The myth of Jeningrad, ten years on

April 17, 2012

* Jenin: “The misrepresentations and outright fabrications have never been properly addressed in the ten ensuing years, as though the editors at leading European news outlets believe nothing more than some hasty reporting and bad sourcing happened.”

Passover 2002: 31 Israelis dead (including Auschwitz survivors), 140 injured. After dozens of suicide bombs, many from Jenin, Israel finally launched an operation a few days later to arrest the bombmakers


“ISRAELI SOLDIERS STRIPPED HIM TO HIS UNDERWEAR, PUSHED HIM AGAINST A WALL AND SHOT HIM”

[Note by Tom Gross]

Ten years ago, in April 2002, Israel was subjected to the most incredible wave of media misreporting and nastiness I have ever witnessed on any subject. This followed a supposed massacre of hundreds (or thousands, according to some initial CNN reports) of Palestinian civilians in Jenin. In fact at most 14 Palestinian civilians died (together with 23 Israeli soldiers). This was far fewer than the hundreds of Israeli civilians killed in Israeli towns by suicide bombers dispatched from Jenin, a wave of attacks that Israel was trying to prevent from continuing.

I attach two articles below. The first concentrates on The Guardian’s coverage and is by a British university student who (fearing for his reputation with other students and professors) uses the pseudonym “Myrrh”.

The second article is my own analysis of the Jenin massacre myth, originally published ten years ago, which I titled “Jeningrad” after British journalists took seriously Yasser Arafat’s claim that the “massacre” of Palestinians in Jenin could only be compared to the World War Two Nazi sieges of Leningrad and Stalingrad. (800,000 Russians died during the 900-day siege of Leningrad; 1.3 million died in Stalingrad.)

As I noted in my piece, the British media was particularly emotive in its reporting. In April 2002, they devoted page upon page, day after day, to tales of mass murders, common graves, summary executions, and war crimes. Israel was invariably compared to the Nazis, to al Qaeda, and to the Taliban. One report even compared the thousands of supposedly missing Palestinians to the “disappeared” of Argentina. (No Palestinians were in fact missing.) A leading columnist for the Evening Standard, London’s main evening newspaper, compared Israel’s actions to “genocide.”

“THE KILLING FIELDS”

By contrast on the very same days, American reporters in Jenin – unlike their British counterparts – reported accurately. Molly Moore of The Washington Post wrote there was “no evidence to support allegations by aid organizations of large-scale massacres or executions.” Newsday’s reporter in Jenin, Edward Gargan, wrote: “There is little evidence to suggest that Israeli troops conducted a massacre of the dimensions alleged by Palestinian officials.”

The Boston Globe correspondent reported that after extensive interviews with “civilians and fighters” in Jenin “none reported seeing large numbers of civilians killed.” On the other hand, referring to the deaths of Israeli soldiers in Jenin, Abdel Rahman Sa’adi, an “Islamic Jihad grenade-thrower,” told The Boston Globe “This was a massacre of the Jews, not of us.”

By contrast the Jerusalem correspondent for the (London) Independent, Phil Reeves, began his report from Jenin: “A monstrous war crime that Israel has tried to cover up for a fortnight has finally been exposed.” He continued: “The sweet and ghastly reek of rotting human bodies is everywhere, evidence that it is a human tomb. The people say there are hundreds of corpses, entombed beneath the dust.”

Reeves spoke of “killing fields,” an image more usually associated with Pol Pot’s Cambodia.

Even the right-wing Daily Telegraph ran headlines such as “Hundreds of victims ‘were buried by bulldozer in mass grave’” and utterly fabricated accounts such as “Israeli soldiers had stripped him [the Palestinian] to his underwear, pushed him against a wall and shot him.”

Only one British paper, the Rupert Murdoch-owned daily tabloid The Sun, castigated the rest of the British media for their lies.

(My full article about the British media coverage of Jenin is below. Before that is the article from Harry’s Place that deals specifically with The Guardian’s coverage of Jenin.)

-- Tom Gross

 

* You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please first press “Like” on that page.

* Update, April 20, 2012: Thank you to all the people who have recommended this dispatch, for example, Marcus Sheff in his column in today’s Jerusalem Post, or here in Jewish Ideas Daily.


TEN YEARS ON, NOTHING LEARNED

Ten Years Since Something That Never Happened: A Learning Moment for the Guardian
By “Myrrh”
Harry’s Place
April 14, 2012

[Myrrh writes: I submitted this to the Guardian as a commentary piece on April 4. On April 12 they confirmed that they will not be running it. Both Brian Whitaker, former Middle East Editor current “[Guardian website] Comment is Free” editor, and Harriet Sherwood, currently the Jerusalem correspondent, have informed me that there are no plans to revisit the Jenin issue or the Guardian’s coverage of it ten years ago. The readers’ editor also wrote me that he has no plan on revisiting the issue.]

For two full weeks in April of 2002, the Guardian ran wild with lurid tales of an Israeli massacre in the Palestinian city of Jenin on the West Bank – a massacre that never happened. The misrepresentations and outright fabrications have never been properly addressed in the ten ensuing years, as though the Guardian’s editors believe nothing more than some hasty reporting and bad sourcing happened. But the reportorial failings were far too systematic to be so dismissed, and until the Guardian conducts a thorough investigation of its own errors and publishes a detailed account to its readers, its integrity on Israel-Palestine will continue to be called into question.

First the facts: On the heels of a thirty-day Palestinian suicide bombing campaign in Israeli cities which included thirteen deadly attacks (imagine thirteen 7/7’s [or 9/11’s] in one month), Israel embarked on a military offensive in the West Bank. The fiercest fighting in this offensive occurred in the refugee camp just outside the West Bank town of Jenin, the launching point for 30 Palestinian suicide bombers in the year and half previous (seven were caught before they could blow themselves up; the other 23 succeeded in carrying out their attacks). In this battle, which lasted less than a week, 23 Israeli soldiers were killed as well as 52 Palestinians, of whom at most 14 were civilians (there is some marginal dispute about that last figure).

There was nothing extraordinary in this battle or in these numbers. Looking back, what is extraordinary is that Ariel Sharon’s Israel sat through 18 months of Palestinian suicide terror before embarking on even this military offensive. [Then Guardian comment editor] Seamus Milne assured readers on April 10 of the ‘futility’ of this military response, though with the benefit of hindsight we can clearly see this battle as the turning point in the struggle to end suicide terror on Israel’s streets. Milne referred to ‘hundreds’ killed, ‘evidence of atrocities,’ and ‘state terror.’ Not to be outdone, [Guardian Jerusalem correspondent at the time] Suzanne Goldenberg reported from Jenin’s ‘lunar landscape’ of ‘a silent wasteland, permeated with the stench of rotting corpses and cordite.’ She found ‘convincing accounts’ of summary executions, though let’s be honest and concede that it’s not generally difficult to convince Goldenberg of Israeli villainy. In the next day’s report from Jenin, a frustrated Goldenberg reported that the morgue in Jenin had ‘just 16 bodies’ after ‘only two bodies [were] plucked from the wreckage.’ This didn’t cause her to doubt for a moment that there were hundreds more buried beneath or to hesitate in reporting from a Palestinian source that bodies may have been transported ‘to a special zone in Israel.’ [Senior Guardian correspondents] Brian Whitaker and Chris McGreal weighed in with their own equally tendentious and equally flawed reporting the following week.

Only on the tenth consecutive day of breathless Jenin Massacre reporting did Peter Beaumont report on detailed Israeli accounts refuting the massacre accusations, though predictably this was presented as part of an Israeli PR campaign rather than as conclusive proof. Two days later, Beaumont conceded that there hadn’t after all technically really actually been a massacre but then proceeded to repeat a handful of falsities as fact all over again. Without a doubt, though, the most memorable article the Guardian published on Jenin was its April 17 leader ‘The Battle for the Truth.’ The high dudgeon prose included the following sentences: ‘Jenin camp looks like the scene of a crime’; ‘Jenin smells like a crime’; ‘Jenin feels like a crime’; ‘Jenin already has that aura of infamy that attaches to a crime of especial notoriety’; and, unforgettably, the assertion that Israel’s actions in Jenin were ‘every bit as repellent’ as the 9/11 attacks in New York only seven months earlier.

No correction or retraction has ever been printed for this infamous editorial. On the contrary, though mounting evidence emerged that the whole massacre calumny was a fabrication (never adequately reported by the Guardian), twice over the following year this leader article was obliquely cited – once in condemning another Israeli action by comparing it to the ‘repellent demolition of lives and homes in Jenin’ and most outrageously under the headline ‘Israel still wanted for questioning.’ The latter headline ran on top of the only leader that mentioned the UN report clearing Israel of the massacre charge. Rather than humbly acknowledging their own role in the libelous crescendo of that spring, the editors reminded readers, ‘As we said last April, the destruction wrought in Jenin looked and smelled like a crime’ and assured them that this was still the case. Someone who gets all their information about the world from the Guardian, a sizable phylum in the common rooms of my present university, would have no idea just how much of a lie the Jenin massacre was.

