Al-Aqsa, The Propaganda Machine, and "The International Community"

By Khalid Baig
Posted: 17 Rajab 1421, 15 October 2000

On 28 September 2000, extremist Israeli leader Ariel Sharon, accompanied by thousands of fully armed Israeli soldiers provided by the government of "moderate" Prime Minister Ehud Barak, invaded Al-Aqsa mosque. The Muslim house of worship --- the third holiest site in Islam --- was off limits to the worshippers while the Jewish terrorist and his army roamed there and trampled it under their boots. As the calculated provocation generated expected protests, Israeli shock troops and snipers trained their weapons on the unarmed protesters, killing, blinding, maiming and torturing --- the same way they have been doing ever since they set foot in Palestine. Actually this time they ratcheted up their level of brutality, using tanks, missiles, banned dum-dum bullets, and heavy weapons to silence the unarmed protests. They also provided escorts to armed Jewish lynch mobs as they rampaged through neighborhoods of unarmed Palestinians. In the first two weeks, they savagely killed more than 120, maimed thousands, and destroyed property on a large scale in efforts to terrorize them all and remind them that "Israel is powerful."

It was a major media story and it was covered in detail. Hardly anyone exposed to the media remained unaware of the events. An Online Time poll demonstrated this. The respondents were asked who had a greater responsibility for spreading violence, Israelis, or Palestinians?. Less than one percent said they had no opinion. One day after the polling started, 71% blamed Palestinians. Two days later the ratio had changed, yet a majority (54%) blamed Palestinians while 45% found fault with the Israelis.

The poll continued at the time of this writing and the final numbers may be different, yet the underlying points remain valid. Media polls, whether scientific or the online unscientific variety, reflect the job media have done in shaping public opinion. How could anyone who had seen the massacres, the lynching of Palestinians, the shooting of steel bullets in the eyes, and the cold blooded murder of young children blame the victims? Simple. People were simply reporting what they had understood about the "complex middle-east problem."

Welcome to the vast propaganda machine, the mainstream media. It is probably the finest propaganda machine that ever has been there. It is slick, very attractive, and extremely deceptive. It lies with superb confidence. And it kills with a smile on its face.

Here is a look at the working of this media machine during the first two weeks of the Al-Aqsa Intifadah.

  1. What Happened?
  2. Here is the very first report about the event as carried by CNN:

    "(CNN) -- A visit by Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon to the site known as the Temple Mount by Jews sparked a clash on Thursday between stone-throwing Palestinians and Israeli troops, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd." [September 28, 2000 Web posted at: 9:28 a.m. EDT (1328 GMT)]

    See how benign it is? Ariel Sharon is not the terrorist, extremist, and the mastermind of Sabra and Shatilla massacres that he is, he is just a respectable Israeli politician. And what did he do? He visited a site known as Temple Mount. Not Al-Aqsa, not the third holiest site in Islam, not Haram Ash-Shareef. Temple Mount. Above all, he just visited. He did not take any army of thousand plus soldiers and entered a Muslim holy site. How can any reasonable person find fault with an Israeli leader visiting a Jewish holy site? To him the protesters would appear to be unfair or crazy.

    This was representative of things to come. Most media reports did not use the name Al-Aqsa. The following statement from BBC was the most generous: "Hundreds of people have been injured in the clashes, which began on Thursday after a visit by the right-wing Israeli politician Ariel Sharon to the holy site in Jerusalem which is revered by both Muslims and Jews." Thus the place was firmly established as a Jewish site or, at most, as a Jewish site contested by Muslims as well.

    Is it that these multi-million dollar media establishments did not know the name Al-Aqsa or had no way of finding about it? If you believe that then you might also believe that the British leaders who were laying the foundation of this trouble in 1917 did not know that Muslims lived in Palestine. For, that is how that infamous Balfour Declaration went: "His Majesty's Government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine…". While the reference to the civil and religious rights was just a window dressing, never meant to mean anything, it is important to note that even here they were careful not to name Muslims, who are mentioned anonymously as "non-Jewish populations." At that time Muslims were 92% of the population of Palestine! Robbing their identity was the first step toward robbing their land. And robbing the identity and history of Al-Aqsa is the propaganda machine's method of paving the way for converting it into Temple Mount!

    This treatment also implies that the Muslim and Jewish claims are on equal footing. Little would their audiences realize that Al-Aqsa mosque has been there for the last fourteen centuries. Or that the Jewish claim, based on ancient history, is unprecedented in the history of land claims. For if the underlying principle is accepted, then, long before this claim is addressed, Americans will have to vacate all of their land and give it back to the children of local Indians from whom it was appropriated.

    Further it is important to remember that the entire Haram complex is internationally recognized as an Islamic Waqf property. In 1930 during the Al-Buraq Wall (now commonly mentioned as the Wailing Wall) riots, the British mandate forces appointed a committee to investigate and decide the ownership of the wall. The committee carried out several investigations resulting in the Islamic identity of the Wall, which was considered as a part of the Islamic property "Awqaf", including the pavement and Al Magharbeh area, as charitable possessions. It is this internationally recognized Islamic Waqf property and the third holiest site in Islam (that has been standing there for the past fourteen centuries), and not an obscure and controversial site that was violated by Sharon and Israeli troops. Sharon had desecrated Al-Aqsa, not visited Temple Mount!

