How America swallows the Israelis' lies

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Israel is losing its military struggle against Hizbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon - but winning its propaganda war on the conflict in the outside world.

Israel is losing its military struggle against Hizbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon - but winning its propaganda war on the conflict in the outside world.

Although its aircraft bombed three Lebanese power stations last week after guerrillas killed six occupation soldiers, Western press and television reports almost unanimously portrayed the latest violence in Lebanon as a war by Israel in defence of its civilians on the other side of the frontier. In fact, no Israeli civilians were attacked, let alone hurt, and all the Israeli soldiers who died were inside their occupation zone in Lebanon.

Journalists based in the Middle East say Israeli diplomats have mounted a letter-writing campaign to their editors - especially in the United States - in an attempt to explain away the latest war as a response to "terrorism" while failing to mention that the Israeli casualties occurred in Lebanon, not in Israel. On the BBC, Moshe Fogel, Israel's official spokesman, tried to justify the Israeli raids on Lebanon's power stations - a clear breach of the April 1996 ceasefire agreement - on the basis that "Hizbollah terrorists are attacking our soldiers and civilians".

But no Israeli civilians had been attacked in the violence leading to the air raids and Mr Fogel failed to mention that the soldiers to whom he referred had been killed in their military positions inside southern Lebanon. The only civilians to be wounded were Lebanese, 17 of whom were hurt in the Israeli bombings. But subsequent BBC World Service news reports frequently referred to "the killing of six Israeli soldiers" without mentioning they had died in Lebanon.

Typical of the coverage was a report in The Washington Post whose Jerusalem correspondent referred in an article to what he called "Israel's two-decade old intervention in Lebanon". Far from being an "intervention" - ironically, this was the very word the Soviet Union used when it invaded Afghanistan in 1980 - Israel has twice invaded Lebanon and has occupied part of it in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 425 for 23 years. In The Independent's "Right of Reply" column last Friday, the Israeli ambassador to Britain, Dror Zeigerman, also attempted to justify the Israeli raids on the basis of "terrorist activities against Israel across the border" and failed to mention that the six Israeli soldiers were killed in Lebanon. He said that the Hizbollah attacks were launched from "civilian villages" and were "a flagrant violation of previous understandings".

In reality, several of the Israeli dead were killed by roadside bombs primed and exploded inside Israel's own occupation zone. And on Friday, Timur Goksel, the special adviser to the United Nations force commander in southern Lebanon, stated publicly that the Hizbollah "has not really violated the April [1996] accords".

According to the UN, the Hizbollah has carried out 300 attacks on Israeli occupation troops in December, 250 in January and at least 60 so far this month. Since 1996, the Hizbollah has fired Katyusha rockets across the Lebanese-Israeli border - but almost always in retaliation for the Israeli wounding of Lebanese civilians. The 1996 ceasefire accord states that the guerrillas and Israeli troops may assault each other's forces inside Lebanon but must not attack civilian targets or use civilians as cover.

In all the reporting of last week's violence in southern Lebanon, no mention was made of the 1,000-strong force Israel keeps in the occupied zone or of the notorious Khiam jail there in which - as Amnesty International and other human-rights groups have protested - men and women prisoners are routinely tortured with electricity. When the United States Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, was asked to comment on the war, she contented herself with a reference to the Hizbollah as "enemies of peace".

Only in Israel, it seems, are there journalists brave enough to tell the truth about southern Lebanon. Among the most eloquent is the novelist David Grossman who wrote in Yedioth Aharonoth newspaper that Israel should "evacuate the outposts, bring the soldiers home" and redeploy across the border. "Go. Learn to live with the insult, swallow the empty pride, stop feeding the fire of our lingering, pitiful arrogance with more and more of our young soldiers. We have lost. It's OK to say it aloud, no one dies from saying it... "

You would not have found an American reporter daring to say that last week.

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