Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 1999, pages 50, 94

From the Israeli Press

Despite Censorship, Israel’s Media Contain Truths Its Foreign Supporters Deny or Call “Anti-Semitism”

By Nathan Jones

Foreign correspondents trying to keep their readers at home informed about developments in Israel have to operate despite Israeli censorship, which weighs even more heavily on the Israeli media. To make a living, the foreign correspondents toe the line, submitting their reports to the censor before transmitting or voicing them, and avoiding taboo subjects like Israel’s nuclear weapons program altogether.

For their part, Israeli journalists try to use a loophole in the censorship rules, which permits them to report forbidden news about Israel that first appears in the foreign media. However, since resident foreign correspondents can’t transmit such reports, it’s very difficult for Israeli journalists to “plant” information abroad so that Israeli citizens eventually learn what’s really happening in their own country.

Despite such censorship barriers, some things finally slip through. The results are reports in Israeli media of many facts that Israel’s supporters in the United States vehemently deny, or falsely equate with “anti-Semitism” when they appear in the American press. For example, here are excerpts from a report on the Sept. 6 “Opinion” page of the major Tel Aviv daily Ha’aretz:

“Israeli journalists and researchers who have attempted to publicize details of Israel’s nuclear programs run up against the reinforced wall of military censorship, forcing them to give up completely on the idea of publication, or to make do with fuzzy formulations and quotes from foreign sources.

“Dr. Avner Cohen chose a different route, publishing his book Israel and the Bomb in the United States without submitting it to the Israeli censor. The book documents Israel’s nuclear project from its inception in the 1950s until after the Six-Day War in 1967 when, the author says,...the United States recognized that Israel had crossed the nuclear threshold...

“Cohen received both direct and indirect messages that persisting with his research and publication could land him in trouble with the law. Cohen decided to continue, turning himself into a type of political refugee. He settled in the United States and avoids returning to Israel.

“Cohen is not Mordechai Vanunu, who revealed classified information obtained while working at the Dimona reactor and was convicted of treason. Cohen is an academic researcher whose work is based on... unclassified archive documents, previous publications and interviews with individuals who for the most part are speaking on the record...

“Israel does not allow freedom of worship in the handful of surviving mosques.”

“For many years Israel has maintained a policy of “nuclear ambiguity” according to which it would neither openly declare its nuclear capabilities nor introduce nuclear weapons into the region. The ambiguity was reinforced in an understanding with the United States, according to which as long as Israel maintained its restraint, Washington would not pressure Israel to dismantle its nuclear capability.

“The head of military security and the military censor believe that their duty is to enforce the ambiguity. They claim that Israeli publications about the nuclear program, even by independent journalists and researchers, would be interpreted as a confirmation of what has been widely reported everywhere else—that Israel has a long-range program for the development and manufacturer of nuclear weapons. This is known throughout the world, but publishing it in Israel could, according to the security authorities, erode the ambiguity and lead to pressure from the U.S. Congress to dismantle Israel’s deterrent ability and to stop military and economic aid.”

Other articles in the same major newspaper touch on subjects that seldom appear in the U.S. press. For example, here are some excerpts from an Aug. 23 Ha’aretz article entitled “Who’s desecrating the Holy Sites?” by Gideon Levy, a writer who is particularly critical of the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians:

“The [Israeli] Government Press Office published an official and arcane announcement from the desk of [Netanyahu spokesman] David Bar- Ilan, attacking the Palestinian Authority’s ”˜violation of the Oslo agreements,’ and its ”˜failure to respect the holy places.’ It must be seen to be believed: Israel is accusing the Palestinian Authority of violating freedom of religion and freedom of access to holy sites. Glass- house dwellers do not hesitate to throw stones.

“The majority of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation are not allowed to visit the Dome of the Rock, third-holiest Muslim site in the world. Tens of thousands of Palestinians who want to pray in Jerusalem are not allowed access. Israel is also doing its utmost to keep Palestinian residents at a minimum in the city, holy not only to Jews by confiscating identity cards and otherwise making Palestinians’ lives there miserable.

“The freedom of worship of tens of thousands of Muslims and Christians is crudely violated by Israel as a matter of course, despite its pious statements favoring religious freedom. Christians from Bethlehem and Muslims from Deheishe, not to mention from Gaza, cannot pray at their holy sites.

Blatant Violations

“Israel’s blatant violation of non-Jewish religious values began with the establishment of the state. The 400-odd Palestinian villages razed in 1948 contained at least 400 mosques and 400 cemeteries. Israel preserved not a trace of either. Cemeteries were overturned; mosques were destroyed or desecrated. And Israel does not now allow freedom of worship in the handful of surviving mosques. Only a few days ago, authorities sealed off Al Tabaya Mosque in Jaffa, that dates from Crusader times...

“A few weeks ago, in the Western Galilee, at Moshav Ben Ami, which was built on the the ruins of the village of Umm Farge, authorities destroyed a mosque—the only remnant of the leveled village—when descendents of original inhabitants dared to come back to pray there...

“The destruction and desecration of non-Jewish holy sites did not end in 1948. After 1967, Israel razed a few dozen villages in the Golan, leaving barely a vestige of their holy sites. The skeletons of the remaining mosques were dirtied and desecrated. Other mosques in Israel have been made into synagogues, resort villages or left to ruin. If the remains of a synagogue or Jewish cemetery were treated this way anywhere in the world, Israel and international Jewish organizations would move heaven and earth in protest.”

Excerpts from another article by Gideon Levy in the Sept. 6 Ha’aretz illustrate the startling contrast between the sometimes frank reporting of the mistreatment of Palestinians in the Israeli press and the reluctance of the supposedly free U.S. media to dwell on the same subjects out of fear of advertising boycotts and other weapons of the Israel lobby, backed by major U.S. Jewish organizations. When Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu halted negotiations with the Palestinians because of the murder of two young men from the Jewish West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, who were “patrolling” the fenced perimeters of lands recently seized by the settlement from nearby Palestinian villagers, Levy wrote:

“What had previously been whispered is now being voiced publicly: that, yes, there are [Jewish] settlers who are in no small measure to blame for the murderous violence that has been aimed at them...From the perspective of the Arab village of Burin, located below Yitzhar, the presence of thugs who threaten village farmers with weapons and curses to prevent them from getting to their olive groves is understandably the target of violent outbursts.

“But it is not only the Palestinians who are targeted by the Yitzhar settlers. Two weeks ago, I saw them threaten to shoot officers of the IDF and the Border Police—who as usual did nothing...It is not by chance that the killers of some 135 Palestinians in the past 10 years have come from the settlements. Groups and individuals have caused property damage and they have uprooted, smashed, shattered, shot and beaten.

“This is a group in which the conditions that bring about the establishment of murderous phalanges are rife: a feeling of isolation, a sense of messianic mission, an enemy-neighbor that is perceived through a demonic prism, mistrust of the existing legal and governmental systems, arms caches, combat experience, and a lenient attitude from the ruling authorities. Labor governments were afraid of this group, Likud governments identified with it. These are groups with a record of violence unrivaled by any other community in the state of Israel.”

Such frank reporting about the real obstacles to a land-for-peace Israeli-Palestinian settlement based upon U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 seldom appears outside Israel. For a U.S. or Arab reporter to report the same facts and opinions would ignite cries of “anti-Semitism.” It is a little harder, however, for Israel’s formidable overseas lobby to deny statements such as those above when they are taken from one of Israel’s largest and most respected daily newspapers.


Nathan Jones is a free-lance political writer based in Washington, DC.

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