Conquering the Holy Land
One of the most dangerous territories in our world, the Middle East is a fertile ground for reporters of all origins. Media’s eye about a never-ending conflict was once more attentive than it is today.
“A half dozen meters away, Israel’s cannons bomb with big flames out of grenade weapons. There is such noise that we don’t even hear the low aviation over our heads. We proceed to the border and throughout the path the spectacle is always the same: war wrecks along with smoke, fire and a deafening sound to which we already got used to”.
José Manuel Teixeira, from Expressonewspaper, arrived at Israel and found a country under war.
It was not surprising. The country was wounded: it had been attacked by Egypt and by Syria in broad Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
The 1973 hostilities were just one more episode of an already old confrontation, which goes back to the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine (Zionism).
The end of World War II would give the Jews that legitimacy for the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine.
The Jews started to pressure the USA, which gave in and supported, along with the UNO, the division of Palestine in three parts: one Jewish, one Arab and another (the city of Jerusalem), internationalized.
The conflict would be triggered immediately in that year of 1947. While the Jews accepted the division, the Arabs didn’t.
The USA and the Soviet Union supported the Jews, who were able to successfully retaliate an expulsion campaign of the region’s Palestinian populations.
In 1948, David Ben-Gourion proclaimed the Declaration of Independence of Israel.
In 1959, Yasser Arafat created the Fath, which later controlled the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) (Organização de Libertação da Palestina).
The Pandora’s Box was open: Israel would multiply its forces against the Arab States.
THE CONFLICT SPREADS
During the Six-Day war in 1967, Israel conquered several territories and became a major power in the Middle East.
As a result, Egypt lost the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, Jordan lost the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Syria lost the Golan Heights.
In 1972, the president of Egypt, Anwar el-Sadat, expels 20,000 soviet counselors and opens the communication channels with the USA.
Washington, being a big ally of Israel, would have, for the Egyptian president, a fundamental role for the peace negotiations between Egypt and Israel.
However, negotiations never happen. Egypt forms an alliance with Syria, and attacks to Israel are planned.
Israeli forces are caught by surprise, but were able to react.
Right in the middle of the Cold War, the USSR supported the Arab nations, whilst the United Stated remained on Israel’s side.
But those involved didn’t stop here. Iraqi forces quickly joined the conflict against Israel, and Jordan supported Syria.
Israel counterstriked with strength, at the cost of several losses in the Israeli forces. Richard Nixon, president of United States at the time, commanded the air shipment of guns to help Israel, but that decision was postponed for a week, due to the good relationship between the USA and Egypt.
In the United States, ABC reports the Israeli attacks in the Sinai Peninsula.
But the several journalists sent faced several conditionings.
The journalist José Manuel Teixeira, from Expresso, had arrived in Tel Aviv on October 8th and immediately felt the strong control of Israeli forces over the press.
“It is impossible to tell with truth and objectivity from the territory of Israel. […] The military censorship is so repressive that gives no chances for any news or photo that doesn’t directly support Tel Aviv’s Government policy to leave Israel.”
Back in Lisbon, the Portuguese reporter wrote his last chronical about the Middle East in that month of October of 1973.
As the confrontations escalated, the United States were reporting the events with some indifference. In such a way that BBC, throughout the news it published about the Yom Kippur war, reported the death of about 6,000 Israeli. Later, the Ministry of Defense of Israel revealed that the country’s losses in the conflict were around 2,222.
On the Israeli side, newspapers were filled with news about the USA military support to Israel, and highlighted the advances of the Israeli army.
The Israeli were victorious on the dispute for the Golan Heights in Syria and, on October 10th, expelled the Syrians from the region. On the same day, Manuel Batoréo disembarks in Tel Aviv and Pedro Oliveira in Beirut, in Lebanon. Both were sent from the newspaper A Capital.
At the time, Israeli’s military situation seemed quite favorable.
“Impartial observers believe that the Israeli exaggerations are bigger than the Arabs’. […] According to international observers, the Jewish information is quite exaggerated”, Pedro Oliveira wrote for A Capital, on October 13th, 1973.
On the weekend of October 20th and 21st, the US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, goes to Moscow to begin peace negotiations between the UNO and the Soviet Union.
A cease-fire was signed between both parties.
However, Manuel Batoréo reported activity in the boarder with Egypt:
“At great altitude we were able to see two airplanes approaching. After, there was a trace of smoke, a huge blaze fell in the ground, developing a black mushroom cloud which took some time to fade”, reported.
On October 24th, the United Nations intervened again, and approve a second cease-fire resolution.
But it is only on October 29th that Israeli and Egyptian forces start peace negotiations, ending the Yom Kippur conflict.
