In November, an Israeli-led assassination effort targeted senior Islamic Jihad leader Bahaa Abu el-Atta and his wife, reporting that it killed them both as they were sleeping in their home in Gaza. Armed factions of Islamic Jihad retaliated by launching homemade rockets and mortars toward southern Israel. The ensuing two days of combat also killed thirty-four Palestinians, sixteen of whom were civilians and five of whom were children. No Israelis were killed.
Mainstream media outlets, such as NBC, focused on the disruption of Israeli lives, describing how 200 rockets launched from Gaza into Israeli towns “stunned” citizens. A French outlet described an Israel-Gaza “escalation” in violence, as rockets “rained down” and brought Israeli communities “to a standstill.” Both sources deemphasized the loss of Palestinian lives.
“We had thirty-four Palestinians killed,” Diana Buttu, Palestinian political analyst and lawyer, tells The Progressive. “All of this was distorted [in media coverage] and focused on the response to Israel’s assassination policy; not the assassination policy itself.”
A study published in December 2018 by the Canadian data analytics firm 416Labs, found that the Israeli point of view dominated the U.S. mainstream media. Words like “Palestine refugee” and “occupation” used in reference to the Palestinian experience were found to have declined in coverage by 93 percent and 85 percent, respectively, over the past fifty years.
The United Nations has said the region will be “unlivable” by next year due to Israeli siege and occupation.
The authors of the report went on to identify unconditional support from the United States as a “key factor in prolonging the conflict,” adding that “augmenting this has been the U.S mainstream media, which . . . favors the Israeli narrative over those of Palestinians.”
Butto explains why this is so important when it comes to reporting on Israel and Palestine: “If you don’t put the timeline correctly, if you don’t label things correctly, then of course there is no way for people to understand. And if there’s no way for people to understand then there is no way to put an end to it.”
“There is a stereotype of the Palestinian image in international media,” Mohammed Abu al-Rob, professor of digital media at Birzeit University, explains to The Progressive. “They try to imagine the Palestinian as a ‘side’ who started this ‘war’ or [introduce] the Israeli as a victim.”
More dangerously, al-Rob says, the media purports an image of “what’s going on in Gaza as a ‘war’ with two sides, two equal sides, without context.”
Israel is holding a crippling, twelve-year-long land, sea, and air blockade over the Gaza Strip. Gaza has been called the world’s largest open-air prison as the population of two million people—almost half of which are minors—suffer from a chokehold on nearly all forms of social and economic support. The United Nations has said the region will be “unlivable” by next year due to Israeli siege and occupation.
Israel is an occupying power, controlling the lives of millions of Palestinians living in Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, who have no citizenship or equal rights to their Israeli-Jewish counterparts. Methods of control used by the Israeli government include a permit-regime—a military system governing the movement of Palestinians reinforced by a concrete separation barrier—military raids and checkpoints, surveillance of social media, demolitions of homes as a form of collective punishment, and administrative detentions—among many other tools.
By telling half-truths about the extent of suffering in Gaza and elsewhere in Palestine, the mainstream media essentially gives Israel the “okay” to continue its occupation of and aggression toward Palestinians.
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According to Buttu, however, the media is “not setting the agenda, they’re just parroting it.”
A week after this recent violence against Gaza, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo moved U.S. policy away from international consensus by claiming Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as legal.
“This is the result of years of political positioning and policy. Does journalism add to it? Yes, oftentimes it does,” Buttu says. When pundits call Jewish-Israeli settlements in Jerusalem “neighborhoods,” for example, this leads people to believe that East Jerusalem is not occupied and those “neighborhoods” are not illegal. If people believe this, Buttu worries, then what’s the problem with the U.S. or other nations declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?
“You see how the lines get blurred in the media, and that the policy actually becomes reality,” says Buttu.
In a statement on the recent attack in Gaza, U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Nickolay Mladenov expressed that he was “very concerned about the ongoing and serious escalation between Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Israel . . . The indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars against population centres is absolutely unacceptable and must stop immediately.”
The media purports an image of “what’s going on in Gaza as a ‘war’ with two sides, two equal sides, without context.”
We only hear of language like “escalation of violence” used “when Palestinians begin to challenge the Israeli policies against them,” Palestinian journalist Mariam Barghouti tells The Progressive. Politicians are quick to decry Israel’s “right to defend itself,” she says, not understanding (or maybe actively ignoring) that Israel is in a much greater position of power.
“They start saying it’s an ‘escalation of violence’ [yet] there is no mention that Palestinians are living in daily violence. That is not an ‘escalation,’ it’s our daily reality,” she notes. And as an occupied population—under international law, at least—Palestinians have the right to resist this daily violence.
“It’s quite unfortunate, but Palestine isn’t the exception,” Barghouti declares. “This has occurred historically over and over again where media [is] pressured by various parties who are committing and perpetuating the injustices.”
And there are consequences to resisting this pressure. “How terrifying is it that when someone points out the violations that Israel commits, they risk their job like Marc Lamont Hill?” Barghouti asks incredulously, referring to last year’s firing of the CNN contributor after he advocated in a speech to the United Nations for Palestinian self-determination and equal rights.
“Its not whether a Palestinian analysis is being included or not. The issue is with facts on the ground,” Abu al-Rob adds. “The issue is that there are people being killed. There is continuous bombing of Gaza, and the targeting of civilian areas, killing women and children,” he concludes. “The truth on the ground is the truth.”