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CBS's Coverage of Israel's Occupation of Southern Lebanon

Letter from ADC Communications Director Hussein Ibish to CBS News:

3/28/00 Mr. Andrew Heyward President, CBS News 524 West 57th Street New York, NY 10019

Dear Mr. Heyward:

Bob Simon's report on 60 Minutes II (March 27, 2000), "The Killing Zone" about the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon constitutes one of the most shameless pieces of propaganda broadcast on American network television in recent years. The story is an astonishing catalogue of misrepresentations, Israeli official rhetoric and omissions so glaring as to constitute outright falsehoods. This is journalism at its very sloppiest and shoddiest, and there can truly be no excuse for it.

The focus of the piece is to emphasize the pain and suffering of occupying Israeli army and its mercenary militia, the so-called South Lebanon Army (SLA). As a result, the story paints the most misleading possible picture of the human costs, consequences and moral issues involved in the Israeli occupation of Lebanon. The perspective of the real victims of the 22 year ordeal of occupation - the people of Lebanon, especially in the south, is almost completely excluded. Indeed, there is no mention of the tens of thousands of Lebanese civilians killed by Israel during the occupation, no mention of the hundreds of thousands made homeless, no mention of the destroyed villages and cities, and no mention of the numerous ghastly massacres for which the Israelis have been responsible in Lebanon, including the massacres at Sabra and Shatila and at Qana. Nor is there any mention of Lebanese kidnaped and held hostage to this day in Israeli prisons, nor of the hundreds of Lebanese men, women and children held prisoner and tortured at the notorious El-Khiam detention and torture center run by the Israelis and their SLA employees. (Instead it is the Israeli occupation troops which are portrayed as "hunkered down in Lebanon, prisoners in their own bases.") Incredibly, only mention of the effect of the occupation on the people of south Lebanon is to the supposedly "90,000 [SLA-connected] people in the zone [who] have remained loyal to Israel, and have benefitted from its occupation."

The Israeli occupation is reduced in Bob Simon's report from the naked aggression it has clearly been to a futile quest for security in a hostile region. Naturally, 60 Minutes II fails to mention UN Security Council Resolution 425 which in 1978 ordered Israel to withdraw from Lebanon "forthwith," or any of the other countless UN Security Council resolutions which condemned the Israeli occupation as an illegal aggression and ordered Israel to withdraw. Presumably, they were not mentioned because they do not fit with the mantra which runs throughout the piece that Israel is merely seeking to protect its northern borders.

Moreover, a constant double-standard applies in the piece: Lebanese who film the military activities of the resistance are ominously referred to as "[Hezbollah] propaganda teams," while an Israeli filming the military activities of the Israeli occupation troops inside Lebanon is innocently just "an Israeli cameraman." The SLA is absurdly referred to as "Israel's loyal allies in the zone," when in fact the SLA is nothing more than a creation and creature of Israel. The SLA is to all intents and purposes a part of the Israeli army, paid, provisioned and armed by Israel, commanded by Israeli officers, and with leaders who in many cases have been made citizens of Israel. And while the SLA are "Israel's loyal allies in the zone," the Lebanese resistance, a hugely popular movement arising from the virtually unanimous opposition to Israel's occupation, are called "Hezbollah, the Islamic guerillas largely controlled by Syria." This is not only a ridiculous double-standard, it is getting things exactly the wrong way around.

Bob Simon's report is driven by an extended analogy comparing Israel's occupation of south Lebanon with the United States' experience in Vietnam. The effect, of course, is to promote identification of American viewers with the Israelis and their "own boys in the line of fire," to subjectify and humanize the army which has conducted this extended outrage in defiance of countless orders from the UN to withdraw and committed countless unspeakable atrocities, none of which merit mention, of course. These "boys" are identified, humanized and lauded by Bob Simon, like "Aaron Barnea's son Noam [who] was one of Israel's best and brightest." These Israeli "best and brightest" "boys," according to 60 Minutes II, face "Hezbollah fighters," nameless, faceless "men" who "are not thought of as casualties," by their grieving relatives since " they are martyrs." The clear implication is that Lebanese families whose members sacrifice themselves to resist foreign occupation have less feelings than Israeli families whose sons charge off to occupy neighboring countries. Israelis, we are told for good measure, are "becoming more and more like Americans," and implicitly unlike the Lebanese who are unmoved by the loss of their children in war. These implications are absurd, insulting and degrading. They are, in fact, racist.

Bob Simon has a golden opportunity to speak to the relative of a fallen Lebanese resistance fighter when he interviewed Sheikh Hassan Nassrallah, whose son Hady was killed by Israeli soldiers. His body was included in a prisoner exchange and the scene of Nassrallah receiving the body of his slain son with grief but enormous dignity moved the entire Lebanese nation. But, of course, there was no space for this reality on 60 Minutes II, where only Israeli parents grieve, Israeli occupation soldiers are the principal victims of their own brutal occupation of another country and Israeli aggression is merely a quest for peace in a hostile region.

The omissions and distortions in this report, coupled with its exhaustive emphasis on the suffering of the poor Israeli soldiers who conduct this vicious occupation and their families, make it an exercise in the most misleading propaganda. It bears no relation whatever to ethical, responsible or even minimally professional journalism. It is a disgrace and an outrage. No apology can undo the damage done, but a retraction and correction is clearly in order. Moreover, whatever quality control standards exist at CBS News have clearly failed in the extreme in this instance. Given that a story this badly flawed, this ludicrous and unfair, made it onto 60 Minutes II, a thorough review and new procedures are probably needed.

We look forward to hearing from you soon on this urgent matter.

Yours, Hussein Ibish Communications Director, ADC

cc: Phillip Scheffler, Executive Editor, 60 Minutes


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