Monday, August 07, 2006

Middle East math (via Stuart Elliott)

According to widespread news reports earlier today, an Israeli air strike on the southern Lebanese village of Houla killed an estimated 40 civilians. Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora described "a horrific massacre in the village of Houla in which more than 40 martyrs were victims of deliberate bombing."
Prime Minister Fuad Saniora repeatedly broke into tears as he disclosed the latest attack during opening remarks at a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Beirut. [....]
"An hour ago, there was a horrific massacre in the village of Houla in which more than 40 martyrs were victims of deliberate bombing," he said. Saniora had to halt his remarks several times to choke back tears and wipe his eyes, and the ministers broke into supportive applause.
"If these horrific actions are not state terrorism, then what is state terrorism?" he asked, adding that Israel's attacks have set back Lebanon by "decades."
Local TV stations had reported about 40 people were buried under the rubble of houses targeted by Israeli airstrikes.
It now appears that the actual death toll was one person.
Lebanon's prime minister said Monday that one person had been killed in an Israeli air raid on the southern village of Houla, lowering the death toll from 40.
Stuart Elliott (who blogs at New Appeal to Reason) drew my attention to this Associated Press article that combine bits of information (and misinformation) from different stages in the development of the story. (See also here.)

In this particular case, Prime Minister Siniora seems to have made a genuine mistake based on uncritically swallowing exaggerated news reports, but not all such fables are generated innocently (and the likelihood that Siniora spoke in error doesn't necessarily rule out deliberate deception farther back in the news chain, either).

=> I hate to belabor the obvious, but the sad fact is that in news reports about conflicts involving Israel, this kind of disparity between initial reports and subsequently established facts is unfortunately typical--though the scale of the disparity is a little bigger than usual in this case. After several decades of following news reports about conflicts in the Middle East, which have consistently been marked by wildly misleading and sensationalized news coverage and numerous cases of well-authenticated manipulation of news organizations for propaganda purposes, people should be willing to learn something from this experience.

Over the past several decades, the Israelis have done some terrible things, and that needs to be recognized. However, another part of the record is also clear. In all the conflicts in the region since the 1970s that have involved Israel either directly or indirectly, it has consistently been true that in the initial news coverage and public discussion (a) reports of Israeli atrocities invariably turn out to have been greatly exaggerated (or simply made up), and (b) reports of (non-Israeli) civilian deaths are always greatly inflated. Sometimes these casualty figures are multiplied by 2, as apparently happened in Qana, where initial reports put the civilian death toll in the 50s but later investigations placed it in the 20s (which is still terrible, of course). And sometimes they are multiplied by dozens or hundreds, as happened with the totally mythical "massacre" or "genocide" in Jenin in 2002 which produced a hysterical international outcry, complete with outbursts that went beyond customary demonization of Israel to blatant anti-semitism.

To repeat, this pattern is consistent and systematic, not uneven or episodic. It is also a consistent pattern that western news reports are closely controlled and systematically manipulated by efficient local propaganda apparatuses (the old PLO apparatus in Lebanon, and now the Hezbollah version, being two of the most effective). All this was recently confirmed once again by CNN reporters (see here and here--and also here & here and here.)

That doesn't mean that every news report from these conflicts is inaccurate, exaggerated, misleadingly presented, slanted, or faked. Obviously not. But anyone reading this news coverage or watching it on TV should take it with a grain of salt before drawing conclusion, wait for confirmations and qualifications, and try to avoid getting uncritically caught up in the ongoing media frenzy.

--Jeff Weintraub
======================
Associated Press (via Yahoo)
Mon Aug 7, 11:21 AM ET
Lebanese PM now says 1 killed in strike
By Sam F. Ghattas, Associated Press Writer

Lebanon's prime minister said Monday that one person had been killed in an Israeli air raid on the southern village of Houla, lowering the death toll from 40. Meanwhile, in northern Israel, scores of Hezbollah rockets wounded five people, rescue workers said.

Both sides appeared to take advantage of the days before a cease-fire resolution, formulated by the U.S. and France, is put to a vote in the U.N. Security Council.

Prime Minister Fuad Saniora repeatedly broke into tears as he disclosed the latest attack during opening remarks at a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Beirut. He appealed to fellow Arab states to help a nation "stunned" by a nearly four-week Israeli onslaught that has devastated Lebanon's infrastructure and left hundreds of civilians dead.

Saniora said the attack occurred in the southern village of Houla, where heavy ground fighting between Hezbollah guerrillas and Israel has been raging in recent days. The Israeli army said it is checking the claims about Houla but repeated that residents in villages in southern Lebanon had been warned to leave.

There was no confirmation of the death toll from security officials, but witnesses said the airstrike flattened five homes in a tribal compound.

U.N. peacekeepers at a post near Houla reported Hezbollah fired rockets toward Israel twice Monday from positions near the UNIFIL base.

"An hour ago, there was a horrific massacre in the village of Houla in which more than 40 martyrs were victims of deliberate bombing," he said. Saniora had to halt his remarks several times to choke back tears and wipe his eyes, and the ministers broke into supportive applause.

"If these horrific actions are not state terrorism, then what is state terrorism?" he asked, adding that Israel's attacks have set back Lebanon by "decades."

Local TV stations had reported about 40 people were buried under the rubble of houses targeted by Israeli airstrikes.

