Politicians are not the only ones who determine whether there will be war or peace. Media have a lot to do with it, because they can form opinion in such a way as to provide the support for the policies of governments in democracies, or the screaming mobs on the streets of dictatorships. Hearst’s New York Journal is often accused of starting the Spanish-American war of 1897; while this may be an exaggeration, it certainly made it possible.
In the case of the Israeli-Arab conflict, major organs of the media — the BBC is probably the most important of these, but we can also include CNN, Reuters, and others — have taken sides in such a way that can only prevent peace and bring war.
Note that I did not say that the problem is that they favor the Palestinian cause. Of course they do, but I would prefer to put it this way: they distort the basis of the conflict to promote policies that in fact lead directly to war, not peace.
If your understanding of the conflict was based solely on what is presented in the above media, here is what you would believe:
- Israel is an aggressor which undertakes military action to take Palestinian land and (for some unspecified reason) to make them suffer;
- Palestinian terrorism (they wouldn’t use this word) is a reaction to an illegal occupation, and therefore understandable if not justified;
- The Palestinians just want their human rights and to live in peace, but Israel refuses to end its punitive occupation.
All of the above are false. And there are important elements of the conflict that are left out. For example, here are some things that you would not learn from the BBC, CNN, or Reuters:
- The Palestinian quarrel with Israel is not about a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but about whether there should be a Jewish state at all;
- Palestinian Arab terrorism against Jews has been the going on since before the founding of the state, and continues — indeed gets worse — when Israel withdraws from occupied territory;
- Most Israelis would end the occupation and give up the right to live in traditional Jewish sites such as Hebron if they thought it would not bring massive terrorist attacks from the West Bank;
- Terrorism from Hamas and Hezbollah, which are financed and armed by Iran, combines with threats from Israel’s enemies among the Arab nations to constitute an existential threat to Israel.
So, for example, the average BBC consumer will probably support the policy of forcing Israel to withdraw from the West Bank without insisting that terrorist groups be disarmed. As a result, the West Bank would shortly be under the control of Hamas, making probable a three-front rocket assault from Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel would be in mortal danger, and the likelihood of the conflict expanding into a regional war involving at least Syria and possibly Iran would be great.
On the other hand, a correct reading of the situation would tend to support polices to disarm terrorists, both in the territories and in Lebanon. It would support Israel’s maintaining a posture of deterrence against its external enemies. It would make clear to both the Palestinians and the Arab nations that Israel cannot be destroyed by violence, and that a peaceful end to the conflict which leaves Israel standing is the only way to end it.
The decision for peace or war, interestingly, is less up to Israel than to the other players, in the Mideast and elsewhere. Israel, although you wouldn’t know this from the media, really wants to be left in peace and has shown over and over that she is prepared to make sacrifices to this end. But as long as her enemies think that they can actually succeed — and today they are encouraged in this by international policy — they will continue to try.
And the BBC, CNN, Reuters and numerous others continue to help them.