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Making sense out of nonsense - Media coverage of the Intifada

Excellent piece on everything that's wrong with the world today!
>From Miftah's website.
URL at end of article.

Salwa de Vree,
Leiden, The Netherlands.

Making sense out of nonsense - Media coverage of the Intifada

by Mohammed Zigby 
January 3, 2002 

Adjectives such as "aggressors", “villains” and “attackers” have been used to describe the 
Palestinians in the Intifada. And words such as "victim", "self-defense" and “beleaguered” have 
been used to describe the Israeli role and actions. But these words – being used as they are - do 
not reflect the reality on the ground. Why? Simply, because of the fact their application distorts 
or ignores the relationship of power in the ongoing conflict. Even though the disparity of power 
between the Israelis and the Palestinians has become commonsensical to even the most casual 
observer of the enduring conflict Western – and in particular American - journalistic works 
continue to deny the reality staring them in the face. 

It should seem logical that aggression derives from a position of power. Aggression is not 
necessarily synonymous with power because the former tends to have a "hostile" connotation to it 
whereas the latter is a crude calculation of one's position/status. Aggression is a way power can 
be used. Power can be used "aggressively" or for defensive purposes, though we are more familiar 
with examples of the former. Now, aggression connotes an "offensive" quality - to "aggress" is to 
make the first attack. A cornered animal is reacting to an attack. An otherwise aggressive act 
becomes defensive because it is a reaction in a particular context. 

The stronger can use aggression against the weaker whereas the opposite is highly unlikely. Thus, 
when Iraq (stronger) invaded Kuwait (weaker) that act was one of aggression. Now, a powerful actor 
can commit such an act because it has the power to support that act. It is important to point out 
that a strong actor will decide to act accordingly because doing so will benefit its position (or 
it may perceive a “benefit”). Subsequently, a weak state – like Kuwait - will not risk invading 
Iraq because such an act will be detrimental to its position. Therefore, acts of aggression (i.e. 
invasion, occupation) are acts deriving from power. 

By the same token, terms like "victim" and "self-defense" imply a position of weakness. 
Self-defense implies being on the receiving end of a stronger power. In a "relationship of power" 
the stronger will have the ability to dictate terms and initiate an aggressive action with the 
intention of satisfying certain goals. The weaker one will be in a position of "loss" and will have 
to defend his position. In the literal sense self-defense emerges from a position of weakness and 
aggression from a position of power. 

Having offered such a clarification, it should seem apparent that the journalistic narrative of the 
Arab-Israeli does not conform to reality. Israel is clearly in a position of strength vis-à-vis the 
Palestinians. The Israeli military ranks in the top 3 (along with the US and Russia) and has proven 
its worth in battle on numerous occasions. Israel receives upwards to $4 billion US in 
military-economic aid annually, and is more than what the entire continent of Africa receives 
annually from the US! Clearly, Israel is powerful and is in a position of strength. The continued 
occupation of Arab lands derives from this strength and is testimony to that strength. 

Therefore, the portrayal of Israel as a besieged state at the mercy of attacks by Palestinian 
gunmen is detached from reality. 

Despite this discrepancy, the general media has succeeded in portraying Israel as the victim. 
What's more disturbing is the general public's willingness to accept the representation 
uncritically. In order to make sure this picture is endorsed by the public words like "terrorism", 
"terrorist" and "terror" are used to discredit whatever actions the Palestinians commit in the 

Furthermore no attempt is made to really define "terrorism" or to question the application of the 
term solely to the Palestinians. 

What is terrorism? There actually is no accepted definition. As a result, I will not venture to 
define the term. Rather, I will focus on what is implied by the term. The term "terrorism" implies 
that the objective is terror - terror, for the sake of terror. Now, that does little to clarify the 
motives behind a "terrorist" act. What it does - and it does successfully – is to discredit the 
actor doing the "terrorizing". For instance, little effort is done to understand the reasons behind 
the WTC bombings or the attack of a suicide bomber on a crowded pizzeria in downtown Tel Aviv. 
Efforts to understand are in no way attempts to legitimize. However, discussion of the reasons for 
such actions are discouraged out of fear of discovering a semblance of truth which may shatter the 
"truths" constructed by a sophisticated system of indoctrination. 

Now, if we take the WTC case as example, we have to determine the reasons - perceived or actual - 
behind the attacks. Contrary to popular belief, the attacks were not an "attack against 
civilization" - as Washington would have us believe - or an attack on innocent civilians for the 
sake of killing innocent civilians. What motivated these individuals (known in the media as 
"terrorists") was decades of unfair US foreign policy in the Middle East based on the premise of 
blindly supporting Israel and its continued occupation of Arab lands. Furthermore, there is the 
issue of US troops in the Holy Sites of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, as well as the crippling 
sanctions on Iraq which have killed upwards of half a million people. If we accept these factors 
and realize their significance we are closer to understanding the actions on New York and we are a 
step closer to understanding a phenomenon we continue to "mystify" with labels like "terrorist" and 
"terrorism". We need to bring into light a subject that has been kept in the dark. As for the 
suicide bomber blowing himself up in a crowded pizzeria in downtown Tel Aviv we need to determine 
the reasons that compel an individual to go to such lengths. Well, a cursory review of Israel's 
treatment of Palestinians and its continued occupation of Arab and will shed some light on the 
situation. Israel continues to confiscate land, demolish homes, monopolize water sources and impose 
curfews on a population of Palestinian refugees. This does not include the atrocities committed 
against these people since their dispossession in the late 40s. There are many reasons behind these 
actions. We just have to make an effort to discover them. 

Ultimately, the actions of these individuals (or groups) are symptoms of significantly unjust 
practice done to them at the hands of more powerful actors. The Hizballah, it will be remembered, 
was created in reaction to Israel's occupation of South Lebanon and their role was as "defender" of 
"occupied" lands. They are reacting to a cause - they are reacting to something they deem gravely 
wrong. They have targeted civilians - which is dead wrong. Even if we say they do commit a 
"terrorist" act, does that make the actor or his cause "terrorist" as well? If we answer in the 
affirmative, then why does the same logic not apply to countries such as Israel when Israel is 
guilty of targeting civilians and destroying homes? Does it and should it make a difference if the 
means employed include an army of Apache helicopters or that it is State-sanctioned? 

Essentially the narrative of the ongoing conflict is skewed and is partly responsible for the 
continuation of the conflict. Public opinion will back policy that is in actuality detrimental to 
the situation but only seems beneficial because it suits the distorted picture we get from the 
media. Moreover, the concept of "terrorism" does not contribute in any way, shape or form to 
simplifying the situation or offering an understanding of the reality on the ground. Terrorism 
discourse only adds to the confusion and debate and only blurs the line between fact and fiction. 
We need to re-look the reality in the face, dissect it and understand it. We need to – ultimately - 
let the facts speak for themselves and not speak for the facts


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