NPR--Elie Wiesel Interview
May 1, 2002
Dear NPR News,
I appreciated the generally firm and sceptical tone which Robert
Siegel adopted while interviewing Elie Wiesel, who apparently
maintains that it is possible to be at once the very essence of
morality and compassion and at the same time an uncritical and
enthusiastic apologist for everything done by the Sharon government.
But on a crucial point Siegel allowed Wiesel to get away with a
gross misrepresentation of facts. Let's look at this exchange in
which Siegel asked if Wiesel saw the conflict between Israelis and
Palestinians as one between good against evil:
Mr. WIESEL: I imagine that for the Israelis it is good against evil
because all Israel is behind Sharon. For somebody who lives in
America and is not an Israeli, I would say that I would be more
careful because I try to be respectful of words. It is a war which
is inevitable. As long as the suicide killers go on killing
children, then I don't think Israel has any other choice but
fighting back and trying to avoid that. I saw--for instance, now I
saw yesterday in The New York Times the picture of the last massacre
in Adora in the West Bank. A five-year-old girl was hiding under her
bed, and the assassins came and killed her. It wasn't a stray
bullet. It was murder. So how can Israel not try to stop it? It must
SIEGEL: What to you is the difference--because I can imagine someone
asking what is the difference between the purposeful murder of the
five-year-old and, say, the killing of the five-year-old in the car
next to the target of the person that the Israeli soldier is firing
at and just happens to miss and killed a small child in the process?
Mr. WIESEL: I am convinced that no Israeli soldier would ever
intentionally target a five-year-old child, but to say...
SIEGEL: I'm not suggesting that he would, but the child still dies.
Mr. WIESEL: I don't think it's...
SIEGEL: The child still dies.
Mr. WIESEL: For the child, yes. But it's not--I would not say that
you can blame Israel the same way as I blame the assassins who come
and see a child--see the child--and kill the child.
[EXCERPTED from "All Things Considered, April 30, 2002]
Why did Robert Siegel not state that indeed there are many
documented examples of Israeli troops deliberately fixing
Palestinian children in their sites--seeing the child and killing
the child? The evidence would have been on his side.
On March 5, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon declared:
"The Palestinians must be hit and it must be very painful. We must
cause them losses, victims, so that they feel the heavy price."
And indeed, every human rights group that has examined Israel's
practices has documented systematic and deliberate use of violence
targeted at unarmed Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces,
especially children. Physicians for Human Rights USA which
investigated the high number of Palestinian deaths and injuries--the
vast majority unarmed civilians--in the first months of the
Intifada, concluded that:
"the pattern of injuries seen in many victims did not reflect IDF
[Israel Defense Forces] use of firearms in life-threatening
situations but rather indicated targeting solely for the purpose of
wounding or killing." [Source: PHR USA, 22 November 2000]
Numerous journalists have observed directly what PHR-USA and other
human rights organizations have reported. For example, Chris Hedges
writing in Harper's Magazine described Israeli soldiers near Gaza's
Khan Yunis refugee camp taunting small boys, and then shooting them
dead with silenced sniper rifles. Hedges concluded:
"Children have been shot in other conflicts I have covered -- death
squads gunned them down in El Salvador and Guatemala, mothers with
infants were lined up and massacred in Algeria, and Serb snipers put
children in their sights and watched them crumple onto the pavement
in Sarajevo -- but I have never before watched soldiers entice
children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport."
("A Gaza Diary: Scenes from the Palestinian Uprising," October 2001,
I have posted more information about Israel's deliberate targeting
of civilians at:
And what about Israel's systematic use of torture not only against
Palestinian adults, but against children as well? And its use of
Palestinians as human shields? The evidence has been reported amply
and repeatedly by B'Tselem among others.
Surely, Wiesel, the doyen of "Never Again," must have something to
say about a state's deliberate and systematic torture of little
children? But apparently not.
I have cited just a few pebbles from a mountain of evidence. It was
Siegel's minimal duty to place a piece of this evidence in front of
Wiesel when confronted with the latter's blanket denials and
The question I want to ask NPR is this: at what point does any of
this add up to a picture? At what point do you begin to take
seriously what so many credible sources are saying, and abandon the
position that a well-documented fact is worth only as much as an
There is not only a question of evidence here, but one of simple
common sense. On the one hand Wiesel wants us to believe that a few
hundred Israeli civilians have been deliberately targeted by an evil
terrorism indistinguishable from that for which Osama Bin Laden has
taken credit, while on the other hand four or five times as many innocent
Palestinian civilians simply died by accident.
At what point will someone dare to challenge Wiesel about why he
puts tribal loyalty over truth?
It is only by pretending innocence about the overwhelming evidence
that Wiesel can sustain the claim that Israeli murder is morally
superior to Palestinian murder or, to be more precise, is not murder
at all. And it is by failing to cite the evidence and challenge
Wiesel, that NPR let him get away with it.
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