The Zionization of American Media
By Edward Said
The events of the past four weeks in Palestine have been a near-total triumph for Zionism in the United States for the first time since the modern re-emergence of the Palestinian national movement in the late 1960s. Political as well as public discourse has so definitively transformed Israel into the victim during the recent clashes, that even though 140 Palestinian lives were lost and close to 5,000 casualties have been reported, it is still something called "Palestinian violence" that has disrupted the smooth and orderly flow of the "peace process."
There is now a small litany of phrases that every editorial commentator either repeats verbatim or relies on as an unspoken assumption: these have been engraved in ears, minds, and memories as a guide for the perplexed, a manual or machine for turning out phrases that have clogged the air for at least a month.
I can recite most of them by heart: Barak offered more concessions at Camp David than any Israeli prime minister before him (90 per cent of the territories and partial sovereignty over East Jerusalem); Arafat was cowardly and lacked the necessary courage to accept Israeli offers to end the conflict; Palestinian violence, directed by Arafat, has hreatened Israel (all sorts of variations on this, including the wish to eliminate Israel, anti-Semitism, suicidal rage in order to get on television, putting children in the front lines so that they would become martyrs) and proved that an ancient "hatred" of the Jews motivates Palestinians; Arafat is a weak leader who allows his people to attack Jews and incite against them by releasing terrorists and producing schoolbooks that deny Israel's existence. There are probably one or two more formulae that I have not cited, but the general picture is that Israel is so surrounded by rock-throwing barbarians that even the missiles, tanks and helicopter gunships that have been used to "defend" Israelis from the violence are simply warding off a terrible force. Bill Clinton's injunctions (dutifully parroted by his secretary of state) for Palestinians to "pull back" goes a long way to suggest that it is Palestinians who are encroaching on Israeli territory, not the other way round.
It is also worth mentioning that so successful has this Zionisation of the media been that not a single map has been published or shown on television to remind American viewers and readers -- notoriously ignorant of both geography and history -- that Israeli encampments, settlements, roads and barricades crisscross Palestinian land in Gaza and the West Bank. Moreover, as happened in Beirut in 1982, there is a veritable Israeli siege of Palestinians, including of Arafat and his men. Completely forgotten, if it was ever at all understood, is the system of Areas A, B, and C by which the military occupation of 40 per cent of Gaza and 60 per cent of the West Bank continues, and which the Oslo peace process was never really designed to end, much less totally modify. As suggested by the absence of geography in this most geographical of conflicts, the resulting void is a vitally important point since the pictures that are either shown or described are without context at all. I think the omission by the Zionised media was a deliberate one at the outset and has now become automatic.
It has allowed phony commentators like Thomas Friedman to peddle his wares shamelessly, droning on about American even-handedness, Israeli flexibility and generosity and his own perspicacious pragmatism with which he berates Arab leaders and stuns his bored readers. It has the result not only of permitting the completely preposterous notion of a Palestinian attack on Israel to prevail, but it also further dehumanizes Palestinians as being beasts without sentience or motive. Thus little wonder that when the figures of the dead and wounded are recited no nationalities are given: this lets Americans assume that the suffering is equally divided between the "warring parties," and in fact elevatesJewish suffering and reduces or eliminates Arab feelings entirely, except of course for rage. Rage and its cognates remain as the only and certainly the defining Palestinian emotion. It explains the violence, and indeed, it reifies it so that Israel has come to represent a decency and democracy that is forever surrounded by rage and violence.
No other process can logically explain the stone throwers and the stalwart Israeli "defense." Nothing is said of house demolitions, land expropriations, illegal arrests, torture and the like. Nothing is cited about what is (except for the Japanese occupation of Korea) the longest military occupation in modern times; nothing about UN resolutions; nothing about Israeli contraventions of all the Geneva Conventions; nothing about the sufferings of one entire people and the obduracy of another. Forgotten are the catastrophe of 1948, ethnic cleansing and massacres, the devastation of Qibya, Kafr Qassem, Sabra and Shatila, the long years of military government for non-Jewish Israeli citizens to say nothing of their continued oppression as a persecuted 20 per cent minority within the Jewish state.
Ariel Sharon at best is a provocation, never a war criminal, Ehud Barak a statesman, never the assassin of Beirut. Terrorism is always on the Palestinian side of the ledger, defense on the Israeli.
What Friedman and pro-Israeli "peaceniks" fail to mention when they extol Barak's unprecedented generosity is the real substance of it. We are not reminded that his commitment to a third withdrawal (of about 12 per cent) made at Wye 18 months ago has never occurred. Of what value then are more such "concessions?" We are told that he was willing to give back 90 per cent of the territory. What gets left out is that the 90 per cent is of what Israel has no intention of giving back. Greater Jerusalem is well over 30 per cent of the West Bank; large settlements to be annexed are another 15 per cent; military roads of areas have yet to be determined. So after all this is deducted, 90 per cent of the balance isn't so much after all. As for Jerusalem: the Israel concession was principally in being willing to discuss and maybe, just maybe, to offer shared authority over the Haram Al-Sharif. The breathtaking dishonesty of the matter is that all of West Jerusalem (principally Arab in 1948) was already conceded by Arafat, plus most of a vastly expanded East Jerusalem.
One detail further: Palestinians' firing by small arms on Gilo is routinely made to seem like gratuitous violence, whereas no one mentions that Gilo itself sits on land confiscated from Beit Jala, the place from which the firing emanates. Besides, Beit Jala was disproportionately shelled by Israeli helicopters using missiles to destroy civilian houses.
