By Jonathan Tobin
Jewish World Review
Yaacov Koby Mandell and Mohammed Al-Dura were both kids. One was an Israeli, the other a Palestinian. But the deaths of 13-year-old Mandell and 12-year-old Al-Dura in the first year of whats been called the second Palestinian intifada have come to symbolize the distorted coverage of that conflict by the international media.
Al-Dura, who died during an exchange of fire between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers, was lionized as a martyr whose slaying epitomized Israeli brutality. Film footage of the incident from the French state-owned TV channel France 2 portrayed the event as a straightforward Israeli slaughter of an innocent.
Only later did we learn that the footage had been selectively edited, and that it misled viewers about what actually happened. Objective analyses of the story by German television and The Atlantic magazine leave little doubt that Al-Dura was likely killed by bullets fired by Palestinians.
DEATH OF A COLONIST
By contrast, Koby Mandells death is little remembered. Just one of many Israeli children whove perished in this senseless war, he and a classmate were murdered in cold blood by Palestinian terrorists who stoned him to death and then mutilated his body. When this crime was reported by the same French media that had popularized the Al-Dura myth, they characterized Mandell as a colonist that was killed by the Palestinian resistance.
The significance of this distinction was highlighted in a French-made documentary Decryptage (defined as deciphering), which is making the rounds of American Jewish film festivals this spring.
Made in 2002 at the height of the now-concluded intifada, the film is an interesting counterpart to Relentless, a less skillful, though useful, English-language polemic about who was responsible for the collapse of the Oslo peace process.
Though a bit dated now that Yasser Arafat is dead and the terrorist war he launched is over, French filmmakers Jacques Tarneo and Phillippe Bensoussan are still able to cut to the heart of the question of why the French medias coverage was so one-sided.
Their answer should interest us not so much for what it says about the French as for what it tells us about a concept of the conflict that is well-represented on American college campuses and among activists whove guided some church groups to support punitive measures against Israel.
Decrytage offers Americans a look at the obsession that the chattering classes of Paris and London have with their continents legacy of imperialism.
For European intellectuals, especially those on the left, their nations original sin is colonialism. But in their haste to disown every vestige of that era, many Europeans have falsely identified Zionism — the national liberation movement of the Jewish people — as being indistinguishable from the impulse of the British to own India or the French to claim Algeria.
Viewed through this prism, the Arabs were, and are, innocents oppressed by alien Jewish settlers. That the Jews are the natives of the land known as Israel — or Palestine, as the Arabs call it — doesnt seem to have changed many minds.
For the French, in particular, the savage war for Algerian independence, in which atrocities on both sides scarred that countrys politics for generations, has been the most frequently cited analogy.
What is especially dangerous about this misleading notion is that when you adopt that mindset, colonists like young Koby Mandell arent really victims. They are, in that view, complicit in a crime — the existence of the State of Israel– and are legitimate targets, a rationale French journalists interviewed in the film acknowledged.
The importance of this point cannot be overestimated. If you see Israel as a colony, then it doesnt matter that the Palestinians are the ones who choose war when Israel offered peace, or that Israels military goes out of its way to avoid civilian casualties while the Palestinians target innocents. All that matters is that Israel has no right to exist and has no right to self-defense — no matter what the provocation.
Only when you grasp that the point of French bias isnt merely anti-Semitism but delegitimization of Israel can you properly understand why Europe is up in arms over Israels security barrier, and opposes Israels self-defense measures even as it makes unilateral concessions, such as its planned withdrawal from Gaza.
A RATIONALE FOR DIVESTMENT
Though such views are far from mainstream in this country, the French experience does give us a glimpse into the thinking of anti-Israel activists on American campuses and among church groups, such as the Presbyterian Church USA and other mainline liberal Protestant denominations.
Adopting the same sort of language popular in Europe, all these groups see are Arab victims and Israeli oppressors. And in the name of this libel, they promote economic warfare in the form of divestment and boycotts of Israeli products and institutions.
Through this distorted lens, groups such as the International Solidarity Movement, which opposes Israels existence and aids terrorists in their resistance to Israeli countermeasures, become peace activists while Jewish men, women and children riding buses in Tel Aviv are legitimate, if unfortunate, targets for extermination.
Once you comprehend that the point of these protesters isnt really issues like the demolition of Palestinian buildings or illegal settlements but Zionisms illegitimacy, then its easy to see why they are impervious to reason. As long as this is the way some view Israel, debates with them about the rights and wrongs of things the country does will not persuade them. Neither will the arguments put forward by some friends of Israel, which center on Israeli concessions.
Indeed, once you grasp that these foes are not interested in a smaller Israel but in no Israel at all, you begin to understand why the last decade in which the Jewish state has made so many sacrifices for peace has also been one in which its international image has plummeted. And we shouldnt be surprised if this trend continues when, as is likely, the next round of conflict begins.
Thats a depressing realization, but one we must keep in mind even as we hold on to hope that the latest peace feelers will succeed. Its a point that only a fool — or those blinded by the anti-imperialist myth that guides Israels foes — would ignore.