For many liberals, the Palestinians are getting what they deserve

Robert Fisk in Jerusalem
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Half-way to Jerusalem, Simon began telling me about his Israeli war service. At 73, his army life was over but he had fought in 1967 and 1973 and ended up in Beirut in 1982, landing on the beaches north of Sidon, leaving before the Sabra and Chatila massacres. Mercifully, there was no talk of "terrorists", only of peace, and when his wife asked why the Palestinians should not have Arab east Jerusalem as the capital of their new state - and this, remember, just four weeks after the death of the Oslo agreement - I wondered if there was not an undiscovered Israel.

Half-way to Jerusalem, Simon began telling me about his Israeli war service. At 73, his army life was over but he had fought in 1967 and 1973 and ended up in Beirut in 1982, landing on the beaches north of Sidon, leaving before the Sabra and Chatila massacres. Mercifully, there was no talk of "terrorists", only of peace, and when his wife asked why the Palestinians should not have Arab east Jerusalem as the capital of their new state - and this, remember, just four weeks after the death of the Oslo agreement - I wondered if there was not an undiscovered Israel.

Our minibus was climbing the hill into Jerusalem from Tel Aviv when Simon's wife she suddenly asked me about Mohammed al-Durah, the 12-year-old shot by Israeli soldiers as he cowered in his father's arms in Gaza: "What was he doing at the time?" she asked sharply. Why was he on the street?"

In fact, he had accompanied his father to buy a car - because the father had to walk to the Gaza border at two each morning for permission to work in Israel - and had been returning home when they were trapped by gunfire. But I understood the implication of these questions at once: if Mohammed did not have good reason to be on the streets of Gaza at the time, if he had been participating in a demonstration, then maybe the little boy had got what he deserved.

This odd disconnection comes in many forms. When I arrived at Ben Gurion airport last week, the young immigration officer cheerfully asked me to remember that Israel was a small country threatened by people outside who wanted to take it". I suggested that the Palestinians had been living in "Palestine" - or modern-day Israel - for generations, that they were not "outside" save those who had been expelled from their lands by Israel, and that United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 might, in the end, bring a real peace. "What is 242?" she wanted to know.

How strange that 242 - which is shorthand for any Palestinian who wants to refer to the UN resolution demanding an Israeli withdrawal from occupied lands - would mean nothing to a young, educated Israeli immigration officer. Oslo, of course, had a meaning for her, the very word used with such contempt by the Palestinians of the occupied territories. Deir Yassin, the scene of the worst massacre of Arabs in the 1948 war, would not. The same disconnection creeps into the Israeli press and, of course, into the foreign media.

Israelis are invariably "murdered" or "lynched" by Palestinians - usually a perfectly accurate description - but Palestinians are inevitably "killed in clashes": the implication being that they may have been killed by their own people.

Reuters news agency has followed the Israeli line. Its Monday report on killings by Israelis in the occupied territories refers to Palestinians "wounded in stone-throwing clashes" and "killed in earlier clashes", adding that the "clashes" began on 28 September, that the "clashes have halted peace talks" and that Israeli Arabs have complained about "the killing of their brethren in clashes". But when on the same day an Israeli security guard was shot dead, his killer was accurately described as a "suspected Palestinian gunman".

On the same day, the Associated Press reported: "Palestinian shooting attacks on Jewish settlements" but spoke of a Palestinian who was, of course, merely shot "in clashes".

This double standard of Israeli and foreign reporting finds its way into the most unexpected places. Staying at the King David Hotel in Jewish West Jerusalem, I found myself watching the hotel's home-video history. As British military headquarters at the end of the Mandate, the hotel was blown up by Menachem Begin's bombers. So what did the hotel video tell me about an act which, if perpetrated by Palestinians , would be described by Israelis as an act of bestial terrorism? The video proudly boasts that the King David is "the only hotel in the world that was bombed by a future prime minister" and refers to the perpetrators - whose victims included 41 Arabs, 28 British and 17 Jews - as "activists" who were dedicated to their cause.

Only now, five weeks into the "Al-aqsa" intifada, has the Jerusalem Post given an Arab - George Abu al-Zulof - the opportunity of countering the vicious claims that Palestinians deliberately use their children as human-shield "martyrs" during stone-throwing demonstrations.

But at least the Israeli press is more self-critical than Palestinian newspapers. It was an Israeli paper which first pointed out that the country was in no position to claim that Yasser Arafat was no longer a fit "peace partner" when Israel itself has a lame duck Prime Minister who is asking Ariel Sharon, leader of the right-wing Likud party, to join his government. And the brave reports of Amira Hass in Haaretz provide Israelis with a vivid and accurate description of the suffering of Palestinians under occupation.

Similarly, the occupied territories. Since Mr Arafat's major towns are now in his own hands, Israelis repeatedly tell me, I have no right to call the West Bank "occupied" in my reports to The Independent. So what, I ask myself, is that checkpoint on the edge of Nablus that prevents its peoples incinerating their garbage outside the town? And who are the soldiers who repeatedly tell me in the West Bank that I cannot go down any of half a dozen roads to Jenin or Ramallah? Are these Swiss soldiers? Is it the Burmese army that is shooting stone-throwers in Nablus and Gaza?

When my minibus reached Jerusalem, Simon and his wife said goodbye and they and their friends prepared to set off for home. They were all liberals, all seeking peace, all prepared to allow the Palestinians a real state.

Comments