Friday, October 1, 2010

Alison Weir - telling Americans the truth

Tonight I attended a meeting held by a Palestinian student group at North Eastern Illinois University in Chicago. The keynote speaker was Alison Weir (pictured above) who is the creator of the invaluably informative website If Americans Knew. I wanted to meet Alison because I've heard lots about her and I was not disappointed in the talk she gave, unfortunately cut short by a delay in the start of the program.

Alison described how ten years ago she was a reporter for a local paper in northern California when, horrified by what was going on during the period of the Second Intifada suicide bombings, she decided to learn about the situation in Israel for herself and took a trip there that turned her perception of the situation upside down - because she could see the facts for herself unfiltered by American news reports. Ever since, her mission has been to let Americans know the truth about the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

The truth, you say, but don't we get the truth from the news?

We don't. Alison presented several graphics drawn from research done on the news reports about the Middle East from the major outlets for foreign reports - ABC, CBS, NBC, the Associated Press and the NY Times.

Here is an example of what was found - in this case for the NY Times alone. The following graphic shows the number of children killed in Israel and the occupied territories in 2004. Israeli children killed are shown in blue and Palestinian children killed, in red. Note that for every Israeli child killed, 22 Palestinian children were killed. Data is taken from B'Tselem (bet SELL em), the Israeli human rights organization.
Now take a look at how this was reported in the NY Times. This time the bars show the percentage of deaths reported in a story headline or first paragraph. The ratio is 7.3 to 1. Translation - 50% of the Israeli children killed, 4 children, received headline or first paragraph coverage but only 7% of the far larger number of Palestinian children killed received such coverage.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. A more recent study of NPR coverage was less biased but still tilted heavily in favor of Israel. The other media outlets are similar to the NY Times.

The result of such skewed reporting is Americans perceive that Israel is taking far higher casualties than it is in comparison to those of the Palestinians. This only encourages the view of Palestinians as crazed terrorists preying on innocent people who are only defending themselves. But the actual figures from B'Tselem show that the Israeli military exacts a heavy toll of Palestinian lives, both adults and children, year after year after year.

In fact, the widely held view that violence subsided after the Second Intifada was true only for Israel. Palestinian deaths at the hands of the IDF increased. Even if we leave aside deaths, daily violence in the form of roughing up, beatings and tear gassing are the norm for Palestinians.

I encourage you to get the full picture

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