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U.S. mainstream media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict brings accusations of bias from all sides. But beyond the predictable polemics of constituent groups there is another type of media bias at work -- the virtual absence of reportage on how the U.S. foreign policy bias affects--and perhaps perpetuates--the conflict.

"WHERE IS GOD?" Ali Abed Daoud Jaber, a 76-year-old Palestinian resident of the West Bank village of Hares near Nablus, shouted in rage after the Israeli army cut down 110 of his olive trees last November. "They cut down trees my grandfather tended! What will I eat now? What will I drink?" [1] Jaber's cries were quoted by Cox News Service reporters in a story about the army's clear-cutting of olive tree groves in the West Bank, where Palestinians reportedly had been taking cover in their battles with Israeli settlers and soldiers. The Chicago Tribune correspondent also had visited Hares and quoted the irate and desolate Jaber: "Do you know God? Do you know God? You should cut my throat before you cut my trees!" [2]

From 8 November to 8 December, at least five U.S. newspapers ran their own versions of the olive tree story, with pieces averaging 1,100 words appearing in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor and Los Angeles Times. [3] Four out of the five stories ran with a photo; two also had maps. The Seattle Times also ran part of the Sun piece with a photo. [4]

The olive tree story had immense media appeal, suffused as it was with drama and graphic symbolism. It illustrated the chief icon of Palestinian identity and staple of Palestinian agriculture falling casualty to the latest round of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In so doing, it epitomized the colorful but often facile reporting that occasionally supplements the staples of the U.S. mainstream media menu for covering the conflict: the daily body count from the field, superficial details of the diplomatic story out of Washington, and failed shuttle diplomacy missions and negotiations.

More important for the American audience, however, is what is missing from the coverage: the details of how U.S. foreign policy in the region renders impossible the role of the U.S. as honest broker, ultimately keeping the peace process at war with itself.


The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the sole affair of its physical combatants. "The relationship between the United States and Israel has been a curious one in world affairs and in American culture," observed the linguist and political philosopher Noam Chomsky. [5] The United States gives Israel diplomatic cover in the United Nations and supplies Israel with a unique degree of aid and weaponry. But U.S. media rarely acknowledge or analyze this American bias, and the result is that the U.S. foreign policy tilt is implicitly absorbed into much of their reporting of the conflict.

Time and again, with exceedingly rare exceptions, U.S. mainstream media repeat without question and fail to challenge the "Washington consensus" on Middle East peacemaking. The term "Washington consensus" has been used in recent years to refer specifically to the Washington-based promotion of neoliberalism -- the push for the liberalization and opening of global capital markets around the world. But here it is used to describe the official mindset on Middle East peace of U.S. governments over time that consists of three basic axioms: both sides are equally responsible -- each in its own way -- for the sustained failure of the peace process; it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians themselves to reach a comprehensive solution to the conflict; and while the U.S. has vital interests in Middle East peace, it is not a direct party to the conflict.

Beltway-centrism in American media coverage of foreign affairs has been observed by William Pfaff, a Paris-based, American syndicated columnist, to be the rule, not the exception. "Coverage of international affairs in the U.S. is almost entirely Washington-driven," Pfaff wrote in April. "That is, the questions asked about foreign affairs are Washington's questions, framed in terms of domestic politics and established policy positions. This invites uninformative answers and discourages unwanted or unpleasant news." [6]

The annual State Department report on human rights released in late February [7] is a case in point of how the "Washington consensus" is carried from administration to administration and is absorbed by the media. In the wake of the violent al-Aqsa intifada that began in late September and the Israeli military response to it, the State Department classified the overall human-rights record of both Israel in the occupied territories and the Palestinian Authority as "poor." While condemning violence on both sides, the report cited Israeli security units for using "excessive force" against Palestinian demonstrators. Israeli officials and pro-Israel and Jewish groups alike protested that the report was unfair and distorted. Because Israel is engaged in a war with the Palestinians, they claimed, the human-rights standard does not apply. [8]

The claim raises three compelling questions. One: Why does the State Department classify Israel and the Palestinians, occupier and occupied, in the same report it uses to examine the human-rights record of other governments vis-a-vis their own populations? Two: If the State Department had reported the violence in another context -- that of resistance to a military occupation and to provocation by a leader of the occupying force at a holy site -- would that have encouraged unwanted public debate about how U.S. support for Israel enables its problematic relationship with the Palestinians? Three: Why did the U.S. media, which reported the contents of the State Department report in detail, fail to examine questions one and two?


The violence of the al-Aqsa intifada continues, at the time of this writing, to constitute the most severe Israeli-Palestinian clashes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the history of the conflict. In early December, approximately six weeks into the violence and after disagreement by Israel over what form it would take, a fact-finding commission led by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell went to the region to assess the causes for the violence and to make recommendations on how it could be halted. The delegation had international membership but operated under the aegis of the United States.

By early May details of the Mitchell commission's findings began to leak; by mid-May the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority were presented with the report, which focused on possible solutions rather than assessing blame. News reports made repeated reference to the commission's s deliberate even-handedness, a clear indication of the "equal blame" clause of the Washington consensus. "The carefully balanced report gave both the Israelis and the Palestinians something to like and something to loathe," the Los Angeles Times reported. quoted an unnamed U.S. official as saying: "It is a balanced report. There is plenty for both sides to be upset with." [9] The key recommendations called for an immediate cease-fire; a cooling-off period of confidence-building measures; a renewal of Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation; and a return to peace negotiations. The focal point of the recommendations was the commission's dual prescription for confidence building: The Palestinian leadership should t ry to stop violence and shooting at Israelis from civilian areas; Israel should impose a freeze on settlement expansion.

On 21 May, Secretary of State Colin Powell held a news conference to state the Bush administration's position on the commission's findings. On 22 May, U.S. newspapers published extensive front-page news reports of Powell's remarks; many also ran editorials on the topic that day. A survey of news reports and editorials published by four major U.S. newspapers -- The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune -- illustrates the significant degree to which they adhered to the principles of the "Washington consensus" in their news and editorial writing -- both in the framing of issues and variety of sources (or lack thereof). With the Mitchell commission report having established the first axiom of the consensus ("equal blame"), the Powell news conference set forth axioms two ("It's up to both sides to find a solution") and three ("The U.S. is not a direct party to the conflict"). While the four newspapers all maintained distinctive tones in their news reports and editorial s, with one notable exception, their overall approach to the topic was more similar than it was different. Only one paper, in its editorial, dared to challenge the postulates of the Washington consensus, which clearly provided the basis for the Mitchell commission report and the administration's response (via Powell) to it.

Overall the four news reports [10] can be summarized as follows. They offered different characterizations of the Bush administration's level of involvement in the crisis. But in reporting the administration's position that the United States could do little more than guide the parties forward, the papers offered few differing points of view on this issue from sources outside the administration. There was consensus among three of the four papers that Powell had stopped short of endorsing the commission's recommendation for a settlement freeze; but only one of those three quoted a source outside the administration challenging its position on the settlement freeze. Two of the four papers quoted Powell as saying "There can be no military solution to this conflict"; and three of the papers mentioned Israel's use the week before of U.S.-supplied F-16 fighter planes to attack Palestinian targets in response to a suicide bombing at an Israeli shopping mall. But three of the four news reports did not link Powell's "mil itary solution" quote to the issue of the F-16s, either by challenging him directly on the issue or by soliciting quotes from other sources.

Individually, the papers' news reports can be analyzed as follows:

The New York Times. The tone of the Times report was narrative bordering on omniscient. Unlike the other three papers, the Times focused on Powell's announcement that he was dispatching a senior aide on a shuttle mission to meet with the two sides, saying the administration had "stepped into an active role in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis."