In fact, as aerial shots later showed, the pictures of ostensibly widespread destruction in Jenin and its adjacent refugee camp were all of the same tiny area within the camp which had been the scene of a tactically brilliant ambush – on the part of the Palestinians. Thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed when a series of booby-trapped buildings collapsed on them. It was the IDF’s deadliest engagement of the month-long offensive, and the impetus for Suzanne Goldenberg’s appraisal (in a news article, not an opinion piece) that the battle of Jenin was ‘a fiasco for Israel, an immensely costly victory for the Palestinians’ on April 10, before the circular feeding frenzy about the phoney massacre began.

It was this incident that made many Israelis question the wisdom of endangering so many ground forces rather than just relying on air power. This would hardly be unprecedented. And we don’t need to look to the behaviour of countries that Israel would never want to be compared to. NATO fought two wars from the air – over Serbia in 1999 and Libya last year – with lopsided results. Very lopsided. Zero combat losses for NATO, roughly one thousand enemy combatants killed and slightly more than a thousand civilians as well. Both wars were hotly debated in this paper, but neither of them ‘smelled like a crime.’

FALLUJAH

But let’s not be unfair to the Guardian and compare its coverage of Jenin to those popular NATO wars against violent dictators. Let’s not even compare it to much bloodier conflicts in the past decade that gathered a lot less attention. And naturally, let’s not compare the way the Guardian covered the non-massacre in Jenin to the suicide attacks on Israeli civilians which prompted the military operation. No, I suggest making things as easy for the Guardian as possible, by comparing its coverage of Jenin to a remarkably similar pair of battles in the Iraqi city of Fallujah two years later in 2004. These battles were led by occupying western armies (US and UK) in a war that for the Guardian at least had none of the ambiguity of Kosovo or Libya. On the contrary, opposing the Iraq War was, second only to hating Israel, the great moral stand of the paper and its readership in the first decade of the 21st century.

In the two Fallujah battles, US-UK forces lost 126 men and killed nearly 1400 armed militants and about 900 civilians; in Jenin, recall, the respective numbers were 23 IDF killed, 38 Palestinian militants, and 14 civilians. Though both Fallujah battles were covered extensively and critically, and though the second one involved troops from the UK, and though it was in a war that this paper viewed dimly, the number of times the words ‘massacre’ or ‘war crime’ appeared in its coverage was exactly zero (of if you prefer numbers: 0). The only commonality in the Guardian’s coverage of the battle of Fallujah is that, as with Jenin two years earlier, no mention was made of Fallujah’s militants’ involvement in murderous attacks against British and American civilians at home. This is less an editorial decision though, and more likely because there were no such attacks.

Maybe Fallujah isn’t where we should be looking for a comparison. We could just go a few miles west of Jenin to Netanya, site of the Passover eve suicide bombing that sparked the Israeli military operation. How did the Guardian cover that massacre? Naturally, with detailed coverage of the victims and their families, and some understandably high-strung language on the frightening, almost ritualistic aspect of a mass murder of Jews as they sit to mark a festival of deliverance from bondage. Guardian reporters hit the pavement probing the feelings of Israelis and Jews worldwide in the face of this enormity and commentators made much of polling data showing that suicide attacks on Israeli civilians commanded large majorities of support in Arab and Muslim countries.

Of course I’m just kidding. None of that actually happened. There was not a single opinion piece about the Passover Massacre, no leader condemning it, and in fact, not even one news article by a Guardian writer dedicated to the story. The morning after the attack, the Guardian did lead with a story by correspondents Suzanne Goldenberg and Graham Usher about the bombing which understated its death toll by nearly half (16 as opposed to 30) and named and profiled none of the victims; most of the story dealt not with Netanya but with the Arab summit underway in Beirut. Nearly a third of the dead in Netanya were Holocaust survivors, but it would clearly be beneath the level of a serious news article to mention such an emotive an irrelevant topic. Well, until the very end of the article at least, which closes with an unremarked upon quote by Syrian President Bashar Assad that ‘It’s time to save the Palestinian people from the new holocaust they are living in.’ I am not making this up. Duly reported as well was that ‘Palestinian security sources said Yasser Arafat had ordered the arrest of four key militants in the West Bank.’ I hope it wasn’t too much work following those sources down!

