Businessmen from Philadelphia practice with wooden cutouts of rifles at Caliber 3, a counterterrorism training center in an Israeli settlement area south of Jerusalem. (photo:NPR)
This is unseemly. Yesterday National Public Radio’s Emily Harris aired a story about “a group of American businessmen” going to a military camp in occupied Palestinian territory to play with guns. “U.S. Tourists Become Israeli Commandos For A Day.”
You would think that the focus of the story would be those American businessmen. I am an American; and I am very curious about who these interlopers are, going off to some illegal settlement in a foreign occupied country, to a camp “that offers short shooting courses for tourists”– what is driving them?
No, the focus of the story was the military trainer Steve Gar, an ideological Zionist who moved from South Africa to Israel.
At the end of the story, Harris sought to balance her account by describing a Palestinian man who had lost his son to settler violence. She said:
Which side is right in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict? Which is wrong? The battle to have one narrative seen as more legitimate or more just than the other often permeates ordinary conversations here, and certainly many interviews.
But her story is devoted to the Jewish immigrant/occupier’s “narrative.” This is unseemly. We are talking about a military occupation with vastly unequal power quotients, and one side supported by gunhappy “American businessmen” whose anonymity is preserved by American public radio.
The remarkable thing is that the NPR commenters are all over Harris, denouncing the piece as propaganda, and saying that her balancing act is a coverup for a vicious occupation.
First an excerpt of Emily Harris’s story in which she promotes Gar, then excerpts of the comments:
[Gar’s] storytelling has a purpose: humanize the image of Israeli soldiers.
“I wanted to tell you this because I want you to see what we’re all about,” he says. “I’m a family man. I see myself as an educator.”
About his military work: “We do this because we love, we don’t do this because we love killing.”
Gar asks the American visitors to “help fight terrorism” by speaking up against negative views of Israeli soldiers they might see or hear back home. To seal the deal, there’s one more story: Gar describes how five members of a Jewish family — a husband, wife and three of their children — were killed two years ago in their home in the West Bank settlement of Itamar. He says he was part of the team that took two Palestinian suspects back to the family’s house to re-enact the murders, using toy knives and dolls.
“They had smiles on their faces as they went from room to room slaughtering a family,” Gar said. “Once they left, they heard a baby crying. They responded. One terrorist held the baby while the other took a knife and slit her throat.”
Now here are some of the comments. And it is worth noting that a couple of these are among the most “liked” comments:
Great, humanize the Israeli soldiers building apartheid fences and illegal settlements while the story of the Palestinian farmer gets shoved to an afterthought designed specifically to create false equivalency… Unfortunately this is not a story about war-mongering propaganda, this story is war-mongering propaganda.
Update: Harris’s piece as aired was different from the transcript I read today. It does include two voices of Americans. Pam Pearlmutter of the Jewish Federations in Philadelphia, who says that the tour shows Americans the real fear of Israelis. And David Berkman, one of the businessmen, who speaks stirringly of the “heart” and “soul” of the Israelis, and says he wants to come back with his kids. The piece also highlights Gar’s target practice using the keffiyeh, the Palestinian scarf and symbol.
The piece was introduced by the NPR host in this manner: “Now we’ll pay an unusual visit to Israel.” But it’s not Israel. It’s occupied Palestinian territory.