The report treated Powell's comments on the Mitchell commission report as a secondary issue, quoting him indirectly on the settlement-freeze issue in the third-to-last paragraph: "On the subject of settlements, General Powell said he wanted to bridge the deep differences between the Israelis and the Palestinians."

Apart from Powell, the report quoted only one other source, an unnamed State Department official. The official said Powell spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon after the news conference and expressed concern that the use of the F-16s represented an escalation in the violence but that Washington was "not interested in a public spat with the Israelis."

The Washington Post. The tone of the Post report was the most critical toward the Bush administration. The paper reported that Powell "offered no new U.S. initiative to resolve the escalating conflict" and that his remarks "sought to raise the profile of U.S. interest in the Middle East without deepening the degree of engagement." The report also characterized the administration as having an "unwillingness to play a more ambitious role in brokering a truce between the sides." The report said Powell "refrained from endorsing" the settlement freeze "because Sharon has made clear he considers it unacceptable" but did not attribute the statement.

The report quoted unnamed administration officials directly and indirectly as saying there were few options beyond the "two sides"/"two parties" putting an end to the violence. It also quoted U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk as assessing blame for the conflict on both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Outside the administration, the Post quoted a Democratic House member as calling the administration's approach "inadequate"; a Republican senator saying he was satisfied with Powell's statement ("I don't know if there's much of anything else they could do"); and the chief diplomatic correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Ha 'aretz as saying: "It looks like a diplomatic initiative but it's nothing. I don't think it's serious."

Los Angeles Times. The tone of the Times report at times bordered on sensational, with the paper seeming eager to find fresh angles for a story whose parameters (the Mitchell commission s recommendations) had been known for weeks. The Times' lead paragraph boldly stated that "the Bush administration changed course Monday and plunged into Middle East mediation." Midway through, it presented a striking departure from the other three papers' characterization of Powell's position on the settlement freeze, saying the Mitchell commission report "gave Powell needed political cover to call for a freeze on Israeli settlement activity." The Times also reported that unnamed "U.S. analysts said there was no doubt that the administration adopted the commission's proposals, including the settlement freeze."

The paper quoted Geoffrey Kemp, a Middle East expert in the Reagan administration, as saying the Bush administration had accepted "the harsh reality" of the need for more active American involvement, warning that without it "America's enemies like [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein will get stronger." The report also quoted favorable reactions to Powell's comments by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Israel Television's diplomatic correspondent and a statement by the Palestinian Authority.

Chicago Tribune. The tone of the Tribune report was straightforward. It said the Bush administration was "stepping up the visibility of its effort" to mediate the conflict but that "it was not immediately clear what else the Bush administration was prepared to do, beyond urging the parties to consider" the Mitchell commission's recommendation.

The Tribune report quoted U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde, a Republican from Illinois and chairman of the House International Relations Committee, on the need for U.S. mediation of the conflict. It also quoted University of Maryland professor and Mideast expert Shibley Telhami as saying the administration appeared wary of the risk of getting too deeply involved and then failing.

The report said Powell "leaned strongly toward" the settlement freeze recommendation but that he "chose his words with extreme care" on the question. The report said unnamed Mideast experts "pointed out that Powell was careful not to say that the administration endorsed the report's observations" on the settlements.

Most significant is that the Tribune was the only paper of the four to offer its readers insight into Powell's stance, saying his comments "followed intensive behind-the-scenes lobbying by the Israeli government and pro-Israeli groups in the U.S. who support the settlement activity," attributing this statement to an unnamed "knowledgeable U.S. official." It also was the only paper to offer an opposing point of view on the settlements, quoting James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, as saying: "He [Powell] should have said, 'Continued settlement activity is an obstacle to peace and should be suspended.' He should have, but he didn't."

On the same day that they published the news reports on the Powell news conference, all four papers also ran editorials on the topic. [11] The New York Times' conclusions were straight out of the "Washington consensus" playbook:

... the Bush administration has wisely decided to play a more active role in trying to restore a semblance of peace. ... he [Powell] should consider a visit to the region to encourage Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel and the Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, to still the violence and begin carrying out some of the Mitchell commission s constructive recommendations.

Secretary Powell has appropriately defined America's role as bridging the gap between the two sides on this [the settlement] issue.

The Los Angeles Times was a bit more optimistic and direct, but the paper didn't stray far from the "consensus" in its conclusions:

Palestinians and Israelis are trapped in an increasingly mindless cycle of destruction....The situation cries out for intercession to restore some measure of sanity and proportion. Washington seems ready to answer that cry.

Two of the Mitchell panel's proposals loom especially large: The Palestinian Authority must discourage incitements to violence and move decisively to prevent terrorism. At the same time, Israel must freeze all expansion of its settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These are doable steps.

The United States properly is not interested in trying to impose a settlement. Its wholly pragmatic approach is to see the violence controlled as an essential prelude to bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

The Washington Post came out and called for a settlement freeze, but then it seemed to backtrack, opting for balance without regard to proportionality and backing American paternalism:

The Palestinians are doing nothing to restore security cooperation with Israel.... Nor are the Palestinians reducing incitement, re-arresting terrorists or preventing Palestinians from firing guns into Israeli neighborhoods.

The Israelis, for their part, should call back the F-16s and accept a key commission recommendation: a freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Only a sustained and serious American push is likely to lead the parties toward acceptance of the Mitchell report. The administration began to acknowledge that yesterday.

The distinctive voice among the four papers was that of the Chicago Tribune. In its editorial, appropriately titled "Breaking eggshells," the Tribune opted for a rare dose of prairie radicalism that left its coastal colleagues looking like poster children for American conservatism:

The Bush administration ... has finally decided to dip its toe in the water... Powell's action is welcome, as far as it goes. But it doesn't go very far. The U.S. is going to have to exert leverage to halt the violence. And like it or not, the leverage it has is with the state of Israel, which gets $3 billion a year in U.S. aid.

Is it unfair to single out Israel? Probably. It's the other side, the Palestinian side, that's conducting diplomacy via terrorism. But you use influence where you possess it. And mere words of reproach don't seem likely to head off the escalating violence in the Mideast.

Bush needs to make clear he's ready to use the full influence of the U.S. There is little incentive for the Palestinians to return to the table without an Israeli freeze on settlements. Israel does not easily bend to pressure, but it is sensitive to international criticism, especially when it [comes] from its primary benefactor, the U.S.

Israel understandably seeks to defend itself. But it won't win this struggle simply by ratcheting up its response. Israelis have to ask themselves why all this is happening.

The 1993 Oslo peace accords they signed with Yasser Arafat stipulated they would negotiate the future of the West Bank and Gaza. Since then, both Labor and Likud have expanded Jewish settlements by 40 percent. The settlements, basically colonies on Arab land, are illegal under international law.

The U.S. supplied Israel with F-16s. Now it needs to supply Israel with a reality check.

If the news reports of the Powell news conference were designed to present an uncritical and/or exclusive platform for the government to voice its position on a sensitive and controversial issue of international import, then The New York Times would win hands down, with second place going to the Los Angeles Times. If the purpose was to be superficially critical of the administration without challenging the basic assumptions behind its position, the prize would go to The Washington Post. If the purpose was to report the administration's position while offering counterbalancing information and an opposing point of view so readers would have some depth of field with which to assess the issue, then the Tribune would take top honors.

