Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix I Segment 13/15
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As for the early casualty figures reported for southern Lebanon, provided by the Lebanese police and other sources, they appear to be plausible in retrospect. And there seems little reason to doubt the final estimates of close to 20,000 killed, overwhelmingly civilian, provided by the police, relief agencies, and the Lebanese Maronite government that Israel backed and helped install. Furthermore, as the Israeli army and others observed, these figures are probably an underestimate, possibly a serious underestimate, since they are based on actual counts in hospitals, clinics, and civil defense centers and do not include people buried in mass graves or in the wreckage of bombing.48

In their effort to prove anti-Israel bias, several commentators refer to inadequate coverage of the atrocities of the civil war in Lebanon, specifically, the destruction of the Christian town of Damour by the PLO in 1976, mentioned several times. Charles Krauthammer denounces the media for their failure "to recount the history of the killings by the PLO and their allies of the Christian villagers they drove from their homes." Kondracke recalls "no coverage until after the fact of what happened in Damour where the Palestinians virtually destroyed a Christian town." Wattenberg adds that "those things like Damour, that show the PLO's atrocities, did not get into the media loop as big items." Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post replies that Damour "was a page one story." No one brings up the Muslim Karantina slum, overrun by Christian forces shortly before the Damour attack, then burned and razed with bulldozers, with large numbers massacred -- not a page one story, or a story at all, and forgotten -- or the atrocities of Israel's Phalangist allies against Palestinians and Lebanese Muslims, which brought the PLO into the civil conflict.49 No one brings up the cluster-bomb attack on a U.N. school in Damour by Israeli jet fighters, leaving forty-one children dead or wounded (see chapter 3). Again, partisans of the U.S. and its Israeli ally set the agenda; others respond, within the framework set by the critics.

PLO atrocities at Damour are a staple of Israeli propaganda, regularly presented in isolation from the background. The scale of the atrocities during the civil war is unknown, and all estimates must be taken with caution. Yale University political scientist Naomi Weinberger, in a scholarly study, gives the figure of 1,000 Muslim and Palestinian deaths in the Karantina massacre, citing standard sources, and no figure for Damour. Israeli Lt. Col. Dov Yermiya, reporting from Damour with the occupying Israeli forces and (Christian) Phalangist military in June 1982, estimates 250 massacred at Damour, and notes that the town was "partly destroyed by the Syrians and the terrorists [the PLO], and partly by our air force and artillery" in 1976 and 1982 respectively. Others invent figures to suit their fancy. Thus Walter Laqueur states that 600 civilians were killed at Damour, citing no source and avoiding the background; and journalist Eric Silver, citing "reliable Israeli sources," speaks of "the murder of thousands of Lebanese Christians" at Damour. An honest reference appears in a study of Israel's war in Lebanon by Israeli military specialist Ze'ev Schiff and Arabist Ehud Ya'ari, who describe the town of Damour as "the site of one of the many tit-for-tat massacres of that savage conflict" of 1975-76.50

Kondracke also complains about the limited coverage of "the 50,000 people who were killed in Lebanon before the Israelis invaded." Wattenberg asserts that "five to ten times as many people were killed in Lebanon" from 1975 to 1982 "as were killed during the 1982 Israeli action"; that would be a toll of 100,000-200,000 people killed from 1975 to 1982, given the conservative estimate of 20,000 killed during the "Israeli action." Israel's leading specialist on the topic, Itamar Rabinovich, writes that the death toll for the Lebanese civil war prior to 1982 was "well over 10,000, according to some estimates"; that is, about half the 20,000 or more deaths attributable to the Israeli invasion.51

While allegations of Arab atrocities are bandied about without analysis or comment, there is no mention of the death toll from the Israeli scorched-earth operations in southern Lebanon from the early 1970s. These were scarcely reported in the media, which were uninterested, and the usual skepticism about figures must therefore be even more pronounced. The meager evidence suggests that the toll was many thousands killed and hundreds of thousands driven from their homes.52 Also unmentioned is the failure of the media to cite Lebanese opinion -- in particular, published opinion -- during the Israeli "incursion," another illustration of what can only be called racist bias. It was, after all, their country that was being "liberated," though anyone who bothered to check would have discovered that they were not too delighted about their good fortune, over a remarkably broad range. The New York Times hailed the "liberation of Lebanon," but managed to avoid the bitter denunciations of the liberation of his country by U.N. Ambassador Ghassan Tueni, the conservative Christian owner of Lebanon's leading newspaper who was speaking a few blocks away from their editorial offices; his name does not appear in the Times index for those months. And opinion within Lebanon, easily accessible in Western languages or by interview, was notably absent from media reporting, as it is in subsequent literature on the war.53 One can hardly imagine that if Israel were invaded by Syria and Tel Aviv were bombarded and under siege, the media would fail to cite Israel's U.N. Ambassador and would avoid Israeli sources.

