Tuesday, August 08, 2006

How the BBC, and Kathleen Parker, report on Lebanon

Here's a sentence from a BBC report yesterday which I believe sums up the difference between news media reporting on Lebanon in Europe vs. media coverage in the US.
More than 900 Lebanese, most of them civilians, have been killed in the conflict, the Lebanese government says. More than 90 Israelis, most of them soldiers, have also been killed.

The US public almost never hears or reads reports like that. Instead, we get comment like Kathleen Parker's (opinion columnist for The Orlando Sentinel), which appeared in my local paper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, last Friday (and was syndicated in many papers throughout the US). Here are some relevant extracts, with my commentary.
By bringing the war to suburbia [HUH?! Kathleen: your, er, class location is showing!] in violation of the Geneva Conventions and launching rockets from villages such as Qana, Hezbollah virtually ensures that civilians will die.

Here Parker trumpets the official Israeli line, that Hezbollah is to blame for the death of Lebanese civilians.
Pending an investigation, many facts are unknown, including whether the building in which the children died came down as a result of Israeli fire. The Associated Press and others now report that the Israeli strike on Qana came between midnight and 1 a.m., but the building didn't collapse until 7 or 8 a.m., possibly as a result of munitions inside the building.

Maybe the Israelis didn't really kill those people anyway!
Whatever the case, Israeli Defense Forces had dropped leaflets into Qana a week beforehand, warning residents to evacuate. Although international humanitarian law forbids the deliberate targeting of civilian areas, exceptions are tolerated under certain circumstances.

Those dumb children, they should have left. They were warned!
As Human Rights Watch explains on its Web site (humanrights watch.org), a civilian area can be targeted if it "makes an 'effective' contribution to the enemy's military activities and its destruction, capture or neutralization offers a 'definite military advantage' to the attacking side in the circumstances ruling at the time."

Parker's hypocritical use of HRW language to support Israel really defies belief, doesn't it? Especially since Human Rights Watch has released a report criticizing Israel's indiscriminate attacks on Lebanese civilians.
The humanitarian guidelines also call for "proportionality" in "dual use" areas and for precautions to protect civilians.

Parsing the language of "dual use" when bombs are killing sleeping children seems absurd when measured against such senseless loss. But it is also necessary if we are to maintain perspective against a cowardly enemy that hides among women and children, then relies on emotion to gain traction on the battlefield of public opinion.

Why some residents of Qana didn't leave given fair warning is a point of speculation, but Hezbollah reportedly has blocked residents from evacuating other areas. Proportionality is a trickier question, but let's be clear on the issue of moral equivalence. There is none. Hezbollah aims to kill civilians; Israel aims not to. But by firing rockets from civilian areas, Hezbollah forces Israel to return fire, thus inciting the condemnation of civilized nations and fueling the reliable outrage of the Arab street.

I've never seen reports of Hezbollah blocking the exit of civilians--who, especially when we're talking about Shi'ites in the south, are almost unanimous in their support of Hezbollah. And of course "some" residents of Qana, and probably most of them, did leave. Others stayed because they were afraid: of being attacked by Israeli warplanes while fleeing. Others stayed because taxi fares have become exorbitant, too high for the poorest to afford. And some, legitimately, resisted Israel's warnings to leave. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of what is going on in South Lebanon knows this, but in the US, all you need is ideology to qualify as an opinion columnist.

"Hezbollah aims to kill civilians; Israel aims not to." Does Parker not know basic math, the kind the BBC finds so easy to manage? And..."by firing rockets from civilian areas, Hezbollah forces Israel to return fire," that is, Hezbollah forces Israel to blow up an entire country, destroy its infrastructure, create a million refugees, destroy Lebanon's coast, etc. Israel has no choice but to respond this way. Israel is entirely blameless, Hezbollah entirely culpable.

Such commentary is no anomaly, but instead represents entirely conventional US media commentary on Israel's invasion Lebanon. I'm having a hard time trying to puzzle out why I shouldn't say that such commentators have the moral integrity of Goebbels.

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4 comments:

Pierre Tristam said...

Ted... Thanks for pointing out the (hmmmm, how to put that delicately?) silliness of some of Kathleen Parker's analyses. She's technically a competitor (I work at the News-Journal in Daytona, she's a Sentinelist in Orlando), but one wishes the competiton was more honorable.

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John Schaefer said...

Yeah, the question of "targeting," intention, and guilt:

Why do the Israeli "smart" bombs, which were developed to minimize civilian casualties, result in a majority of civilians among the Lebanese casualty counts?

Conversely, why do the Hizballah "dumb" rockets, which appear barely guided beyond being aimed south, result in a majority of military casualties for Israel?

This is a very interesting question to me.

Ted Swedenburg said...

Pierre, I wish we were reading your columns here in Arkansas instead of Parker's. John, I think part of the answer to your question is that Hizbollah is actually, at least some of the time, trying to hit military targets. Because of strict censorship in Israel, hits on military targets and the location of military targets cannot be reported on. So it appears as if there are only civilians in northern Israel.