Violence on Both Sides

A segment on the tensions in Israel.  The CNN announcer warns us, “This video may be hard to watch.”

Grainy, amateur footage.   A slim Arab woman in a white robe and headscarf stands at the back of the frame, between the stanchions in the Afula bus station.  Men dressed in gray and black with their backs to the camera charge at her, pointing rifles.  The woman raises her arms.  She holds something in her right hand.  The voice-over says she is ignoring repeated calls to put down the knife.  There is shouting, then a shot.

Images overwhelm words, much as they do in pharmaceutical ads that show happy people smile and play while the announcer says that the drug making them happy may kill them.  No one hears the words.  They remember smiling people.

The Afula image is stark: a slim woman in white menaced by half a dozen dark, aggressive men.  The men have no faces.  They yell.  They have guns.

The woman is said to have a knife.  It looks small.  Why does she have a knife?  Perhaps she is trying to protect herself from all those guns?

The video done, CNN’s Jerusalem correspondent appears.  He looks grave.  “It is very tense here in Israel,” he says.  “An Israeli Jew from Dimona knifed four Arabs.  And who can forget the terrible attack a few weeks ago when a Palestinian family was burned in their home by Israelis?  Israelis have been attacked as well,” he adds.  He furrows his brow.  “There is increasing violence here,” he says.  “On both sides.”

He doesn’t say that Arab violence against Jews is a response to Jewish violence against Arabs.  He doesn’t have to.  It follows from the way he tells what happened.  Viewers with the fortitude to watch the whole Afula video will draw their own conclusions.

For Israelis, this way of showing events is an old story.  They have read and seen many worse examples.  Knifings, shootings, mortars, rockets aimed at their cities.  It is all in way facts are framed.  Everything must be in response to something that came first.  What was it?  Other violence.

Even neutral viewers of the Afula video look away in frustration.  What is it with those people over there?  Why do they keep doing that?  There is so much violence.  On both sides.  CNN  just showed us.

CNN is not the worst.  Several websites claim that Israeli police shot a Palestinian woman “execution-style” in occupied Afula.  The woman was not killed.  Afula is not occupied, unless you consider all of Israel occupied.  And the slim woman with the knife was trying to stab a security guard.  Unless you are a reporter from Nazareth, who says the knife was probably a pair of sunglasses.  You can read it all on the internet.

Words fly away, but the harsh images remain: faceless bullies in black, thrusting assault rifles at a slim woman in white.  You can barely see her knife.  She is refusing to put it down.  How can she put it down?  What else does she have to defend herself with?  That is what’s happening, isn’t it?  You can see.

Israelis view the Afula episode, and all the others like it, differently.  They think that people stab them because they hate them and want them to die, or go away.  Israelis wish that others could see things as they do, that CNN would tell those others what Israelis think and show them why they think that way.

But CNN cannot.  Or will not.  Or cannot.  It hardly matters.  To CNN facts must fit a pattern, and the pattern is not the one Israelis see.  It cannot be.  Ordinary people are decent.  They don’t just pick up knives.  They don’t simply hate.  They must have a reason.  Absent a reason, there must be a cycle.  But who started the cycle?

Viewers hostile to Israel, like many in Europe, are sure they know who started the cycle.  American viewers are more likely to be neutral, or just not interested.  They know there is violence on both sides.  They don’t care who started it.  They just want it to stop.  Why can’t people just get along?

Besides, Israelis have all those guns.  CNN showed them.  In black and white.