Tale of Two Checkpoints

On Monday, two days after a checkpoint suicide bomb killed four American soldiers, U.S. forces shot and killed 11 Iraqi family members when their vehicle failed to stop at an army checkpoint. This fateful incident parallels similar events in Israel, where the IDF — like the Americans — works the difficult balance between ensuring the safety of its soldiers and avoiding civilian casualties.

But when it comes to press coverage, the parallels end. For nearly three years, Israel has been lambasted in the media for its rules of engagement — accused of humiliating Palestinians and using excessive force that caused civilian deaths.

Here’s a specific example from the Associated Press, February 2002. Under the headline, “Second Pregnant Woman Shot By Israeli Checkpoint Troops,” AP gives extensive details of Palestinians victims’ ages, names, background, medical condition, and a graphic description of bloody wounds. Readers have to wade 250 words deep into the article before AP mentions the key points — that the Palestinian car ran a barricade, ignored warning calls, and then attempted a reverse detour around the checkpoint. And only at the very end of the 562-word account is appropriate context provided — that six IDF soldiers were killed at a similar checkpoint just days before.

Even the U.S. State Department, in its just-released annual Human Rights Report, accuses the IDF of using “excessive force while manning checkpoints… which resulted in many deaths.”

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In covering the Iraqi deaths, however, major media reports — across the board — encourage sympathy and understanding for the U.S. checkpoint soldiers’ difficult predicament.

For example, The New York Times headline reads: “Failing to Heed G.I.’s, 7 Iraqis Die at Checkpoint”

Note how The Times places blame on the victims (for “failing to heed warning”), and rather than mention that U.S. soldiers did the killing, terms the deaths in passive terms (“women and children die”).

Could we ever imagine The New York Times reporting a similar Israeli-Palestinian incident in this way?

More examples of the media showing understanding toward the difficult American position:
– TIME MAGAZINE: “Their own safety now demands that U.S. and British forces consider every Iraqi civilian a potential mortal threat.”

– BBC, quoting an American officer: “If vehicles approach us on the road we may open fire. We need this road open and we can’t delay for vehicles that might approach us and might contain suicide bombers.”

– REUTERS: “The United States… has tried hard to avoid civilian casualties. But soldiers’ nerves are stretched thin since a suicide attack killed four U.S. soldiers on Saturday.”

– LOS ANGELES TIMES: “It was yet another example of the bewildering predicament American troops find themselves in as Iraqi forces disguise themselves as civilians, women are used as human shields and any vehicle driving down the road could be a suicide bomb.”

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Many media went even further, prominently quoting the idea that Saddam Hussein himself is to blame for the checkpoints death. For example:

– LOS ANGELES TIMES: “The blood is on the hands of the regime for their decisions and their willingness to use their population this way,” said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, spokesman for Central Command. “If there’s a question of morality, it really should go back to the regime.”

– THE UK INDEPENDENT: “This is yet another incident in a trend of this regime using civilians, in this case innocent women and children, in order to cause harm to coalition forces,” said Capt Frank Thorp. “The blood of this incident is on the hands of this regime.”

Has the media ever lent credence to the idea that Yasser Arafat and his dictatorial terror tactics are to be blamed for difficulties endured by Palestinians at checkpoints?

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HonestReporting believes that the media portrayal of U.S. army actions is legitimate. Yes, soldiers are under intense pressure. Soldiers are threatened with suicide bombings, and terrorists who disguise themselves as civilians and use civilian shields. Soldiers are confronting a regime that encourages its citizens to engage in suicide-terror tactics.

Understandably, Western reporters consider the difficulties of wartime checkpoint ethics, and are therefore prepared to strike a forgiving pose in the event of accidental civilian deaths.

Understandably, the Western media consider the difficulties of wartime checkpoint ethics, and is therefore prepared to strike a forgiving pose in the event of accidental civilian deaths.

This yields important conclusions vis-a-vis the media’s coverage of Israel:

1) While the media has consistently portrayed Israeli tactics as inappropriate, Israeli policy has now apparently been vindicated as conforming to Western moral standards of combat.

2) The media, it seems, never really objected to the actual tactics… unless it was Israelis pulling the trigger. When an incident occurs in Israel, the media’s understanding tone simply disappears.

And this, despite the fact that IDF checkpoints are guarding against hostile entry to civilian — not military — populations.

The conclusion is stark: The media employs a double standard against Israel.

HonestReporting encourages members to monitor coverage of the Iraq war, insisting that the media apply uniform standards to their Israeli dispatches.