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January 10, 2002
In the Middle East: "Decline of Violence" and Decency

By Ramzi Baroud


In the week that preceded US envoy Anthony Zinni's trip to the Middle East, optimism eclipse the often bloody news flowing from the region. The main headline which found its way to major newspapers and agencies including those who claim to be more objective than others, spoke of a "decline of violence".

Such a claim however, and the deceptive use of the term "violence " brings up, again, the questions of: what violence? Whose violence? And how do we describe something, anything, as being violent?

Interestingly, the only allegation that was put forth to affirm the decline of violence was a claim made by Israel.

An Israeli army report that was published on Sunday, Dec 30 indicated that there was a noticeable decline in "Palestinian violence" against Israel, crediting PA President Yasser Arafat's call on the Palestinian people to respect a one-sided ceasefire, for the reported decline.

The Palestinian Authority, NGOs and official and non-official newspapers in the West Bank and Gaza however, continued to speak of Israeli violence. In fact, it was reported that the Israeli attacks escalated in recent days.

On the same day that Israel issued its report, its army killed six Palestinians in two separate incidents in northern Gaza Strip.

The circumstances of one of the two incidents remain unclear, although Israel immediately issued a statement of how its brave special commandos spotted three "militants" trying to infiltrate its territories.

Of course, the actual details are of little significance to most news agencies here in the West, for what Israel says, goes. Therefore, Voice of America simply reported with the same matter of fact attitude, "Israeli commandos kills three Palestinian militants."

While the first Israeli claim regarding the killing was accepted as if it was holy scripture, the other claim made regarding the second round of killing was a bit more interesting.

In northern Gaza, near a village known as Beit Lahia three Palestinians were killed. Israel immediately spoke of a plot, where "militants" tried to sneak into Israel, to carry out another "terrorist" attack.

The Israeli army initially said that the "militants" began firing at Israeli army vehicles, compelling an Israeli tank to shell their position, killing them immediately. The Israel claim was soon adopted by major news agencies in the US: "Israeli troops kills three militants", they raved.

Yet shortly after, the Israeli army changed its story saying that the three "militants" were planting a bomb when their scheme was unearthed by alert Israeli troops. Newspapers raved, again: "Three Palestinian militants killed while planting a bomb."

But it was then discovered that the alleged militants were three Palestinian teenagers. Their ages were 16, and 15, and their families had been desperately searching for them.

After days of negotiating with the Red Cross, the Israeli army handed over the bodies of three teenagers, crushed and mutilated.

Hospital sources said that the bodies were tortured, one of the children was knifed clearly after being captured. Eyewitnesses spoke of lacerations and burn-marks all over the youth bodies. Medical sources said that the children's organs were "stolen" while in the hands of the Israelis. Their eyes were removed and were replaced with cotton balls.

As evidence invalidated both Israeli claims, the Israel army had no choice but to retract both statements issued earlier. Confused, and perhaps embarrassed by the changing Israeli army accounts, American newspapers closed the chapter of the killed "militants", children, and the story was nowhere to be found.

But Israeli army violence against Palestinians was hardly halted aside from the gruesome murder. Palestinian media reported daily Israeli violations of the ceasefire, violations that often took place in areas hypothetically under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction.

These are a few headlines borrowed from the Palestinian media, mostly in Arabic, all within one week: " Palestinian elder beaten by Israeli troops at checkpoint": Israeli tanks shell small village near Gaza"; "Israeli forces kidnap Palestinian activists'; "West Bank village raided, police man murdered"; "dozens wounded after Israeli army attacked peaceful demonstrating in Beireh".

Considering all of this, and if one would agree that Palestinian retaliation to Israeli attacks deserves to be categorized as "violence", one must then conclude that the "decline of violence" applies to Palestinians only, and entirely excludes Israel and its murders, kidnapping of Palestinians and shelling of their homes.

Israel had clearly labored to aggravate Palestinian retaliation ahead of Zinni's visit to the region. The Israeli tactic, which was used repeatedly in the past is a winning one, for it inspires more American pressure on the PA, which in the end spares Israel any blame before the world media, and jeopardizes Palestinian national unity for the subsequent PA crackdown on resistance groups.

Such a strategy would have been foolish and futile if it was not for western media that deliberately ignores Israeli violence and bases its entire assessment of violence on Palestinian retaliation to Israeli attacks.

So within a week, seven Palestinians were killed, dozens wounded, a human rights activist, Mustafa Barghuti detained and beaten, several villages shelled in Gaza, scores of protesters wounded in the West Bank, Nablus besieged and raided, yet many are still gloating over the noticeable "decline in violence", saying the time is right for a ceasefire agreement to be signed.

Eventually Palestinians will retaliate, for its human nature not to bare unlimited abuse and endless violence, but then, these are the kind of headlines we would face the second day of Palestinian retaliation: "Palestinian militants fire two mortar shells at Israeli settlement in Gaza, no reports of injuries, US sends stern warning to Arafat, says Israel has the right to defend itself."