Western Press Agencies Agree To Military Censorship
On the order of Col. Sima Vaknin-Gil, head of Israeli military censorship, the western media has agreed to report a truncated version of events that have taken place in the Middle East over the last few days.
Here are the facts: for many years Hezbollah has sought the release of prisoners held by Israel, such as Samir el Kantar, imprisoned since 1978, Nassim Nisr and Yahia Skaff (incarcerated since 1982). On numerous occasions, Hezbollah has made clear that for its part it will take prisoner Israeli soldiers – should they enter Lebanon – and use them as bargaining chips. The IDF quite deliberately sent a commando team into the Lebanese back country at Aita al Chaab. It was attacked by Hezbollah, who took two prisoners. Israel then pretended that it had been a victim of aggression and attacked Lebanon. Hezbollah, which had been preparing to confront an Israeli attack that everyone knew was imminent after the Syrian withdrawal, fired medium-range missiles at Israel.
Under international law, the IDF violated Lebanon’s sovereignty (which it regularly does by sea and by air). While Hezbollah has made itself the law in place of and instead of a Lebanese state that has never been completely re-established since the civil war and the Israeli occupation.
On the order of the Israeli military censor, the press and media agencies that have journalists accredited in Israel did not inform their readers of the place where the Israeli soldiers were taken prisoner. They didn’t actually lie about it, but abstained [from mentioning it].
Most journalists are using the term "abduction" to describe the the capture of the Israeli soldiers. They do this to underline the fact that Hezbollah is not a regular army. However, Israeli officials also use the word "abduction”, but they use it to mean they have the right to enter Lebanese territory. By failing to give careful clarification, the western media validates the language of propaganda.
Carried along by this logic, our colleagues also accepted that they should not report attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah against Israeli military targets. The result of this is that the western public is informed only of the collateral damage and civilian victims in Israel, whereas it sees the strategic destruction in Lebanon. This all gives the impression that "the Arabs" are at the same time cruel (they kill civilians) and incompetent (they fail to hit military targets), and that the outcome of the war is known in advance.
For our part we refuse to align ourselves with the IDF spokesmen. As a result, the Israeli military censor has rejected the accreditation of our special envoy to the Middle East, Silvia Cattori, and has forbidden her to move about the country and to meet various eyewitnesses to events. However, Voltaire Net will continue its work thanks to the various contacts it has in place.
Obviously, the Israelis (like anyone else) operate some pretty strict censorship over what news media can report in time of war. But this release does raise interesting questions about what are the Western news media's responsibilities when operating under censorship, and where exactly is the line between reporting censored news and relaying Israeli propaganda.
Israel would like to present its attack on Lebanon as a surgical strike against terrorists who target civilians, and has done what it can - not entirely successfully - to keep off the airwaves news outlets that show how what it is really doing to the people of Lebanon. On the homefront, the IDF has much more control over the news we are allowed to see and, as the words and images on our cable news outlets generally come from Israel, rather than Lebanon, the view we get of the war is the generally the one that the IDF wants disseminated, i.e. Hizbollah's war targets innocent civilians and Israel's doesn't.
We do have occasional indications - some of them inferred from the shocked complaints of Israeli soldiers that Hizbollah is fighting like real soldiers (how dare they!) - that there is more going on than that. Robert Fisk, reporting from Lebanon (and therefore less constrained by what the IDF censor will allow), pointed out that Hizbollah isn't simply just raining down random rockets on Israel but, within the limits imposed by grossly inferior manpower and materiel, are to some extent carrying out a well-organised military campaign: from their initial attack on the IDF patrol on 12 July, to the disabling of the I.N.S. Hanit on 14 July, followed by an attack on the IDF's top-secret military air traffic control centre in Miron.
British journalist Jonathan Cook, reporting under the constraints of censorship from Nazareth in Northern Israel, has also repeatedly indicated that what he sees happening around him is not simply random terror:
[A]lthough no one is making the point, Hizbullah’s rockets have been targeted overwhelming at strategic locations: the northern economic hub of Haifa, its satellite towns and the array of military sites across the Galilee...
Because of Israel’s press censorship laws, it is impossible to discuss the locations of Israel’s military installations. But Hizbullah’s rockets are accurate enough to show that many are intended for the army’s sites in the Galilee, even if they are rarely precise enough to hit them.
It is obvious to everyone in Nazareth, for example, that the rockets landing close by, and once on, the city over the past week are searching out, and some have fallen extremely close to, the weapons factory sited near us.
Hizbullah seems to have as little concern for the collateral damage of civilian deaths as Israel -- each wants the balance of terror in its favour -- but it is nonsense to suggest that Hizbullah’s goals are any more ignoble than Israel’s.
But this kind of reporting is very much the minority. And the effect of news coverage that magnifies civilian losses by excluding everything else, that gives no historical context earlier than 12 July 2006 and that certainly never suggests that Hizbollah might have legitimate grievances of its own against Israel, is that once again we are treated to a-historic, context-free stories about scary Muslims mindlessly and inexplicably raining terror down on people like us because they hate our freedoms, or whatever we're supposed to believe about them these days. In other words, instead of watching the U.S. news and coming away with a better understanding of what is really going on in the Middle East, all we get is another chapter in the "global war on terror" story.
It's understandable why the IDF censor would promote this narrative in what he allows press agencies to report. This is the same drum that Israel has been beating very successfully for a gullible U.S. audience since 9/11: that Israel's enemies are our enemies; that Israel's local enemies are no different from the al-Qaeda network responsible for the attacks on Washington and New York; that Hizbollah and Hamas and the PLO etc are not separate entities with discrete goals and political grievances, but simply manifestations of a single, undifferentiated Muslim mass descending on us in an inevitable clash of civilizations. You can understand why Israel pushes this story, which allows it to piggy-back its own local conflicts onto Washington's Global War on Terror™ and which have won it enormous freedom of action in the Occupied Territories over the past five years.
The clash of civilizations propaganda has worked very well for Israel for the past five years, and you can't blame them for trying it again. But we can blame our supposedly objective news media when they pass along without context or qualification this one-sided self-serving narrative, and pretend that in doing this they are reporting "news".
Footnote: The other issue this press release raises (in fact the primary issue I meant to talk about in this post) is the allegation that the two Israeli soldiers held by Hizbollah were actually in Lebanon when they were captured. As this is getting a little long, I will deal with that in a separate post.