I have made a survey of the major newspapers. Ever since 28 September, there have been anywhere between one and three opinion articles per average day in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe. With the exception of perhaps three articles written from a pro-Palestinian point of view in the Los Angeles Times, and two (one by an Israeli lawyer, Alegra Pacheco, the other by a pro-Oslo liberal Jordanian journalist, Rami Khoury) in the New York Times, all the articles -- (including those by regular columnists like Friedman, William Safire, Charles Krauthammer and others like them), have been in support of Israel, the US-sponsored peace process, and the idea that Palestinian violence, Arafat's lack of cooperation, and Islamic fundamentalism are to blame. The writers have been former US military as well as civilian officials, Israeli apologists and officials, think tank specialists and experts, officials of pro-Israeli lobbies and organizations.
In other words, the total blanketing of the mainstream has taken place on the assumption that no Palestinian or Arab or Islamic position on such matters as Israeli terror tactics against civilians, settler-colonialism, or military occupation exists at all, or is worth hearing from. This is simply without precedent in the annals of US journalism, and is a direct reflection of a Zionist mind-set that makes Israel the norm in human behavior, thereby excluding from equal consideration the existence of 300 million Arabs and 1.2 billion Muslims. In the long run this is of course a suicidal position for Zionists to be in, but such is the arrogance of power that the thought seems not to have occurred to anyone.
The mind-set I have described is truly staggering in its recklessness and, were it not very much a practical as well as actual distortion of reality, one could quite easily be talking about a form of private mental derangement. But it corresponds very closely to official Israeli policy of dealing with Palestinians not as a people with a history of dispossession for which in large measure Israel is directly responsible, but as a periodic nuisance for whom force, and neither understanding nor full accommodation, is the only possible response. Everything else is literally unthinkable. This astonishing blindness is compounded in the United States since Arabs and Muslims are scarcely paid attention to except as (I have said in an earlier article) the butt of every aspiring politician. A few days ago Hillary Clinton announced in a gesture of the most revolting hypocrisy that she was returning a $50,000 donation from an American-Muslim group because, she said, they supported terrorism; this in fact was an outright lie, since the group in question had only said that it supported Palestinian resistance against Israel during the current crisis, not in itself an untoward position but criminalized in the American system only because a totalitarian Zionism requires that any -- and I mean literally any -- criticism of what Israel does is simply intolerable and the rankest anti-Semitism. And this despite the fact that (again literally) the entire world has criticized Israel's policies of military occupation, disproportionate violence, and the siege of the Palestinians. In America you must refrain from any criticism, otherwise you are hounded as an anti-Semite requiring the severest opprobrium.
The further peculiarity of American Zionism, which is a system of antithetical thought and Orwellian distortion, is that it is impermissible to speak of Jewish violence, or Jewish actions when it comes to Israel, even though everything done by Israel is done in the name of the Jewish people, for and by a Jewish state. That such a state is a misnomer, since almost 20 per cent of the population is not Jewish, is never mentioned and this too accounts for the amazing, entirely deliberate discrepancy between what the media calls "Israeli Arabs" and "the Palestinians:" no reader or viewer could possibly know that they are the same people in fact divided by Zionist policy, or that both communities represent the result of Israeli policy -- apartheid in one case, military occupation and ethnic cleansing in the other. In fine, American Zionism has made any serious public discussion of Israel, by far the largest ever recipient of US foreign aid, its past and its future, a taboo not be broken in any circumstance. To call this literally the last taboo in American discourse is by no means an exaggeration. Abortion, homosexuality, the death penalty, even the sacrosanct military budget have been talked about with some freedom (although always within limits).
The American flag can be burned in public, whereas the systematic continuity of Israel's 52-year-old treatment of the Palestinians is virtually unimaginable, a narrative with no permission to appear. This consensus might be somehow tolerable were it not for the fact that it makes the continuing punishment and dehumanization of the Palestinian people an actual virtue. There is simply no people in the world today whose killing on television screens seems to be considered by most American viewers to be acceptable as well-deserved punishment. This is the case with Palestinians whose daily loss of life in the past month is herded under the rubric "the violence on both sides," as if the stones and slings of young men thoroughly tired of injustice and repression were a major offence rather than the courageous resistance to a demeaning fate meted out to them not just by Israeli soldiers armed by America, but by a peace process designed to coop them up in Bantustans and reservations fit for animals. That the US supporters of Israel could have plotted for seven years to produce a document designed essentially to cage people like inmates in an asylum or prison -- that is the real crime. And that this could be passed off as peace instead of the desolation that it really has been all along, that surpasses my powers to understand or adequately describe as anything less than untrammeled immorality.
The worst thing of all is that so iron-like is the wall protecting American discourse about Israel that no questions can be put to the minds that produced Oslo and that for seven years have been passing off their scheme to the world as peace. One scarcely knows which is more pernicious, the mentality that thinks of Palestinians as not entitled even to express a sense of injustice (they are too low a form for that) or the one that continues to plot their further enslavement. Were this the whole it would be bad enough. But our miserable status as far as US Zionism is concerned is compounded by the absence of any institution here or in the Arab world ready and able to produce an alternative. I fear that the coverage of those stone-throwing protesters in Bethlehem, Gaza, Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron may not be adequately reflected in the dithering Palestinian leadership, unable either to retireor to go forward. That is the ultimate pity of it.