In the editorial-writing category, only the Post and the Tribune ventured beyond stating the obvious and avoided falling back on "both sides are to blame because ..." platitudes. Couched amid safe rhetoric, one declarative prescription was forthcoming from the Post: Israel should freeze its settlement activity. The Tribune, in a dramatic departure from its usually cautious and even-handed editorial-page approach to the conflict, [12] presented its readers with a provocative tour de force--admirable for daring to buck the "Washington consensus" and, as one reader wrote in a congratulatory letter to the editor later that week, "for taking on the sacred cow of American political and financial support for Israel." [13]

The focus of television broadcast coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and international news in general, is driven not only by the fact of the medium's visual nature. It also is limited by a combination of a perceived declining interest in international news due to the end of the Cold War, rising costs of covering international stories and increased competition from cable news operations. This has led networks to exchange news video and to rely increasingly on television news agency footage, enabling them to provide "worldwide coverage with greater cost efficiency but sacrific[ing] the depth and perspective that an on-the-scene reporter can provide." [14] Nightly network newscast coverage of the conflict is reduced largely to headline summaries and film of violence. Coverage that blends reporting with some degree of depth and analysis is found on programs such as ABC News' Nightline and PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

Nightline devoted its 21 May broadcast to the Mitchell commission report; The NewsHour had a segment on it that evening. Like most of the newspaper reports cited above, these broadcasts echoed the themes of the "Washington consensus" clearly and with virtually no challenge. The Nightline broadcast was reported by four ABC news correspondents. All of them touched on the issue of U.S. involvement in the conflict, but none challenged the tenets of the consensus--either in their own characterization of the situation or in interviewing others--by raising the issue of how the U.S. foreign policy tilt has a pronounced effect on the trajectory of the conflict. A sampling from the broadcast follows. [15]

Chris Wallace, anchor: Secretary of State Powell called for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire.... All this is part of the Bush administration's clear effort not to get so engaged in the Israeli conflict, to let the two sides find their own way back to the peace table.

Martha Raddatz, State Department correspondent: Today marked a real change. Instead of saying, 'It's up to the parties, it is only up to the parties to work this out, the Palestinians and the Israelis,' Secretary Powell said he will send a special assistant over there to try to work this out to try to get to the point where negotiations are possible again.

John Donvan, Washington-based correspondent: [The] very level of violence is what puts this administration in a delicate position. In one way, U.S. involvement is more needed than ever because things are getting worse there so quickly. But, in another way, the level of violence is so high that it's not really clear what the U.S. can do to stop it.

Wallace to Gillian Findlay, correspondent reporting from Jerusalem: ... how much effect do you expect this new U.S. initiative to have on the situation on the ground there?

Findlay: I think the people on the ground here would argue that it will only have the effect of the strength that the U.S. administration brings to it. If they are expecting to put these recommendations out there and that the two sides will, on their own initiative, pick them up and run with them, I don't think anybody here is terribly hopeful. It really just depends on what the U.S. administration intends to do, how much muscle they intend to back these recommendations up with.

The remainder of the broadcast was devoted to Wallace interviewing Clinton administration special Middle East envoy Dennis Ross. Wallace asked Ross whether the U.S. needed to "get tougher" with the Israelis and Palestinians. Ross replied: "I think there's a difference between the issue of getting tougher and getting involved at a more intensive level, at a higher level, perhaps, and certainly in a more visible way." Wallace asked whether the U.S. would "have to put some pressure on, some teeth into it [the Mitchell commission report]." He did not, however, suggest what kind of "pressure" or "teeth" could be brought to bear -- and he got no direct response on the subject from Ross.

The NewsHour segment relied on two think-tankers (former Mideast experts from the Reagan and Clinton administrations) to analyze the Mitchell report. With sources limited to those whose points of view have been informed entirely within the Beltway, it was perhaps fitting that reporter Ray Suarez posed his only direct question on the role of the United States in the conflict like this:

When we talk about ... ending the violence, what is the American role in that, if there is one? Or do we just have to sit to the side and wait until that happens? [16]


The Mitchell commission report recommended that Israel freeze its settlement activity as an initial confidence-building measure. But what role do the settlements play in the ongoing conflict, and how, specifically, will they affect its outcome? Despite the fact that the settlement issue is viewed as one of the cruxes of any eventual resolution to the conflict, mainstream American media rarely address any but the most superficial aspects of the settlements-- consistent with U.S. officials' refusal to comment on the record about the settlements in anything but an extremely guarded and superficial fashion.

Moreover, there has also been a virtual absence of critical reporting in the mainstream media on the question of how, directly or indirectly, U.S. aid contributes to Israel's ability to absorb the cost of building, enlarging and defending the settlements. The Israeli organization Peace Now reported late last year that the government of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had earmarked $300 million for the settlements in 2001, [17] a figure that represents only 10 percent of Israel's overall foreign-aid package from the United States for fiscal year 2001. [18] Similarly, coverage of the Clinton administration's long-term efforts to advance the peace process rarely if ever analyzed the inherent contradiction between the intensive U.S. mediation and these facts about the settlements: they are illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which the United States is a signatory; they contravene UN Resolution 242, a pillar of the U.S.-brokered, albeit now-defunct, Oslo accords; and successive Israeli governm ents have continually enlarged the settlements since the accords were signed in 1993.

How the media frame the settlement issue can be seen in a survey of two time periods: the first from the run-up to the failed Camp David negotiations in July 2000 through the first two months of the al-Aqsa intifada from late September through early December 2000; and the second coinciding with the release of the Mitchell commission report in May 2001.

The first of the two survey periods is characterized by a remarkable lack of balance in context and voice: context that the settlements are illegal and violate an important basis of the Oslo peace accords, and the voice of Palestinians whose lives are affected by them. It is arguably not a coincidence that during this period the Clinton administration was highly critical of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat for refusing to accept the peace deal offered by Israel and promoted by the United States at Camp David. The administration also condemned Palestinian violence in the early stage of the al-Aqsa intifada while at the same time criticizing Israel for the intensity of its own violent military actions.

In contrast, the second survey period, informed as it was by the implicit criticism of Israeli settlement policy in the Mitchell commission report, reflected a marked change toward balance with regard to both context and voice in reporting on the settlements--evidence that the tone set by Washington can sometimes have a positive effect.

In the first survey period, six major newspapers published seven stories on West Bank settlers from July through December of 2000. The Baltimore Sun, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, New York Times and Washington Post all ran long "take-out" stories datelined from different West Bank settlements during that period; [19] the Los Angeles Times ran two such stories. [20] In general, the pieces got considerable play: they averaged 1,300 words in length, two ran on the front page and five were illustrated with multiple photos.

All of the stories revolved around the settlers' various points of view, religious and secular. The reporting focused on how the violence had disrupted the settlers' quality of life and their anxieties over what negotiations could bring. Of the six papers, only the Los Angeles Times, in one of its two stories, mentioned--in a passing reference--that the settlements are illegal under international law. Only two of the seven stories (the same Times piece and the Post story) quoted Palestinians, also in passing, on their view of how the settlements affect their lives and the peace process.

Most of the stories mentioned the housing subsidies that the Israeli government extends to settlers. But none of the stories reported how much Israel has invested to build and defend the 140 settlements and their supporting infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967, and none explored how this investment is likely to affect the determination of final borders in a negotiated settlement. Most of the stories gave a figure for the settler population, but none of the stories put that figure into the context of the Palestinian-settler population ratio, which is 15:1 (not including the Jewish population of the dozen so-called "neighborhoods" built and annexed to Jerusalem on land occupied in 1967, estimated at an additional 200,000 [21]).

