Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Judging from the great majority of pictures shown in Western media, newspapers, magazines and Websites, Israel's war in Lebanon has caused a lot of destruction. Even there, the hodgepodge of images—one building here, a tower there—fails to account for the overall destruction of the Lebanese infrastructure. But in the end, these are buildings, roads, communication towers, and landing strips.

The real cost—the one we're not being informed about—is in lives foreshortened and maimed. Very rare are the pictures where the human results of aerial bombing are shown. In fact, the human story has almost been completely effaced, as if viewers were the very pilots pressing the fire button in the cockpit of an F-16. To see the real thing, to fully understand the consequences of war, one needs dig a little further or to turn to non-Western media like al-Jazeera, which is indefatigably accused of being anti-Semitic and, unless you have a satellite dish, is in certain areas either censored or altogether impossible to subscribe to. While the Western media like CNN or Time never tire of showing the human result of Islamic terrorism—bloodied pizza parlors in Tel Aviv or maimed Israelis being spirited away on a gurney—the impact of Israeli bombing in Gaza, the West Bank, and now in Lebanon is mysteriously devoid of human stuff. We see collapsed buildings, ruins, and very deep craters, but precious few of the casualties. The real picture, the truth that lies underneath the veneer of rubble, is that of babies crushed, bodies severed in half, and pools of blood. I have seen some of them from out of Lebanon, and it is simply gut-wrenching.

One main reason why the Rwanda genocide of 1994 stayed with us (though even that wasn't enough to force us into action in Sudan, and perhaps in Somalia in the near future, where the dark clouds of war loom once more), is that the coverage was humanized. It was disgusting, shocking, but it drove the impact home.

By removing that human element from Lebanon or the Occupied Territories, the victims are made less than human—and this is exactly what the perpetrators want, and what Israeli leaders have been doing with words since 1948. They are terrorists, terrorist networks, vermin, or cockroaches. It's far easier to kill, and to brook the slaying of others, when all we see are destroyed facilities and atomized buildings. Next time you watch the news or read the paper, pay attention to what's being shown; see if there's an imbalance—in words, in images—in the coverage of the human story.

A telling example of the dehumanization of one side in the conflict and the individualization of the other is provided today by the Canadian Press, which released an emotional article about Tom Farkash, a Canada-born IDF soldier who was killed in an Apache helicopter crash in Northern Israel. The death of a 23-year-old, Canada-born or otherwise, is always a sad event. But how many such individual stories, intimate stories of lives lived and abruptly ended, have been provided on Lebanese or Palestinian 23-year-olds killed by Israel's military? None. Why is it that one side is relegated to numbers and facelessness, while the other is made all-too-real, with a short biography, names of relatives, age, and so on, along with interviews of the soldier's family in Canada? Why is it that the life of a soldier is lamented with more immediacy than the lives of nearly four hundred civilians?

Sure, the very curious and well-informed draw upon a variety of sources that, in theory at least, provide a clearer, more balanced picture of things; but for the great majority that depends on the ninety-second news bit for its understanding of the world, the skewed coverage in the Middle East will ensure that governments that support or help Israel will not be called to account, let alone pressed to change their policies.

Remember: underneath every destroyed building that you see, chances are there are lives ended and bodies wrecked and charred beyond recognition. If the media fails in its responsibility to show things the way they really are, use your imagination. You're alone on the dusty street, and as you walk through the collapsed entrance, a sweet, unbearable smell invades your nose. You enter and point your flashlight ahead of you into the laden darkness. You've never seen so many black flies in your life, as if Beelzebub, the appropriately Semitic god and Lord of the Flies, had made the ruin his chosen abode. You enter what looks like the remnants of a child's bedroom. In the corner, pressed against the wall…

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