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Commentary and opinion on current civic, political, and religious events and issues.

Past Issue
3 September 2001

Northern City Journal
(ISSN 1528-9575)
Vol. 2, No. 36

Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Ignoring Ordinary Palestinians

The news media in Israel's strongest ally tend to ignore the lives of ordinary Palestinians, who live in circumstances Americans would consider outrageous and oppressive.

by Jerome F. Winzig

Suppose you lived in Minneapolis and worked in St. Paul, and there was only one road you could use to get there. Suppose you could only travel that single road to St. Paul by passing through a checkpoint guarded by a foreign army. Suppose further that the checkpoint was so slow and congested it took two or three hours to pass through.

Suppose these foreign soldiers sometimes interrogated you at the checkpoint, asking where you were from, where you were going, and what you did for a living. Suppose they sometimes asked for your Minnesota driver's license and checked it against a list of wanted people. Suppose they occasionally searched your car. But suppose that most of the time the solders would ask you no questions at all, glance at your license, and wave you through -- after you had waited in line for hours.

Suppose your mother lived in the St. Paul suburb of White Bear Lake, you had to travel through at least three foreign army checkpoints to visit her, and you could only get through if the soldiers were in a good mood. Suppose further there was only one road to the University of Minnesota right here in Minneapolis and it was closed to Americans. Suppose students and teachers could only get there by driving or getting a ride to the barricades, walking six blocks around the barricades, and then getting a ride on the other side for the rest of the trip to school.

For inhabitants of Minneapolis these are all far-fetched, hypothetical suppositions. But for most Palestinians such experiences are an everyday way of life that gets little attention in the United States, Israel's strongest ally. News coverage here gives the impression that most Palestinians are implacable foes of Israel who are led by the terrorist Yasser Arafat and dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel.

There is little coverage -- especially on television -- of how the lives of Palestinians are disrupted by Israeli security measures. The news programs show Palestinian youths hurling rocks and paving stones at Israeli soldiers, but they do not show the schools that have been destroyed by Israeli mortar shells or are shut down when the Israeli army closes certain checkpoints.

These circumstances do not justify the actions of Palestinian terrorist organizations who recruit unhappy Palestinian youths for suicide missions designed to kill Israeli civilians. Those terrorists callously use those youths as expendable cannon fodder for terrorist missions that are never led by the terrorist leaders themselves. Nonetheless, there has to be incredible unhappiness and despair among the Palestinian population for the terrorists to find willing recruits.

These circumstances do not condone the unelected leadership of Arafat, whose power is based on terror and intimidation. But it often seems Israel prefers to alternately confront and negotiate with someone as obviously reprehensible as Arafat than to deal with more moderate Palestinian leaders, many of whom serve as elected public officials throughout Palestine.

In fact, the United States' participation in Middle East peace talks over the years have helped make Arafat into an icon who serves as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. Except for Arafat, there is absolutely no Palestinian who is named by the American news media in the way they name Israeli leaders such as Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Barak, and the assassinated Yitzhak Rabin.

The net effect is to demonize the Palestinians. They are identified with a single aging terrorist in the person of Arafat, who supposedly masterminds suicide bombings all over Israel. Ignored are ordinary Palestinians, who are forced to live their daily lives under conditions that would outrage Americans. Also ignored are Palestinian leaders -- mayors of towns and cities, public officials, university officials, heads of Arab organizations, and others.

The result is a peace effort that almost seems intended to fail. If there is to be peace in the Middle East, the people of Israel need to talk with the people of Palestine, not just Yasser Arafat, and the news media in Israel's strongest ally need to start recognizing Palestinian leaders by name. The names of the latest suicide bombers -- quickly forgotten -- cannot be the only Palestinian names we ever hear.

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