RAMALLAH, West Bank, Oct. 21 – When Israel unleashed a retaliatory rocket barrage nearly two weeks ago against the police station here, where two of its soldiers were killed by an angry mob, the helicopters took out a second target as well: the transmitters of the Voice of Palestine, the Palestinian Authority’s official radio network, which Israel contends has deliberately incited mass violence and ethnic hatred.
“This was the voice of the intifada, and people could express their feelings without censorship,” said Ibrahim Milhem, the host of “Good Morning Palestine,” a popular call-in talk show. “The only way Israel could stop it was to bomb it.”
But the Voice of Palestine was back on the air by nightfall, its signal switched to transmitters loaned by private stations.
Now, with simultaneous broadcasting on several FM frequencies giving it a bigger audience than ever, the network’s news bulletins, commentaries and martial music have become the ubiquitous soundtrack to life in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
As with the two television stations owned by the Palestinian Authority, programs are regularly interrupted by live coverage of clashes with Israeli troops and eulogies for each Palestinian killed in the violence that has claimed more than 100 lives in three weeks.
Israeli military commanders said this sort of coverage has directly provoked attacks against its forces, including the killing of the two soldiers here on Oct. 12.
“They call us murderers, and they show pictures of Israeli soldiers shooting Palestinian children, day and night,” said Tsionit Kuperwasser, an Israeli colonel who monitors Palestinian news coverage.
Israel tried leveling another weapon against Palestinian broadcasters: the truce agreement brokered by President Clinton in Egypt.
The pact expressly called for a halt to incitement, a provision read by Israelis as a requirement that official Palestinian news outlets cease their depictions of all Palestinian killed as heroes and all Israeli soldiers and settlers as villains.
But while senior Palestinian officials urged local news media to stress their commitment to the cease-fire, radio and television news directors said they were not asked and have not volunteered to change the basic tenor of their broadcasts.
“Every word the Israelis hear on the Voice of Palestine they think is incitement,” Mr. Milhem said. “But what they are hearing is Palestinians demanding our rights.”
A 43-year-old former newspaper editor, Mr. Milhem is also the West Bank news anchor and editorial director for Palestine Satellite Television, one of the Palestinian Authority’s two channels.
Because the incidents represent instances of the authority’s “losing control,” he said, his network has never televised the two images that now define the Israeli view of the conflict: that of the Palestinian mob torching and destroying a site known as Joseph’s tomb, which is venerated by Orthodox Jews, and the killings of the two Israeli soldiers here.
But Palestinian television has repeatedly shown the furious Israeli responses – including the seven missiles fired at the radio station.
Israeli officials said the air strike against Voice of Palestine was justified, citing NATO attacks on state television studios in Yugoslavia, where official media were accused of promoting violence in Kosovo.
Israelis cite as one egregious example a televised sermon that defended the killing of the two soldiers. “Whether Likud or Labor, Jews are Jews,” proclaimed Sheik Ahmad Abu Halabaya in a live broadcast from a Gaza City mosque the day after the killings.
Of greater concern to Israelis, said military officials and media monitors dispatched by the government to brief journalists and diplomats, is the Palestinians’ unapologetically nationalistic coverage. Radio talk shows praise Palestinian “resistance” and excoriate Israeli “war criminals.” Televised funeral processions are replayed in slow motion with video overlays of Israeli soldiers firing their weapons.
A line of text appears at the foot of the screen during a talk show, announcing not an incoming storm front but the latest confirmed death of another “martyr,” a category applied equally to rock-throwing children, innocent bystanders and Kalashnikov-firing militias.
Israeli spokesmen also cite as examples of “incitement” the standard recitation of long-standing Palestinian political demands by Palestinian cabinet ministers – among them their claim to East Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees’ “right of return” to their former homeland.
Mr. Milhem says Israel is asking Palestinians to stop broadcasting incidents that are shown globally by the BBC and CNN, and on Israeli news shows as well. “We are covering the story here, we are reporting the facts,” he said. “We have no fabricated pictures, and no fabricated stories.”
Israeli news media present a distorted view of the conflict to its own public, Mr. Milhem said. Israeli television’s constant showing of the burning of Joseph’s Tomb and the killing of the soldiers here inspires hatred of Palestinians, he said.
“They don’t show the Palestinian hospitals with the dead and the wounded,” Mr. Milhem said, “they don’t show the Palestinian trucks that have been burned by Jewish settlers, they don’t show the Palestinian ambulances being shot at by Israeli soldiers. They don’t show Palestinian mothers crying. They show Israeli mothers crying.”
The writer is a correspondent for the New York Times bureau in Israel