Israel's attacks on Lebanon have killed at least 651 people, including 524 civilians, 29 Lebanese soldiers and at least 53 Hezbollah guerrillas.

Hezbollah fired its deadliest rocket barrage Sunday on Israel, killing 12 Israeli reservists and three civilians. That brought the Israeli death toll to 94, including 46 soldiers, the 12 reservists and 36 civilians.

In other Israeli air raids across southern Lebanon, seven people were killed when a missile hit a house in Qassmieh on the coast north of the port city of Tyre, civil defense official Youssef Khairallah said.

An Israeli airstrike on an apartment complex in Tyre killed five people, witnesses and rescue workers said.

A woman and her daughter were killed near a Lebanese army checkpoint between the villages of Harouf and Dweir, security officials said. Four other people were killed in a raid on that destroyed a house in Kfar Tebnit.

Air raids on the town of Ghaziyeh also destroyed several buildings, killing at least one person and wounding 14, hospital officials said.

A building collapsed in the village of Ghassaniyeh, and at least one body was pulled from the rubble. Witnesses and civil defense workers said six more people were buried, but that could not be confirmed.

Five air raids struck the market town of Nabatiyeh, targeting two office buildings, a house and one of the offices of Shiite Muslim Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. No casualties were reported there or in raids on the villages of Jibsheet and Toul.

Attacks also were carried out in Naqoura on the border and Ras al-Biyada, about halfway between Naqoura and Tyre. About 30 Israeli commandos landed by helicopter on a hill overlooking Ras al-Biyada, where they battled Hezbollah militants, Lebanese security officials said. Israeli officials would not confirm the operation.

Meanwhile, one Israeli soldier was killed and four were slightly wounded in Bint Jbail, the army said. It said five Hezbollah gunmen were killed.

A new barrage of 83 rockets hit northern Israel on Monday morning, slightly wounding five Israelis, according to rescue services.

Ministers have called for a meeting of Israel's Security Cabinet later Monday to discuss whether to broaden the offensive.

One minister, speaking on condition of anonymity because he did not want to be seen as criticizing the military, said the army needed to send all available ground forces into Lebanon immediately to push Hezbollah and its rocket launchers out of the area south of the Litani River, about 18 miles from the border.

Hezbollah claimed to have killed four Israeli soldiers in Houla. The Israeli army said only three were wounded.

The U.N. plan would call for an immediate halt in the fighting, followed by a second resolution in a week or two to authorize an international military force and creation of a buffer zone in south Lebanon. It also says the two Israeli soldiers whose capture July 12 by Hezbollah guerrillas triggered the war should be released unconditionally.

Saniora and the Arab foreign ministers pressed for changes in the plan. He has proposed a speeded-up deployment of Lebanese troops with the support of U.N. forces in order to ensure that thousands of Israeli soldiers leave the south with any cease-fire, a Saniora aide said.

Washington and Paris were expected to circulate a new draft of the first resolution at the United Nations on Monday, taking into account some of the amendments proposed by Qatar, the only Arab nation on the Security Council, and other members, diplomats said.

Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon the U.S.-French draft was good for Israel — but the country still had military goals and would continue its attacks on Hezbollah. While Hezbollah has not rejected the plan outright, its two main allies — Syria and Iran — said it was without merit because it did not call for an immediate Israeli withdrawal, among other demands.

Lebanon's parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, also said the plan was unacceptable because it does not deal with Beirut's other key demands — a release of prisoners held by Israel and moves to resolve a dispute over a piece of border territory.

In other violence, Israeli warplanes hit roads in the Bekaa Valley, a northeastern region of Lebanon that is a symbol of Hezbollah power. At least four explosions were heard around the city of Baalbek, about 60 miles north of Israel's border, witnesses said. The Israeli military confirmed it had hit several targets in the area.

Warplanes also struck a large factory for construction materials just south of Baalbek.

Jet fighters attacked the Rashaya region farther south on the corridor linking southern regions with the Bekaa Valley, witnesses said. A road near the Beirut border post at Masnaa on the Beirut-Damascus highway, a frequent target of attack, was hit again Monday.

Israel's Haaretz daily, quoting an unidentified general, reported that attacks might be stepped up on Lebanese infrastructure and symbols of the government in response to Hezbollah's escalating rocket attacks. Israeli warplanes have repeatedly blasted Palestinian government buildings during a monthlong offensive in Gaza that began shortly before the fighting with Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has fired more than 3,000 rockets at Israel since the fighting began, Israeli officials said.

The 12 Israeli reservists were killed by a rocket that struck near the entrance to the communal farm of Kfar Giladi on the Lebanese border, hospital officials said. Dozens of other rockets hit Israel, including some that reached Haifa — the third-largest city — killing three civilians.

Hezbollah militants battled Israeli forces trying to push deeper into southern Lebanon, engaging Israeli infantrymen attempting to advance on the border villages of Aita al-Shaab, Rub Thalatheen and Dibel, the guerrillas' TV station said.

Some 10,000 Israeli soldiers are fighting several hundred Hezbollah gunmen in south Lebanon, trying to track and destroy rocket launchers and push the guerrilla group out of the area.
___
Associated Press writers Aron Heller in Kfar Giladi, Israel; Delphine Matthieussent in Haifa, Israel; Lauren Frayer in Beirut; and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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