Whitewashing Atrocities
By SHAMAI LEIBOWITZ Counterpunch 8/2/06

Following the Qana massacre, all members and supporters of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) received the following email :

“Washington, DC | July 31, 2006 | Join concerned Americans at a candlelight vigil this evening (Monday, July 31, 2006) between 8-10pm EST in front of the White House on Pennsylvania Ave. All participants will stand quietly to mourn the recent deaths in the Middle East. We hope you can be part of this event, please wear black and bring a candle.”

Reading this email, I was surprised and shocked: “the recent deaths in the Middle East”?

Initially I thought I was mistaken — this phrase could not have been part of a message coming from the ADC. Perhaps my mind was deceiving me, inserting into the message a phrase I read elsewhere. It must be that this phrase was stuck in my mind because I read it again and again in the barrage of emails I habitually receive from pro-Israel groups. But having reread the ADC email, I realized there was no mistake: the ADC did, in fact, refer to the victims of the Qana massacre, as well as to the hundreds of Lebanese civilians killed by the Israeli army, as “the recent deaths in the Middle East.” The fact that the ADC would use such whitewashing language is shocking.

Are the more than 650 murdered Lebanese civilians just “recent deaths in the Middle East”?

When Israel bombed a civilian building in Qana in which Lebanese families sought refuge from the ongoing onslaught–and murdered 56 innocent people — 34 of them children — this was a war crime, an atrocity, a slaughter, a barbarity. The 56 innocent civilians who were bombed to death by Israel were not ìrecent deaths in the Middle Eastî ñ a corrupting phrase suggesting the Lebanese civilians died a natural death from some unknown cause. To refrain from using the proper English words to describe such horrendous acts is a disgrace. Calling the victims of the Israeli bombardment “recent deaths in the Middle East” is sheer Orwellianism, and it’s a testament to moral blindness. Indeed, using this phrase is almost as bad as the lies and spins perpetuated by the Israeli mainstream media, who continue to portray mighty nuclear-powered Israel as a weak and righteous victim, at the same time that Israel is indiscriminately bombing and terrorizing million s of Lebanese civilians.

To prevent any misunderstanding, I mourn every innocent life–Israeli or Lebanese–killed in this unjustified onslaught on Lebanon. Indeed, I attended the aforementioned candlelight vigil and thought of all the Israelis and Lebanese — Jews, Muslims and Christians–who were killed because of the insanity of Israeli leaders and Hizbullah militiamen.

But the facts remain clear: While the majority of Israel’s two-dozen casualties are soldiers, the overwhelming majority of more than 650 Lebanese dead–to date–are innocent civilians. This staggering fact must be repeated: In less than three weeks, more than 600 Lebanese civilians murdered by the Israeli army. Behind the Israeli self-righteous rhetoric lies the unmistakeable truth: the Israeli government has decided to engage in a massive slaughter of Lebanese civilians– men, women and children — for the purpose of teaching the Lebanese people “a lesson”.

Thus, the ADC’s use of the lame and misleading “recent deaths in the Middle East” is an insult to basic principles of fairness and justice. It should have stated something more like “civilian victims of Israeli terrorism”. If the primary Arab-American NGO in the US — the organization that should be leading the struggle to protect innocent Lebanese from the Israeli military onslaught– cannot call a spade a spade, if it chooses to hide the truth, if it pathetically repackages the laundered language of the pro-Israel lobby — this is distressing. It speaks volumes of the lack of backbone, or shall we say lack of integrity, of fair-minded civil society in the US.

If the deliberate slaughter of hundreds of civilians — including more than a hundrend innocent children — elicits such a timid, pathetic response from American-Arab human rights organizations–one cannot complain against the American media for being the Israeli government’s apologists. If the ADC uses Orwellian language, covering up the Israeli government’s heinous crimes — can we really expect anything else from mainstream media?

If American organizations had used accurate language in the past, describing precisely in correct terms Israel’s brutal and illegal actions in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and Lebanon perhaps the horrifying crimes unfolding today would have been prevented.

Shamai Leibowitz is an Israeli-American attorney who currently resides in Washington DC.