Our views of world conflicts such as war are influenced by the part of the world in which we live. When exploring media coverage of discord, it is important to think about where the author is from and how it has influenced the way he/she has portrayed disharmony. Reports on a world conflict can express extremely different views depending on the social values and understandings of the writers. One must read articles that address the issue of war with cultural relativism by taking into account the local values and historical experiences of the writer. By neglecting this approach, a reader may be persuaded to believe biased and often untrue facts. When researching the war in the Middle East, for example, I found that different countries presented the fighting in different ways. A U.S. newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, presents the conflict in a biased manner and blames the Palestinians for the fighting because we are allies with the Israelis. On the other hand the Dawn, a Pakistani paper, presents the same issues but gives a more accurate and sympathetic view of the Palestinians’ situation. Reflecting on these differences, I realized that culture and national interests shape newspapers’ presentations of war. As an informed reader, it is important to know that I am often given a biased presentation of the facts surrounding a conflict and with this in mind I have changed the way I view reports on war presented by the media.
In order to be culturally relativistic when reading about the history of the conflict in the Middle East, one must understand that while anger and a desire for land play a role in the fighting these are not the main causes of this conflict. It is necessary to look beyond these common myths of war in order to look for the true causes of the bloodshed. A deep underlying truth that could explain some reason for this turmoil is that neither side, Israel nor Palestine, has come to terms with living with each other. Therefore, the two groups’ cultures clash as members of each side bind together in compassion and loyalty while fighting to gain power and prestige for their people.
Israel gained control of Bethlehem in 1967 when their army invaded the West Bank. Ever since then the Israelis have felt that Jerusalem is its eternal and undivided capital. For years the Arabs have also been asking for a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. On December 6, 1987, an Israeli truck killed six Palestinian workers. The Palestinians were convinced that this was a deliberate murder. Three days later a young Palestinian picked up a stone from the ground and threw it at an Israeli patrol. His friends followed this act and soon hundreds were throwing stones. Palestinian intellectuals interpreted this action as an attempt of their youth to shake themselves free from twenty dismal years of Israeli rule. This spontaneous uprising took most by surprise. For generations Israel’s domination of Jerusalem had gone largely unchallenged. The fighting continued and the casualties that resulted were high. Most of the 1,300 deaths were Palestinians. In 1993 the international community attempted to find a permanent solution by creating the Oslo agreement. Parts of Jerusalem were officially handed over to the Palestinian self-rule authority of Yasser Arafat while the Israelis continued to control other sections.
Despite the peace efforts the war is still raging strong today. Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, and Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, are now locked in the worst shoot-out in years. Judaism’s holiest site and Islam’s third holiest site are on the same rock in Jerusalem. Arafat wants possession of al Aqsa mosque that lies in the same place as the Temple Mount, a Jewish holy sight. Various solutions have been proposed but there seems to be no easy way to divide the city between these two warring groups. The stalemate, that newspapers endlessly report, is simply that negotiations reflect the underlying truth that neither side has accepted the other. As long as this fact is missing, the so-called Middle-East peace process will never be a reality.
The causes of the war between the Arabs and Israelis are presented differently in newspaper articles around the world depending on the cultural values and traditions of the author and the group he is addressing. In order to get a perspective on this conflict from various parts of the world, I examined two sources. The first newspaper I looked at was the Chicago Tribune. Charles Krauthammer wrote the article, “Israel’s Only Option is Self-Defense”, on October 30, 2000 and he places total blame for the war on the Palestinians. The Israelis are described as being in a “nightmare” because of the “murderous” behavior of the Arabs. The article says that Yasser Arafat refused to cease-fire, despite agreements with President Clinton. More than 200 Palestinians died because Israeli soldiers fired at Arab rock throwers. Krauthammer, however, ignores this and emphasis is placed on an incident where “Palestinian civilians got their hands on two Israeli reservists who were lost and tore them limb from limb.” The reporter goes on to say that when Israel retaliated with helicopter attacks that blew up half a dozen buildings not one person was killed because Barak gave Arafat three hours’ warning. Krauthammer characterizes the murders of the Israelis as acts of “feral viciousness” and calls Palestinians “essentially tribal.” These terms are racist in nature, implying that the Palestinians have not reached a stage of civilization that is equivalent to that of our own. One must assume that the Israeli state-sanctioned murders of Palestinians bear the mark of civilization in Mr. Krauthammer’s opinion. The reality of the situation is that the Israelis are using US-made Apache helicopters to shoot at Palestinian targets that are considered to be a “threat” because they are throwing stones. Perhaps we should help “elevate” the civilization of the Palestinians by arming them as we do the Israelis.
Far too little has appeared in the U.S. press about the deep frustration felt by ordinary Palestinian families struggling for dignity and for their basic human right under military occupation. Americans often have a distorted view of the conflict because the United States has been an ally with the Israelis for a long time. This discrimination is often communicated through the media. Hugh Dellios article, “Mid East Battle Rages—On Internet” that was in the Chicago Tribune on October 26, 2000 also places blame on the Arabs. Great emphasis is placed on shootings by Palestinians while little is mentioned on the great number of killings by the Israelis. Dellios, who expresses his great admiration for our President, quotes Clinton as saying “I do think that Chairman Arafat can dramatically reduce the level of violence.” The House vote is also mentioned, 365-30, blaming Palestinians for the recent conflicts. One is now able to see why many Americans, who have great esteem for the President, choose to criticize the Arabs. This one-sided stance of the White House and Capitol Hill on the Middle East conflict makes one despair because of the failing peace process. Palestinians have long demanded the participation of the UN and EU in peace talks because they believe them to be more supportive of the Arabs than Washington who is said to favor Israel and has monopolized sponsorship of the peace process.
