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July 20, 2006

In US, Not All Casualties Are Equal

by Jim Lobe

Numerous U.S. groups, intellectuals, politicians and media outlets are mobilizing in the United States to back Israel in its ongoing assault on neighboring Lebanon with one main idea to promote – that Israel is always the victim.

On Sunday morning, millions of U.S. citizens watched as the former speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, a Republican from Georgia, argued on the network television news show Meet the Press that the Israeli demolition of Lebanese infrastructure, targeting of civilians, and total blockade of the small Arab nation was an act of self-defense.

He and many other public figures in the United States also echoed the Israeli line of blaming Iran and Syria for recent events.

"There is," Gingrich said, a "Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas alliance trying to destroy Israel."

"You clearly have Iranian involvement, there are at least 400 Iranian guards in south Lebanon," he added, without citing any evidence.

The reason the United States should continue to back the Israeli campaign with weapons and aid is because this is "World War III," which includes the United States, Gingrich claimed.

"I mean, this is absolutely a question of the survival of Israel, but it's also a question of what is really a world war," he said.

The so-called U.S. mainstream media has also largely avoided depicting the scenes of civilian carnage on the Lebanese side, with many referring to the onslaught as one that has targeted Hezbollah. In fact, the targets have so far included women and children, a lighthouse, a medical truck and a dairy factory.

On Monday, for example, the front-page photo on the Washington Post was of stressed-out, Israeli rescue-workers operating in Haifa, where eight people were killed by Hezbollah rocket fire on Sunday.

However, the previous day, when 13 members of one family, including children and women, were killed in an Israeli air attack, the paper ran a relatively bland picture of an explosion near advertising billboards in Lebanon.

Most headlines have also either favored Israel or remained so general that the intensity of the Israeli attack was hardly conveyed.

Many television stations here sought to present the current crisis in terms of equal suffering, with Israeli civilians hit by Hezbollah rockets as savagely as Lebanese civilians were targeted by Israel's U.S.-made bombs.

More than 250 Lebanese, most of them civilians, including women and children, have been killed in Israeli air sorties using 500-pound laser guided U.S.-made bombs. The Lebanese economy suffered billions of dollars worth of damage after Israel targeted Beirut's airport, bridges, roads and factories.

To date, 25 Israelis have been killed, half of them uniformed soldiers in combat with Hezbollah fighters.

"Syrian President May Hold Key to Mideast Crisis," read the Wall Street Journal's headline on Tuesday.

"Toll Climbs in Mideast as Fighting Rages On," was the Washington Post's generic headline for the same day.

In editorial after editorial, Israel was portrayed as the victim.

"Make no mistake about it: Responsibility for the escalating carnage in Lebanon and northern Israel lies with one side, and one side only. And that is Hezbollah, the Islamist militant party, along with its Syrian and Iranian backers," said the Los Angeles Times editorial on Monday.

Palestine Media Watch, a group monitoring coverage of events in the Middle East, says it called CNN's International Desk on Sunday to complain about the network's lack of coverage of civilian suffering on the Lebanese side.

The pro-Arab organization reported that the answer they got from CNN was "they did not have enough equipment and could not be everywhere at the same time."

"I think it's been strikingly one-sided in the coverage. The downplaying of the civilian casualties in Lebanon, I think, is fairly remarkable," said Jim Naureckas of the New York media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).

"And the sort of acceptance that Israel is engaging in some kind of normal behavior by responding to the one violent incident on the border by declaring war on an entire country is treated as a matter of course by U.S media commentators when it is really an amazing escalation."

He said that with the U.S. media coverage so biased, the public and politicians would be very hard pressed not to take sides with Israel.

"Certainly by giving only one part of the narrative where you have Israeli victims as the victims of unprovoked violence, it would be hard not to take Israel's side. If you are taking your information from the U.S. media, it'll be hard to construct a different way of looking at it," said Naureckas.

Already, several U.S. lawmakers have hurried to the defense of Israel, repeating the Israeli line that it was provoked and that its military action was in self-defense.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, a Democrat from New York, cited common Israeli and U.S. values for her support. Clinton, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2008 U.S. elections, criticized the "unwarranted, unprovoked attacks from Hamas, Hezbollah and their state sponsors" and named them "the new totalitarians of the 21st century."

"We will stand with Israel because Israel is standing for American values as well as Israeli ones," she said.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate was still preparing a resolution supporting Israel in its conflict in Lebanon.

Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, joined hundreds of people who rallied outside the United Nations in defense of the Jewish state as the mobilization for Israel picks up pace.

In Washington, a group of right-wing Christian fundamentalists, Christians United for Israel (CUFI) said they were gathering at least 3,500 people to rally in the U.S. capital on Tuesday to drum up political backing for Israel in its offensive against Lebanon.

The organization, lead by fundamentalist pastor John C. Hagee, says that Jewish leaders will also take part, including Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon, retired Israeli defense chief Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon and Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman.

The support for Israel in the U.S. comes despite U.S. laws that, if activated, would mean the end of this backing. The U.S. Arms Export Control Act restricts the use of U.S. weapons to justifiable self-defense and internal security, meaning that U.S. weapons cannot be used to target civilians in offensive operations.

The U.S. Foreign Assistance Act also bars U.S. aid to a country with a pattern of gross human rights violations. Several human rights groups have so far condemned the Israeli attack.

But despite those injunctions in the U.S. law, during the first few days of the offensive against Lebanon, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of U.S. munitions have been used by the Israeli army against a country friendly to the United States and a government fully supported by the United States.

The fact that civilian structures, including milk factories and houses of worship, have been targeted should have a left a dent in the position of those backing Israel's offensive. But it didn't. After all, they say Israel is the victim.

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  • Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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