"Throughout the world, on any given day, a man, woman or child is likely to be displaced, tortured, killed or "disappeared", at the hands of governments or armed political groups. More often than not, the United States shares the blame."

Amnesty International, 1996

By Sara Beth Altshul

Yesterday and today, most of the media broadcast footage depicting Palestinians celebrating. The brief footage was typically broadcast cyclically and used as an interview aid, with anchors asking U.S. government officials and others how they felt about the images.

Almost universally on U.S. networks, anchors presented the footage as if it were representative of all Palestinians, additionally failing to note any context to the images.

The overwhelming number of Palestinians, like people of all nationalities, were sickened by the events in New York and Washington. Palestinians with relatives in New York and Washington spent much of yesterday worriedly trying to phone to check they were safe, exactly as many Americans did. Palestinian citizens of the United States will also turn out to be among the victims of the tragedy. Whatever a group of 20-40 Palestinian children happened to be doing yesterday morning in Nablus or Ein Al-Hilweh Refugee Camp in Lebanon is no more representative of all Palestinians than the Klu Klux Klan rally -- which happened recently just down the road from where I live, in St. Paul, Minnesota -- is representative of all Americans.

A number of points must be made, first about the actual footage: There are three million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank including Jerusalem, one million Palestinians living inside the borders of Israel, and another four million Palestinian refugees living elsewhere in the world, including the United States. The footage in question depicted between 20 and 40 individuals.

The Palestinians in the footage were mostly young children. Most of their behaviour in the footage appeared to be no different from how Palestinian children always behave when foreign journalists turn up in their towns, crowding and smiling at the camera and giving the victory sign that has been a symbol of Palestinian steadfastness under Israeli military occupation since the first Intifada in 1987. There is not a single reporter with any experience of carrying a camera into the Palestinian West Bank under any circumstance who couldn't get similar footage on any day they visited the occupied territories.

Where genuine rejoicing at the attacks was indeed apparent in the footage, anchors interpreting the footage made no effort to offer any context or background to the images, nor any attempt to separate those Palestinians portrayed from Palestinians as a whole. A comparable situation would be television anchors angrily reacting to scenes of the 1991 riots in Los Angeles, lamenting that "blacks do not respect law and order", while failing to note the preceding attack on Rodney King or endemic racial profiling of the black community in the U.S. by police forces.


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