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It's the News, Stupid

It's the News, Stupid

Lessons learned from an intensive week in the Middle East.


I just returned from a Leadership Mission in which 25 people spent a week touring Israel and learning about the geo-realpolitik-media-security issues facing our beleaguered homeland.

We toured the controversial security fence, flew the entire length of the Green Line in a small chartered plane, and toured the Syrian border with an IDF officer who imparted lessons in military strategy that you only hear at West Point. We went through checkpoints, rode in armored busses, and handled guns, bullets and tank missiles. We saw documentaries on the issues, and heard from reporters -- Jewish, non-Jewish and even Palestinian -- from the New York Times, Time magazine, CBS News and more. We met with government ministers, visited victims of terror, and heard from the left, the right, the center, the passionate, the logical, and the frustrated.

I thought I knew my stuff before this trip, as I am an addicted Middle East news and history junkie. But I was wrong. It is one thing to read an article, attend a lecture, or watch a televised report. But to have the opportunity to grill an expert, a reporter, or a politician on their turf is quite another. I discovered vast underlying complexities that I never imagined.

One key insight was that the reporters -- who largely determine the world's view on this issue -- are articulate, worldly, well-educated, experienced, and thoughtful. But each has an inner gyroscope from which they rarely deviate. Events are described via their own subjective-ness that they claim as cold hard objectivity. This bias is refracted onto the morning papers, television screens and radio waves that bombard us daily. Reporters rarely, if ever, get an epiphany reporting here; they come with a viewpoint and report from that perch throughout their careers.

Given what we read in the paper, you would think that no one in Israel is working to counterbalance the negative reporting. But that's not the case. Throughout Israel there are smart, dedicated, knowledgeable people who know the foreign press and are aggressively working to put the news into its right historic perspective. Case in point is HonestReporting, which works with journalists behind the scenes, in addition to having 100,000 members who can bombard editors with emails calling for more historical context, equal time for all sides, and an end to the "tit-for-tat cycle of violence" narrative that conjures a false moral equivalence between terrorists and their victims.

But then again, it is hard to shift the press in Israel's favor when these same reporters are subject to intimidation and blackmail working within the Palestinian territories. If you don't give it Arafat's spin, you will never work in this war zone again. And with no access to the P.A., you're on a plane back home to cover 'man bites dog' stories. One very telling comment was from a Foreign Ministry spokesman, who said that Israel needs us -- yes, you and me, folks -- to advocate and monitor the news on their behalf, as they simply don't have the budget to fight the propaganda war. Imagine the U.S. State Department saying such a thing!

20/20 Vision

With this trip I began to see the Middle East in a three-dimensional way. I first traveled to Israel in 1984 because I did not understand the conflict and wanted to see it first-hand. Much like the way I went to see the Berlin Wall and Communist Russia and China. I had to see it up close and personal. From this current trip I had the experience one has when looking at those fuzzy pictures of colorful wavy lines that make no sense, and then as your eyes refocus you see a wild 3-D picture jump out that you did not perceive a moment before.

Daniel Pipes spent the week with our group, and here is one of the great ironies he pointed out:

  1. Rabin ran for election saying he would never negotiate with the PLO, and he did.
  2. Netanyahu ran for election saying he would never give back the Golan, and he came close to doing so.
  3. Barak ran for election saying he would never divide Jerusalem, and he offered to do so.
  4. Sharon ran for election saying he would never do what his opponent was suggesting -- give back Gaza -- and he is now doing so.

Why? Because once these politicians are in power they want to move beyond the status quo and reach for the history books as The Peacemaker. That's great, except that this is supposed to be a democratic process and the leaders often act with minority support. Last week I stood on the roof of the building that houses the grave of Samuel the Prophet, which is the most strategic viewpoint of northern Jerusalem. You can see from the Mediterranean to Jordan, from Bethlehem to Ramallah. The mishmash of Arab and Jewish neighborhoods makes it hard to imagine where any future border might be drawn. As it is, the security fence cuts off Arabs from their fields -- which is the price to save civilian lives. But like everything else in this region, nothing is simple; the Israeli Supreme Court has now ruled that "the state must find an alternative that may give less security, but would harm the local population less."

Go Figure!

We visited the security fence at a crossing on the Jewish side. The security personnel refused to have their picture taken. Israeli soldiers usually don't care and, in fact, enjoys being photographed. But these were not the I.D.F. These were Arabs, toting automatic machine guns, who worked for the private security firm that operates the fence. Go figure!

