Perception vs. Reality

For most people who have never been to the Middle East (and even some who have, but look at the region through a prism of their own making) television shapes their perception.

The Palestinian-Arab side has become adept at manipulating information to present its view that Israel is an occupying and murderous nation, intent on denying Palestinians their legitimate rights.

Much of the Arab world sees one-sided reporting and commentary designed to convince people that the real terrorists are Israelis, that homicide bombers are “martyrs” and that Muslims could not possibly have flown planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Couple this with sermons that paint the United States and Israel (and all Jews) as enemies of Allah and you have a combustible mix that is producing the homicide bombers.

The American media, which once treated Israel as the underdog, has done an about-face and now mostly supports the Arab-Palestinian perspective.

This is not always done overtly. Selecting which person to interview and which sound bite to carry is effective as blatant propaganda. In the West Bank town of Jenin, much of the U.S. press portrays the area as having been devastated by Israeli troops. But the Israelis say most of the devastation was caused by Palestinian militants who hide among the people and hope Israel will come after them, causing destruction they can then show to the world in hopes of influencing opinion against Israel.

The Arab-Palestinian side has offices in the U.S., which regularly contact the American media with complaints if their perspective is not favorably presented. Increasingly, well-dressed Islamic spokesmen and women debate defenders of Israel on cable TV.

It’s all about shaping opinion. It is also increasingly about propaganda. It is up to individuals to go beyond the images and to study the history of the region for themselves.