In addition, Time magazine published a report in early December on the Palestinian Authority's apparent tactical shift from street demonstrations and shooting into Jewish "neighborhoods" of Jerusalem (primarily Gilo on the city's southern perimeter) to taking aim at Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the soldiers protecting them. [22] Unlike the newspaper articles published in the same time period, the story quoted Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. But just as most of the newspaper articles failed to provide context, the Time piece offered no link between the settlements' illegal occupation of Palestinian land and their becoming a more frequent target of Palestinian attack. The article concluded in a vague and somewhat cavalier manner that:

Eight weeks ago, the Palestinians began the latest protests with old-style demonstrations. Then they started shooting at Israeli towns. Now they are attacking settlements. It's not at all clear what the next step will be, but every step seems to get bloodier.

The notable exception to the general lack of context and virtual absence of Palestinian voice in U.S. media reporting on the settlements during this time period was a National Public Radio report filed by correspondent Mike Shuster in early December. [23] The report, broadcast on NPR's flagship daily news broadcast All Things Considered, was introduced by host Noah Adams, who established three important contextual facts: that the Jewish population in the occupied territories" had increased by 50 percent since the Oslo accords were signed in 1993 and that nearly all Israeli governments since then had encouraged more Jewish settlement on the West Bank; and that while "the Oslo accords made no mention of the settlers' fate ... the Palestinians believe the agreement implicitly indicated the settlements would be frozen."

Shuster then began his report, the focus of which was a debate among Israelis about "whether defending all the settlements is worth the violence and pain." While the report quoted mainly Israelis, it did include two Palestinian voices: that of a woman whose home in Ramallah was near the site of Palestinian shooting into the nearby settlement of Pisagot; and that of Palestinian negotiator and spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi, who was quoted as saying: "I think the settlements are illegal. They continue to be illegal. There are numerous resolutions about the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war. We are not going to bestow retroactive legality on the settlements...." Reiterating the contextual details of the scope of and increase in the settlement population that Adams provided in the setup, Shuster continued:

Israel has been steadily expanding the settlements since the 1970s. There was no real slowdown in that expansion after the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993. Then there were 140,000 settlers in the territories. Now there are nearly 200,000, which does not include large numbers of Israelis who have settled in areas of what was Arab East Jerusalem.

Shuster then went on to interview several Israelis, who expressed opinions on both sides of the settlement issue.

In the second survey period, several media outlets returned to focus on the settlement topic in May 2001, coinciding with the release of the Mitchell report and its recommendation of a settlement freeze. The tone of four pieces published in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor and Washington Post marked a distinct departure from that of any of the above-mentioned eight newspaper and magazine pieces published during the first survey period. The four news reports published in May were both more analytical and indirectly critical of the settlements--as if the Mitchell commission report had empowered the media to approach the subject more aggressively. Still, no mention was made of the connection between U.S. aid and Israel's ability to absorb the cost of settlement building and defense.

To many Israelis, this cozy neighborhood is a benign suburb of Jerusalem, part of the natural growth of the Jewish state. But to much of the rest of the world, Givat Ze'ev and communities like it are obstacles to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. [24]

Thus began a report on settlements published on 23 May in The Atlanta Journal and Constitution that opened by batting back and forth the notion of whether Givat Ze'ev, a community north of Jerusalem, is a settlement or a neighborhood. The story quoted an Israeli real estate dealer as saying "This is not a settlement here. . . . Yes, it is over the green line, but there are 10,000 people here." Three paragraphs later came this assessment, in reporter Larry Kaplow's own words: "Givat Ze'ev is a settlement, meaning it was built on Arab land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war." And two paragraphs later: "An American-backed commission this week suggested that the growing settlements are 'provocations' that hinder peace." The piece continued to maintain an aggressive tone of balance throughout:

The Oslo peace accords, signed in 1993. say the status of the settlements should be left up to negotiations between the two sides. But in the intervening eight years, Israel has boosted the settlement population more than 40 percent.

This growth infuriates Palestinians, who see it as a land grab meant to pre-empt negotiations. Every U.S. administration for the past 25 years has considered the settlements an obstacle to a peace deal.

... But Israeli leaders downplay settlement construction as "natural growth."

"If a child is born, if you have to build a kindergarten, it is very difficult to stop it," [Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon] Peres said recently.

But the growth far outstrips the natural rise in population. Many moving to the settlements relocate from homes within Israel's borders or from overseas, including America.

"Natural growth is a false argument," says Israeli Gilad BenNun, director of research for the anti-settlement group Peace Now. "It's a political statement. They are trying to make facts on the ground that give them an advantage.'

On 24 May, in a report from the West Bank settlement of Alon Shevut, the Chicago Tribune also focused on the issue of "natural growth." In its opening paragraphs the story quoted settler Ruthie Lieberman, a "Clevelandborn Israeli," who observed: ". . . we hope to keep growing. It would be very painful if my children couldn't live next door to me when they grow up." [25] In the next paragraph, however, reporter Hugh Dellios challenged Lieberman's assertion with this characterization: But the Liebermans and their neighbors live on occupied Palestinian land, and their desire to expand has become the latest obstacle to ending the violent Mideast crisis in the wake of the Mitchell Commission report released this week.

Midway through, the story stepped up the degree of its contextual analysis even further:

Despite the Israeli government's long-running policy of expanding the settlements, their presence is a violation of United Nations resolutions and other international laws calling for the lands to be returned as part of the final negotiations under the 1993 Oslo peace accords.

The story then attributed the linking of settlement expansion with Israeli security to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and it quoted Sharon as defending settlement growth in order to accommodate natural growth of settler families. These characterizations were then directly rebutted by Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian Authority's minister for planning, who said: "The idea of natural growth is a lie. The idea is simply to... deepen occupation and to create facts on the ground to pre-empt the outcome of permanent negotiations."

On 9 May, two teen-age boys from the Tekoa settlement were brutally stoned to death by Palestinians in a nearby cave. On 18 May, about two weeks after the contents of the Mitchell commission report began to be leaked, The Christian Science Monitor published an interview with Tekoa's chief rabbi, Menachem Frohman, who said new settlements should be built in response to the killings. [26] But the story--which characterized Tekoa as being located "about a third of the way between Jerusalem and Hebron in the southern part of the Palestinian West Bank"--balanced Frohman's sentiments with reporter Cameron Barr's observations:

That these lands have been inhabited by Palestinians or their forebears for millennia is of no major consequence for Frohman. He sees a future in which the Jews and Arabs can live among each other in peace, and in his own way actively works to achieve this end.

But in the meantime, Frohman's inclination to turn Jewish grief into more Jewish settlements can only illustrate how hard it will be to halt the action and reaction of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Violence doesn't just beget violence. It begets more settlements, and that, so far, has begotten more violence.

On 21 May, The Washington Post published a full-length, staff-bylined story based on a Peace Now report that 15 new settlements had been built in the West Bank since January. [27] The play given the story is significant in that most major U.S. newspapers usually cover reports on settlements by Peace Now and human-rights organizations as a secondary angle, devoting to them a couple of paragraphs inserted into stories that focus on other related news developments, or covering them with short wire briefs. [28] Not only did the Post story give the Peace Now report impressive play, but noting the impending official publication of the Mitchell commission report, it also took an aggressive tone in putting the settlement question in context:

More than any other issue, the construction of Jewish settlements in Israeli-occupied territories has infuriated the Palestinians and convinced them that Israel is not serious about a negotiated peace deal. But in Israel, the construction has been pursued vigorously by left- and right-leaning governments for 30 years. It is widely viewed as an attempt to cement Israel's physical control over the West Bank, which it has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war. Some 200,000 Israelis live in about 150 West Bank settlements.

