Seeing both sides: a veteran news man on the struggle for 'balance'

The Foreign Correspondent's View
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The Independent Online

There are two campaigns being fought between the Israelis and Palestinians. On the military front, the Israelis are pitting their tanks and gunships against Palestinians armed with stones, petrol bombs and automatic rifles, and cannot be defeated.

There are two campaigns being fought between the Israelis and Palestinians. On the military front, the Israelis are pitting their tanks and gunships against Palestinians armed with stones, petrol bombs and automatic rifles, and cannot be defeated.

That is why they are losing the second battle - propaganda. Some parts of the international media are committed to supporting Israel, but most see it as a David and Goliath battle and back the underdog.

The abiding image from three weeks of violence is of a small boy screaming with fear, his terrified father trying to shield him as they cower under fire from Israeli soldiers until the boy slumps dead into his father's arms.

From that moment Israel was on the propaganda defensive. Not even the lynching of two Israeli soldiers almost in full view of the cameras could win them back the initiative.

The government of Ehud Barak has displayed contempt for all but a very small section of the foreign media. Calls to the prime minister's spokesman have largely gone unanswered. A new media adviser made it plain he was more interested in domestic news outlets than foreign correspondents, and even the recent appointment of a foreign media adviser has done little to improve access.

So it came as a surprise when, at last week's truce summit at Sharm el-Sheikh, the Israeli delegation included current and ex-cabinet ministers, senior civil servants and politicians not always regarded as allies of Mr Barak. Their job was to ensure that Israel's case dominated media output.

Government officials distributed videos of "Palestinian provocations" and glossy brochures filled with gruesome photographs of the aftermath of suicide bombs directed at Israeli targets.

Officials who normally would barely pass the time of day with foreign reporters were suddenly on first-name terms. It was impossible to cross the lobby of the hotel where most of the delegations were staying without running the gauntlet of Israeli propagandists.

Of the Palestinians there was neither sight nor sound. Maybe they believe their cause stands on its own, unsupported by a propaganda campaign. More likely there is no one outside Yasser Arafat's immediate circle that really knows what he is thinking or planning.

In Jerusalem, the Israelis have taken over a floor of a hotel next to the bureaux of foreign television stations. My telephone rings constantly with offers to put Israel's case.

And yet the Israelis still complain that they are misrepresented. It does not seem to have occurred to them that this could be because they occupy Palestinian land in breach of UN resolutions. That they stand condemned by the UN for excessive use of force. Maybe the facts speak for themselves, despite the propaganda blitz.

Keith Graves is Sky TV's Middle East correspondent

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