Bolling remarks that the media made "no effort to compare the suffering caused by Israeli fighters with the even greater destruction and loss of life caused by the Arabs fighting among themselves in the Lebanese civil war of 1975-6" and the Syrian massacre in Hamma. Even if this were true, the relevance to the reporting of Israel's invasion is less than obvious, for reasons discussed in the preceding section. Media coverage of Syria and Arabs generally, slim at best, is extremely negative, apart from a few U.S. favorites. Syria and the contending elements within Lebanon are never depicted as "symbols of human decency" with exalted moral standards, who "care for human life," nor were they conducting their slaughters with U.S. material, diplomatic, and ideological support. Journalists covering the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan are not enjoined to temper their accounts of the suffering caused by the Soviet army by referring to the millions killed in the U.S. wars in Indochina or to Muslim atrocities -- except, perhaps, in Pravda. The logic of Bolling's statement seems to be that any criticism of what Israel does to Arabs must be balanced by some condemnation of what Arabs do to each other, though I doubt that he would suggest that every criticism of Arabs must be balanced by a condemnation of Israel; no such principle is suggested here, or anywhere -- nor, of course, should it be. This kind of argument sometimes reaches an astonishing level, as when Wolf Blitzer of the Jerusalem Post endorses Wattenberg's "double standard" charge on the grounds that the Washington Post sent no one to cover an earthquake in North Yemen. Blitzer's point about the "negative racism at work by which we tend to discount Third World people who are being killed" is well-taken, however, and -- though he does not appear to see this -- applies very well to the media reaction to Israeli violence for many decades. (For more on these standard fallacies, see appendix I, section 1).

A related charge, also repeated by several commentators, is that the media failed to depict "the terror of six years of living under the PLO" (Edward Alexander, who believes that major media were "depicting Israel as the devil's experiment station, with its capital neither in Jerusalem nor in Tel Aviv, but in Sodom and Gomorrah," a fair indication of the hysteria induced among apologists for Israeli violence by the temporary breakdown of the usual norms on which they rely). The truth is very different. PLO oppression and atrocities in Lebanon were emphasized.54 But I found no reference in the U.S. media to the conclusions of Israeli journalists who toured Lebanon to inquire into these well-publicized allegations, finding much evidence of Israeli and Christian terror, but far less that could be charged to the PLO. Particularly revealing was the report in Israel's leading journal Ha'aretz by Attallah Mansour, a Christian Maronite and respected Israeli journalist who was well placed to give an accurate critical assessment. His account of atrocities by Israel's Christian allies as contrasted with much less repressive behavior by the "left-Muslim-Palestinian camp" drew entirely the wrong conclusions, and was ignored. The same was true of accounts by leading Israeli Jewish journalists, published in English and readily available, but with the wrong conclusions.55

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48 See Fateful Triangle, 221f.

49 Ibid., 184f., and sources cited.

50 Naomi Joy Weinberger, Syrian Intervention in Lebanon (Oxford, 1986, 179); Dov Yermiya, My War Diary (South End, 1983, 62) (translated from the Hebrew original); Laqueur, The Age of Terrorism (Little, Brown and Co., 1987, 218); Silver, Manchester Guardian Weekly, Oct. 3, 1982; Schiff and Ya'ari, Israel's Lebanon War (Simon and Schuster, 1984, 87). On Laqueur's treatise, see appendix V, section 3.

51 Rabinovich, The War in Lebanon (Cornell, 1984, 57). He is referring to the 1975-76 period, when the overwhelming majority of casualties occurred.

52 Fateful Triangle, 188f.

53 Ibid, 243f., for a sample, partly from the Lebanese press. I know of no other.

54 For reference to a few examples from the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, and Washington Post, see the reprinted comments by Post Ombudsman Robert McCloskey, who, however, feels that the Post report was belated. Also David Shipler, NYT, July 25, 1982.

55 Mansour, Ha'aretz, July 27, 1982. See also Benny Morris and David Bernstein, Jerusalem Post, July 23, 1982. Both reviewed in Fateful Triangle, 186f., among other sources. See Shipler, op. cit., during the same days, for a report of a very different kind in the U.S. press, focusing on PLO repression.