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Bias in Jericho By: Sean Gannon
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Supporters of Israel have long charged that mainstream media coverage of the country is informed more by an uncritical acceptance of Palestinian propaganda than an objective appraisal of the facts on the ground. Confirming that contention is the spate of misleading media coverage prompted by Israel’s March 14 raid on a Jericho jail.

According to left-wing media outlets, the raid, far from a measured response to an intolerable situation, was actually a cynical escalation of regional tensions--never mind that it’s aim was the arrest of terrorist Ahmed Sa’adat and four other members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP) involved in the assassination of former tourism minister, Rehavam Ze’evi in October 2001.

Leading the charge of anti-Israel commentary was the New York Times. Towing the official Palestinian line, the Times claimed that the operation was nothing more than a political stunt, conducted with Israel’s ruling Kadima Party’s interests in mind. According to its editorial on the issue, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert engaged in “some election-season muscle-flexing,” wanting to “secure a few security points … in [his] battle with Benjamin Netanyahu.” The Boston Globe echoed those claims.

The facts, however, were not on their side. Contrary to the papers’ assertions, the IDF action did not appeal solely to Likud-leaning voters. Rather, it enjoyed cross-party support in Israel, where the majority was appalled at the prospect of imminent freedom for the murderers of a 75-year-old man returning to his room after breakfast.

In any case, the timing of the operation was not of Olmert’s choosing. It was largely determined by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, due to his repeated refusal to address continuing British and American concerns over Palestinian non-compliance with the terms of the Ramallah Agreement--the pact between Arafat and UK/US officials that placed the imprisonment of the PLFP terrorists under international supervision--and the deterioration in the security situation of their monitoring team. As Tony Blair told the British Parliament the day after the raid: “For three months we have been warning the Palestinian Authority that the security of these monitors was at risk, that the procedures at this particular detention centre were not adequate and proper.” These warnings culminated in a March 8 letter to Abbas on the issue, threatening to end international supervision of the prison if action was not taken. It was his obdurate refusal to heed this ultimatum that led directly to the monitors’ departure from Jericho one week later.

But the media had still other complaints about Israel’s conduct. The speed with which the IDF acted after the monitoring team’s withdrawal was cited as evidence that Israel had planned to raid the prison all along.

This is utterly untrue. Israel considered the terrorists’ quasi-incarceration in “the mock prison” of Jericho an imperfect yet acceptable arrangement and made it clear that it would intervene only if it failed. Although the sight of Sa’adat treating the compound as his personal fiefdom; moving at will within it walls; enjoying unrestricted access to computers and mobile telephones and receiving unlimited visits in air-conditioned reception rooms; and being served by less elevated inmates was provoking in the extreme, Israel abided by the agreement that its Cabinet had approved.

However, with Hamas’s post-election pledges to release its PLFP “brothers” making failure the inevitable outcome (especially when backed by Abbas himself in a February 24 interview with Israel’s Channel 10), a contingency plan was devised and a standing order issued to the IDF to implement it in the appropriate circumstances. Thus it was Hamas’s betrayal of the agreement, rather than an Israeli conspiracy, that allowed the army to take up positions within minutes of the monitors’ departure.

While the New York Times was critical of the Hamas/Abbas statements on the release of the men, it reserved most of its ire for the US and Britain, whom it lambasted for withdrawing the monitors. The Times contemptuously dismissed their stated concerns for the security of their monitors, taking no account at all of the fact that demands for stepped-up security were made in the light of credible threats against the monitors in the wake of the cartoon jihad and Hamas’s impending assumption of power, including specific intelligence regarding a PLFP plot to seize them as hostages in ransom for Ze’evi’s murderers.

Similarly, some left-leaning outlets presented the jailed terrorists’ status as “murderers” as a matter of debate, thus continuing their tradition of treating Palestinian statements as fact while reporting those of Israel as suspect “allegations” and “claims.” For instance, the Boston Globe said that the men were “accused of complicity in the murder of an Israeli minister” while the British Guardian described them as “accused by Israel of responsibility for the killing.” CNN, Le Monde, the Washington Post, the Irish Times, among others, made similar references.

In fact, though, in four of the five cases, the guilt of these men was solidly established by the Palestinian Authority itself, which convicted them of the crime in April 2002 and sentenced them to varying terms of imprisonment. Hamdi Qara’een, who fired the fatal bullet, received 18 years while Basel al-Asmar got 12 for acting as a look-out; Majdi Rimawai was sentenced to 8 years for driving the getaway car while Iyad Gholmi got 1 year for having prior knowledge of the plot. And the PLFP itself continues to acknowledge their guilt; last week its website carried a photomontage depicting the four standing on a coffin bearing Ze’evi’s image.

Ahmed Sa’adat himself escaped judgment. This was solely because Yasser Arafat refused to try the man he called a “political leader.” Israel, however, has evidence that he ordered the hit. Although he again denied any association with the crime through his attorney last week, it is simply inconceivable that Sa’adat could have been uninvolved in an operation for which his few-hundred-strong organization publicly and proudly accepted responsibility. Indeed, attesting to his murderous credentials, he vowed at a memorial ceremony in Ramallah a week prior to the assassination to avenge the killing of his own predecessor “with an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

Moreover, it is likely that Sa’adat authorized several PLFP attacks. Among them would be the February and May 2002 suicide bombings in Karnei Shomron and Netanya, in each of which three innocents died. Still another PLFP attack, in Itamar four months later, claimed the lives of Rachel Shabu and her three sons--aged 15, 12 and 5--who were shot to death in their home. Blood from this execution, which the PFLP hailed as a “heroic, qualitative operation,” is almost certainly on Sa’adat’s hands.

Yet Sa’adat’s homicidal resume went unmentioned in the press. Instead, the media treated Israel’s arrest of the terrorist leader, rather than the slaughter he has masterminded over the years, as the true crime. Nonetheless, the distortions, omissions and spin that characterized coverage of this story cannot obscure the fact that justice was finally served in Jericho.

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Sean Gannon is a freelance writer and researcher, specializing in Irish and Israeli affairs. He is currently preparing a book on the relationship between the two countries. gannon_sean@yahoo.co.uk

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