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An Open Letter to NPR's Producers

The Distortions of NPR on Palestine

by ELLEN CANTEROW

Tom Ashbrooke’s program on the Palestinian elections this week failed to mention the West Bank detention and beating of Dr. Mustapha Barghouti while he was campaigning (he is running second to Mahmoud Abbas in Palestinian public opinion) and, in a separate and more recent incident, the IOF’s refusal to let him return to the West Bank from Gaza, where he was continuing to campaign. (See the press release by Dr. Barghouti below.) These constitute both assault and batter and election tampering. They should have been at least mentioned during the On Point program. They were not. There is also Mahmoud Abbas’s "the Zionist enemy" statement. To the best of my knowledge no NPR program including "On Point" has contextualized this statement. What Abbas really said was: "We come to you today while we are praying for the souls of the martyrs who were killed by the shells of the Zionist enemy in Beit Lahia." Beit Lahia is a Gaza village that lies near two Gaza settlements. The martyrs in question were seven Palestinian children, the youngest 10 years of age, killed by an Israeli army shell fired at farmland where they were working just south of the two settlements and near Beit Lahia.

The fact is that as the much-touted "window of opportunity" – the elections – opens, the IOF, at the orders of Ariel Sharon, is very busy slamming it shut as Israeli soldiers continue mowing down Palestinian civilians, demolishing their houses and seizing their land. If Palestinians had similarly murdered Israeli children, the entire US press would run bloody photographs on its front pages, the Israel lobby would be calling for all-out war against the Palestinian population, and Israeli demonstrators would be shrieking "Death to the Arabs." But of course the US press now finds Abbas suspect, another potential "failed partner," while Ariel Sharon and the Israeli government remain blameless.

Israel has a very poor record in the matter of the few "free" elections it has permitted its occupied subjects. In the early 1980s when I was reporting from the region, it exiled two of four moderate (and pro-PLO) West Bank mayors returned in 1976, the only free elections Israel permitted in the territories before Oslo. The exile added insult to literal injury: the year before, assassination attempts by Jewish extremists maimed two mayors who weren’t sent into exile, and killed the bodyguard of another. (See Robert I. Friedman’s excellent Zealots for Zion for more details about the crime and its perpetrators.) Meanwhile Israel promoted a quisling regime called "the Village Leagues," an effort to (so to speak) "Palestinianize" its occupation and secure mass submission Palestinian to its Greater Israel settlement program. The Village League predictably failed; in 1987 the first intifada erupted. Next came Oslo, and Yasser Arafat’s election to head the Palestinian fledgling government. At that time the US and Israel backed him because they hoped he’d govern a docile population while Israel continued annexing the West Bank’s most valuable land and water resources. And indeed, Arafat agreed to cede all but 22 percent of former Mandate Palestine to Israel; he signed an agreement (Oslo) which didn’t address settlement-building. But he failed to become a "Village League" kind of partner, and while his government was hardly more corrupt than, say, George W. Bush’s, he was weak. So he was banished, persecuted, demonized, and finally died, much to the lugubrious delight of Israel, the US, and its press pundits. Now comes Abbas. Will he be the docile partner Israel has long fantasized? Will the Palestinian population, which continues suffering the unchecked assaults of the Israeli army and the unrestrained seizure of ever more of its land, now submit to the Bantustan project that Israel has long sought and that – given the "separation wall," Jewish-only bypass roads, settlements encircling all Palestinian living centers including Beit Lahia – is all but complete? (Of course unmentioned in this week’s program or in any NPR discussions of the elections is the famous statement by Sharon’s adviser and spokesman, Dov Weisglass, that the famed "Gaza pullout" is simply a mask for embalming the "peace process" in "formaldehyde." )

Most of the world understands the contexts I have just sketched – contexts that are critical for the current elections. The press in most of the world isn’t bludgeoned into conformity by the pressures CAMERA, AIPAC, the ADL and their ilk bring to bear on ours. In much of the world journalists interview experts like Dr. Barghouti, Dr. Haider Abd el-Shafi in Gaza, Professor Ilan Pappe in Israel, Professor Avi Schlaim in England, and others. They run photographs of children and adults slaughtered by the Israeli army and give the act a name: murder. They show their audiences old men and women, mothers, fathers and children, weeping in the ruins of their demolished homes. To understand the current elections, Israel’s and the US’s stake in them, and why many Palestinians may feel they are irrelevant, one must understand all of this.

