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May 02, 2002
NPR--Elie Wiesel Interview

By Ali Abunimah


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 be stopped.

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, full text: www.harpers.org/online/gaza_diary/gaza_diary.php3?pg=1)

I have posted more information about Israel's deliberate targeting of civilians at: electronicintifada.net/coveragetrends/6myths.shtml

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 assertions.

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 Israeli denial?

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.


Ali Abunimah

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