The following day, Goldenberg (still in Beirut, but clearly clued in to all the right sources) dutifully passed on the information that the attack was just a ‘perfect pretext’ for Israel’s military offensive and described the Israeli prime minister as ‘practically gloating’ at the tolerance he could now expect to any Israeli military action. Meanwhile Usher wrote that Israel would bury its dead, ‘22 civilians and 6 settlers,’ though there is no precedent or legal basis for losing one’s non-combatant status because one is a settler. Two of Usher’s ‘settlers,’ incidentally, did not live in settlements at all. They were both 80-year-old men visiting relations in a settlement over the holiday who were stabbed to death on their walk to synagogue. A third ‘settler’ was a child not old enough to have settled anywhere, who was murdered along with his parents when a Palestinian gunperson entered their home and shot everyone. For Graham Usher, apparently, to be a Jew where Jews are unwanted is to forfeit the protections of civilians.

This was journalistic malpractice, and it’s time to come clean.

It’s not as though the Guardian’s editors don’t think the Jenin battle is a fitting hook to hang a media critique on. In one of the more comical moments of its histrionic coverage in April 2002, the Guardian ran a piece by no less than Julian Borger (currently the diplomatic editor) under the headline ‘Muted criticism in American newspapers: Scepticism at reports of Jenin bloodbath.’ It was clearly not meant as a gentle expression of doubt about the lather whipped up by the European media. It was, rather, for the clever readers to tsk-tsk into their tea and fill in for themselves that we all know why the American press is too scared to report an Israeli massacre. (The less clever ones don’t need to scroll down very far into any “[Guardian website] Comment is Free” forum to have it spelled out for them explicitly.)

Once the record is cleared, the Guardian owes itself a thorough reckoning of how it got the story so wrong. Something better than the weasely correction it buried days after running an article under the headline ‘Israel admits harvesting Palestinian organs’ back in 2009. (Yes, two thousand and nine. This was published in a respectable European paper in 2009.)

A possible model is New York Times’ thorough accounting in 2004 of its reporting failures in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq War, specifically in reproducing unsubstantiated claims of WMDs in Iraq. That happened only one year after the war; ten years on from Jenin the Guardian has done nothing, though its journalistic failings were – and you’ll have to pardon me here – every bit as repellent.

(Links in the above article can be found here)

 

JENINGRAD: WHAT THE BRITISH MEDIA SAID

Jeningrad: What the British media said
By Tom Gross
National Review
May 13, 2002

(With pictures here: www.tomgrossmedia.com/Jeningrad.html)

* Israel’s actions in Jenin were “every bit as repellent” as Osama bin Laden’s attack on New York on September 11, wrote Britain’s Guardian in its lead editorial of April 17.

* “We are talking here of massacre, and a cover-up, of genocide,” said a leading columnist for the Evening Standard, London’s main evening newspaper, on April 15.

* “Rarely in more than a decade of war reporting from Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, have I seen such deliberate destruction, such disrespect for human life,” reported Janine di Giovanni, the London Times’s correspondent in Jenin, on April 16.

Now that even the Palestinian Authority has admitted that there was no massacre in Jenin last month – and some Palestinian accounts speak instead of a “great victory against the Jews” in door-to-door fighting that left 23 Israelis dead – it is worth taking another look at how the international media covered the fighting there. The death count is still not completely agreed. The Palestinian Authority now claims that 56 Palestinians died in Jenin, the majority of whom were combatants according to the head of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organization in the town. Palestinian hospital sources in Jenin put the total number of dead at 52. Last week’s Human Rights Watch report also said 52 Palestinians died. Israel says 46 Palestinians died, all but three of whom were combatants. Palestinian medical sources have confirmed that at least one of these civilians died after Israel withdrew from Jenin on April 12, as a result of a booby-trapped bomb that Palestinian fighters had planted accidentally going off.

Yet one month ago, the media’s favorite Palestinian spokespersons, such as Saeb Erekat – a practiced liar if ever there was one – spoke first of 3,000 Palestinian dead, then of 500. Without bothering to check, the international media just lapped his figures up.