The resentment Arab nations around the world have towards the United States because of their support of Israel is displayed in their media. Almost every article I read in the Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper, regarding the war exhibited their indignation towards the US. Most people in Pakistan believe that they must now fight to help their “Arab brothers” find peace since America’s role has not proved to be very helpful. An article titled “If the US Wants Peace in the Middle East….” by Kim Ghattas was in the newspaper on October 29, 2000. She boldly states “if America does not want more blood on its conscience, it must realize it has no choice but to act as a mediator to halt to violence.” It is clear that Ghattas places a lot of responsibility on the US for the continued fighting. An article written by Daoub Kuttab on October 25, 2000 titled “US Support of Bully Tactics Stifles Talks” questions the similar values America claims to have with Israelis. Most would assume these principles would include democracy and respect for human rights. Kuttab goes on to say that shooting at demonstrators, harassing ambulances, bombing civilian population and placing 3 million people under siege are clear violations of human rights and international law. This is nothing more than an attempt to get political results by using bully tactics. The article says that “the United States must have the moral courage to kindly tell its friend no. Doing anything else would not be a true sign of friendship.” We talked in class about military spending and it was amazing to see how much more money the United States and their allies spend in comparison to other countries in war preparation. From these figures alone it is easy to see how the Palestinians’ hope for freedom and independence has been crumbled as a result of the excessive force used by Israelis which is possible partly from the help of their American allies. Because of the cultural values Palestinians and Pakistanis share due to their extreme devotion to the Muslim faith, it is easy to understand why the Dawn would portray the Arabs in a more sympathetic way and more readily blame Israelis as well as the US for the continuing bloodshed.
The fact that both the Palestinians and also the Pakistanis believe the US should go to greater lengths to instill peace in the Middle East reminded me of our discussion in class regarding the conflicts in Rwanda. Many people in Rwanda believe that what was needed to stop the genocide was a message from the international community that continued fighting and inhumane war tactics were not acceptable. Because of a lack of international political will thousands of innocent people were killed. Similarly, the people in the US need to stand up against the unquestionably pro-Islamic position of our government and look at the reality of the situation. In order to help stop the war in Middle East Americans must be involved in the political arena and say that biased views of the White House will not be tolerated.
While the Chicago Tribune and the Dawn attribute the causes of the war to different groups, both agree that the consequences of continued fighting will result in instability and an upheaval of all facets of daily life. The complex political situation makes large-scale economic development almost impossible. One major problem is that while Palestinian authority gained autonomy over parts of the West Bank, there are numerous new restrictions for Palestinians who have to negotiate Israeli checkpoints daily in order to get to work. Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip need permits to travel anywhere inside the boundary of Israel, including Jerusalem. Violence often erupts at these checkpoints because Israeli soldiers refuse to let Arabs through. An article in the Chicago Tribune titled “Clampdown Threatens Palestinians’ Fragile Economy” was written on October 29, 2000 by Stephen Franklin and refers to the economic and social consequences that result when Israelis bar Palestinians from entering the country. The article talks about how the Israeli clampdown touches not only the lives of more than 3 million Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip but is also affecting Israel, which relies on more than 100,00 Arab workers. It says “Palestinians have few natural resources and rely heavily on Israelis for almost everything they make and sell. So, too, the Israeli economy buys 90 percent of the products sold by the Palestinians.” Cultural rhetoric is interspersed throughout the article, an example of America’s view that the Palestinians are to blame for these problems. It says that it was necessary to “slap the Palestinians back under their closure orders” because Israelis are in fear as “Arab violence soared.”
An article in the Dawn titled “Crisis Engulfs Palestinian Clinics” was written on November 6, 2000 by Mary Curtius and goes in to detail about the problems in health care that have resulted from the war. Even the largest hospitals in the Gaza Strip lack proper medical equipment such as modern ambulances. With so many Palestinians being killed or injured in battles with Israeli soldiers, a poorly equipped health-care system is a major problem. The situation is complicated even further because of the clampdown on Palestinians since much of the hospital staff cannot get to work. Also, because of the lack of modern ambulances “many people have bled to death on the way to the hospital.” As a result, the most severely injured are being sent to hospitals in other Arab countries and some are even being sent to facilities in Europe. As the situation worsens in Palestine many people are being forced to work as volunteers to help the wounded. This article gives a sympathetic view of the Palestinians situation as they describe Israeli soldiers firing “live rounds and rubber coated pellets at rock-throwers.”
Israel gained control of Jerusalem in 1967 and immediately warfare broke out. For the last 33 years this part of the world has been in an almost constant state of combat. While there have been times of peace, these short-lived reconciliations would be categorized as negative peace where there is public order and security but the internal conflict remains. Positive peace, where there is an absence of the structural causes of war that produce harmonious social relations, almost seems to be an impossible goal for the Israelis and Palestinians who seem to be born with a hatred for one another. If countries such as the US would be more objective the possibility of peace may become a reality. However, this prospect seems dim when you look at the biased way our media presents the war. Articles are filled with stereotypes and distorted views regarding the Palestinians. The average American would like to believe that our allies, the Israelis, can do no wrong. If we truly want to help stop the fighting in the Middle East Americans must refuse to accept the pro-Islamic position that our media presents. But while the Pakistanis newspaper gives a more accurate view of the conflict, being more critical of Israel, they have done little to help stop the war. In order to bring peace to this troubled land countries such as the US and Pakistan need to forcefully and compassionately pressure their governments to uphold basic human rights in the Middle East.