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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2009, Vol.1, No.1 .

Israel/Palestine: The Black Book
Reporters Without Borders (ed.)

(Pluto Press, London, 2003) 212 pp, PB, 13
ISBN 9780745321417

The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is without a doubt one of the most ideologically charged conflicts of the contemporary era. The possibilities of unearthing objective information on the conflict are often hijacked by the ideological agendas of various groups, and typical media explanations are tainted by an immense ahistoricism as well as a significant bias in the reporting of events. The Israel/Palestine conflict is arguably one of the most misunderstood, misreported and under-discussed conflicts of the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries; information without ideological bias is hard to come by and details of actual occurrences are scarce.

In lieu of this, Reporters Without Borders has compiled a valuable resource for anyone interested in the conflict entitled, The Black Book. A collection of reports detailing human rights abuses occurring in both Israel and Palestine, The Black Book is a text that places human rights first and foremost. In an attempt to avoid the ever-present accusations of bias, Reporters Without Borders has only included reports by organisations that deal with human rights violations by their respective ?side? and ensured that the reports give equal prominence to all rights violations, regardless of the perpetrators. Focussing on the events of the second Intifada which began in September 2002, the reports range widely and are largely harrowing accounts. Many of the reports deal with the immediate consequences of the conflict and ?obvious? rights abuses, such as the excessive force used by Israeli Defence Forces, Palestinian killings of Israeli civilians, the high civilian price of Israeli incursions, and the demolition of houses and agricultural land in the Occupied Territories. The Black Book, however, also turns its attention to the less ?obvious? violations of human rights, such as violations of press freedom and attacks on journalists by both Israelis and Palestinians, the death penalty and the justice system?s flaws in Palestine, and the status of the Palestinian minority in Israel. So as not to present yet another ahistorical account of the conflict, Reporters Without Borders begin the book with a chapter dedicated to the history of Israel/Palestine. This is a useful, albeit brief, introduction to the conflict for those not acquainted with it.

It is clear that Reporters Without Borders intends The Black Book to be a relatively objective account of a conflict where objectivity is severely lacking. While it remains the case that the consistent documentation of human rights abuses is one of the best ways to maintain an objective outlook towards the conflict, it nevertheless can be argued that there is some danger in portraying human rights organisations as bastions of objectivity. As recent reports over the ?distorted? reporting of rights violations suggest, human rights organisations are not immune to the pressures of lobby groups and can be harnessed to support the ideological war. It is thus paramount that the overarching context of the conflict be taken into account, and all in all, this is something which has been achieved by Reporters Without Borders.

The Black Book remains both a crucial resource in understanding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and an important contribution to a debate too often focussed on ideology at the expense of human life in the conflict.

Rachel Busbridge, PhD Candidate, School of International Studies, University of South Australia

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