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Reham Alhelsi - Saying “I didn’t know” is no excuse anymore

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Lundi 9 Juin 2008

Reham Alhelsi - Saying “I didn’t know” is no excuse anymore
A couple of days ago I read an article by Haitham Sabbah entitled Murder at Huwara Checkpoint. It talks about the killing of a 15 year old Palestinian boy by the Israeli soldiers at the Huwara Checkpoint. What drew my attention to the article was the accompanying photo. It was a painting of a Palestinian boy lying dead with stretched arms, an image that is a companion to many Palestinians. While reading the article my mind was moving faster than my eyes. Unfortunately, it was all so familiar; young people waiting to cross a military checkpoint, a rush of bullets coming without any warning, keeping the rest of the people away, preventing the medical teams from saving lives, waiting till the person lying on the ground bleeds to death and then the real “show” begins. The Israeli soldiers take off the dead Palestinian’s clothes, they wash off the pool of blood to remove any traces of their crimes, and then hurry and announce that they have just killed a terrorist who intended to blow himself up. The sad thing is, this scenario has been taking place for decades now and the world still believes these lies and very few dare to question them, despite the existence of witnesses and proof to contradict these lies.

When I was a child we used to spend our summer holidays at my grandparents’ house in Dheisheh refugee camp. At the time the rocky hill opposite the camp was uninhabited and there was a police station at its base. During one visit, my youngest uncle told me that boys from the camp used to go to that hill and sit on the rocks there, talk and laugh and drink soft drinks, mainly cola, while watching the camp. He said that one afternoon one of the boys bought himself a cola bottle and went to the hill. He just sat there drinking his cola and watching the camp. All of a sudden, the sound of bullets being fired alarmed the camp residents. The soldiers dragged the boy, still alive, down to the police station and left him lying there on the ground till he bled to death. As my uncle was telling the story I was trying to imagine the boy sitting there on the rocks enjoying the warm sun and drinking his cola. We often used to go to the nearby hills and collect flowers, especially cyclamen, which we called Zuzu. The only place we could find these flowers was the hills surrounding Dheisheh. They grew near rocks and it seemed to us as if they grew out of the rocks. Till today, this is one of my favorite flowers and the last time I visited Palestine I planted some in our garden and they are still there, as strong as the rocks they used to grow from. My uncle went on with his story telling how the boy was just lying there, bleeding to death, and the Israeli soldiers were all surrounding him and preventing anyone from coming closer. I suppose he was very affected by this because he tried imitating what he saw: he said the boy was drawing in long noisy breaths, as if he was hiccupping and kept doing that till his last breath. Since the day I heard my uncle describing how the boy died, the image of him lying on the ground bleeding and that chocking sound my uncle tried to imitate, this image is the first thing that comes to my mind whenever I hear of someone, often it is the youth, being shot at and left lying to bleed to death.

Often enough whenever such crimes against unarmed Palestinian civilians take place, there are witnesses and there is even sometimes photo or video evidence to show what really happened. This evidence is usually disregarded and ignored. Foreign reporters hurry to spread the Israeli army’s version of events, despite the available evidence contrary to those versions and without even bothering hearing what Palestinian witnesses have to say. The other party is totally ignored, they don’t even exist in Israeli, American and European media, at least not as victims. On 8 February 2002 a young Palestinian student called Mahmoud Salah was arrested in Beit Hanina, he was searched and handcuffed. The soldiers started shooting in the air to chase eyewitnesses away. After two soldiers took off his clothes, he was executed. Immediately after that they brought one of these bomb-detecting robots to deceive the world and claim he was a suicide bomber. What the Israeli army didn’t know was that someone was taking photos of the whole incident from a nearby building. These photos show clearly how Mahmoud Salah was forced on the ground, his clothes being taken off (no bombs to be seen) and then shot dead without reason, the robot being brought to “search” him, with him lying naked there. One Photo shows some soldiers pinning Mahmoud Salah to the ground just before executing him. Would they have held him and sat on him like that had they had 0.1% of a doubt he might be a suicide bomber? No, they would never have dared do that. They were SURE he is NOT a suicide bomber! These photos were to be found for a time on You Tube. Some months ago I heard about how You Tube is removing all videos that show the crimes of the Zionist state. I searched for that video in vain; it has been removed as well. Instead you get the usual: “This video has been removed due to terms of use violation”. Videos showing unarmed Palestinian civilians, including children and women, being killed by Israeli soldiers are a violation of terms of use. Videos showing the various crimes committed on a regular basis against an unarmed population for no reason other than hate, racism and land theft are a violation of terms of use. I wonder what these terms of use are: you shall hide the truth, the whole truth and everything that is the truth about the crimes against humanity committed by the Zionist state.