The British media was particularly emotive in its reporting. They devoted page upon page, day after day, to tales of mass murders, common graves, summary executions, and war crimes. Israel was invariably compared to the Nazis, to al Qaeda, and to the Taliban. One report even compared the thousands of supposedly missing Palestinians to the “disappeared” of Argentina. The possibility that Yasser Arafat’s claim that the Palestinians had suffered “Jeningrad” might be – to put it mildly – somewhat exaggerated seems not to have been considered. (800,000 Russians died during the 900-day siege of Leningrad; 1.3 million died in Stalingrad.)

Collectively, this misreporting was an assault on the truth on a par with the New York Times’s Walter Duranty’s infamous cover-up of the man-made famine inflicted by Stalin on millions of Ukrainians, Kazakhs and others in the 1930s.

There were malicious and slanderous reports against Israel in the American media too – with Arafat’s propagandists given hundreds of hours on television to air their incredible tales of Israeli atrocities – but at least some American journalists attempted to be fair. On April 16, Newsday’s reporter in Jenin, Edward Gargan, wrote: “There is little evidence to suggest that Israeli troops conducted a massacre of the dimensions alleged by Palestinian officials.” Molly Moore of the Washington Post reported: “No evidence has yet surfaced to support allegations by Palestinian groups and aid organizations of large-scale massacres or executions.”

Compare this with some of the things which appeared in the British media on the very same day, April 16: Under the headline “Amid the ruins, the grisly evidence of a war crime,” the Jerusalem correspondent for the London Independent, Phil Reeves, began his dispatch from Jenin: “A monstrous war crime that Israel has tried to cover up for a fortnight has finally been exposed.” He continued: “The sweet and ghastly reek of rotting human bodies is everywhere, evidence that it is a human tomb. The people say there are hundreds of corpses, entombed beneath the dust.”

Reeves spoke of “killing fields,” an image more usually associated with Pol Pot’s Cambodia. Forgetting to tell his readers that Arafat’s representatives, like those of the other totalitarian regimes that surround Israel, have a habit of lying a lot, he quoted Palestinians who spoke of “mass murder” and “executions.” Reeves didn’t bother to quote any Israeli source whatsoever in his story. In another report Reeves didn’t even feel the need to quote Palestinian sources at all when he wrote about Israeli “atrocities committed in the Jenin refugee camp, where its army has killed and injured hundreds of Palestinians.”

LEFT AND RIGHT UNITE AGAINST ISRAEL

But it wasn’t only journalists of the left who indulged in Israel baiting. The right-wing Daily Telegraph – which some in the U.K. have dubbed the “Daily Tel-Aviv-ograph” because its editorials are frequently sympathetic to Israel – was hardly any less misleading in its news coverage, running headlines such as “Hundreds of victims ‘were buried by bulldozer in mass grave.’”

In a story on April 15 entitled “Horror stories from the siege of Jenin,” the paper’s correspondent, David Blair, took at face value what he called “detailed accounts” by Palestinians that “Israeli troops had executed nine men.” Blair quotes one woman telling him that Palestinians were “stripped to their underwear, they were searched, bound hand and foot, placed against a wall and killed with single shots to the head.”

On the next day, April 16, Blair quoted a “family friend” of one supposedly executed man: “Israeli soldiers had stripped him to his underwear, pushed him against a wall and shot him.” He also informed Telegraph readers that “two thirds of the camp had been destroyed.” (In fact, as the satellite photos show, the destruction took place in one small area of the camp.)

The “quality” British press spoke with almost wall-to-wall unanimity. The Evening Standard’s Sam Kiley conjured up witnesses to speak of Israel’s “staggering brutality and callous murder.” The Times’s Janine di Giovanni, suggested that Israel’s mission to destroy suicide bomb-making factories in Jenin (a town from which at the Palestinians own admission 28 suicide bombers had already set out) was an excuse by Ariel Sharon to attack children with chickenpox. The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg wrote, “The scale [of destruction] is almost beyond imagination.”

In case British readers didn’t get the message from their “news reporters,” the editorial writers spelled it out loud and clear. On April 17, the Guardian’s lead editorial compared the Israeli incursion in Jenin with the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11. “Jenin,” wrote the Guardian was “every bit as repellent in its particulars, no less distressing, and every bit as man-made.”

“Jenin camp looks like the scene of a crime… Jenin already has that aura of infamy that attaches to a crime of especial notoriety,” continued this once liberal paper, which used to pride itself on its honesty – and one of whose former editors coined the phrase “comment is free, facts are sacred.”

