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 Posted Sunday, July 28, 2002

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The Yellow Times
July 25, 2002

A glitch in the Matrix.

By Gabriel Ash

[Open footnotes in separate window]


(United States) - Aaron Brown, who has his own late night news show on CNN, is a man who inspires confidence. With his soft voice and his light, wistful smile, Brown is the incarnation of worldly thoughtfulness.

In his demeanor, as well as in his words, Brown makes a simple promise to the viewer: on his show he will not allow emotions to obstruct the search for clarity; softly and politely, he will get to the bottom of things.

Unfortunately, the confidence inspiring demeanor is part of the confidence game of the Corporate Media. Brown's real talent lies elsewhere. He is CNN's best reality patcher - the man you call when there is "a glitch in the Matrix."

Such a glitch occurred on the night of Monday, July 22, when an Israeli F-16 jet, carrying out a so-called "targeted assassination," dropped a one ton bomb on a building in a crowded neighborhood in Gaza City, killing 15 Palestinians in their homes, among them nine children.

Why was this a glitch? The time and place of the Israeli attack raised questions regarding two cherished pillars of the "reality" manufactured by U.S. media news shows. The first pillar is the belief that Israel, being "a Western beachhead," and "the only democracy in the Middle East," values the life of civilians.

This belief allegedly gives Israel the moral high-ground vis-à-vis the Palestinian resistance. The second pillar of "reality" threatened on Monday was the belief that Israel is, and always has been, interested in peace, only to be nstantly rebuffed by the "lack of a partner."

The first pillar: life

Aaron Brown got to the salvage of the first pillar immediately in the introduction of the show. Listen and appreciate:

  • "...we're going to begin tonight with the Middle East. It was an Israeli F-16. A missile hit some buildings. We'll get into the details in a moment."
  • "But it seems clear that either the planning was horrible, or that the missile missed [its] target, or the Israelis simply didn't care who they killed if they got their man, a Hamas military leader."
  • "At the risk of provoking an e-mail barrage, we reject the latter possibility. We don't believe the Israeli government would risk killing a couple of hundred people in order to maybe - maybe - get one guy."
  • "But, of course, some people will believe that. In the same way some people who support Israel will believe anything bad about Palestinians, some Palestinians will believe anything evil about Israel. It is just one of the many reasons the tragedy of the Middle East is the most maddening story for us to report."
  • "It is not our nature to assume the absolute worst about any people, and we're not going to do that here. Others may. No, what we will do is what we always do. We will look for facts and we will report them as we find them. And the facts alone tonight aren't going to make anyone - anyone - feel very good."

Do you see how Brown manages in just a few sentences to a) point out the unsettling nature of the event, b) explain why it is unsettling, c) promise to stick to the facts, d) and, without any factual justification, dismiss the unsettling hypothesis out of hand as something that "other people" (presumably inferior) might believe, but one that "we" refuse to believe?

You have witnessed the class act of a true professional. Let's go back to the facts. Are the actions of the government of Israel over the years compatible with a strong commitment to protect civilian life? Israel's policy of targeted assassination is an open policy of murder of "wanted" Palestinians, carried out in densely inhabited areas with every possible weapon.


BYSTANDERS are often killed and injured. (1)

Apart from the particularly high number of bystanders killed, the last Gaza attack was "business as usual." The morning after, Sharon was jubilant and called the attack "one of our greatest successes." Over 1500 hundred Palestinians have been killed by the IDF since September 2000. Most were civilians and many were children.(2)

The Israeli human rights organization B'tselem tries to investigate each case and its data alone belies Brown's faith in Israel's care for civilian life. IDF soldiers often use lethal force against unarmed Palestinians, even children, simply because they can.(3)

Official investigations of Palestinian deaths are rare and cursory.(4)

