FROM the moment the first news bulletins on the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 by Lebanese Shiites were broadcast on June 14, American television followed the event exhaustively. Morning and evening news on both network and local television, as well as many talk shows, made the crisis the center of national attention. Competition was never-ending for interviews with political personalities and experts on the Middle East. Even families of the hostages were repeatedly interviewed and questioned about how they thought the crisis should have been handled. Yet, unfortunately, the American public was not fully served by the media. With few exceptions the American media failed drastically to thoughtfully educate the public about the historical background to the hostage-taking.

Few in the media have pointed out that Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, using American-made weapons; that it used cluster bombs in violation of US arms export laws; that while President Reagan insisted that American marines were in Lebanon as peacekeepers, the USS New Jersey used 16-inch guns to bomb Shiite and other villages in the Lebanese Shouf mountains; that the US vetoed two UN resolutions condemning Israel's actions in Lebanon; that America stood silent when Israel rounded up Lebanese and Palestinian men in southern Lebanon and held them in Israel without due process and in violation of international law.

Regrettably, few in the media want to suggest that US policies in the Middle East may well have brought on the hostage crisis, or at least greatly contributed to it. Sadly, it seems far easier to call the hijackers ``radical terrorists'' and ``fundamentalist Muslims'' than to tackle the complicated political and historical issues that swirl around the hijacking.

American public opinion seems to favor retaliation against someone. Yet if Americans better understood how the Reagan administration became involved in Lebanon in full support of Israel and its Phalange surrogates, thus alienating the Lebanese Muslims and catalyzing events to develop as they have, much of this anger might be directed more properly against Israel.

The American media have unprecedented power to influence public opinion. Unfortunately, they still lack the ability and the courage to tell the whole story.

Muna Hamzeh, a free-lance journalist, was born in Jerusalem and grew up in Amman, Jordan.

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