J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

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Lebanon’s Agony

Posted by chanders on July 24, 2006

For folks who care about such things, here’s a copy of the front page editorial I wrote in the latest issue of the Indypendent

Within hours of the launch of the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon,
the photos of dead Lebanese raced across the Internet. Shot by AP
photographers and released by Hanady Salman of the As- Safir newspaper
in Beirut, they are heart wrenching and stomach churning. Children’s
blackened bodies lie in the wreckage of a burned-out jeep (see
centerfold). A man with a blossom of blood running down his face
staggers out of rubble. An eight-year-old girl is roughly lifted up by
her ankles, her lifeless head hanging limply and her small mouth
partially open.

The Western press, of course, largely ignored these photographs – a
few of the less-graphic photos released by Salman were used in
Newsweek, the New York Times and the New York Post. The mainstream
media preferred instead to focus on the damaged buildings, action shots
of the Israeli military or shrouded bodies of the dead.

Publishing a few photographs of injured or dead Lebanese does little
to break through the narrative that conditions the public to accept the
war as reasonable: Myths that Israel is responding to terrorism; the
toll is similar on both sides; and Israel and Hezbollah are military
equals, exchanging blows daily.

The press tends to show as little death as it can — whether in
Lebanon, Gaza or Iraq. The photos on the front page of the July 17
edition of the New York Times are typical: above the fold were scenes
of Israeli corpses covered in white sheeting. Partly below the fold was
a photo captioned, “A night of bombing produced rubble in a
neighborhood that is a Hezbollah stronghold.” A Lebanese man stares at
the wreckage. The Lebanese, it seems, simply lose their homes, while
Israelis lose their lives.

Despite the disproportionate numbers – at least 20 times as many
Lebanese civilians have died as Israeli ones – the reporting and
visuals strain for “balance.” The dominant photo inside the Times on
July 17 was of an Israeli family grieving over the death of a family
member in Haifa. The next day’s paper featured a collage of sobbing
families from “all sides” of the conflict.

Images are most powerful in the heat of battle. If the media were
publishing more of the readily available photos of blown-up and
incinerated Lebanese children, then the outcry could help force an end
to the bombings. After all, it was the endless repetition of images of
a naked child, screaming and running after being burned by napalm and
the summary execution of a Vietnamese prisoner during the Tet offensive
that helped solidify opposition to the war.

It is easy for Americans to marvel at this “endless cycle of
violence” engulfing the Middle East. We should remember, however, that
Osama bin Laden himself watched the 1982 bombing of Lebanon and first
conceived his plans to demolish American towers. “While I was looking
at these destroyed towers in Lebanon,” he said in 2004, “it sparked in
my mind that the tyrant should be punished with the same and that we
should destroy towers in America, so that it tastes what we taste and
would so be deterred from killing our children and women.”

If destruction visits the shores of the United States again, we must
never be able to ask, with our uniquely American innocence – “why do
they hate us?” They hate us, in part, because we close our eyes.

You can read more stories from the Indypendent <a href=here.


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