Summer Reading Part II: Friel, Falk on the Middle-East

Howard Friel and Richard Falk: Israel-Palestine on Record

As those close to me know, a friend and I are working on a project regarding the US media coverage of the Israel-Lebanon war last summer. We have been quite fortunate in that we have had some prominent scholars on these issues helping us through the process. And to a person, when we note that our project is going to look at how the media covers issues in that region, the first book they suggest, is Friel and Falk's "Israel-Palestine on Record: How the New York Times misreports Conflict in the Middle East."

And in reading it, it is understandable why. It is perhaps the only thorough analysis of the output of the New York Times ' coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict, which the authors argue, distorts issues by not paying attention to international law, and by omitting crucial information. The end result is that Israel's violations of international law, and the gravity of the suffering of the Palestinians (and the Lebanese), are hidden from the readers, and consequently, are largely absent from the public debate.

The book is well documented and persuasive but you probably have not even heard about since, unsurprisingly, reviews of the book are absent from mainstream papers and political journals. The argument Falk and Friel make is, for all practical purposes, off-limits. This is rather unsettling given that the book's claims are well supported and can easily be independently verified. The New York Times, to give one example of many, barely acknowledged reports by Human Rights Watch and others documenting the indiscriminate killing of civilians (See Human Rights Watch's Fatal Strikes: Israel's indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Lebanon) and allowed the IDF's insistence that Hezbollah fighters were present at these places (sans any evidence) to go unchallenged.

Here is the attention that the Times thought was warranted to the striking report ,buried 15 paragraphs deep on their August 3 story "Civilians Lose As Fighters Slip Into Fog of War."

The case was one of those noted in a report released on Wednesday by Human Rights Watch, which said it had identified 153 deaths of Lebanese civilians. It said the killings formed a pattern so extensive that it seemed to indicate that the Israelis were deliberately shooting civilians. It went so far as to accuse Israel of war crimes.

''In many of these strikes there is no military objective anywhere in the vicinity,'' said Peter Bouckaert, who conducted the study. ''Day after day we are documenting these strikes where they clearly hit civilian targets.''

Israel vigorously denies this and says that it has tried to avoid civilian deaths, but that Hezbollah tactics of working among the population makes that hard.

And that was it. And yet, despite the solid evidence put forth in the book, the Times has not even bothered to run a review even to dispute or defend themselves against the claims.

Of course, this would be less maddening if it weren't for the fact that someone like Alan Dershowitz can write a book, The Case for Israel, that has blatant and documented factual errors of an egregious nature, and not only get good reviews, but also get to use the op-ed pages of newspapers all over the country as a soapbox to spread further misinformation.

Thankfully, Friel and Falk dedicate a chapter to this book to note the way the media gives Dershowitz the title of distinguished expert and paints the likes of Noam Chomsky and Robert Fisk as extreme. The do so simply by asserting that it is so -- never mind that Chomsky and Fisk have views on the subject that are far more consistent with global public opinion than that of Dershowitz, who actually has some frighteningly radical views. He is in favor of granting warrants to torture people, said that Lebanon was "not a victim" because of the way they think or vote, and argues that reputable human rights organizations were "in a race to the bottom to see which group can demonize Israel with the most absurd legal arguments and most blatant factual mis-statements."

Friel and Falk also point out some of Dershowitz shady techniques. In one instance, Dershowitz's Case for Israel quotes from an Haaretz op-ed written by right-of-center commentator Yoel Marcus. Not only does Dershowitz footnote claim, falsely, that this is a Haaretz editorial (implying that it was the view of the editorial board) but he also abuses the ellipsis.

The Palestinians could not ask for a better time to get the best possible peace treaty than right now. But they want more .... more than anything else they want the right of return to be recognized and fulfilled.

As the authors point out, Dershowitz used an ellipsis with four periods (....)rather than three which is understood to mean that he cut out several sentences. But in fact, he only cut three words: "they want sovereignty." Without the deletion it reads (italics are added to emphasize the deleted words):

The Palestinians could not ask for a better time to get the best possible peace treaty than right now. But they want more, they want sovereignty, more than anything else they want the right of return to be recognized and fulfilled.

As the book explains:

Because three words is not a lot of words one can only assume that Dershowitz must have deleted them because he did not want his readers to read them.

This book is eye-opening, and should make readers skeptical about getting their international news solely from mainstream US sources. The Israeli paper Haaretz, and Lebanon's Daily Star can help one to deal with the obvious shortcomings of the US media in regards to the Middle East.

And keep an eye on these authors, who continue to write about this crucial issue. For example, when Harvard's Marvin Kalb wrote a paper asserting, ridiculously, that the media was too tough on Israel, and too sympathetic with Hezbollah in last summer's war, Friel rightly corrected the record.

I would be hard pressed to think of a book from this year I would suggest more enthusiastically to someone who is interested in media and foreign policy, especially given the importance of the issue.


Summer Reading Part 1: Hitchens: God is Not Great;

Part 3: Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power, coming soon.