May 10, 2021
Amid reporting that Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip killed at least 20 Palestinians, including nine children, rights activists and journalists on Monday called out some members of the media for covering the latest developments with language that misrepresents the power dynamics of the region.
After Israeli forces injured hundreds of Palestinians with rubber bullets, stun grenades, and tear gas at the Al-Aqsa Mosque--and refused to stand down--Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) responded with the deadly airstrikes, claiming to strike "Hamas terror targets."
As Jack Mirkinson of Discourse Blog and many other critics pointed out, outlets including the Associated Press, BBC, New York Times, Reuters, and the Washington Post used "clash" or "clashes" to describe the attack on the mosque, which is a holy site for Muslims and Jews. As Mirkinson wrote Monday:
This is not a "clash" between two equal sides. This is a straightforward attack by Israel on Palestinians. For days, the Israeli government has been systematically assaulting Palestinians worshipping at one of the holiest sites in Islam, during Ramadan, all while enforcing a move to ethnically cleanse a Jerusalem neighborhood of its Palestinian residents. Israeli forces have fired rubber bullets and stun grenades, injuring hundreds of people. The deputy mayor of Jerusalem has been filmed lamenting that Palestinian activists weren't shot in the head.
Israel is one of the most militarily advanced countries in the world, thanks to the United States. It is the government in charge. It is the occupying power. It is the one taking active steps to displace Palestinians, to attack worshipers at a mosque. The asymmetry at play is beyond overwhelming.
Some reports "are completely bewildering," he wrote, while others "are clearly so nervous about veering from the script that even when they start strong, they descend into near-gibberish."
\u201cI received zero email alerts from the New York Times about what Israel has been doing in recent days. But now that Hamas has fired a rocket, and Israel (not Palestine) is \u201con edge," it\u2019s a different story. https://t.co/ssQDeZXx94\u201d— Jack Mirkinson (@Jack Mirkinson) 1620663107
Mirkinson was far from alone. In a statement Monday night, Linda Sarsour, executive director and co-founder of MPower Change, the largest Muslim-led digital advocacy organization in the United States, said, "These are not 'clashes.'"
"They are attacks," Sarsour continued. "They are violent assaults by an occupying force. They are acts of ethnic cleansing, carried out by Israeli forces, on Palestinians, for worshipping at the Al-Aqsa Mosque during the holy month of Ramadan, or for merely existing in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah."
As Common Dreams has reported in recent days, attempts by Israeli settlers and security forces to drive Palestinians out of the Al-Bustan and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem have sparked global condemnation--including from some progressive U.S. lawmakers.
\u201c"One word you hear a lot when you cover Israel-Palestine is the word 'clashes'. 'There are clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem tonight!' It's a word, personally, I cannot stand."\n\nLet @mehdirhasan explain why:\u201d— The Mehdi Hasan Show (@The Mehdi Hasan Show) 1620688246
"What we're seeing aren't 'clashes,'" Sarsour emphasized. "What we're seeing is the oppression of an apartheid state, against people engaged in peaceful worship during the holiest nights of the year for Muslims around the world."
"The Palestinians are a resilient people," she added. "They want freedom and liberation. They want to live with dignity. They want justice--all universal values, rights, and principles we all deserve. Let's stop the whitewashing of their systemic, violent oppression."
"Clashes" isn't the only word choice that has "stoked controversy," Alex MacDonald reported Monday for Middle East Eye. Others include "conflict," "property dispute," and the terms used when referring to structures at "the Old City complex which houses Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, and the Western Wall."
\u201cTerms such as "clashes", "conflict" and "property dispute" have been criticised for distorting the narrative coming out of Jerusalem. \n\nWe take a look at the words and phrases which have sparked controversy: https://t.co/PgeM7i5MBX\u201d— Middle East Eye (@Middle East Eye) 1620685202
Reporters, rights advocates, and progressive lawmakers also called out U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price for how he handled questions from journalists on Monday, including his refusal to explicitly condemn the IDF's reported killing of Palestinian children in the airstrikes.
"Washington is increasingly twisting its tongue in knots trying to square what they say is their support for human rights with support for Israel as it commits war crimes and crimes against humanity," tweeted Yousef Munayyer, a Palestinian-American writer and political analyst, with a video clip.
U.S. Rep Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress, also weighed in, tagging Price's official Twitter account:
Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept--which last month published a thorough examination of U.S. President Joe Biden's record on foreign and military issues, including "what would become a career-spanning defense of Israeli militarism"--pointed out that Price's responses were not surprising.
"The questions from reporters here are solid. And the answers from the State Department spokesperson are, unfortunately, not shocking," Scahill said. "This is a bipartisan horror and Joe Biden has a very long history of defending Israel's gratuitous violence and killings."
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)--who, along with Tlaib, was the first Muslim woman elected to Congress--took to Twitter Monday to address an issue Price was questioned about: the right to self-defense.
\u201cMany will tell you Israel has a right to defend itself, to safety and security, but are silent on whether Palestinians have those rights too.\n\nUntil we can defend the rights of Palestinians just as we do Israelis, we have no leg to stand on when it comes to justice or peace.\u201d— Ilhan Omar (@Ilhan Omar) 1620682391
\u201cI am sharing this, reluctantly, to point to the song they're singing. It's a Kahanist revenge song, words from the biblical story of Samson:\n"O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes" \n(Yimach Shemam, may their name be effaced, the youths chant)\u201d— Yair Wallach (@Yair Wallach) 1620682286
"Hard to capture how deeply horrifying this video is. Thousands of Israeli Jews singing about revenge... dancing as a fire burns on the Temple Mount," said Simone Zimmerman, director of B'Tselem USA and co-founder of IfNotNow. "This is genocidal animus towards Palestinians--emboldened and unfiltered."
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