And then we heard about Abu Mazen, the deposed Prime Minister of the P.A. who is part-owner of the cement company that supplies the 4 percent of the fence that is concrete slabs. Smart guy; he benefits either way.

People often ask what it will take for the two sides to make peace. If you take away Palestinian weapons, you will have a peace. If you take away Israel's weapons, you will have the end of Israel.

We spoke to one Palestinian reporter (who asked to remain anonymous), and braced ourselves for some heavy rhetoric. But as he spoke, he started to sound pro-Israel. That didn't make sense, until it dawned on us -- he wasn't pro Israel, he just could not stand, as he put it, "Arafat and his gang of thieves." Arafat has received $7 billion in aid since Oslo, and the Palestinian villages under his grip look as sorry as ever. Where did all that money go? And does anyone even bother to ask?! One highlight was interacting with a Hasbara Fellowships group, consisting of college students who want to become activists on their respective campuses. To take up the gauntlet in the face of heavy pro-Palestinian support, these students must be amongst the righteous of our generation!

Wake-Up Call

After a full week of covering every aspect of Mideast issues, we rolled into Shabbat. Our group was anything but observant, yet the spiritual power and wisdom of our great heritage came as a welcome relief. The week's events were now filtered through the prism of 3,500 years of Jewish survival, and our eternal mission to be the light unto the nations.

The Jewish people have the talents, abilities and social status to right the world's wrongs. If we back away, the world will hate us. If we embrace the challenge, the world will love us.

The Almighty is waking up the Jewish people through blood, fire and tears. The distortions about Israel in the media is God saying to us, "How bad do I have to frustrate you to get your attention and awaken you from the slumber?"

This Leadership Mission brought it all home: A powerful vehicle to understand Mideast complexities, and a prime motivator to take charge of the Jewish future. We've seen it before, again and again. Either we take this message of personal and national redemption to the world, or the world will blow the law of the jungle right back in our face.

July 3, 2004

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 9

(9) Howard G, January 2, 2006 12:00 AM

media objectivity

First, how has the tough line helped. Jews, Israel, America and the world were doing much better under Rabin than under Bush and Sharon. You guys said we need a tough American leader, you got it, how has it helped. In the words of Ronald Reagin, are you better off now than 4 years ago.

The policies that Pipes criticized were good and made a better world. What is his solution anyway. Who's going to rule these 5 million Palestinians.

What we can see is that Clinton's programs and an even-handed approach were far better for everyone.

(8) Inge Malka Johnson, July 28, 2004 12:00 AM

Honest Reporting is just that.

Thanks for sending articles that are not covered by other media. I have lived in Israel for 15 years and really appreciate your articles.

(7) Mike, July 12, 2004 12:00 AM

Your Honest Reporting Article

I wish I went on that trip.
Was the Palestinian reporter whom you mention the reporter the Jrslm Post reporter, Abu-Toameh? Or is there another good and honest Arab reporter?

(6) Basya, July 8, 2004 12:00 AM

Dear Anonymous 7/6/2004,

You said:
"Second, G.D has nothing to do with what is going on in Israel."
And you said:
"G.D is merely watching"
And you said:
"After,3300 years and the acquisition of the Holy Thora..."

If you believe in what is written in the Torah which you mention, you will retract the first two comments. Our G-d is involved in the world, not watching from afar. His supervision affects everything that happens here. Yes, we have to make our efforts and try to make the right choices. But, "hakol b'shamayim chutz m'yiras shamayim". Ultimately, G-d runs the world. We only run our spiritual choices.

(5) yael, July 7, 2004 12:00 AM

thank you

your article is very important.
i live israel, and i can say, during this 3 year old war {it is a war !} that peace is very far away from ever. the arabs say over and over again that they want all of Israel, you can just listen to their media. they say it loud and clear. Israel is so small that you cant point your finger on the map to see it.. there is no place fot two nations to live here.
how come it is o.k. to tranfer jews from the lovely Gush Katif and not transfer arabs to an arab countries?
Where do we settle jews from Gush Katif in such a small country?
If and After we give Gush Katif to the arabs, do you think they will make peace? n e v e r!
and a little note: We never attack, we always give back and defence. all our wars were so.
we are the real peace wishers. they are not!

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