Israel Targets, FlattensBeirut TV Station HQ

After years of asymmetric attacks on the First Amendment- assassinating  journalists, surveilling dissent, and censoring the free flow of  information- the Democracy Mukhabarat reigns. Using national security  to prohibit scrutiny or prosecution,  the Bush administration instead  labels opposition media as the criminal, declaring the Fourth Estate to  be the Fourth Front. US policy equates ‘unfriendly’ media with enemy  propaganda, declaring both “a weapon of war” and a legitimate military  target.

In 2004, the US government also declared it a Terrorist Organization. Under US Executive Order 12334, Lebanon’s Al Manar TV was the first  television station ever to be legally designated a ‘terrorist entity’ equivalent to Al Qaeda. The Bush administration, at Israel’s urging,  silenced Al Manar satellite transmissions into the US. In 2006 the order was expanded to include Al Noor Radio, Al Ahed & Al Intiqad  Newspapers and their parent company the Lebanese Media Group. On March  23, the US Treasury Department froze Al Manar’s financial assets. On July 16, after five attempts, the Israeli Defense Forces blew Al Manar  up. Eight employees were injured, but broadcasting continues  elsewhere. IDF also bombed Al Noor Radio.

The Lebanese Media Group is affiliated with the Arab League, the Arab  Federation of Journalists and the Union of Arab Audiovisual Media. It  complies with Lebanese law and some of its staff are also  democratically elected Ministers in Parliament.The organization has won dozens of awards from media associations around the world, and Al Manar footage has been shown by such western outlets as Reuters, AP, C-SPAN,BBC, EuroNews, FOX and CNN.

In Lebanon, each major religious sect has its own broadcasting outlet. But only LMG has been targeted. LMG’s Al Manar TV is the broadcasting  outlet for Hezbollah. On April 21, 2006 I asked Lebanese Prime  Minister Fouad Siniora about the distinction. “Well of course we would  prefer that all media be treated equally democratic, but we do not make  American laws so I can not comment.”

Responding to the State Department ‘s decision on December 17, 2004,  local and international press demonstrated in Beirut to support Al  Manar. The National Audiovisual Media Council denounced the US decision. Competing MBC TV producer/director Suzen Moussa challenged  the decision’s fairness, and Ghassan Hajjar, an Editorial Director for New TV told me: “International law protects the right of free speech  equally to all world press- American, Israeli and Arab. No one has the  right to accuse Al Manar of terrorism for speaking their minds.”

In America’s losing battle for Arab hearts and minds, Al Manar  propaganda is as effective as American propaganda is impotent.  Lebanon’s Daily Star quoted an estimate that Al Manar has up to 200  million viewers via satellite, correspondents worldwide, and a nightly  news program that often outranks Al Jazeera. It broadcasts in Arabic,  English, French and Hebrew. An American AUB professor in Beirut, Dr.  Judith  Harik, told me that Al Manar often features video not seen  elsewhere. “Many people here tune into Al Manar whether they are Christian, Druse, Sunnis or what, because Al Manar has very good  reporting. Their analysis is very precise and very well thought out.  They’re very shrewd, forthright and are taken very seriously.”

Especially in Israel. It was Al Manar’s Hebrew broadcasts and images of  IDF casualties during the occupation that galvanized Israeli public  opinion against the war. The Israeli military had portrayed its losses  as minimal, until Al Manar exposed the toll. Speaking to Adnkronos  International, Hezbollah media director Hassan Ezz Eddine summarized the Israeli response: “We have to watch Al Manar to learn the truth about our boys in Lebanon.”

As a “fair & balanced” Arab TV network, Al Manar TV dubs itself ‘the  Medium of resistance’ to Israeli and American occupations. Al Manar’s  blunt, relentless criticism of US-Israeli policy has been called hate  speech and incitement to violence. The US State Department deems  Hezbollah and its TV station, “the A team of terror” and more dangerous  than the “B team Al Qaeda.” Ironically, the US-sponsored Tolo TV in  Afghanistan regularly features Taliban/Al Qaeda interviews along with Taliban chanting. Attempts to halt such broadcasts were condemned by  the international community as censorship.

In the Haret Hreik district of south Beirut, Al Manar headquarters are  in a packed, threadbare neighborhood of family-owned shops and  apartment buildings. The streets are marked by blue and yellow Zakat  donation boxes decorated with upturned hands over an AK-47 raised in  the fist of the Shia martyr Hussein, relative of the Prophet Muhammad. It is the Party of God’s trademark, and it adorns everything from  Hezbollah’s yellow flags and pennants (Hezbollah owns exclusive rights  to Lebanon’s soccer league), to its coffee mugs for sale at area  souvenir shops.

In 2005, I visited Al Manar’s high tech offices. The state-of-the- art  facilities included an extensive video archives/library, modern  recording studios, sound booths and edit bays. In the Green Room I  spoke to Sheikh Khoury Noor Ad Dine of the Hezbollah Political Council.  He denied that the TV station committed atrocities or waged war on  civilians. In fact, a large percentage of Al Manar employees are  female. “Hezbollah differs from many Islamic groups in our treatment of  women. We believe women have the ability like men to participate in all  parts of life.”