Whenever you try talking about the crimes of the Zionist state and the unbalanced media coverage, the first thing you hear, especially from Zionists or pro-Israelis, is that the media is biased in favor of the Palestinians. They know they are lying, they know that you know they lying and they know that the whole world knows they are lying and that western media is either in the hands of Zionists or run by pro-Zionists. Nevertheless, they continue claiming this in conferences, in discussions rounds, TV interviews, etc., and particularly when asked about the crimes committed by Israel! The media has only to work for the interest of Israel, anything else is labeled as bias, even being neutral isn’t good enough for the Zionists.

In addition to that, it is often that interviews are conducted with Israeli politicians, citizens and army personnel and seldom with Palestinians. Discussion rounds on the Middle East conflict include Israeli and European or American speakers or so-called experts and seldom do they include Palestinians. How are Palestinians to talk about their version of things when they aren’t even invited in the first place? How are they to answer to the many allegations and lies spread by the Israeli government and army when they aren’t even given the chance to do that? And if it happens and a Palestinian is interviewed or invited to participate in a discussion round, he is confronted with several Zionists and pro-Israelis and is interrupted every time he starts stating the facts, because facts are thing the viewers shouldn’t know about. The moderators do their best to please the Israeli participants. This also applies to anti-Zionist Jews like what happened to Felicia Langer, who spent most of her life defending Palestinian prisoners and wrote books about the torture taking place for decades in Israeli prisons. During one TV interview on a certain German news network, instead of giving her the chance to talk, the moderator kept interrupting Langer and talking herself in defense of Israel. If this moderator didn’t want to hear any critique about Israel, why did she invite Langer to her show in the first place? Or is this how one proves he/she is loyal to the written and unwritten media regulations of not criticizing Israel? On the other hand, Zionists and their supporters are granted full time to insult, abuse and spread lies about the Palestinians. They are not interrupted when they talk about transfer and kicking Palestinians out of the land[1]. And if it happens that one journalist has a bit of morals and questions Israel’s acts he is attacked by the interviewee as being Anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli and spreading Palestinian propaganda and most probably will be asked to apologize, which unfortunately most reporters do, showing how cowardly they are. Or they are transferred to other locations or they lose their jobs. And if one questions the racist and hateful statements of an Israeli politician made publicly about Palestinians, the Israeli government spokesperson is quick to claim that the media is over-reacting, or that the statements of one person don’t reflect the policy of the government, or better still that one shouldn’t take the statements of a “crazy man” for real. But when a Palestinian father who had just lost his entire family after an Israeli air raid starts shouting out of despair in front of his destroyed house that he is going to kill the “Jews” or the “Israelis”, the Israeli spokesperson repeats this for months and uses this as an “evidence” that Palestinians are full of hate and don’t want peace, and they ask all media networks to spread this “evidence”. Documentaries produced by former IDF people are shown during peak time and more than once, while independent and neutral documentaries that show some of the suffering of the Palestinians are seldom broadcast or when they are, they are aired well after midnight, making sure that very few people would be watching TV at this time.

You never hear about the suffering of the Palestinians, only how Israelis suffer under “Palestinian terror”. Nothing about the almost daily Palestinians victims, nor the checkpoints, nor the thousands of prisoners in Israeli prisons, nor the apartheid wall, nothing about schools and hospitals being shelled, nothing at all to imply there is a brutal military occupation in Palestine. Have these reporters ever heard about the secret prisons in Israel, where Palestinians just vanish and are never to be seen again? Have they ever heard about Palestinian prisoners from Bethlehem having numbers tattooed on their hands, a method used by the Nazis in concentration camps? During the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, every single western TV station reported about the evacuation of the Jewish settlers, showed the women and children crying and the men being carried out of their houses by force. That these are illegal settlers, radical fanatics living on occupied Palestinian land who carry guns and have often attacked and killed Palestinian civilians was only worth mentioning by a very few. In comparison, I wonder how many reports were made in the last decades about the Israeli policy of house demolition (Between 1987 and 2005, 1115 Palestinian houses were completely demolished, 64 were partially demolished, 299 were completely sealed and 118 were partially sealed leaving thousands homeless[2]).

It is always the Israelis who “took a great, courageous and painful step for the sake of peace”.
It is always the Palestinians who are to be blamed for the failure of the so-called peace process and who “destroy peace efforts”.
It is always calm in the region as long as there are no Israeli casualties. Even when Palestinian cities are being bombarded, it is calm.
It is always the Palestinians who “claim” but never the Israelis. The Palestinians are not to be trusted, but no one should ever doubt the word of an Israeli.
Never mention the on-going Israeli policies of ethnic cleansing, apartheid, destruction and the siege of a whole nation.
Never mention the on-going land grab, illegal settlement activities, the control of Palestinian natural resources by Israel.
Never mention the Israeli killing of innocent civilians.