Whether the increase in contextual and somewhat critical reporting on the settlements indicates a new trend spurred by the release of the Mitchell commission report or whether it is a temporary aberration remains to be seen. Meanwhile, American readers interested in learning how the settlements affect Palestinian lives on a daily basis, adding fuel to the conflict's fire, will continue to have to look beyond the mainstream U.S. media for those details, because by and large, they aren't there. [29]


The use by Israel in May of U.S.-supplied F-16 fighter jets against Palestinian targets brought limited discussion of its annual $3 billion U.S. aid grant to the fore. The fuller implications of U.S. aid to Israel begin to become clear only when the issue is addressed in aggregate--but the mainstream media rarely do so. Piecing the picture together requires delving into various academic, U.S. government and NGO sources--some of which can be found on the Internet.

Since 1967 U.S. aid to Israel has totaled an estimated $85 billion. [30] Three-quarters of the annual military aid, which has held steady at approximately $1.8 billion a year since 1987, has been in the form of credits that Israel uses to shop the U.S. weapons market. [31] This aid has not only enabled Israel to maintain the "qualitative edge of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in the regional balance of power" [32] and to protect its own interests and those of the

U.S. It also has guaranteed a steady flow of contracts to the likes of Lockheed Martin (which manufacturers the F-16), Boeing-McDonnell Douglas (maker of the F151 fighter jet, the Apache helicopter gunship and Hellfire air-to-ground missiles), Bell Helicopter (the Huey Cobra gunship) and Colt (M-16 machine guns and M203 Grenade launchers), among other weapons makers. And the weapons-contracting bounty is set to increase: The State Department reported last year that as U.S. nonmilitary aid to Israel is to be gradually phased out by fiscal year 2008 (Israel, enjoying its high-tech prowess in the age of the global economy, now has a per capita income of approximately $17,000--higher than those of Spain, Portugal and Greece [33]), military aid will rise incrementally each year until it reaches $2.4 billion yearly. [34]

In addition to these regular annual military aid grants, Israel also makes requests for special allocations tied to its actual and anticipated military redeployments in the region, significantly increasing the scope of the aid package it receives from the United States. In November it was reported that

Israel, a major U.S. weapons customer, is now waiting for an additional $800 million in U.S. military aid beyond the $2.8 billion [combined military and nonmilitary aid for fiscal year 2001] appropriated by Congress. The $800 million is based on a promise made by President Clinton to Israeli President [sic] Ehud Barak during the July Camp David peace summit. According to an Israeli Defense Ministry acting spokeswoman, "$250 million will cover costs associated with Israel's withdraw [sic] from Lebanon earlier this year. The remaining finds will be used for military modernization." Put another way, the Israelis will have $550 million to purchase new U.S. weapons and training. [35]

To withdraw from the Golan Heights, over and above its regular aid package, Israel has reportedly requested

$17 billion in new weapons, including surveillance systems, Tomahawk cruise missiles and Black Hawk helicopters. Israel has also requested the construction of two infantry training bases and a storage and logistics base for a reserve armored division, with an estimated cost of $200 million, to aid in implementing a potential Syrian-Israeli peace pact. [36]

U.S. military aid to Israel has been characterized as the beginning of a chain-reaction phenomenon, the first step in a regional arms-race cycle that appears to be perpetuated by a partnership between the U.S. government and American arms dealers. In addition to Israel receiving $1.98 billion in military aid in fiscal year 2001, the U.S granted also military aid to Egypt ($1.3 billion), Jordan ($75 million) and Morocco and Tunisia ($2.5 million each) for the same fiscal year, for a total of $3.36 billion. [37] To understand U.S. arms sales to the

Middle East as a proportion of U.S. global arms sales, in fiscal year 2000 U.S. government-to-government foreign military sales worldwide topped $12 billion, the second time in as many years the figure was that high, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. [38] This would suggest that U.S. arms sales to the Middle East constitute roughly a quarter of all U.S. global arms sales. Other regional governments not receiving U.S. military aid pay cash for their purchases, leading to the observation that

This benefit to American defense contractors is multiplied by the fact that every major arms transfer to Israel creates a new demand by Arab states-most of which can pay hard currency through petrodollars-for additional American weapons to challenge Israel. Indeed, Israel announced its acceptance of a Middle Eastern arms freeze in 1991, but the United States effectively blocked it. ... In 1993, when 78 senators wrote President Clinton insisting that aid to Israel be continued at the current levels, they justified it on the grounds of massive arms procurement by Arab states, neglecting to note that 80 percent of those arms transfers were of U.S. origin. [39]

The impending increase in U.S. military aid to Israel and the armsprocurement spiral it engenders could potentially reverse the trend of declining arms sales to the region, which were reported to have dropped from $30 billion for the Middle East and North Africa in 1987 to $19.9 billion for those regions in 1997 (measured in constant 1997 U.S. dollars). [40] Nevertheless, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, estimating that governments in the region spent more than $700 billion on the arms race from 1985 to 1995, observed: "If they kept the money at home, the entire Middle East would emerge into a different region." [41]

Why is U.S. military aid to Israel going up even though the last full-scale Arab-Israeli war was fought in 1973, Saddam Hussein's ability to threaten the Persian Gulf oil flow has been checked since 1990 and the Cold War ended in 1991? How does the U.S. tilt toward Israel continue to serve American interests at a time when many of the Arab countries that joined the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein in the Gulf war a decade ago have since left the fold over the Iraq sanctions issue? After Egypt and Jordan have become American foreign-aid client states in exchange for signing domestically unpopular peace treaties with Israel? In light of these developments, how has Washington reassessed the value of its strategic axis with Tel Aviv?

In the absence of mainstream media reporting and analysis on these issues, two hypotheses can be offered. First, it seems clear that American taxpayers will be increasing their subsidy of a military-industrial complex that thrives in part on fueling the Mideast arms race, which in turn endangers the lives and interests of Israelis, Palestinians, Americans and others. Second, it has been suggested that there is also the factor of ensuring continued U.S. hegemony in the region by arming Israel as a proxy and regional superpower.

Immediately following Israel's spectacular victory in the 1967 War, when it demonstrated its military superiority in the region, U.S. aid shot up by 450 percent. ... The continued high levels of U.S. aid to Israel does [sic] not likely spring from concern for Israel's survival. One explanation may come from a desire for Israel to continue its strategic and political dominance over the Palestinians and over the region as a whole. [42]

In January a delegation from the U.S.-based National Lawyers Guild traveled to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip to study the link between U.S. military and economic assistance to Israel and Palestinian human rights. Because these linkages are critical to understanding the dynamics of the conflict--and because the mainstream media virtually ignore them-it is worthwhile to examine some of the characterizations and conclusions in the delegation's 70-page report [43] at length, as follows:

Virtually all Israel's weapons are provided or financed by the United States (p. 40).

The United States, while providing all these weapons, does not appear to have made any effort presently to either control or monitor how these weapons are used (p. 42). . . . The U.S. Embassy spokesperson pointed out that the United States could monitor weapon sales, could impose conditions on weapon sales, and could delay or cancel the sale of weapons such as the Apache helicopters. None of these actions are being taken (p. 43).

The huge number and extensive use of Apache attack helicopters is, at a minimum, a symbol of U.S. foreign policy creating a warlike atmosphere. . . . Misuse of U.S.manufactured and financed weapons is also evident in Israel's state assassinations of Palestinians (p. 43).

