Many misconceptions surround the different Middle Eastern peoples involved in the complex struggle over Palestine. The war between the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel is as much a contest of manipulation of the international media as a war fought on battlefields with men and machines. In such a popularity contest, the winner is portrayed as the rightful inhabitant of the disputed area and the loser as the marauding invader.
The PLO receives very little positive coverage from the Western media, while Israel is usually portrayed in a favorable light. Most Americans consider the Jews a far more "civilized" ethnic group than the Arabs, although such opinions are based more on lack of knowledge and understanding of Middle Eastern culture than on any actual facts. The media have portrayed the PLO mainly as mindless religious fanatics who eagerly await the opportunity to spill Western blood. Very seldom does a newspaper story attempt to identify or explain the PLO's motives. Because most facts concerning ownership of Palestine are complicated and usually contested by one or both sides, newspaper stories often avoid giving too many historical details. As a result, PLO attacks often appear unwarranted to the average reader. Although the Israelis now occupy what was Palestine, they are far from being its undisputed natural owners. The King-Crane Commission, appointed by President Woodrow Wilson to study the Zionist claim to Palestine, reported that the claim "can hardly be seriously considered." Lord Sydenham, during a debate in the British House of Lords, said, "They (the Zionists) have no more valid claim to Palestine than the descendants of the ancient Romans have to this country."
Unfortunately, most American opinion of the PLO seems to follow what the U.S. government's actions indicate. As a result, the current U.S. administration plays a large part in determining what the public thinks - and is held accountable for its opinions only once every four years. An even larger problem, however, is the cultural barrier already existing between East and West which colors our perceptions of PLO representatives. Often representatives of Israel on television look just like any American executives, dressed in suit and tie. On the other hand, PLO chairman Yassir Arafat is usually wearing a checkered kaffiyeh, or headdress, and may be unshaven. His foreign appearance causes us to take him less seriously and distrust him. Consequently, most people think of the PLO as a fringe group of terrorists.
The PLO views itself as a government waging war upon an invading enemy which now occupies its homeland. They believe that to give up fighting would result in the loss of their national identity. Possibly the worst characteristic of the war between the PLO and Israel is that it has become commonplace. Once a week we read of Israel bombing PLO forces somewhere in Beirut or Lebanon, but we usually do not attach much significance to these attacks becuase of their frequency and apparent lack of importance. The Middle East is riddled with petty bids for power, and the superpowers intend to keep the Arab countries economically and politically divided. The war between the PLO and Israel is one of the manifestations of these power plays. As a result, it is impossible to understand the situation without extensive knowledge of all the factors at work behind the scenes.
To resolve the conflict in the Middle East it will be necessary for us to form opinions based on facts rather than the media's inaccurate protrayal of the PLO, so that we can influence our government to settle the Israel-PLO conflict, rather than let it continue unabated for another 40 years.
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