Palestine the US and Satellite Television

Sixty-two-year old Jordanian Labibeh Tannous was trying frantically to decide which satellite dish to buy. Should she go for the simple kind that only has the Arab satellite stations that goes for about $100 or should she go for a rotating dish that can pick up European stations as well which can be bought for about $150?

Her interest reflects both how inexpensive satellite dishes have become and the great thirst people throughout the Arab world have to go beyond what their national station is providing in television news.

The interest of people like Mrs. Tanous about the latest round of Israeli aggression on the Palestinian population must be seen in a different way in the Arab region and throughout the world. One main difference in this war is satellite television. The Gulf War is said to have launched CNN, Osama Ben Laden introduced the world to the Qatari station Al Jazeera but the latest Israeli tank incursion has been the Arab people's first television war.

Friday March 29th would have been a regular day for most Arabs. This weekly holiday is normally a day to relax, watch light television and enjoy the company of one's family. The invasion by Ariel Sharon's tanks of the Palestinian city of Ramallah and the Israelis' break intoYasser Arafat's office compound turned this day into one of the most dramatic days in recent history.

Millions of Arabs were glued to their television sets as announcers gave blow by blow descriptions of tanks ravaging populated cities. The television coverage, which has gone unstopped for days, has raised levels of anger in Arab cities to unprecedented levels.

In describing the effects of satellite television, a leading woman activist, Abla Abu Aliz told the Internet-based radio station Ammannet, that satellite stations have done more to help Palestinians than entire political parties.
As a result of the new information and the heightened sense of anger, planned and impromptu demonstrations have filled the streets of Arab cities throughout the region. In many cases no one knows exactly who is behind some of the protests. In one event, thousands of cell phone text messages were communicated between young people about where and when demonstrations would take place. Candle light vigils outside the US and other European embassies were called for in this manner and hundreds appeared within hours of when the messages were first relayed.

The French News Agency, in a report from Dubai, concluded that "Arab satellite television channels have become a major player in the Arab-Israeli conflict, broadcasting 24 hours a day to an audience particularly sensitive to brutal images of dead Palestinians killed by Israeli fire.One satellite television station quickly used a statement by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to create a new logo calling it "Israel responds to the Arab League and featuring Arafat's statement: "I prefer to die as a martyr than to be taken prisoner or be killed."

The various satellite stations have become engrossed in the situation, at times competing with each other and at times cooperating with each other. The sum of it all has been the huge Al-Jazeera satellite channel of Qatar, followed by Abu Dhabi TV in the United Arab Emirates, the Saudi-owned MBC (which filmed the visit by foreigners to Yasser Arafat), and other stations broadcasting from Europe such as Orbit, today provide continuous news coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Television was however, badly abused by the invading Israeli army. When Israeli soldiers occupied a high rise building in Ramallah, they discovered that it also housed a local television station. After ordering all the workers of Watan TV to leave, the soldiers decided to toy with the local Palestinian population. They broadcast pornographic programs filling the homes of Palestinian families in the middle of the day with hard core sex programs. The Israeli army later stopped this immoral activity.

In dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict, there seems to be a major problem in how Washington views the conflict. For the most part it seems that the Bush Administration seems grossly unaware of the growing Arab anger with the deciding what the time reference is. Until recently, the vast majority of Arabs were not directly involved in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Media images, for a long time, had been the monopoly of the Israelis.

This has to be the reason why President Bush and US Secretary of State Colin Powell give the impression that for America, history begins and ends with the last suicide bombing against Israelis.

The Middle East conflict needs to be seen in the larger context of a people wishing to end the 21 century's only remaining foreign military occupation of a civilian population. It seems that America only sees through a special lens that ignores the sufferings of Palestinians. More and more Arabs are asking the United States to deal with the root cause of the situation rather than the results. They insist that one has to deal with the disease, namely the Israeli occupation, rather than the symptom, the suicide bombings.

In 1967 Israel occupied Arab territories in a flagrant contravention of international norms. At the time, the United Nations Security Council had called that occupation "inadmissible," and called on Israel to withdraw from these occupied territories.

Not only do we need to take into consideration this 35-year old Israeli occupation but the US and others must also note the illegal Jewish settlements that have been planted in occupied Palestinian territories in contradiction to the fourth Geneva convention.

Contextualizing the present situation can also be seen in a much closer time frame. Let us take the past week only. First, the Israelis refused to allow the Palestinian leader, Yasser

Arafat, from participating in the Arab summit that was scheduled to take place in the Lebanese capital, Beirut. Humiliating conditions were imposed on the Palestinian leader if he were to leave and even more humiliating conditions were placed on him before if he would be allowed to return. The Arab summit, which Arafat was prevented from attending, was not a war council against the state of Israel, but rather a conference that was scheduled to give unanimous Arab backing to a Saudi peace initiative.

Arafat was not the only Palestinian besieged and humiliated. Three million Palestinians have been similarly besieged and humiliated for nearly a year-and-a half. International efforts to permit Arafat to attend this conference failed. Even a public plea from the United States didn't persuade the Israelis to change their mind.

Arab leaders and the Arab public were angry, but the Arab summit went on as planned. Arafat spoke by video from under the Israeli siege, publicly supporting the Saudi peace initiative. He even used the occasion to call Israel to positively respond to the plea for a comprehensive peace for the sake of "our children and your children."

The opposite happened after the Arab leaders unanimously approved a peace plan. True, a terrible explosion occurred during this period that caused the death of 20 Israelis and the injury of many who were attending a Passover meal. The Palestinian Authority immediately condemned this act of terrorism, committed by a hard-line Islamic group.

The current cycle of violence is destructive. Each side can point to this or that date or this or that massacre as the reason for their actions. There has to be courage to break this cycle. The United States has an obligation not to take sides or to "understand Israel's needs." Its' responsibilities as the sponsor of the peace process requires it to look at the larger picture.

Instead of dealing with the history of this conflict based on the latest suicide bombing, the US needs to focus on the very words of President Bush calling for an end of the occupation and the creation of the state of Palestine alongside of Israel. The US must also press its ally Israel to honor the UN Security Council resolution calling for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian cities.

People like 62-year old Mrs. Tanous are becoming the norm rather than the exception. Satellite stations that reveal all the Israeli actions are entering every home and not just the homes of the wealthy. Ignoring the opinions and reactions of every day Arabs will cause problems not only to the United States but more directly to many of its patrons in the Arab world.

Many insist that the Arab peace plan that was approved in Beirut provides a perfect vehicle to reach a comprehensive solution to this decade-long conflict. A free and independent Palestine alongside a safe and secure Israel is not an impossible dream. Ignoring this plan and siding with the Israelis only worsens the situation, and will cause a major political earthquake in the Arab region. It is unlikely that the United States wouldbe able to survive such a shakeup of many of its staunch supporters among the Arab rulers.

For other articles by Daoud Kuttab go to the Arabic Media Internet Network (