- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Arab satellite news channels Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya have been forced to fend off accusations they served up Israeli propaganda with their coverage of the historic evacuation of the Gaza Strip settlements.

“We understand when the international media fall into the trap of the Jewish settlers and run live coverage of the evacuation,” said Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of the London-based newspaper Al Qods Al Arabi. “But we do not understand that Arab channels should fall into the same trap and serve [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon’s objectives.”

Mr. Atwan, who called the evacuation “a grotesque media circus,” said Arab public opinion “cannot be fooled by the crocodile tears shed by the settlers on houses built on stolen Palestinian territory in Gaza.”

The criticism stemmed mainly from footage of Jewish settlers crying over their lost homes, scenes that were seen as depicting the Israelis as victims, Mr. Atwan said.

Also, the images of Israeli forces evacuating angry settlers without violence were seen as portraying the army as a powerful and disciplined institution.

Mr. Atwan’s remarks echoed criticism by a number of Arab intellectuals and viewers who called in during talk shows.

Both channels denied the accusations.

Nakhle al-Haj, director of news at the Dubai-based Al Arabiya, said the channel ran special coverage on the long-suffering Palestinians of Gaza.

“Sharon did not use us,” he insisted. “On the contrary, we have run into a lot of difficulties. Israeli authorities didn’t make things easy for us, especially when it came to access to the settlements.”

Al Arabiya invited Israeli officials to live debates, but Israeli authorities complained after comments by a Foreign Ministry spokesman were interrupted for a Lebanese caller.

Ayman Jaballah, deputy editor-in-chief of Qatar-based Al Jazeera, said the channel was “fully aware that Israel could try to benefit from this historical event on the media front.”

“And this is what we explained live,” he said. “We tried to cover the event in an objective manner and we allowed all parties to explain their points of views.”

The two channels, viewed daily by millions of people, beefed up their teams of correspondents in the Palestinian territories for the pullout, which ends 38 years of Israeli occupation.

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