From its founding in the 1980s, Hezbollah women have headed education, medical and social service organizations. Most recently Hezbollah nominated several women to run in the Lebanese elections. It named Wafa  Hoteit as a Chief of Al Noor Radio (also recently bombed), and promoted  37-year old Rima Fakhry to  its highest ruling body, the Hezbollah  Political Council. Part of Fakhry’s duties include interpreting Islamic  feminism in Sharia law for the Committee for Political Analysis.

I asked Sheikh Khoury if Sharia law liberated women to be recruited in  the military or as ‘suicide bombers’? “Not now. We don’t need it at the  present. If we need it in future we would.” But the staff at Al Manar  has no combat function. These sisters, daughters and mothers in the  mujahedin shoot film, not bullets.

It was an issue I also raised with Al Manar film editor, Farah Noor  Eddine, 30. Ms. Eddine has a B.A. in Journalism. She emphasized that she has relatives in the US and likes Americans. “Being Hezbollah doesn’t mean that you are a military woman or a military creature.  Hezbollah, the ‘Party of God’ is mentioned in the Qoran. It’s a way of thinking or acting.We are ordinary persons.” She is a vegetarian,  plays ping pong, but has never fired a gun or seen a ‘suicide vest.’

With Israel attacking Beirut, “Radical Islamic Terrorists” are again  the demons of US media sensationalism. It was a charge that exasperated  Health News anchor Mariam Karnib, so I asked her to define terrorism. “It is using excessive force or violence in a way that is not  justified. They are calling us terrorist, but I know I am not like  this. I was brought up here. We know our rights. We are not fools.”  Ms. Karnib, 29 has a B.A. in Political Science and a B.A. in Social  Science and is now earning a Masters in the Sociology of Communication. I asked her if Hezbollah women are familiar with the notorious Saudi website, Al Khansaa that trains female jihadis. She was not aware of  it, she said, and when off-duty preferred happier fare. “I love  Danielle Steele, Barbara Cartland and Barbara Taylor.”

Al Manar TV has  been boycotted for inciting violence and suicide  attacks against Israel in its MTV-inspired videos, and “Death to  America” is a signature slogan. Ms. Karnib dismissed the idea that Al Manar clips were powerful enough to produce this result, and felt sloganeering could not be taken seriously. The most effective training  for ‘militants’ was American cartoons, she explained, which “are filled  with alot more violence, terrorism and hatred- and they are aimed  specifically at children.” She also criticized video games which  promote brutal killings of ‘Arab Terrorists’ and ‘Muslim fanatics’. In the game of dueling propaganda, Hezbollah has met its match. Israel’s media features extermination, liquidation and elimination as  frequent themes, especially regarding the Palestinians: “those people  will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an  insane fundamentalist Islam. So if we want to remain alive we will have  to kill and  kill and kill. All day. Every day.” Jerusalem Post, 5/21/04 More recently, the Chairman of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party called for  Arab Knesset members to be executed. Israel Koenig (from Israel’s Al  Hamishmar newspaper): “We must use terror, assassination, intimidation,  land confiscation and the cutting of all social services to rid the  Galilee of its Arab population.” The Neocon state within a state has orchestrated its series of “Clean  Break” Arab wars via the US-Israeli military/media complex, where the  Fourth Estate doubles as a Fifth Column. The crusade against Al Manar  TV originated with Israel’s Natan Sharansky and former Foreign Minister  Silvan Shalom. The Israeli Defense Forces’ Arab Media desk decided its propaganda leafletting of targeted areas prior to bombing them was inadequate. “Israel must concentrate on Arab media.”

On the US side, Israeli Avi Jorisch wrote a book on Al Manar TV  called  “Beacon of Hatred” for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. It was endorsed by Dennis Ross and used to pressure Congress and the Pentagon (which had not previously known of the station) to censor Al Manar.The coalition also pressured commerical advertisers to boycott Al Manar.

Anti-Defamation League, CAMERA.org, American Jewish Congress and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies allied with AIPAC against Al  Manar worldwide. The neocon Middle East Media Research Institute  (MEMRI) took credit for persuading world leaders in Germany, Sweden,  Australia and France to outlaw Al Manar. The Netherlands and the EU  followed suit, and Spain was coerced into removing Al Manar from Latin  American programming. MEMRI has recently announced a new front- France has just agreed to silence Iran’s Al Sahar TV.

This success has emboldened an expanding wish-list of opposition media  “soon to be banned.” Like a press version of Daniel Pipe’s “Campus  Watch”, Israel’s Foreign Ministry, the IDF and its US surrogates are  blacklisting a number of Arab media- Palestinian TV, Egyptian  televsion, Saudi Arabia’s Al Majd and ART TV, and Iran’s Al Alam. Bomb  attacks on Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya are well known, and now Al Manar’s facilities have been completely flattened.

TRISH SCHUH writes about Middle East politics. She can be reached at: hsvariety@yahoo.com.

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