In 1974, Daniel Bloch raised in the Davarnewspaper the following question:
“Did journalism fill its duty in exposing problems, distortions and blunders in the security system or did it share the common conception that the military and the security establishment are never wrong?”
In fact, the journalist accused the Israeli media of not questioning the country’s preparation for war, as well as the Government’s positive assessments regarding its neighbours’ intentions.
As a result, Israel was completely caught off guard when Syria and Egypt invaded.
In the 1950s, Israeli media accepted the military censorship to which they were exposed, besides being convinced by the government that the Israeli army was invincible after the Six-Day War in 1967.
In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur conflict, Israeli journalists assumed the responsibility in failing to alert the public about the imminent war.
The conflict would be a decisive factor in the change of position of Israeli media, whom passed from mere reporters to critical entities searching for the truth.
THE OIL CRISIS
After the end of the conflict, President Sadat’s reputation in the Middle East increased, due to the successful first moves made by Egypt.
Thus, in 1974, the first of two agreements that pointed the return of several portions of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt was signed and, in 1979, the first peace agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbors was also signed.
However, for Syria, the story was very different. The unexpected cease-fire between Israel and Egypt exposed Syria to its military defeat, and Israel ends up by gaining control over even more territory in the Golan Heights.
Actually, in the aftermath of the defeat in the Yom Kippur War, five Arab oil producer countries gathered in Kuwait on October 18th, 1973, and decide to cut their production and start an oil embargo to the USA, Canada and Holland, considered supporters of Zionism.
The first oil crisis began.
In 1975, civil war erupted in Lebanon. The arrival of Palestinians in the country, to organize their actions against Israel, came to aggravate the fragile balance of the Lebanese policy, and Lebanese Christians start a conflict with Lebanese Muslims, whom form an alliance with the Palestinian.
Israel decides to intervene and, on June 6th, 1982, the country invades Lebanon to stop the Palestinians and end the PLO bases in the region. Thousands of Palestinians retreat their military positions and take shelter in Beirut.
José Goulão, special envoy of O Diário, and Álvaro Martins, fromExpresso, watched the siege to West Beirut, done by Israelis and by the Phalange, a Lebanese Christian militia.
“The air bombings extended for three hours and gave place to heavy artillery (…) During the afternoon and the night the shooting didn’t stop, only varying in intensity”, wrote José Goulão for O Diário, one August 13th, 1982.
Álvaro Martins Lopes, from Expresso, also reported the event.
“The spectacle is unheard-of […] half of the city fairy-lit while that the other half immersed in total darkness – only broken by the ghostly light of Israeli flare guns, which took a long time to extinguish, or by the orangey explosion of howitzers and rockets”.
Televisions showed the violent bombings of Beirut.
The president of the USA, Ronald Reagan, contacts Menahem Begin, the Prime-Minister of Israel, and demands the end of the attacks.
A cease-fire is agreement between both parties.
On august 21th, the PLO begins to retreat from Beirut.
“The acclamations of the Lebanese civil population, the kisses and hugs of the brothers in arms of the Lebanese left-wing (…) A celebration and coquetry atmosphere that allowed to forget the ruins and the grief”, Álvaro Martins Lopes described.
But the horrors didn’t stop here.
MASSACRES GO WORLDWIDE
On September 16th, 1982, the Christian army Phalanges starts a genocide of thousands of civil Palestinians in Lebanon, namely in the Sabra neighborhood and in the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut.
In 1983, the Israeli government created the Kahan Commission with the goal to investigate the massacres and find the responsible for them. The commission would come to name the Minister of Defense, Ariel Sharon, as an indirect responsible for the violence committed in Lebanon.
Western media started to blame Ariel Sharon for the massacres as if it was an undeniable fact.
In 1983, the Israeli minister took Time magazine to court, regarding a cover that indicated that Sharon had encouraged the massacres. It was concluded that the magazine acted negligently, misinterpreting the Israeli document in which the accusation was based.
On the 30th anniversary of the massacres, Robert Fisk, the Middle East correspondent of the British newspaper The Independent, returned to the places where the massacres happened.
The journalist found new evidence that indicate that more than 1,000 Palestinians were took and murdered by Israelis after the massacres.
The war in Lebanon would be in the memory of the Middle East. In 208, Ari Folman directs the first Israeli animation documentary, Waltz with Bashir, about the war memories of the conflict of 1982.
The movie was highly acclaimed by critics, being nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign Movie. Besides that, it earned several internationally renowned awards.
The Middle East was always characterized by its high political, religious and ethnic instability.
The Yom Kippur War and the West Beirut siege would come to be only some of the several events that succeed throughout the time, aggravating a big war that continues until today.