It is disturbingly easy to lose track of those who have fallen over the past few weeks in Nablus, the largest city in the West Bank and, reportedly, the breeding ground for most of the suicide bombers who have terrorized Israelis.
A search of various databases turns up mind-boggling headlines that change every day, and sometimes every hour. "Three Palestinian militants killed by Israeli patrols during West Bank sweep'' read one yesterday, which followed another "Israeli troops kill Palestinian teenager in West Bank'' the day before and another "Five Palestinians killed in clashes" on Monday.
We're looking at perhaps two dozen Palestinians dead and maybe 250 more injured since mid-December when the town came under a virtually uninterrupted Israeli military blockade. A 5-year-old was gunned down just before Christmas. This week, a 15-year-old was shot dead because, as IDF troops said, he was hurling concrete blocks at them from a rooftop. His 17-year-old cousin was killed during the burial because, as the Jerusalem Post reported, "soldiers spotted an armed Palestinian participating in the funeral."
Don't be confused by the coverage cited here because chances are you have seen none of it, no matter how much of a media junkie you may be.
Mostly, the "operation" on the town, where homes have been dynamited and civilians confined to quarters, has merited a few sentences in the back pages of North America's newspapers, including this one. Not even CBC, the network that stands accused by the National Post and myriad Jewish groups of a systemic anti-Israel bias, has given the siege more than a few seconds of airtime.
Instead, the news focus just about everywhere has been on baby-dangling crocodile hunters and 55-hour marriage of a your-15-minutes-are-up pop tart, Princess Anne's killer terrier and Lady Diana's terror of being killed, heightened travel alerts and holiday cheer, Saddam's capture, crazy chicks (Paris Hilton) and mad cows, and SARS and Mars (the last three of which, admittedly, are important).
Coverage of issues in Israel has largely been relegated to how a few illegal settlements, many of them consisting of nothing more than a hilltop trailer and a flag, will be dismantled, to how Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was jeered by his hardest line party members and to some overtures of peace being made by Egypt.
No wonder that, in referring to the situation in Nablus, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei told Voice of Palestine Radio, "Whenever the Palestinians carry out any attacks or operations against Israel they are condemned by the whole world but when Israel carries out attacks against our people, the international community stays silent."
Is it true the world no longer gives a damn about the escalated violence in the Holy Land, now in its 40th horrific month? Is the Palestinian uprising no longer good for TV ratings? Or was Nablus downplayed because the blockade was staged over the holidays when many journalists are off? Or have the media been cowed into silence by increasingly vociferous and voluminous e-attacks on their mailboxes, manners and moral fibre?
Every day when I log on to my e-mail, I find at least 50 missives, mostly pro-Israel but increasingly pro-Palestinian as well, presenting their version of reality. Ugly debates rage over whether the Arabic-language news network Al Jazeera should be allowed into Canada because, quite frankly, some people don't want its version of reality to be seen here. Entire Web sites spring up to monitor what journalists do, to call us "Idiotarians," to condemn us as anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim, or to alert readers to bombard us with more e-mail. Other sites (memri.org) translate from Arabic what is claimed to be hateful daily news stories about Jews and Israel while other sites still (the newly launched aad-online.org) claim to do the same from Hebrew about Muslims and Arabs.
I know about Nablus thanks to sites such as palestinemonitor.org, palsolidarity.org and fromoccupiedpalestine.org. But I don't trust these alone, and don't have to because I have the time and resources to check and double-check elsewhere. Most others don't.
And so concurrent with the spread of the Internet, coincidentally or not, the poles grow further apart, the fear mounts, the hate entrenches and the violence escalates.
Or so it seems — thanks to the Internet that perpetuates the paranoia while, ironically, providing the reportage the mainstream media appear to have abandoned.
What the Web giveth, it also taketh away.
The truth is out there, all right.
Trouble is, it's way out there, for better or worse, in cyberspace.
Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Limited