But the US press alone reports the "conflict" in such a way that many Americans actually believe Palestinians are occupying Israeli land rather than vice-versa. Calling territories that are occupied "disputed" and settlements "Jewish neighborhoods" as NPR including Mr. Ashrook does, supports this appalling misconception. It would be refreshing if, for once, "On Point" interviewed experts like the ones mentioned above. In the past "On Point" did interview Raja Shehadeh, the West Bank lawyer and memoirist who founded the West Bank human rights organization, Law in the Service of Man. But since then your reporting has kept strictly to the "middle road" delineated by those in US power. Never a good thing for journalism to do, certainly not in the terrible times we live in now.

Ellen Cantarow lives in Medford, MA.

PRESS RELEASE: Dr. Barghouthi, stuck at the Erez Crossing checkpoint in Gaza tonight, said by telephone, "What Israel is doing in Beit Lahiya is imposing a state of war. Shelling civilians and children from a 500-700 meter distance is inexcusable and contradicts the Israeli army’s claims that they only carry out ‘targeted attacks."’

"Conditions in Gaza are miserable," he continued, "with never-ending violations of human rights. Right now about 20,000 people have been stuck at the Rafah checkpoint for 25 days, unable to get to their homes. And of course they will be unable to vote. And now the only crossing to and from Gaza, the Erez checkpoint, has also been closed."

An Israeli tank shell killed seven children between the ages of ten and 17 in a strawberry field in the northern Gaza Strip yesterday. The anti-personnel shells that were used throw out thousands of metal darts in a deadly cloud that rips apart everything it encounters.

Dr. Mohamed Sultan of the Beit Lahiya hospital said eleven were also wounded, four critically. Two of the survivors had double leg amputations, another a single leg amputation.

At 7:40 a.m. on January 4, 2005, several children went to work on their farms in the agricultural region north of Beit Lahiya and south of the fence that separates Beit Lahiya from the illegal Israeli settlements of Elei Sinai and Nisanit. The tanks were located in Israeli military posts between the two settlements and were 500 to 700 meters away from the children when they fired.

According to eyewitness reports there was a clear view from the military post to the group of kids across the flat fields, and a drone was reportedly circulating in the area and possibly directing activities on the ground.

Six of the boys who were killed were from the same family, and three were brothers. The names of the dead children are: Hani Mohammed Ghaben (17), and his brothers Bassam (14) and Mohammed (12); their cousins Rajeh Ghassan Ghaben (10), Jaber Abdullah Ghaben (15), Mohammed Hassan Ghaben (17); and a neighbor named Jibril Abdul Fattah al-Kaseeh (16).

The father of the three dead brothers was among the villagers who came to see the effects of the shelling. When he reached the site, he was shocked to see the scattered and bloody remains of his children. Medical staff and family members gathered the shredded body parts of the children from the grass and clay.

An Israeli military spokeswoman told Molly Moore of the Washington Post that "the tank was firing at people believed to have launched mortar rounds and that at least five of the dead Palestinians were members of the militant Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas."

However, this testimony is contradicted by eyewitness accounts and by Dr. Mohamed Sultan of the Beit Lahiya hospital, who received the casualties. Hamas, which is known for advertising its martyrs, did not claim any casualties.

Israeli violence has intensified in the run-up to the first Palestinian presidential elections in eight years. Since Yasser Arafat died, during a much-vaunted ‘window of opportunity for peace’, more than 75 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, many of them children. In the same period, no Israeli civilians have been killed by Palestinians.

Contact: + (972) 59 674 411 / info@nustafabarghouthi.ps <mailto:info(mustafabarghouthi.ps> / <http://www.mustafabarRhouthi.ps>