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Lebanon: the (censored) price of war

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During the first week of Israel's invasion of Lebanon there was astonishingly little mention of Lebanese civilian casualties by either American media or the US government.

Television lenses focused on clashing airplanes and rolling Israeli tanks. Columnists talked of Israel dictating the ''restructuring of Lebanon'' minus the Palestine Liberation Organization. Except for the anguished on-camera plaint of Lebanon's United Nations Ambassador Ghassan Tueni about ''thousands'' of Lebanese civilian casualties, an average American might have thought that the Israelis were targeting neatly defined enclaves of armed Palestinian guerrillas.

Not until June 10 -- the fifth day of the invasion - did TV finally show, in ABC correspondent Hilary Brown's shocking report from the devastated Lebanese port city of Sidon, that in destroying PLO infrastructure the Israelis had ''destroyed in the process the infrastructure of all civilian life in cities where the PLO was based.''

If graphic scenes of civilian carnage and bomb-leveled Lebanese cities had immediately reached Americans, public opinion almost certainly would have questioned the extent of Israel's attack and pressure mounted on the US administration to press for Israeli withdrawal. Back in July 1981 Israeli bombing of PLO headquarters in a crowded Beirut neighborhood, causing an estimated 100-300 civilian casualties and portrayed in grisly news coverage, sparked an uproar in the US and created shock waves inside Israel.

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