Tony’s Price A disturbing characteristic of much of US liberal commentary on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the frequency with which, even when its prescriptions are on target, its framework of interpretation and premises are flawed, if not racist. A good example is Anthony Lewis’ column in the New York Times of February 12, 1989. He begins by detailing the heavy human costs which Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have paid for sustaining their uprising: the dead, the wounded, the imprisoned, the deported, the homeless, the repressed. “But,” he goes on to say, “Israel has paid a higher price for its policy [of repression] than have the Palestinians.” In what coin is this “higher price” measured? Lewis cites a decline in the Israeli army’s morale and its ability to ensure the country’s security, the erosion of legal norms and the intifada’s toll on Israel’s finances. In Lewis’ moral calculus, we may surmise, these largely intangible costs outweigh the deaths of 450 Palestinians and the physical and emotional pain of tens of thousands of others. Lewis calls on Israel to negotiate with the PLO, certainly a laudable position. But he apparently believes that one should judge the economic difficulties and crises of conscience experienced by the oppressor as more significant morally, and more worthy of sympathy, than the actual suffering of the oppressed.

Different Wavelengths For much of the past year the state-owned Israel Broadcasting Authority has been riven by struggles between liberal journalists and pro-Likud managers over what Israelis should be allowed to know about the intifada. The simmering conflicts broke into the open last November when David Grossman, host of a popular morning radio program and author of The Yellow Wind, a critical account of the occupation published in 1987, resigned to protest director-general Uri Porat’s order that coverage of the Palestine National Council meeting be kept to a minimum. Right-wing managers have also prohibited television interviews with Palestinians in the Occupied Territories or PLO representatives abroad and suppressed reportage which might be construed as critical of government policy or contradicting the army’s version of events. Accusing journalists of “serving the interests of enemy propaganda,” right-wing managers also insist that radio and television reporters use only official terminology: for example, “the so-called Palestinian state” instead of “the proclamation of Palestinian independence,” “disturbances” or “rioting” instead of “intifada” the “council of the terrorist organizations” instead of the “Palestine National Council,” and “peace-loving Arabs” instead of “Arab collaborators.”

God’s Will, and Saddam’s Iraqis, who are certainly entitled to some comic relief, await further developments in the scandal involving Uday Hussein, son of President Saddam Hussein. In October 1988, 24-year old Uday beat to death a member of the elite Republican Guard, responsible for the security of the top leaders of the Baathist regime. Overcome with remorse, Uday was reported to have attempted suicide twice. In a letter to his justice minister, Saddam reported that “God wanted this to occur” but nonetheless ordered an investigation. The minister, a safe bet for honorable mention in the annals of obsequiousness, warned the president against committing “an outrage against your own son as a result of your deep sense of justice and your firm determination to establish justice among people.” Even the victim’s father publicly beseeched Saddam to stop the investigation and forget the whole thing. Saddam insisted, however, and the wheels of Iraqi justice began to turn, in the capable hands of the minister of justice and a judge, both of whom are cousins of Uday’s father-in-law, who also happens to be Saddam’s chief deputy. Will Uday receive the same treatment, and be subjected to the same penalty, as the thousands of other Iraqis who have crossed his father since 1979?

Who Says the Man Doesn’t Have a Sense of Humor? In a speech delivered during a state visit to Tunisia in December 1988, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi called on the European states to return the art objects, artifacts and manuscripts which they took from Arab and Islamic lands during the colonial period. He contrasted those acts of “robbery” with the generosity of the Arabs: “We taught [the Europeans] medicine, geography, writing, sciences, industries, all the theories. We taught them about watches, aeronautics, astronomy, engineering and algebra…. We taught them literature. Shaykh Zubayr ibn William was Shakespeare. Shakespeare was Shaykh Zubayr. Shake came from Shaykh. Yes [applause with Qaddafi himself laughing]. We even taught them literature. We are the ones who must be proud of Shakespeare…. They could not pronounce Shaykh Zubayr so they said Shakespeare. Thus the name was adopted.”

Times-speak A headline in the New York Times, January 14, 1989: “Turks Enjoy More Freedom but Torture Continues.”

Award for Creative Political Alliteration To the bearer of a placard seen at a demonstration in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC on the first anniversary of the intifada: “Trade Sununu for Vanunu, Close Dimona!”

How to cite this article:

Al Miskin "Column," Middle East Report 158 (May/June 1989).

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