“THE POISONING OF WATER SUPPLIES”

Whereas the Guardian’s editorial writers compared the Jewish state to al Qaeda, Evening Standard commentators merely compared the Israeli government to the Taliban. Writing on April 15, A. N. Wilson, one of the Evening Standard’s leading columnists accused Israel of “the poisoning of water supplies” (a libel dangerously reminiscent of ancient anti-Semitic myths) and wrote “we are talking here of massacre, and a cover-up, of genocide.”

He also attempted to pit Christians against Jews by accusing Israel of “the willful burning of several church buildings,” and making the perhaps even more incredible assertion that “Many young Muslims in Palestine are the children of Anglican Christians, educated at St George’s Jerusalem, who felt that their parents’ mild faith was not enough to fight the oppressor.”

Then, before casually switching to write about how much money Catherine Zeta-Jones is paying her nanny, Wilson wrote: “Last week, we saw the Israeli troops destroy monuments in Nablus of ancient importance: the scene where Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman at the well. It is the equivalent of the Taliban destroying Buddhist sculpture.” (Perhaps Wilson had forgotten that the only monument destroyed in Nablus since Arafat launched his war against Israel in September 2000, was the ancient Jewish site of Joseph’s tomb, torn down by a Palestinian mob while Arafat’s security forces looked on.)

Other commentators threw in the Holocaust, turning it against Israel. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a leading columnist for the Independent wrote (April 15): “I would suggest that Ariel Sharon should be tried for crimes against humanity … and be damned for so debasing the profoundly important legacy of the Holocaust, which was meant to stop forever nations turning themselves into ethnic killing machines.”

Many of the hostile comments were leveled at the U.S. “Why, for God’s sake, can’t Mr Powell do the decent thing and demand an explanation for the extraordinary, sinister events that have taken place in Jenin? Does he really have to debase himself in this way? Does he think that meeting Arafat, or refusing to do so, takes precedence over the enormous slaughter that has overwhelmed the Palestinians?” wrote Robert Fisk in the Independent.

“STAINING THE STAR OF DAVID WITH BLOOD”

In the wake of the media attacks, came the politicians. Speaking in the House of Commons on April 16, Gerald Kaufman, a veteran Labor member of parliament and a former shadow foreign secretary, announced that Ariel Sharon was a “war criminal” who led a “repulsive government.” To nods of approval from his fellow parliamentarians, Kaufman, who is Jewish, said the “methods of barbarism against the Palestinians” supposedly employed by the Israeli army were “staining the Star of David with blood.”

Speaking on behalf of the opposition Conservative party, John Gummer, a former cabinet minister, also lashed out at Israel. He said he was basing his admonition on “the evidence before us.” Was Gummer perhaps referring to the twisted news reports he may have watched from the BBC’s correspondent Orla Guerin? Or maybe his evidence stemmed from the account given by Ann Clwyd, a Labour MP, who on return from a fleeting fact-finding mission to Jenin, told parliament she had a “croaky voice” and this was all the fault of dust caused by Israeli tanks.

Clwyd had joined a succession of VIP visitors parading through Jenin – members of the European parliament, U.S. church leaders, Amnesty International Secretary-General Irene Khan, Bianca Jagger, ex-wife of pop-music legend Mick Jagger. Clwyd’s voice wasn’t sufficiently croaky, though, to prevent her from calling on all European states to withdraw their ambassadors from Israel.

Not to be outdone by politicians, Britain’s esteemed academics went further. Tom Paulin, who lectures in 19th- and 20th-century literature at Oxford University, opined that the U.S.-born Jews who live on the west bank of the river Jordan should be “shot dead.”

“They are Nazis, racists,” he said, adding (though one might have thought this was unnecessary after his previous comment) “I feel nothing but hatred for them.” (Paulin is also one of BBC television’s regular commentators on the arts. The BBC says they will continue to invite him even after these remarks; Oxford University has taken no action against him.)

ONLY ONE WITNESS?

On closer examination, the “facts” on which many of the media reports were based – “facts” that no doubt played a role in inspiring such hateful remarks as Paulin’s – reveal an even greater scandal. The British media appear to have based much of its evidence of “genocide” on a single individual: “Kamal Anis, a labourer” (The Times), “Kamal Anis, 28” (The Daily Telegraph), “A quiet, sad-looking young man called Kamal Anis” (The Independent), and referred to the same supposed victim – “the burned remains of a man, Bashar” (The Evening Standard), “Bashir died in agony” (The Times), “A man named only as Bashar once lived there” (The Daily Telegraph).