Palestinians view the United States' permissive arms policy toward Israel as a clear sign of U.S. lack of impartiality and support for the belligerent Israeli occupation. A father of a martyred child from the Khan Yunis refugee camp [in the Gaza Strip] articulated this view most succinctly: "One word from the U.S. government would stop all this" (p.44).

Given the unanimity in the findings of the international nongovernmental organizations investigating Israel's human rights abuses and the State Department's human rights country report on the occupied Palestinian territories, it seems clear that U.S. foreign assistance does not promote and has not been promoting Israel's increased observance of internationally recognized human rights. . . . Continued foreign assistance arguably has made Israel more brazen in its brutal treatment of the Palestinian civilian population. In addition, it creates the impression that the U.S. sanctions and approves of Israel's misuse of U.S. manufactured and financed weapons. Palestinians repeatedly expressed to the delegation that they felt that both the United States and Israel were engaged in a one-sided war against them (p. 65).

[In light of the above,] U.S. military assistance to Israel has not promoted the purposes and policies of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act of 1976 and is unlawful under the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (pp. 66-67).

In an exceptional instance of mainstream media shedding light on some of the consequences of U.S.-supplied weapons to Israel, The Boston Globe published a front-page story by staff reporter Charles Sennott in May [44] that reported:

Of the estimated 13,000 Palestinians injured [by Israeli forces] in the seven-month spiral of violence, an estimated 1,500 have suffered disabling wounds, according to the Health, Development, Information and Policy Institute, a Palestinian public health research organization based in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Twenty percent of the 13,000 injured were shot with live ammunition, mostly the high-velocity, full-jacketed bullets from M-16 rifles, which have been criticized internationally because of the extensive injuries they cause. Many will never walk again. The luckier ones will limp.

The story went on to quote Robert Kirschner, forensic pathologist of the Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights, as saying that the high rate of crippling injuries is due in part to Israel's use of the American-designed M-16 assault rifle. But the report did not detail how U.S. military aid enables Israel to acquire these weapons.

It is clear that overall, U.S. mainstream media have failed to report on the connection between U.S. aid, U.S. weapons trade and the trajectory of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Further, they have offered little if any type of analysis of the consequences of that connection. Credible data and informed opinions are out there--but Americans have to piece the puzzle together for themselves. When was the last time the following type of critical yet evenhanded analysis could be heard on Nightline or read in The New York Times? Without question the United States has always favored Israel in its relationships with its neighbors. In its early days as a nation, Israel needed help economically and militarily to survive. It was, until 1967, a country under siege. But after the 1967 war, Israel became an occupying power....

Over the subsequent years, Israel lost its memory of what it means to be besieged. It should look to its own history, both ancient and modern. Like others who wielded armed might, Israel's army can go at will into the areas returned to the Palestinians, but its gain is limited to destroying houses and clearing fields of fire by knocking down trees. [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's policy of strength and determination is being met by a determined spirit of resistance that this time will not be broken, only strengthened, as was Israel's in the first 20 years of its modem existence.

If the violence is to be brought under control, the United States must rethink its current one-dimensional view of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. This can be done without detriment to Israel and probably to its long-term benefit. [45]

Col. Daniel Smith, U.S. Army (Ret.), Chief of Research Center for Defense Information, Washington


That the American public is getting neither facts nor analysis on these matters from the mainstream media results in an information deficit that is critical not only because vast amounts of foreign-aid dollars and weaponry are sent to the region. Such reporting is also vital because it would provide a much-needed context when American lives and interests become targets of Arab and Islamic backlash over U.S. Mideast policy.

While mainstream media have conveyed a sub-topic of the Washington consensus--that Islamic fundamentalism has overtaken Communism on the list of perceived current threats to American interests--they have not reported on how images of the David-Goliath proportions of Palestinian-Israeli violence stoke popular support for Islamic governments and movements in the Muslim world. Renowned British journalist Robert Fisk, who for decades has covered the Middle East with a unique blend of reportage and opinion for the Independent, has been a frequent and outspoken critic of U.S. media coverage of the region. Writing on the topic from Beirut in 1998 he observed, "Academics may one day decide how deeply the American public has been misled by the persistent bias of the US media, and the degree to which this has led them to support US policies which may destroy America's prestige in the Middle East." [46]

From a purely economic point of view, there is little if any comprehensive reporting on how the U.S. posture in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict affects American global economic interests. Beyond sporadic boycott campaigns directed at the likes of Disney and McDonald's by Arab and Muslim groups at home and abroad, how does U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East inhibit further penetration of emerging markets from Morocco to Indonesia that have a combined Muslim population approaching 1 billion?

National security, however, remains the key issue with regard to political Islam. In mid-January, several weeks before the trial of alleged conspirators in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Nairobi opened in New York, The New York Times published a 12,500-word, three-part series on Osama bin Laden and his network of supporters and operations. [47] Reported principally from Afghanistan and Jordan, the series' strength was its extensive detailing of how American and allied Middle Eastern governments have investigated Bin Laden's activities and prosecuted his followers. As such, most of the sources cited in the series were authorities, investigators, officials, police and prosecutors--many of them unnamed.

The series was less successful, however, in analyzing the linkage between U.S. policy in the region--after U.S. support enabled the Islamist mujahideen to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan in 1989--and the rise of Bin Laden's Islamist network and its allegedly violent, anti-American agenda. Characterizations of Muslim sentiment in the series were superficial and cliched: Bin Laden's supporters "view the United States as their enemy, an imperial power propping up corrupt and godless governments"; "many were agitated about the plight of their own homelands"; the United States is "hostile to Islam"; "the whole world was ripe for jihad." [48]

In the series a former FBI counterterrorism official observed of Bin Laden's organization that "local politics drives what they're doing." [49] But the Times' reporting provided no supporting details of what drives those local politics: U.S. backing for corrupt and oppressive secular regimes and the dearth of development projects that would make significant inroads against poverty. Instead the series made only fleeting references to the continued presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the first Palestinian intifada and Hezbollah resistance to Israeli occupation of south Lebanon. A former inhabitant of a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan was quoted as saying that jihad is a Muslim's "most important religious duty ... whenever and wherever our rights as Arabs and Muslims are being denied." [50] Further, he said, "There are 500 verses in the Koran alone about the need to wage jihad." [51]


How can American readers assess such apparently threatening statements on their face without a context for them? In his classic work of media criticism, Covering Islam, Palestinian scholar Edward Said remarked: "What makes . . . knowledge accurate or inaccurate, bad, better, or worse, has to do mainly with the needs of the society in which that knowledge is produced." [52]

What, then, does American society need to know about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? And what should the role of American media be in delivering that knowledge?

It is reasonable to believe that if the mainstream media were to connect the dots of U.S. Middle East foreign policy bias to the trajectory of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then these issues would become part of public discourse rather than remain relegated to a closed-circuit discussion among elites on op-ed pages and in academic journals. At a minimum, full contextual reporting on these crucial issues would allow for the development of informed public opinion--the way, in classical American press theory, the fourth estate is supposed to function.

The process could end there. Or American public opinion could shift, compelling a change in U.S. Middle East policy. This would not be without precedent. American media eventually came to play a critical role in raising public awareness over U.S. military involvement in Vietnam and economic involvement in South Africa. That awareness gave way to a groundswell of public concern over the morality of those entanglements, driving the policy changes of disengagement and divestment-and spurring an end to the Vietnam war and apartheid in South Africa.