Not even the houses and olive trees escape Israel’s army’s brutality, how about humans?

Why is it allowed to report about the atomic programmes of every single country in the world, even claim that some have it without any evidence, but never about Israel? Not even governments are allowed to talk about Israel’s atomic programme. And when the BBC had the courage to write about the issue, the Israeli government accused it being jointly responsible for Anti-Semitism in England. So, if writing about Israel’s nuclear programme is considered Anti-Semitic, what do you call writing about the nuclear programme of the US? Or that of China? Or Russia, etc…? According to that BBC report[3], Israel has the world’s 6th largest nuclear arsenal, from tactical bombs to medium-range rockets, as well as biological and chemical weapons. According to the same documentary the Israeli army had used an unknown gas against Palestinians in Gaza.

The Israelis are always the good ones, the innocent ones, the victims, while Palestinians are the bad ones, the terrorists, the perpetrators. It is always about the right of existence of Israel, and this is used not only by Israel but by western governments and media as well, an excuse for the Israeli attacks on innocent civilians, an excuse not to criticize Israel and keep silent about its crimes against humanity. Every Israeli crime against unarmed civilians is excused with the sentence: Israel has the right to defend itself against those wishing to “destroy it” (keep in mind that Israel has the world’s 6th largest nuclear arsenal). But what about the Palestinian s’ right to exist? What about the Palestinian s’ right to self-defense? Or aren’t we humans as a number of Israeli politicians and high-ranking military personnel described us? Wouldn’t it be considered Anti-Semitic and racist to call a Jew a cockroach or an animal on two legs? Why is it then allowed that Israeli politicians describe Palestinians as such? “Rafael Eytan, the former Israeli chief of staff, used to talk of the Palestinians as “cockroaches in a glass jar”. Menachem Begin called them “two-legged beasts”. Rabbi Ovdia Yousef, the spiritual head of the Shas party, called them “serpents”. In August last year, Ehud Barak called them “crocodiles”. Last month, the Israeli tourism minister, Rehavem Zeevi, called Arafat a “scorpion”"[4].

Worse still is the western media’s policy of showing Palestinians as terrorists and only as terrorists. There was a number of times when explosions took place in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and the media was transmitting live about this “breaking news” (Breaking News is reserved for Israelis, Palestinians don’t even deserve to be News) and reporters were speculating about the “terrorists”. Later to find out it was either the Israeli mafia blowing up rival offices or a gas cylinder that exploded in a house or a restaurant. One would expect the media to correct its previous reports about it being a “Palestinian terrorist act”. No, the minute it’s clear you can’t blame this on Palestinians, the whole thing is forgotten, thus making sure that the viewer continues to believe it to be a “terrorist act carried out by Palestinians”.

Despite all of this, despite the fact that Palestinians are often referred to only as the “terrorists”, despite mostly showing photos of crying Israeli mothers and none of crying Palestinian mothers, despite only showing Palestinians as angry, shouting, bearded men marching with machine guns or burning Israeli flags, despite all of this, you still have Israelis and their supporters whining publicly on TV and claiming that western media, particularly European media, is against them and is pro-Palestinian. I want so much to hear a Zionist saying the truth for once and admitting that the media in Europe is not neutral, but in fact biased in favor of Israel. We are not blind, we are not deaf and we see and hear what the various TV stations or newspapers or magazines publish. I live in Germany and whenever there is a discussion on this issue the first thing Israelis complain about is that the media is pro-Palestinian. I have been living here for 8 years now, and for once, just once, I would want to see a German correspondent who doesn’t describe us as terrorists or who would report about Palestinian victims without giving an excuse for the Israeli crime. Even one single settler being injured by a stone is more likely to make it to the headlines than dozens of Palestinian civilians being butchered by the Israeli army in a single raid while sleeping in their homes. Matter of fact, it did happen, and that settler made headlines at the time! And if it happens and they do report about Palestinian casualties, simply because it was too horrific not to mention, then that’s it, you know that for months to come you won’t hear one single thing about Palestinian casualties. And to make amends and make sure the viewers were not “brainwashed” by that single report and have not miraculously turned into Palestine supporters, several documentaries will be aired about the so-called “only democracy in the region”. Well, one has to add, whenever there was Palestinian internal fighting in Gaza, this was making headlines and there were daily reports about it (mostly from Tel Aviv as usual).

To control the work of journalists on the ground, they need to apply for a press-ID card that is issued by the Israeli government press office (GPO). After that they are required to sign a “”waiver” form, exonerating Israel of all responsibility if they are injured while in the Gaza Strip, including from the actions of the Israeli army.”[5] The fear of losing their Press-IDs and their jobs if they write something dissatisfactory about Israel encourages journalists to exercise self-censorship. Other methods to dictate and control the work of the media include the embedded-journalists strategy which has been used by the GPO during the Gaza withdrawal. German reporters for example have to sign a commitment stating that they will not write anything against the interest and the security of Israel[6]. Anyway, most foreign reporters live in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv and don’t even bother to go to the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. They use Israeli sources in the first place and most interviews are conducted with Israeli personalities and rarely with Palestinian ones. Even the few journalists travelling to the Palestinians territories are confronted with checkpoints and are often told they are not allowed in because of the area being a closed military zone. The journalist Karin Wenger reported that the GPO didn’t want to renew her Press-ID after she had reported from Gaza for two months. She was told she had used her card too often[7].

Reporters who dare to report from the Palestinian Territories, whether Palestinian or foreign, often find themselves under attack. The list of media personnel killed, injured, deported and arrested by the Israeli army is long, the last of which being Fadel Shanna, the Reuters cameraman, killed by an Israeli tank while during his job of covering the news. They didn’t want him to film what destruction they were spreading in the land, how they were destroying houses and farms and how they were firing tank shells at unarmed civilians. Reporters who have a conscience or those who can’t lie for Israel anymore are transferred to other regions or lose their jobs. Those who write the truth are always under attack by Israeli Americans or Israeli Europeans and pro-Israelis who have never been in Palestine and have no idea what is going on there except what they hear from the Zionist media. Every time I read a comment of such people I just shake my head. The only thing these people do is attack this reporter and call them anti-Israeli or Anti-Semite or pro-Arab, etc… as if one has either to be pro-Israel or pro-Israel. Even neutral doesn’t work anymore, you have to be 100% pro-Israel. One comment I read was so pathetic that the European commentator not knowing what to say to justify his attack on a certain reporter, bragged about having served in the IDF and that it did happen that the IDF had saved Palestinians from a sure death (????). I suppose he was talking about collaborators.

Isn’t freedom of the press supposed to be part of a real democracy? It seems today democracy is defined according to the whims and dictates of certain countries and according to which country this concept is to be applied to. The western democracies are quick to criticize the third world countries and especially the Arab world for their media policy, but that they themselves exercise censorship when it comes to the Israel and covering up its crimes is a closed matter. Israel is being rewarded for killing innocent civilians not only by the various governments but by the media as well. Germans and others keep saying they have learned from the lessons of WWII and that they won’t keep silent or look away when it comes to violations of human rights. Nevertheless they keep silent and look away when it comes to Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people and that makes accomplices of them. Today, with the advanced media technology, almost everyone has access to Information and from mountains of sources. Articles, Reports, Statistics, Photos, Videos and Testimonies about the various Israeli crimes committed against the Palestinian people are documented and to be found online from various sources, starting from Palestinian to foreign to Israeli websites committed to telling the truth about the ME conflict. One has only to use his/her brain and look behind the headlines in search of the truth. Saying we didn’t know is no excuse anymore.
“As that brave American writer Charley Reese said in his regular US column, the Israelis “have created their own unconquerable enemy”. They have made the Palestinians so crushed, so desperate, so humiliated that they have nothing to lose. We, too, have done this. Our gutlessness, our refusal to tell the truth, our fear of being slandered as “anti-Semites” - the most loathsome of libels against any journalist - means that we are aiding and abetting terrible deeds in the Middle East. Maybe we should look up those cuttings of the apartheid era and remember when men were not without honour.”[8]

See also: and and

[1] Zeevi, the previous Israeli tourism minister, used to call openly for the transfer of all Palestinians.


[3] BBC documentary entitled “Israel’s Secret Weapon”.

[4] Robert Fisk: When Journalists Refuse To Tell the Truth About Israel.

[5] Jonathan Cook: Covering Up Gaza,

[6] Viktoria Waltz: Der Nahost-Konflikt und die Medien,

[7] Karin Wenger: Brauchen Sie eine Idee für eine Geschichte?

[8] Robert Fisk: When Journalists Refuse To Tell the Truth About Israel,

Reham Alhelsi is a Jerusalem-born Palestinian. She has worked extensively in the Palestinian Broadcasting Company and since 2000, when she moved to Germany, has trained at various radio and TV networks including Deutsche Welle, SWR and WDR. She is currently writing her PhD in Regional Planning with a focus on Palestinian Land Management and local government.
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Lundi 9 Juin 2008

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