Routine IDF methods such as harassment and detention of medical personnel and blocking of emergency care(5) are designed to maximize the number of casualties. The Mitchell Report accuses the IDF of using lethal force to disperse demonstrations in September and October 2000. According to the report, such IDF excesses were a major cause for the escalation of Palestinian rioting into the current Intifada. Israeli Settlers carry arms and routinely initiate attacks on Palestinians, attacks that often result in death. IDF soldiers sometimes watch the violence but do not intervene to stop it. In the rare cases settlers were brought to trial, the punishment was perfunctory: e.g. the Jewish Fundamentalist Rabbi Moshe Levinger served three months in prison for the shooting and killing of 43 year old shopowner Ka'id Saleh in 1998. The judge said Levinger deserved clemency because he was a father to many children. Presumably it mattered also that he was Jewish and the victim was Palestinian. (6)

During the first Intifada, which mostly consisted of riots and civil disobedience, IDF soldiers and settlers killed over 1000 Palestinians.(7) The low value the Israeli government places on Palestinian lives goes back a long way. Thousands of Palestinian refugees were killed by the IDF and Israeli police between 1948 and 1956. Most of them were civilians trying to get back to their villages or fields. Israeli soldiers had orders to kill civilians found near the border on sight. The rest were killed in Israeli terror attacks on Palestinian villages across the border.(8)

In one of the most infamous of these terror attack, Ariel Sharon led a death squad to the village of Qibia in 1953. The unit killed about 70 unarmed Palestinians, men women and children, and then dynamited the village. This wasn't Sharon's idea. The orders he received instructed him to "cause destruction and achieve a maximum number of casualties."(9)

There were many similar operations. This carnage was not random. It was the result of a doctrine clearly formulated by Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister. The murder of civilians was a central IDF method in the struggle to destroy and discourage Palestinian nationalism. Ben Gurion wrote in his diary, "At the place of action there is no need to distinguish between the guilty and the innocent."(10)

Actually, Ben-Gurion was more circumspect than his generals. Many of the attacks occurred in places where nobody was guilty of anything beyond being Palestinian. Israel's terror attacks against civilians, officially described as "reprisals," had strategic goals: to create tensions between Palestinians and the countries forced to host them and to expel Palestinians from cross-border areas Israel wanted empty, such as the Jordan valley and South Lebanon. After the 1967 war, and even more so after September 1971, the focus of Israeli terror shifted to Lebanon. Between 1968 and 1981, thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli air raids, artillery, and commando operations. Tens of thousands fled to the North as refugees. (11)

During the same time, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) mounted many operations against Israeli civilians. But there is no comparison. Israel murdered more civilians than the PLO by more than an order of magnitude.(12)

Israel knew exactly what it was doing. In 1978, Ha'aretz military analyst Ze'ev Schiff, no friend of Palestinians, commented on a statement made by the Israeli Chief of Staff: "the importance of Gur's remarks is the admission that the Israeli Army has always struck civilian populations, purposely and consciously. . . the Army never distinguished civilian [from military] targets . . . [but] purposely attacked civilian targets even when Israeli settlements had not been attacked."(13)

The crowning moment in this procession of brutalities was Israel's invasion of Lebanon in June 1982. The invasion was not a response to PLO cross-border attacks (there were none), but to the PLO's scrupulous observance of the cease-fire that had been agreed upon in July 1981. The Israeli government feared that the ability of the PLO to enforce the cease-fire would put pressure on Israel to negotiate the future of the Occupied Territories. Adding to the pressure, Saudi Arabia made a peace proposal (the Fahd plan) in August 1981. The prospect of peace scared Israeli politicians so much that fighter jets were sent to circle in Saudi skies.(14)

The Lebanon invasion, masterminded by the "man of peace" Sharon, was a campaign of destruction directed against the civilian population, especially the Palestinian refugees, who were considered "terrorists," and "bi-legged animals." Refugee camps and cities, including Sydon and Beirut, were shelled and turned to rubble. The IDF, as usual, gave particular attention to bombing hospitals, arresting medical personnel and stopping medical supplies from reaching the civilian population. At least 20,000 people, Lebanese and Palestinians, were killed by IDF shelling in the first three months of the war, almost all of them civilians. Some 400,000 became refugees again after their homes were razed to the ground.(15)

