The time has come to view matters of government media policy management outside of the parochial circles that we all live in and report about, when too many people fall into a political position and suspend their natural ability for independen judgement.
Let us recall what happened when the US invaded Panama, in OPERATION JUST CAUSE, in December, 1989. The marines landed, accompanied by fifteen American news crews. The American government was determined not to make the mistake that they made back in Vietnam when reporters freely reported American atrocities against civilians and thereby undermined American home fron support for the war effort.
The marines made a gentleman’s agreement with the reporters who accompanied them to clear” their news reports with them. One day into the operation, the marines massacrd two neighborhoods where they were meeting resistance. The news agencies were asked to embargo the story. They did so for three years, until Bush’s defeat in 1992, when PBS sent a TV crew to Panama city and recovered its self-censored footage of the massacre, the mass burial, and eyewitness testimony recorded at the time.
The impact? Zilch. Were there any judicial inquiries? Indictments? No justice for of hat had happened to 6,500 civilians who were dumped into a mass grave…next to the Jewish cemetery in Panama City. I, for one, left America twenty seven years ago today, declaring myself to be a willing draft resister to the Vietnam war and hoping that the standard of the new country that I would come to would be different. They are.
Many media consumers suffer from what we may refer to as Panama Syndrome, which causes them to assume that media coverage from abroad reflects reality and forget the crimes of their military. In Israel, we hold ourselves to another standard. If one individual civilian dies as a result of a military opertion, it is the concern of the country and gets the attention of the world. In Israeli military law, we have the only nation in the world that has legislated that you can never say that “I was following orders” as as reason for carrying out an order that is repugnant to your moral standards. Israel has legislated the lesson of the Nuremberg trials.
Our fight in the professional world of media coverage of Israel is for a free media that will not cover up anything, let alone a mass grave of 6,500 civilans who were mowed down by American marines. Just as the major American media reached their “gentleman’s agreement” with the marines en route to Panama City, so did many Israeli and foreign editors and producers reached similar agreements concerning matters such as the Oslo process.
Arafat declared, openly and without censorship on his part, that anyone who ran against him in the 1996 Palestine Authority elections would be arrested and face summary execution. The UN observer team reported it. Yet the Israeli and foreign media covering the Palestinian election crown him a “democratically elected” leader. And throughout 1995 and 1996 and 1997, Arafat has conveyed a consistent message to his people in the Arabic language, for the world media to hear him, that he will not keep any agreement with Israel and that his war on Zionism remains intact. And when videos of Arafat’s speeches were screened before the US House International Relations Committee in September, 1995, the state department asked the nine news crews present not to cover the hearings and the reporters complied.
It reminds me of how the South Vietnamese elections were covered by major American media, until Dave Dellinger and a few other opponents to the Vietnam War uncovered the truth of summary executions conducted by South Vietnamese American puppets. The context of American government media policy in Vietnam and Panama places the situation in Israel with the media in context.
And now, in November 1997, a classified section of the Israel Shamgar commission report shows that the Israeli settler viglilante group known as the “committee for road safety” that began to operate in December, 1987 at the beginning of the Intifada was actually orchestrated as an operation of Israeli intelligence inside the Israeli right wing. The “committee for road safety” remained the prime source for Israeli and foreign media coverage of Israel’s settlements in the first years of the Intifada, as the “committee” offered daily “briefings” of Israeli settlements for the foreign and local media based in Jerusalem and the west bank. The direct result: The demonization of Israel’s settlement movement, whose image was transformed from a yuppie group of suburban life-seekers into a monstrous group of vigilantes who would attack Arabs without warning.
The question remains: Will media consumers or reporters themselves take the opportunity to examine their exposure to Panama Syndrome?