Thursday, August 10, 2006

Op-Ed: The War of Words, by Neal AbuNab

The war of words and images
By Neal AbuNab

(EDITORS: Syndicated Opinion Columns by Aramedia. Suggested contribution: $40 There is no obligation to pay if you print article.If you decide to make a contribution please request a bill and tell us the amount you would like to contribute. Please state name of publication to be billed. Request bill by email: Contact Neal AbuNab (313) 506-4409, for all other inquiries. Length of article can be edited according to requirements of editors. Aramedia, P.O.Box 7596, Dearborn, MI 48126, USA All Rights reserved 2006.)

“I appeal to you from a wife to another wife to tell me if my husband is still alive”, Karnit Goldwasser, the wife of captured Israeli soldier, Ehud Goldwasser, made her appeal on live television from the studios of Fox News on August 6, 2006. Shlomo, the father of the soldier, appeared with his daughter-in-law and thanked the American Jewish community that helped bring them to America and organize their appearances. Karnit and Ehud had been married for only 9 months when Ehud was “kidnapped” on the last day of his military duty. Karnit told her story to the American people with wedding pictures intertwined with fond memories and longings to live a peaceful and happy life.

Peace and happiness were denied to this couple by the Hizbullah terrorists who are hell-bent on destroying Israel with their hateful ideology. It is a gut-wrenching human story conveyed with such strong emotions that garner the immediate sympathy of any peace-loving human being.

That is the story of Israel in the US media. It is the story of a human tragedy of epic proportions. The story of a persecuted people that escaped total annihilation in Europe and ran off to the land promised to them by God to live in peace and security.

Fox News is the champion of this story as it tells it with great care hosting military experts, terrorism experts, and guests that demand forcefully from the President to declare that “Islam is evil”. The rest of the TV media has somewhat cooled off on its “unconditional love for Israel” message and began focusing on the horrific images of death and destruction coming out of Lebanon. MSNBC is almost approaching the line of balanced reporting which infuriates the lovers of Israel. Pat Buchanan has become the leading contrarian voice answering to the compelling arguments made by seasoned neo-conservative commentators like Charles Krauthammer, Fred Barnes and William Crystol.

The story of Israel as told to Americans has always been a human story. The labyrinth of politics in the Middle East poses a sort of a mental challenge to the collective mind of America. Since the early days of President Harry Truman there was a conscious decision made on the part of media handlers to reduce this story down to over-simplified human terms and to tell it from the eyes of the victimized Jew. Arabs rarely appeared in this story till the seventies and the eighties, when they began blowing up planes and taking hostages, and so the “terrorist” brand name coined by Israel began sticking.

Why did Arabs blow up planes? The answer offered was simply because they hated Jews. Why do they hate them? Because Arabs are like Hitler and the Nazis of Germany; they have an ideology of hate. Why did Arabs attack America on 9/11? Because they hate Americans. Why do they hate Americans? Because they have an ideology of hate. These simple answers formed the basis of the easy-to-follow logic of “terrorism for dummies”, which allowed savvy Republican strategists to win one election after the other in the past 5 years. This logic formed the basis of the war on terror. But the democrats may have signaled that they are not buying any more of this logic, as they nominated this past week in Connecticut a relatively unknown political entity; Ted Lamont, and rejected the trigger-happy longtime war cheerleader veteran Senator Joe Lieberman.

Ever since the eruption of the latest war in the Middle East, Americans have showed that they have a renewed appetite for more information. This race was championed by cutting-edge journalists like CNN’s Anderson Cooper with his famous “AC360” 2-hour News program. In his search for the story he went to Beirut, Cyprus and Israel. But the time he spent outside of Israel pales in comparison.

In the past two weeks, I would say he’d gone totally “native” and joined his emotions with the Israelis. He is depicting the glory of the Israeli army as it confronts a coward enemy that hides behind human shields. He is faithfully broadcasting the story of immense sacrifice and pain which shows clearly on the faces of Israeli soldiers going into battle. He “embedded” for a weekend with an army unit that went into Lebanon and the report he filed was similar to media “embeds” with the US army in Iraq. The idea is to depict Israel’s fight as America’s war. His reports succeeded in painting a human image of the Israeli army with strong connotations that they are fighting for God and country, and that they are confronting the enemies of America and the enemies of western civilization. The intended conclusion for every viewer is that they are doing us a favor, and so they deserve our wholehearted unconditional support.

The written word echoes more in the mind of man and so the colossal newspaper industry has pretty much stuck to the logic of “terrorism for dummies.” Its unilateral approach has starved intellectuals out of the market and inhibited the political evolution of American society. The same columnists and editors keep hammering the same message over and over again. But too much medicine can kill the patient. The love of Israel has been shoved down the throat of Americans for so long that some are throwing up involuntarily.

The war of words and images to capture the hearts and minds of Americans is the bedrock of public policy and diplomacy. This media war that shaped the Arab-Israeli conflict for the past 60 years has always been unfair and unbalanced. A non-profit organization by the name of has been making this case for years. Its numerous studies prove how biased the US media coverage is towards Israel. One of its typical studies shows that reporting Israeli children’s death takes place routinely at a rate almost 7 times greater than reporting the death of Palestinian children, as a result of the violent conflict. This deliberate policy is aimed at making the humanity of Israelis more precious than the humanity of Arabs. If people only hear about Israelis being killed their innate sympathy will gravitate towards the victim.

The US will never have a balanced foreign policy in the Middle East that serves American interests till we have a balanced coverage of this conflict on the TV screens.

The Arab story as told often to America consists of abstract statistics and quick images while the Israeli story has a human face. Israeli pain is more valuable than Arab pain. This is evident in the statistics of casualties; 100 dead Israelis so far compared with 1,000 dead Lebanese. Almost every Israeli casualty is reported with a human story showing the unjust nature of the death, family members crying and a whole community grieving and burying its precious members. The time allocated to tell the story of one Israeli death is about ten times that of the Lebanese death. This keeps the balance of emotions always shifted on the side of the Israeli victim whose life has been magnified to bond with the viewer’s life.

No one in America hears about the Lebanese prisoner Samir Al-Qintar imprisoned by Israel since 1979, and sentenced to 453 years. No one in America hears about the 70 elected Palestinian legislators kidnapped over a month ago and thrown in Israeli jails. No one in America hears the story of the Palestinian Parliament Speaker, Aziz Duwiek; abducted from his house in Ramallah last week and tortured by Israeli interrogators in jail. No one in America hears about the 10,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Each has a gut-wrenching human story to tell. Their mothers went on a hunger strike last April to get the attention of the world but no one took notice. No one takes notice of the Arab pain unless it is translated to violence that causes Israeli pain.

In the US media, Israelis always appear through personal stories with kids and names. Their pain and anguish moves us to tears while Arabs are nameless, faceless and their death is a deserved punishment. Arabs die because of their hate and anger while Israelis die because of their love for humanity. The systematic de-humanization of Arabs makes it easier to strip them of morality. This is a deliberate policy to de-humanize, demoralize and demonize a whole people. This way, selling the idea that they simply hate us becomes easier.

Hate-mongering is very important for a group of policymakers as it leads to fear-mongering which keeps war-mongering alive. All this adds up to a whole bunch of money that the defense industry is making, and the idea of Israel is a vital factor in its profitability equation.

Neal AbuNab is a Michigan-based author of “The War on Terror and Democracy”- available on An Arab American who advocates for a balanced US policy in the Middle East. He is a commentator on Arab and Muslim affairs and his weekly column appears in the Arab American News. He can be reached at: