Is there any subject that the mainstream media treats worse than the Palestinian Authority (PA)? Case in point: placing the Oct. 15 murder of three American security personnel in Gaza. Here is USA Today's comment, representative of media assessments of the topic: "the killings reflected a potentially dangerous new escalation in a conflict that for the past half-century has largely treated U.S. officials as bystanders. Terrorist Palestinian groups have generally avoided attacks on U.S. officials."
To find out the real situation, one has to go to such sources at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), Palestinian Media Watch, and The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
CAMERA's Eric Rozenman points to a long history of the PLO targeting American officials (Ambassador to Sudan Cleo A. Noel Jr. and his colleague George C. Moore in March 1973; U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Frances E. Meloy and his colleague Robert O. Waring in January 1977). He notes that approximately 103 American citizens have been killed by Palestinian terrorists in Israel and the disputed territories since 1968; and at least 39 Americans have been murdered in the past three years. CAMERA concludes that "reports stating that the three security guards murdered on October 15 are the first Americans killed by Palestinian terrorists, either following September 29, 2000, or before, are simply wrong."
Palestinian Media Watch's Itamar Marcus argues that "In its English statements, the PA presents itself as an American ally, while its Arabic messages incite its people to hate and kill Americans," then documents this statement with a list of hair-raising quotes, calling on Saddam Hussein to kill American soldiers, threats against Americans, and promises that the United States will be destroyed. PMW concludes that the American security personnel were murdered "by Palestinians fulfilling their role in their war against Americans, as they have been taught by their leaders, through years of hate-mongering and calls for violence against Americans."
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Matthew Levitt provides extensive background in his "Terrorist Attacks against Western Officials in Gaza, The West Bank, and Israel." He quotes Palestinian threats (an al-Aqsa Brigades leader: "Now, American targets are the same as Israeli targets"), points to U.S. government expectations of such attacks (George Tenet in February 2002: if Palestinian groups "feel that U.S. actions are threatening their existence, they may begin targeting Americans directly"), and recalls Palestinian attacks on other Western personnel (Canadian and Danish, in particular). He concludes that the Oct. 15 incident was "neither unprecedented nor unexpected."
Unfortunately, this means that if you read just the newspaper – never mind only watching television – you basically don't know the score on an issue as complex and historical fraught as Palestinian violence against Americans. To be well informed requires reading the work of think tanks and advocacy organizations. (October 18, 2003)
Oct. 19, 2003 update: An honorable exception to the above pattern of media a-historicism and lack of context is provided by Jeff Jacoby's excellent "Palestinian terrorism, American blood" in today's Boston Globe. He points out that "Americans have been dying at the hands of Palestinian terrorists for decades, yet the US government and media rarely if ever portray Yasser Arafat and his lieutenants as avowed enemies of the United States," then documents this.