The Independent: “Kamal Anis saw the Israeli soldiers pile 30 bodies beneath a half-wrecked house. When the pile was complete, they bulldozed the building, bringing its ruins down on the corpses. Then they flattened the area with a tank.”

The Times: “Kamal Anis says the Israelis levelled the place; he saw them pile bodies into a mass grave, dump earth on top, then ran over it to flatten it.”

Evidently, as can be seen from the following reports, British journalists hadn’t been speaking to the same Palestinian witnesses as American journalists.

The Los Angeles Times: Palestinians in Jenin “painted a picture of a vicious house-to-house battle in which Israeli soldiers faced Palestinian gunmen intermixed with the camp’s civilian population.”

The Boston Globe: Following extensive interviews with “civilians and fighters” in Jenin “none reported seeing large numbers of civilians killed.” On the other hand, referring to the deaths of Israeli soldiers in Jenin, Abdel Rahman Sa’adi, an “Islamic Jihad grenade-thrower,” told the Globe “This was a massacre of the Jews, not of us.”

Some in the American press also mentioned the video filmed by the Israeli army (and shown on Israeli television) of Palestinians moving corpses of people who had previously died of natural causes, rather than in the course of the Jenin fighting, into graveyards around the camp to fabricate “evidence” in advance of the now-cancelled U.N. fact-finding mission.

But if Europeans readers don’t trust American journalists, perhaps they are ready to believe the testimony given in the Arab press. Take, for example, the extensive interview with a Palestinian bomb-maker, Omar, in the leading Egyptian newspaper, Al-Ahram.

“We had more than 50 houses booby-trapped around the [Jenin] camp,” Omar said. “We chose old and empty buildings and the houses of men who were wanted by Israel because we knew the soldiers would search for them… We cut off lengths of mains water pipes and packed them with explosives and nails. Then we placed them about four meters apart throughout the houses – in cupboards, under sinks, in sofas... the women went out to tell the soldiers that we had run out of bullets and were leaving. The women alerted the fighters as the soldiers reached the booby-trapped area.”

Perhaps what is most shocking, though, is that the British press had closed their ears to the Israelis themselves – a society with one of the most vigorous and self-critical democracies in the world. In the words of Kenneth Preiss, a professor at Ben Gurion University: “Please inform the reporters trying to figure out if the Israeli army is trying to ‘hide a massacre’ of Palestinians, that Israel’s citizen army includes journalists, members of parliament, professors, doctors, human rights activists, members of every political party, and every other kind of person, all within sight and cell phone distance of home and editorial offices. Were the slightest infringements to have taken place, there would be demonstrations outside the prime minister’s office in no time.”

ONLY AN INTELLECTUAL COULD BE SO STUPID

George Orwell once remarked to a Communist fellow-traveler with whom he was having a dispute: “You must be an intellectual. Only an intellectual could say something so stupid.” This observation has relevance in regard to the Middle East, too.

So far only the nonintellectual tabloids have grasped the essential difference between right and wrong, the difference between a deliberate intent to kill civilians, such as that ordered by Chairman Arafat over the past four decades, and the unintentional deaths of civilians in the course of legitimate battle.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the mass-market papers have corrected the lies of their supposedly superior broadsheets. On April 17, the New York Post carried an editorial entitled “The massacre that wasn’t.” In London, the most popular British daily paper, the Sun, published a lengthy editorial (April 15) pointing out that: “Israelis are scared to death. They have never truly trusted Britain – and with some of the people we employ in the Foreign Office why the hell should they?” Countries throughout Europe are still “in denial about murdering their entire Jewish population,” the Sun added, and it was time to dispel the conspiracy theory that Jews “run the world.”

The headline of the Sun’s editorial was “The Jewish faith is not an evil religion.” One might think such a headline was unnecessary in twenty-first century Britain, but apparently it is not.

One would hope that some honest reflection about their reporting by those European and American journalists who are genuinely motivated by a desire to help Palestinians (as opposed to those whose primary motive is demonizing Jews), will enable them to realize that propagating the falsehoods of Arafat’s propagandists does nothing to further the legitimate aspirations of ordinary Palestinians, any more than parroting the lies of Stalin helped ordinary Russians.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.