- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2004

JERUSALEM — Pro-Israel demonstrators will carry eight blank posters through the streets of The Hague today, representing the victims of a Palestinian suicide bombing in Jerusalem yesterday.

The posters will be carried alongside others with the faces of 927 victims of the 3-year-old Palestinian uprising, or intifada.

The march, which coincides with today’s opening of a hearing on Israel’s security barrier at the International Court of Justice, is the latest salvo in a high-powered propaganda war between supporters of Israel and its vehement critics.

Israel insists the barrier is a “good fence,” whose aim is to prevent Palestinian attacks through suicide bombings and therefore provide a calmer atmosphere for discussions about a settlement.

The Palestinians maintain it is an “apartheid wall” designed to snatch bits of Palestinian land and encage West Bank inhabitants.

In the past few days, Israel and its supporters have launched a dazzling array of publicity coups that have left the normally efficient Palestinian and Arab information machine on the defensive.

The Palestinians have managed for months to get the world’s television cameras to focus on a stretch of 28-foot-high concrete wall, a stark reminder of its now demolished counterpart in Cold War-era Berlin.

Along with the images came stories of despair from Palestinians saying they had been cut off from their fields, schools and hospitals.

The barrier in fact comprises about five miles of wall and about 125 miles of fences, gravel roads and ditches. The walls either block direct sniping onto a new highway or run through stretches of dense urban housing where the fence-and-ditch alternatives would necessitate demolishing homes.

Foreign correspondents have been wooed by the Jerusalem Media Center (JMCC), whose owner serves as a minister in Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority Cabinet.

On Friday, it led correspondents in a convoy toward what the organization said was a spontaneous demonstration by Palestinians in a small village whose lands, it said, were being confiscated.

But the convoy was blocked by Israeli policemen, who said the area was a “closed military zone” a designation that conveniently allows Israeli authorities to exclude the press.

Not giving up, the JMCC representative led the convoy through the Jewish suburb of Mivasseret Zion to what was supposed to be a “joint Jewish-Palestinian protest.”

On arrival in Mivasseret, an Israeli-Arab construction worker told the journalists there was no demonstration. At that point, the remaining journalists abandoned the mission.

In contrast, the Israeli machine has been highly effective.

An organization that picks up the remains of suicide bombing victims, Zaka, tried to ship a whole bus that was struck by a bomb on Jan. 29 to The Hague for display. When that could not be done in time, the group decided to display the bus near Bethlehem, home of the past two suicide bombers.

Another organization has been advertising cheap flights to The Hague for protesters at $188 return.

The campaign also extends to the United States, where the Israel Project and other groups have been running hourly ads on CNN and other stations highlighting the suffering of suicide bomb victims and their families.

“We need to build the fence first, then talk peace,” Lea Tzur, a software programmer who lost her son to a suicide bomber, said during a visit to The Washington Times last week.

Mrs. Tzur, who was brought to Washington by the Israel Project to help build support for the barrier with American news outlets, said the structure “will make peace come sooner, and show terrorists that terror will not work.”

Traveling with her was schoolteacher Florence Bianu, whose son died 4 months ago in a restaurant bombing, and who had to be corrected when she spoke of the barrier as a wall rather than a fence.

Obviously holding back tears, Mrs. Bianu said the barrier “will help end the terror hell we live in. It will deter suicide bombings, and also prevent innocent deaths of Arabs” in Israeli counterattacks.

Benjamin Hu in Washington contributed to this report.

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