For public opinion to shift, however, it has to be stimulated by something new--and the recent history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict holds precedent for this as well. The startling broadcast images of Israel's response to the early days of the first intifada in 1987-88--in which troops beat unarmed Palestinians and tied them to army jeeps as human shields--contributed to a rethinking of who was who in the David-Goliath metaphor. As the first uprising wore on, the word "Palestinian" entered the U.S. media vocabulary. And when the violence of the second intifada spilled over the Green Line last October, sweeping Arab citizens of Israel into the fray, U.S. media began to report on how these Palestinians view their nationality and identity, challenging the false construct of "Israeli Arabs"--a term coined by the Israeli security establishment, promoted by the Israeli academy and adopted by media around the world to describe this unique Palestinian community.

These adjustments, however, have yet to significantly alter the American public's big picture of the israeli--Palestinian conflict--and this will not happen so long as the media's conceptual framework for reporting the conflict is stuck in a Cold War mode of merely reacting to the political and military struggles of the combatants themselves-the Mitchell commission report and media coverage of it being a case in point.

In Year One of the 21st century, Americans enjoy arguably the freest press of any democratic, developed country. And in an economic sense, American media are getting freer all the time in a climate of neoliberal, free-market capitalism that strips away layers of government regulation. Does this freedom, then, paradoxically make it all the more difficult to understand why the media persist in not reporting the linkage between American foreign policy and the perpetuation of what may be the most intractable political conflict of our time? Or would it be more instructive to ask, pointedly: Whose interests does this media self-censorship serve?

It would be foolish to suggest that the media created the complex historical and political factors that lie at the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it would be irresponsible to suggest that advocacy reporting is the right way to cover the conflict. But by choosing not to report on the direct impact that U.S. foreign policy--especially in the realm of economic and military aid--has on the conflict while possessing the freedom and technical means to do so, the media become part of the problem and agents, wittingly or otherwise, of the status quo.

The governments of societies far less free--Cuba and China come to mind-impede the rights of their citizens to be informed about political, social and economic truths, and they do so with impunity. But who pays the price of such an information deficit in a society that through the First Amendment has elevated "the people's right to know" to the top of the list of its social values? In reporting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as they do, why do American media break their compact with the American people in favor of the Washington consensus?

Individuals and groups within the American body politic will nonetheless continue to be sensitive to and appreciate the crucial details that go missing in the alternately sensational and mind-numbing mainstream reportage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--and that awareness will continue to spur challenges, however small, to U.S. policy in the region. In April at the University of California, Berkeley, Students for Justice in Palestine protested in support of a petition submitted to university regents calling for divestment from companies with business ties to Israel. [53] In May a Chicago Tribune reader wrote a letter to the editor asking

How can anyone expect peace in the Middle East when Israel continues to create new colonies in Palestine, expands its existing colonies in Palestine and declares it will maintain its colonies forever? Don't expect peace from a people whose land is devoured bit by bit by a neighboring colonial power. And for America, how can we support this brutal neocolonialism? [54]

And even with news columns largely devoid of contextual analysis, voices critical of that very vacuum can be heard on the opinion pages of the mainstream press. Writing in the Chicago Tribune in April, columnist Salim Muwakkil observed

American publications rarely make serious efforts to get beyond the formulaic coverage that portrays Israel as a beleaguered democracy valiantly fighting off evil, anti-Semitic terrorists. There is another perspective of the struggle that casts Palestinians as valiant anti-colonialists fighting a legitimate struggle against illegal occupation of their land by imperialist forces.

This latter view calls into question the priorities of U.S. foreign policy, however, and is seldom highlighted in American media.... But since U.S. opinion is so critical to Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, American media's one-dimensional coverage is coming under increasing criticism. Our relentless pro-Israel slant serves to prolong the conflict, critics say. [55]

On a very basic level, U.S. mainstream media would serve their audiences well to take note of these sentiments. On a level much more grandiose, by focusing on the direct impact that U.S. foreign policy has on the conflict and thereby adding much-needed depth to their coverage, the media could serve the cause of advancing a just peace.

In a global age whose mantra is integration, sound-bite journalism limited to one-dimensional reporting of complex stories of international import is passe. Let a new way of seeing inspire a reporting of depth on the roots and perpetuating factors of a conflict that run much deeper and spread much farther than the rocky soil that once nourished the olive trees of Ali Abed Daoud Jaber.

Marda Dunsky is an assistant professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, where she teaches newspaper editing and global journalism. As an Arab affairs reporter for the Jerusalem Post, she covered the Palestinian minority in Israel during the first intifada. She has also worked as an editor on the national/foreign news desk of the Chicago Tribune.


(1.) "Wielding the ax of bitterness/Israelis chop down Palestinians' precious olive trees, insisting it's retaliation for rocks being hurled at settlers," Michael Browning and Larry Kaplow, Cox News Service; published in The Atlanta Journal and Constitution (inter alia), 29 November 2000.

(2.) "Knotty olive tree symbolizes Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Hugh Dellios, Chicago Tribune, 13 December 2000.

(3.) "Palestinians reaping the bitter harvest as Israelis clear West Bank olive trees," Mark Matthews, The Baltimore Sun, 8 November 2000; "Another casualty of war: trees," Ben Lynfield, The Christian Science Monitor, 8 December 2000; "Olive harvest becomes a Palestinian casualty," Mary Curtius, Los Angeles Times, 25 November 2000.

(4.) Seattle Times, 13 November 2000.

(5.) Noam Chomsky: Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, (South End Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1983 and 1999), p. 1.

(6.) "Grasping the nature of anti-Americanism," William Pfaff, published in the Chicago Tribune (inter alia), 3 April 2001.

(7.) 2000 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, U.S. State Department, released 26 February 2001.

(8.) "U.S. applied wrong measure in Israel report," Charles Madigan, Chicago Tribune, 4 March 2001.

(9.) Los Angeles Times, 22 May 2001 (see full citation in footnote 10);, 4 May 2001.

(10.) "U.S. Widens Role in Mideast Crisis, Sending an Envoy," Jane Perlez, The New York Times, 22 May 2001; "Powell Urges Halt To Mideast Violence/No New Plan to End Conflict Is Offered," Alan Sipress, The Washington Post, 22 May 2001; "White House, in an About Face, Tackles Mideast," Norman Kempster and Robin Wright, Los Angeles Times, 22 May 2001; "Mideast report stirs Powell call for truce/Violence continues as U.S. raises role in Israel-Arab fray," John Diamond, Chicago Tribune, 22 May 2001.

(11.) "The American Mideast Initiative," The New York Times, 22 May 2001 ; "Heeding the Mitchell Report," The Washington Post, 22 May 2001; "Summon the Courage to Act," Los Angeles Times, 22 May 2001; "Breaking eggshells," Chicago Tribune, 22 May 2001.

(12.) In an 11 May 2000 editorial noting the 500th death in the al-Aqsa intifada, "Five hundred and counting," the Tribune said: "Yet neither Israelis nor Palestinians seem capable of pulling back from their deadly minuet of violence and retaliation," and the editorial then batted back and forth the transgressions of both sides. It concluded: "Five hundred dead. There's no argument about this: Everyone has blood on his hands."

(13.) Letter to the editor by John Bentley of Chicago, Chicago Tribune, 26 May 2001.

(14.) "The Shrinking of Foreign News/From Broadcast to Narrowcast," Garrick Utley, Foreign Affairs, March/April 1997, pp. 6-7.

(15.) Transcript of ABC News Nightline broadcast of 21 May 2001, "Can the U.S. Put the Middle East Peace Process Back Together?" (Item # N010521)

(16.) Transcript of PBS NewsHour broadcast of 21 May 2001, "New Peace Effort." ( 5-21.html).

(17.) "Jewish settlements in territories up by 50 percent since 1993: Peace Now," Agence France-Presse, 4 December 2000.