  3. Previous Warning
  4. A crucial fact related to Sharon's provocation was that it had been previously announced and that Palestinian leaders had warned about its consequences a day in advance. The Israeli government decided to ignore these warnings and provide the military escort for this adventure anyway. While this warning was mentioned by AP on 27 September, it was never referred to again. Why? Because if a person has been warned about the provocative nature of his act and he still carries it out, then it is obviously an intentional provocation. But that is not the truth that the media machine wanted to let out.

  5. Fighting?
  6. Equally clever was the depiction of the protests as "fighting." This legitimized Israeli brutality, as in fighting people do get killed and wounded. Imagine what would have been the impact if the propaganda machine had referred to that over-publicized event as Tiananmen Square fighting. Why that was a massacre and this is fighting? Because the propaganda machine chooses its words very carefully!

    The depiction of protest as fighting has another beneficial result: it allows presenting the barbarity and brutality as a sign of strength and bravery. In fact, at least one callous radio commentators in the US made fun of the poor fighting skills of the Palestinians.

    This distortion was further reinforced through the repeated use of such terms as "cease-fire" and appeals to both parties to "end violence."

    One example of this myth of proportionality was a report in the LA Times (14 Oct 2000) that purported to be balanced, and objective. But it is a strange way of achieving balance: "As helicopters circle overhead and the two sides hurl rocks at each other on the ground, the veneer of civility is being stripped away." The two sides hurling rocks at each other? Since when did the tear gas shells, the lethal steel bullets, the live ammunitions, and the missiles metamorphosize into rocks?

  7. Looking the Other Way
  8. Propaganda consists in exaggerating some facts, distorting others, and hiding or minimizing still others. All of these techniques have been employed in this case. Israel's use of banned dum-dum bullets was not mentioned. The lethal steel bullets, with a thin rubber coating, were mentioned as rubber bullets. The new savage practice of targeting the eyes of protesters, thereby blinding dozens of young people, was never reported. All hell would have broken loose if a fraction of these acts had been performed by the other side.

    As Mobs of armed Jewish settlers rampaged through Palestinian homes, shouting "Death to Arabs" and looting, burning, killing, torturing, and lynching in the name of their God given rights, the media machine just looked the other way. There were more important things to report. Like the admonitions of Kofi Annan to Palestinians.

    When, occasionally, and much later, these acts were mentioned, it was done as complaints from Palestinians (who the audiences had already been prepared not to trust) and not as reporter's own observations. Of course, the use of a term like Jewish terrorism, would be clearly unthinkable. So would be features analyzing the hatred and animosity in the hearts of those who carried out such despicable acts in the name of God. So would be the reports depicting true nature of Zionist occupation and the virtual slavery into which the Palestinians are being forced in the name of peace.

  9. Israeli Statements
  10. While reporters normally try to be intelligent creatures who ask questions and provide relevant contradictory information where appropriate, they also know their limits. The most ludicrous Israeli statements are always reproduced with a flat face, even with supporting statement whenever possible. Case in point: the disingenuous statement by Sharon that he meant no provocation was carried without the slightest suggestion that there was something blatantly wrong with it.

  11. International Community?
  12. In the tons of reports and commentaries regarding this latest crisis, one item was conspicuously absent: references to the International Community. Search through 150 pages of news and commentary from major media outlets found only three occurrences of the phrase: an op-ed article on a BBC web site complaining about the failure of international community to provide an honest broker for the Middle East conflict, and two statements by Saudi Crown Prince and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat asking the elusive "international community" to protect the Palestinians.

    Contrast this with, say, East Timor, where the "international community" was in the news daily. It could not stand the bloodshed, it had to take action, and before you knew it did take action. Contrast this with the US-Iraq war of a decade ago in which every step was taken in the name of the "international community." Contrast this with the Bosnian holocaust at the hands of the Serbians, where a handicapped international community was in the news everyday. It shed its tears, it felt very bad, it displayed its helplessness, and it continued to enforce an arms embargo that would ensure the slaughter of Bosnians, while deeply thinking of ways to help them!

    Actually there is no contradiction here. The "international community" was simply performing its assigned role in each case. Of course there are many countries in the world and they follow their interests, but the entity referred as the "international community" above is solely a creation of the propaganda machine. The masters of the propaganda machine are also the masters of the "international community." They use it when needed and discard it when that suits them. The fools, on the other hand think and act as if it is real. They are always seeking its pleasure and petitioning it for help. How tragic that those who should be seeking Allah's pleasure and praying to Him for help, should be turning to this false god instead?

    In case of Israel, the "international community" did have a limited but essential role. It was used to legitimize its existence in 1948. That is when the UN affirmed the Balfour Declaration and through its partition plan granted 56% of the land of Palestine to Israel when the Jews owned only 5.7% of the land. Who gave them the right to award land like this, no body has ever answered.

    Since then the role of the UN has been simply to occasionally pass resolutions that may make some Palestinians feel good, without delivering anything. The latest Security Council resolution is an example. It was a vague, watered down, resolution, that aimed to deliver nothing. Yet, for whatever little it did say by deploring "excessive use of force," (massacres are excessive use of force?) Israelis were quick to reject it without fear that they would be accused of defying the will of international community or thumbing their nose at it. "It happened that we survived the harsh language of the U.N. many times in the past,'' said Avraham Burg, the speaker of the Israeli parliament. "If they want to continue with their rhetoric, it's beautiful, it's no problem, but at some point it will become irrelevant.''

    We are living under the New World Order where might is right and the propaganda machine creates the truths and facts to serve the cause of that right. It is incessantly entertaining, but it is also deadly. The least we can do is to realize the nature of that machine and open our eyes.