Equally disappointing is the failure of the editors that some newspapers employ to respond to readers' complaints and/or point out in a weekly column the inaccuracies of their colleagues' reportage. Image Credit: NINO JOSE HEREDIA/©Gulf News

The Israeli narrative — thanks to Israel's wealthy and well-connected supporters and the many politicians who, in turn, are desperately in need of their financial backing and votes — is prevalent in the West, especially in the United States.

This is evident in the halls of Congress, in the American media, in mushrooming think-tanks in key cities, particularly Washington, and, needless to say, among some senior US officials.

In the media, for example, the country's two leading dailies have correspondents in Israel. One is an Israeli citizen and the other has a son serving in the Israeli army. The tendency is for them to sometimes disregard the facts and use the term "disputed" rather than "occupied" areas when reporting on clashes between Arabs and Israelis in occupied east Jerusalem.

Israel illegally annexed the Arab sector of the Holy City after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and less than a handful of countries recognise occupied Jerusalem as Israel's capital. In fact, the big powers, including the US, maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv.

Similarly, the word "besieged" is hardly used when reporting on the over-populated Gaza Strip, where no American correspondent is stationed.

Any violent action taken by Palestinians is always described as "terrorism", while bloody attacks by Israeli occupiers or "colonists" — the preferred description — in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, both constituting about 22 per cent of historic Palestine, are not seen as bloody or criminal or even abhorrent.

Why can't the Palestinians defend themselves, just like anyone in any country would do when their property is attacked, or their sons are killed? The latter happened last week.

A 16-year-old, who was with two schoolmates, was throwing stones at a passing car and was shot dead by the driver, an Israeli colonist. I wonder whether this Israeli will be investigated and punished any more severely than the one who was fined one piaster — less than a quarter — for the murder of 49 Palestinian villagers, including women and children. All were returning home in October 1956 after a day's work in the fields of their village, Kafr Qasim, without realising that the curfew hours had been changed by an Israeli officer. Long afterwards, Colonel Issachar Shadmi was found guilty of "exceeding his authority"!


Equally disappointing is the failure of the editors that some newspapers employ to respond to readers' complaints and/or point out in a weekly column the inaccuracies of their colleagues' reportage. I have yet to see any criticism about the coverage of the Middle East.

What is more agonising is the absence of any serious responses from Arab governments, especially the Palestinian National Authority, which has a major stake in the decades-old dispute.

Palestinian ambassador to the US Maen Areikat says he has submitted Op-Eds to "several major American newspapers" in response to Elie Wiesel's full-page ad on occupied Jerusalem (which contained several mistakes and was criticised even by several Jewish writers). "Unfortunately," he continued, "they declined to publish them".

The Washington-based Arab League Ambassador Hussain Hassouna, who was participating in a conference in Geneva, reported that US officials he talked to believe the recent advertising campaign had actually worked against the hawkish Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hassouna also echoed Areikat's view that "what is needed is a coordinated Palestinian and Arab response to counter these false allegations and propaganda".

But both seemed less than hopeful about convincing Arab leaders that it is high time to grasp the importance of reaching out beyond US officialdom.

While in the sixties there were only a few Arab-Americans who could be counted on to help reverse the anti-Arab or anti-Islamic tide, the situation has now changed markedly. The number of Arab-American university professors who could contribute articles to newspapers has increased since the days of Edward Said. Equally, there is now a much larger group of Arab-American journalists working for leading newspapers and television networks.

But the most significant change has been the advent of the internet, which has allowed many computer-savvy Arab-Americans and others elsewhere to launch well-read blogs. Professor John J. Mearsheimer told the Jerusalem Fund recently that "Israel and its supporters have been able to do a good job of keeping the mainstream media in the United States from telling the truth about what Israel is doing to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories".

The co-author of the pace-setting book, The Israel Lobby, went on to emphasise that "the internet is a game changer".

He added, "It not only makes it easy for the opponents of [Israeli] apartheid to get the real story out to the world, but it also allows Americans to learn the story that The New York Times and The Washington Post have been hiding from them.

Over time, this situation may even force these two media institutions to cover the story more accurately themselves." (By way of example, so far only the Times has reported — belatedly — on Israel's refusal to allow Noam Chomsky, described as "the icon of the American left" and a Jewish critic of US and Israeli policy, to enter the West Bank last Sunday from Jordan to speak at Birzeit University.)

But the bottom line here is that there is an urgent need for generous funding for a coordinated project to spread the Arab message in the West.

George Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at ghishmeh@gulfnews.com