(18.) According to Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations, Fiscal Year 2001 released by the U.S. State Department on 15 March 2000 ( fo_near-east.html), Israel was slated to receive $1.98 billion in military aid (FMF or Foreign Military Financing) and $840 million in non-military aid (ESF or Economic Support Funds).

(19.) "Jewish settlers anticipate being casualties of peace," Mark Matthews, The Baltimore Sun, 19 July 2000; "Jewish settlers lead lives on the front line," Dan Ephron, The Boston Globe, 8 November 2000; "Defiant settlers at the center of Mideast turmoil," Uli Schmetzer, Chicago Tribune, 2 November 2000; "For Israeli Settlers, Life Under Fire," Deborah Sontag, The New York Times, 1 December 2000; "Jewish settlers pose hurdle to peace with Palestinians," Keith Richburg, The Washington Post, 28 October 2000.

(20.) "The Mideast Summit/Jewish settlers express relief over deadlock," Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times, 26 July 2000; "Clashes drag down upscale settlers," Tyler Marshall, Los Angeles Times, 12 November 2000.

(21.) Zuhair Sabbagh, The Impact of israeli Settlement on the Permanent Status Negotiations (Bir-Zeit University, October 2000) reported that since 1967, approximately 200,000 Israeli settlers have come to reside in 200 settlement locations within the West Bank and Gaza Strip, "excluding the number of settlers in East Jerusalem, who are estimated to have reached 200,000 colons [settlers]."

"The only map on the table" (Chicago Tribune Perspective section, Marda Dunsky and Mufid Qassoum, 21 January 2001) reported: "Since 1967 Israel has illegally built, populated and annexed nearly a dozen 'neighborhoods' around the northern, eastern and southern perimeters of the city [Jerusalem]... These so-called neighborhoods, all built on occupied territory, are tantamount to colonies that are populated by an additional 200,000 Israeli Jews. Israel considers them to be Jerusalem residents, but the Palestinians view them as colonists."

(22.) "Into the War Zone/Palestinians are now directly attacking Israeli settlements," Matt Rees, Time magazine, 4 December 2000.

(23.) Report by Mike Shuster on NPR's All Things Considered, 7 December 2000.

(24.) "Jewish settlements stand in way of peace, many say," Larry Kaplow, Cox News Service, published in The Atlanta Journal and Constitution (inter alia), 23 May 2001.

(25.) "Jewish settlers eye 'natural' growth," Hugh Dellios, Chicago Tribune, 24 May 2001.

(26.) "A West Bank rabbi argues for expanding settlements," Cameron Barr, The Christian Science Monitor, 18 May 2001.

(27.) "Peace Group Says Israel Added Settlements/Government Denies Report of Outposts," Lee Hockstader, The Washington Post, 21 May 2001.

(28.) The 21 May Post story included three paragraphs on the previous day's shelling by Israeli tanks of the home of Jabril Rajoub, the Palestinian West Bank security chief, as well as three paragraphs on criticism of Israel's use of F16 jet fighters the previous week to bomb Palestinian targets in response to a Palestinian suicide bombing of an Israeli shopping mall. But the story's headline, lead paragraph and two-thirds of its body copy focused on the Peace Now settlement update.

(29.) These details are reported on a regular basis in Ha 'aretz, Israel's most respected and influential Hebrew-language daily newspaper, which publishes a daily English-language version on the Web at The paper's Palestinian affairs correspondent, Amira Hass, reports consistently on how the occupation and the settlements affect Palestinian daily life, which is also a frequent topic of Ha'aretz op-ed writer Gideon Levy.

(30.) Journal of Palestine Studies, Winter 1996, (25, 2), p. 156. (Figures go through 1993; remaining aid from 1994 to present estimated on the basis of $3 billion per year.) The figure has variously been estimated at $91 billion since 1949 in "A Conservative Total for U.S. Aid to Israel: $91 Billion -- and Counting," Shin McArthur, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Jan/Feb 2001.

(31.) Recipients use Foreign Military Financing (FMF) grants funded by the State Department "'to buy defense-related goods and services primarily from U.S. contractors.' As an exception, Israel is permitted to spend 26.3% of their financing on Israeli-produced weapons." From "Middle East Remains Attractive Market for U.S. Arms," Rachel Stohl, senior analyst, Weekly Defense Monitor, The Center for Defense Information, Washington D.C., 17 February 2000. (

(32.) Congressional Budget Justification of Foreign Operations, Fiscal Year 2001/Near East, p. 8.

(33.) World Bank Web site,

(34.) Ibid, Department of State, note 32, supra, pp. 8-9.

(35.) "U.S. Dominance in Arms Sales Unchallenged," Rachel Stohl, senior analyst, Weekly Defense Monitor, The Center for Defense Information, Washington D.C., 16 November 2000.

(36.) Ibid.

(37.) Ibid, Department of State, note 32, supra, pp. 6-15.

(38.) Ibid, Weekly Defense Monitor, note 35, supra.

(39.) Stephen Zunes, "The Strategic Functions of U.S. Aid to Israel," Middle East Policy (4, 4), October 1996, p. 96.

(40.) Anthony H. Cordesman, "The One True U.S. Strategic Interest in the Middle East: Energy," Middle East Policy (8, 1), March 2001, p. 127 (citing World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers, 1998, pp. 2, 64).

(41.) Speech by Shimon Peres, "A Better World," New York University Journal of International Law & Politics, Vol. 27, 1995, p. 287.

(42.) Ibid, Zunes, note 39 supra, p. 92.

(43.) "The Al Aqsa Intifada and Israel's Apartheid/The U.S. Military and Economic Role in the Violation of Palestinian Human Rights/Report of the National Lawyers Guild Delegation to the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel January 2001," National Lawyers Guild, New York ( delegation_report.htm).

(44.) Charles Sennott, "Intifadah toll: disabilities at alarming rate/Blindness, paralysis the cost of 'eye for eye,'" The Boston Globe, 3 May 2001.

(45.) "Sorting Out Interests and Responsibilities -- An Opinion," Col. Daniel Smith, U.S. Army (Ret.), Chief of Research, Center for Defense Information, Washington, D.C. Weekly Defense Monitor, 19 April 2001.

(46.) Robert Fisk, "US media mirror distorts Middle East," Independent, 10 June 1998.

(47.) Stephen Engelberg, "One Man and a Global Web of Violence," 14 January 2001; "Dissecting a Terror Plot From Boston to Amman" and "On Jordan's Death Row, Convicted Terrorist Says He Has No Regrets" (sidebar), Judith Miller, 15 January 2001; "Holy Warriors: Killing for the Glory of God, in a Land Far From Home," Judith Miller, 16 January 2001. All published in The New York Times.

(48.) Engelberg, 14 January 2001.

(49.) Ibid.

(50.) Miller sidebar, 15 January 2001.

(51.) Ibid.

(52.) Edward Said, Covering Islam/How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World, Vintage Books edition (Random House), New York, 1997, P. 168.

(53.) Reported on 25 April 2001, by Mid-East Realities (www.MiddleEast.Qrg) and the Daily Californian, University of California-Berkeley.

(54.) Letter to the editor by R. Emmet Harrigan of Crystal Lake, Ill., Chicago Tribune, 23 May 2001.

(55.) "Biased coverage prolongs conflict," Salim Muwakkil, Chicago Tribune, 23 April 2001.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:news reporting of the Israel-Arab conflicts
Author:Dunsky, Marda
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Jun 22, 2001
Previous Article:The Sudan -- Contested National Identities.

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