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Democracy Now: Please tell your audience about Israeli strip searches...

“Democracy Now” is quite possibly the best national radio and television news show on US airwaves. It consistently produces honest, hard-hitting reports on a multitude of subjects. For many years Amy Goodman and her team have built a well-deserved reputation for reporting on subjects often untouched by the “corporate media.”

While many progressive journalists shied away from reporting the facts on Israel-Palestine, Democracy Now began to do this some years ago and has steadily improved its coverage on this issue.

Unfortunately, however, there are still some things that the show’s producers appear reluctant to tell their listeners/viewers.

One of them is the cruel and widespread Israeli policy of strip-searching everyone and anyone they wish:  small children, pregnant women, bound prisoners… the reports are numerous, pervasive, and grotesque. In some cases Israeli soldiers have forced people to strip naked and have then shot them dead.

Yet, Democracy Now has virtually never reported on this practice.

A year ago If Americans Knew produced a short video and investigative report on Israeli strip-searching of women and children.

We offered all this information to Democracy Now before we published it, hoping they would break the story themselves. We phoned them, left numerous voicemail messages for everyone we could think of, emailed Amy Goodman, numerous producers, etc., and over-nighted a DVD to them of the video. They refused to cover it.

We tried again a few months later. Again, with no results.

Recently, we investigated the subject of Israeli strip searches once again. Israeli intelligence officials had just assaulted Mohammed Omer, a young, internationally renowned Palestinian journalist, forcibly strip-searching him at gunpoint, taunting him, and beating him up.

Despite reports by the UK Guardian, Reuters, BBC, Israeli media, and others, the Associated Press refused to report on this. Finally, because of external pressure, AP finally issued a report of sorts, but alleged that Mohammed Omer’s claim of being strip-searched was “unusual,” implying that he was not to be believed, despite the fact that he had just received various prestigious journalism awards and addressed European parliamentarians.

Because of AP’s astounding denial of this widespread and offensive practice, we then compiled a list of reports on Israeli strip searches and emailed this 25-page document to AP, asking – unsuccessfully – for a correction. We also researched AP’s coverage of Israel-Palestine over the past ten years and were astounded to discover that the search did not turn up a single mention of Israeli strip-searching of civilians. We found only one result in hundreds of thousands of AP news reports from the region – a few stories about a Palestinian hunger strike protesting, among many things, the prisoners’ daily strip searches by Israeli guards.

We again contacted Democracy Now, which had just broadcast a very good interview with Mohammed Omer, telling them that AP was suggesting that Israel did not commit strip searches and asking them to correct this misinformation – particularly since AP was trying to use their allegation to discredit Omer. We felt that they would be as outraged by AP’s mistruth as we were and would want to set the record straight. Again, we had no success.

I finally decided to write an article myself about Omer’s abuse, Israeli strip searches, and the media cover-up (subsequently published by CounterPunch) and again phoned Democracy Now. When I finally made it through their voicemail maze to a human being, I explained that I was writing an article about media coverage of Israeli strip searches – mostly focusing on AP – but said that I had not been able to find instances of Democracy Now covering this topic, either. I said that I thought I was probably wrong about this omission, and asked if the person could help on this. He said he thought I was wrong, too, and asked if I wanted a whole archive. I said I just need him to point me to a few stories.

He then transferred me to another person. I repeated my request, and this new person, a producer for Democracy Now, was immediately and surprisingly hostile, repeatedly demanding: “What’s your angle?” When I explained that I was just trying to find out where Democracy Now had reported on Israeli strip searches, he barked, “It’s your story, you find out” and the conversation went downhill from there. He grew increasingly angry and defensive and suddenly declared that he was speaking off the record.

This was not the response I expected from a progressive journalist. Even if Democracy Now had virtually never reported on Israeli strip searches (which appears to be the case – all we’ve been able to find in the entire Democracy Now archive are two mentions by interviewees and a report on the same prisoners’ strike that AP covered), I would have hoped a Democracy Now producer would be disturbed to realize their neglect of a pervasive policy of abuse and be open to reporting on it – or would at least be interested in more information on the topic. Instead, he appeared to be furious that I was even asking about their coverage of this ongoing Israeli practice.

By the time the conversation was over, I was reeling. I finally looked him up on the Internet to try to figure out what was going on. I discovered a blog entry from a few years ago where he had written about how “dear” Israel was to him as a Jew, and had described the close friends he had made while living and working on a kibbutz. He wrote that eventually, however, he had visited the West Bank, and was horrified to learn what Israel was doing there, describing some of the abuses he had witnessed. As many people have written, such an experience of discovery about Israel can be extremely wrenching, and the journey away from life-long conditioning difficult, only completed in stages, and that many people long retain a strong emotional attachment to Israel.

It occurs to me that it's quite possible that this producer knew of our many phone calls and emails about Israeli strip searches (perhaps he himself had even received one of our messages) and that he was aware of, or perhaps even part of, Democracy Now’s decision not to cover this deeply disturbing Israeli practice. If so, all of this may help explain his defensive reaction to my phone call.

Some years ago, Amy Goodman gave a talk at the UC Berkeley Faculty Club in which she mentioned her connection to Israel. She explained that she was Jewish and had attended Hebrew School while she was growing up. She said that it was many years before she could finally bring herself to face the facts about Israel.

Fortunately, in recent years she has clearly made a conscientious effort to report on Israel-Palestine thoroughly and accurately. She is clearly a dedicated journalist and a person who cares deeply about justice, so it’s not surprising that the excellence of her work has come to include reporting on Palestine.

I hope this trend will continue and that Democracy Now will eventually inform its enormous audience about Israeli strip-searching of little girls, pregnant women, and shackled, tortured men. I hope they will tell their audience about the “cavity search” of a young American PhD student and about the Palestinian man that Israeli soldiers forced to strip naked and then act like a dog. I hope they will report on Israeli soldiers stripping people and then killing them.

I believe that Israel’s pervasive and repugnant policy of humiliating human beings through stripping them naked is newsworthy. I believe that Americans, who give Israel over $7 million per day and are therefore responsible for Israeli actions, need to know about this one.

I hope that people at Democracy Now, and others, will view our video and examine our list of strip search incidents, and that Democracy Now will use its considerable power to inform Americans about a depraved pattern of intentional humiliation that we, as American taxpayers, have the power to stop.


Anyone who agrees may wish to contact Democracy Now to tell them this.

Posted on Friday, August 1, 2008 at 01:19PM by Registered Commenter[Alison Weir | Comments Off

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