For over a week, major American news outlets have broadcast on a virtual loop the video of the killing of Neda Agha-Soltan, an unarmed 26-year-old Iranian woman, by Iranian security services. The poignant footage of Neda dying before a throng of grief-stricken bystanders crystallized the vulnerability experienced by the millions of demonstrators who have filled cities across Iran to confront authoritarian forces determined to suppress their voice through brutal means. When the mainstream American press chose to broadcast the graphic video — as moving as the footage is, it is difficult to watch — it made a commendable decision that nonetheless highlighted its hypocritical attitude towards Palestinians who resist Israeli occupation on a daily basis, and who often meet the same fate as Neda.
Every week, in the Palestinian cities of Bi’lin and Ni’ilin, local residents demonstrate beside international and Israeli solidarity activists for their basic human rights. The Israeli separation wall has been constructed through the heart of their communities, cutting them off permanently from farmland they have worked for generations. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the path of the wall was illegal, but construction continued unabated. When the demonstrators mobilize non-violently to stop the wall’s construction — to demand that the rule of law be honored — the Israeli army has responded with massive force, killing, maiming, and brutalizing them on a consistent basis.
Video of the Israeli army’s shootings of Palestinians demonstrators are easily accessible through YouTube. The army’s unprovoked killing of Bassem Abu Rahem, a respected activist from Bi’lin affectionately nicknamed “The Elephant,” can be viewed here at 3:15. Similarly, video of Yusuf Aqel Srur’s body being rushed into a Red Crescent ambulance after an Israeli sniper killed him with a .22 round to the chest (Srur was at the time attending the funeral of Ahmed Musa, an 11-year-old boy shot in the head by an Israeli soldier through a jeep’s rifle slit) can be watched here at 2:50.
Demonstrator Bassem Abu Rameh is shot to death by Israeli soldiers at 3:15
Demonstrator Yusuf Akil Srur is shot to death by Israeli soldiers at 2:50 while attending a funeral for an 11-year-old neighbor also killed by the Israeli army
These videos are no less outrageous than the video of Neda’s death. However, to my knowledge, no outlet from the mainstream American media has ever broadcast them. And as far as I know, no cable news program, including liberal-leaning shows like Olbermann and Maddow, have never even mentioned the non-violent protests in Bi’lin and Ni’ilin, or Israel’s brutal response. The videos remain unseen by America eyes. The struggles of Bi’lin and Ni’lin do not even play in Peoria.
Direct action protest tactics only work if the brutal responses they provoke are recorded by influential media sources and projected to sympathetic audiences across the world. MLK’s tactics in Selma would not have succeeded had he not been accompanied by camera crews ready to broadcast images of racist savagery to outraged Northern white liberals. The outpouring of American public sympathy for Iranian demonstrators might never have occurred had cable news outlets not made the courageous decision to broadcast Neda’s killing vividly and repeatedly.
Yet when Palestinians employ direct action tactics to protest Israeli oppression, and when Israeli forces respond with wanton brutality, they are ignored by the US media, even when footage is already available through online sources. It seems they can only generate media when they resort to violence, a dynamic the Israeli government obviously welcomes. Perhaps it’s no wonder only 6% of Americans declared in a recent poll that the US should stand behind the Palestinians in Middle East peace talks. The legitimacy of their struggle is denied no matter how they conduct it.