Within hours of the launch of the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon, the photos of dead Lebanese raced across the Internet. Shot by AP photographers and released by Hanady Salman of the As- Safir newspaper in Beirut, they are heart wrenching and stomach churning. Children’s blackened bodies lie in the wreckage of a burned-out jeep (see centerfold). A man with a blossom of blood running down his face staggers out of rubble. An eight-year-old girl is roughly lifted up by her ankles, her lifeless head hanging limply and her small mouth partially open.
The Western press, of course, largely ignored these photographs – a few of the less-graphic photos released by Salman were used in Newsweek, the New York Times and the New York Post. The mainstream media preferred instead to focus on the damaged buildings, action shots of the Israeli military or shrouded bodies of the dead.
Publishing a few photographs of injured or dead Lebanese does little to break through the narrative that conditions the public to accept the war as reasonable: Myths that Israel is responding to terrorism; the toll is similar on both sides; and Israel and Hezbollah are military equals, exchanging blows daily.
The press tends to show as little death as it can — whether in Lebanon, Gaza or Iraq. The photos on the front page of the July 17 edition of the New York Times are typical: above the fold were scenes of Israeli corpses covered in white sheeting. Partly below the fold was a photo captioned, “A night of bombing produced rubble in a neighborhood that is a Hezbollah stronghold.” A Lebanese man stares at the wreckage. The Lebanese, it seems, simply lose their homes, while Israelis lose their lives.
Despite the disproportionate numbers – at least 20 times as many Lebanese civilians have died as Israeli ones – the reporting and visuals strain for “balance.” The dominant photo inside the Times on July 17 was of an Israeli family grieving over the death of a family member in Haifa. The next day’s paper featured a collage of sobbing families from “all sides” of the conflict.
Images are most powerful in the heat of battle. If the media were publishing more of the readily available photos of blown-up and incinerated Lebanese children, then the outcry could help force an end to the bombings. After all, it was the endless repetition of images of a naked child, screaming and running after being burned by napalm and the summary execution of a Vietnamese prisoner during the Tet offensive that helped solidify opposition to the war.
It is easy for Americans to marvel at this “endless cycle of violence” engulfing the Middle East. We should remember, however, that Osama bin Laden himself watched the 1982 bombing of Lebanon and first conceived his plans to demolish American towers. “While I was looking at these destroyed towers in Lebanon,” he said in 2004, “it sparked in my mind that the tyrant should be punished with the same and that we should destroy towers in America, so that it tastes what we taste and would so be deterred from killing our children and women.”
If destruction visits the shores of the United States again, we must never be able to ask, with our uniquely American innocence – “why do they hate us?” They hate us, in part, because we close our eyes.