When President Reagan lost patience with Israel during the siege of Beirut, Prime Minister Begin sent him a delirious telegram in which he justified the shelling of Beirut by invoking an image of Hitler hiding inside the city. Apparently, had the U.S. sent Israel Prozac instead of guns, there would have been peace in the Middle East a long time ago. The most notorious example of Israel's so-called concern for civilian life took place in September 1982 in Sabra and Shatila. About 150 Phalangists were sent by the Israeli command into the camps, supposedly to "mop up terrorists." The Phalangists did exactly what could be expected of them based on their well known previous behavior. They systematically massacred the camp inhabitants for 36 long hours. The IDF sealed off the camps, fired flares so the killing could go on in the night, and supplied bulldozers to bury the bodies. The massacre happened in full view of IDF positions. All the Israelis who got wind of the massacre as it happened, and there were quite a few, chose to do nothing (except for the journalist Ze'ev Schiff, who called a minister, who called another minister, who did nothing).(16)


WHAT then are the "facts" that convinced Brown Israel must care deeply about civilian casualties?

What should we believe more: the latest statements of regret issued by Shimon Peres and Yossi Sarid, or half a century of unrelenting war against civilians? But let's not hold it against Aaron Brown. He cultivates his ignorance for a reason. He doesn't want to have to choose between his job and his conscience. The second pillar: peace The reason the second belief was shaken (the belief that Israel wanted peace but didn't have a partner), was that the attack in Gaza followed two developments, both of which Brown mentions, which raised hopes for a reduction in violence.

  • First, there were busy negotiations Monday between the Palestine Authority (PA) and Israel over withdrawal from two West Bank cities.
  • Second, Sheik Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, under intense pressure, made a statement opening the way to ending Hamas's suicide attacks operations.

Israel's terror attack in Gaza took place only hours before the planned announcement of a resolution by Fateh leaders to end all attacks on non-combatants. Hamas has reportedly agreed to honor the cease-fire. It is almost inconceiveable that the decision to kill such a high level leader was taken without consideration of the about to be announced cease-fire, in whose drafting European and British teams participated.

This is in fact the third time this year that Israel responds to a cease-fire with the assassination of a Palestinian leader. Hamas leader Abu-Hanoud (assassinated in December 2001), and Fateh leader Ra'ed Karmi (assassinated in January 2002) were both killed in similar circumstances.(*17)

The two assassinations scuttled two cease-fires announced by Arafat and generally observed. Just as Israel preferred a terrorist PLO to a negotiating PLO in 1982, it seems now Israel prefers suicide attacks to negotiating with Hamas and Fateh.

To patch this breach in "reality," Brown invited a single guest to the show, Daniel Pipes, an "expert" who worries that American Muslims plot to take over America (from the hands of AIPAC, I presume) and whose views on the Middle East are shared by the Israeli right. So much for "balance"!

But Pipes is absolutely necessary. After all, Brown's mission at CNN is to convince his viewers that the attack on Gaza can be accommodated within the media "reality" regarding virtuous Israel.


THE task of figuring out how Brown used Pipes to patch the image of Israel as a peace loving country is left to the reader. The transcript of the show is available.

What is maddening about the Middle East is not that it is a "maddening story for us to report." What is maddening about the Middle East is that the U.S. is dumping billions of dollars in military equipment every year into the hands of a nation in the grip of a post-traumatic psychosis, a nation that hallucinates the moustache of Adolf Hitler above the lips of every Palestinian, man, woman or child, and whose leaders manipulate its delirium to justify an endless and lawless war against civilians.

What is maddening about the Middle East is that the U.S. is maddening the Middle East.


Gabriel Ash was born in Romania and grew up in Israel. He is an unabashed "opssimist." He writes his columns because the pen is sometimes mightier than the sword - and sometimes not. Gabriel lives in the United States.


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