israel, a group of right-wing Christian fundamentalists, said they were gathering at least 3500 people to rally in the US capital in order to drum up political support for Israel in its offensive against Lebanon.

The organisation, led by fundamentalist pastor John C Hagee, says that Jewish leaders will also take part, including Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon, retired Israeli defence chief Lt General Moshe Yaalon and Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman.

Perhaps those jumping to the defence of defending Israel ought to be more aware of US laws. The US Arms Export Control Act restricts the use of US weapons to justifiable self-defence and internal policing, meaning that US weapons cannot be used to target civilians in offensive operations. The US Foreign Assistance Act also bars US aid to a country with a pattern of gross human rights violations. Several human rights groups have so far condemned the Israeli attack.

But despite these injunctions in US law, on the first few days of the offensive against Lebanon hundreds of millions of dollars worth of US munitions have been used by the Israeli army against a country friendly to the United States and a government fully supported by the United States. The fact that civilian structures, including milk factories and houses of worship, have been targeted may leave a long-term dent on the position of those backing Israel's offensive. That no such effect has been felt thus far is only because the US continues to succeed in portraying Israel as the eternal victim.

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