Holy Land, unholy reporting

    The mainstream media treatment of the fourth Israeli war against Gaza continues to suffer from serious pitfalls, such as masking, language manipulation, and censorship

    The Western mainstream media coverage of the 2021 Israeli war against Gaza has uncovered, once more, entrenched bias in reporting the Palestinian predicament.

    Forty years ago, Palestinian American scholar Edward Said lamented [1] how the US mainstream media largely ignored a UNESCO report, which documented Israel’s war crimes against civilian targets, including schools, hospitals and refugee camps.

    It is no secret that Israeli propagandists have benefited since 1948 from a readily available reservoir of stereotypes in the West against Arabs and Muslims. The Orientalist discourse has permeated [2] Western newsrooms and has been used to vindicate [3] Western imperialism. In the case of Israel, it has been utilized to validate its settler-colonial policies and perpetual aggression against the Palestinians.

    Former Israeli diplomat Ilan Baruch argues that Israel has dominated the Western media narrative during the 73-year conflict. “Israel was brilliantly successful in offering a narrative to the western hemisphere that was embraced with little or no objective judgement,” said [4] Baruch.

    Against this backdrop, the mainstream media treatment of the fourth Israeli war against Gaza continues to suffer from serious pitfalls, such as masking, language manipulation, and censorship.

    Whitewashing Israel’s war crimes and burying the issues at stake is a commonly used method by spin doctors. It is referred to [5] in the public relations industry as ‘masking’ and involves de-contextualization, blame-avoidance and other defensive tactics.

    Western media tend to depict the latest Israeli onslaught as decontextualized snapshots. As political scientist Shanto Iyengar argues [6], the tactic of putting forward “a context of no context” is generally utilized by media to prevent the audience from connecting the dots. Accordingly, the viewers will not grasp the root causes of the conflict, while such reporting also absolves the aggressor from any responsibility.

    For example, the Wall Street Journal, in its edition of 14 May 2021, states [7] that “clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in the contested city of Jerusalem have escalated into a broader conflict, with Israel striking targets in Gaza in response to rockets launched by Palestinian militants.”

    This false equivalence conveys the false narrative that Israel is acting in self-defense. It overlooks a major fact, namely, that this is not a conflict between equals. Israel is not acting to protect itself; this is aggression by a hyper-armed state with the finest arsenal of Western weaponry, including the most lethal fighter jets, helicopters, tanks, artillery, destroyers and spying technology. Such an Israeli armada faces a lightly armed resistance operating amidst the most densely populated areas on earth, which, what is more, is blockaded from all directions.

    In a similar vein, the Washington Post produced the following headline in its edition [8] of 15 May 2021: “Israeli forces hit Hamas tunnels in Gaza as all-out war looms; more rockets rain down.” However, this title conceals that the Israeli F16 jets struck Palestinian families in their homes in the middle of the night, not tunnels. The article itself is a textbook example of how to exclude essential elements of the story. Indeed, imagery that conveys the Palestinian human dimension, fear, loss, and devastation, are deliberately obscured.

    The second major pitfall in Western mainstream news media coverage is language manipulation. On various occasions, Western editors have resorted to euphemisms and other acrobatic semantics to dilute the impact of words on the audience.

    For example, in an article [9] published on 7 May 2021, the New York Times used the headline: “Evictions in Jerusalem Become Focus of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” In the following blurb, the newspaper wrote: “The effort to evict six Arab families from a contested neighborhood has drawn attention to the Israeli effort to remove Palestinians from parts of East Jerusalem and led to protests.” If the editors were unbiased, they would not use the word ‘evictions’. As eloquently demonstrated by Palestinian activist Mohammed El-Kurd in an interview [10] with CNN, newsrooms should use the term ‘forced ethnic displacement’ instead.

    ‘Eviction’ implies the implementation of legal edicts in favor of legitimate landowners. In this case, the ultra-nationalist racist settlers are not the legitimate landlords; they are illegitimate usurpers. Moreover, Israeli courts have no jurisdiction in the occupied territories under international law. Also, this is not a ‘contested neighborhood,’ as these families are ethnically displaced from their homes. Furthermore, this was not an ‘effort.’ It was a crime condoned by the state.

    The third major downside that prevents the truthful depiction of events is censorship. As inconceivable as it may sound, censorship is deployed directly and indirectly. For example, German public broadcaster DW regretted [11] airing an interview about Gaza with Palestinian-American journalist Ali Abunimah and took the interview off air. They did so after Abunimah urged Germany and the European Union to stop selling arms to Israel in light of the ongoing aggression against Gaza.

    The rejection of op-eds that explain the Palestinian position is a recurrent censorship tactic. Researcher Dalya al-Masri related [12] the experience of many pro-Palestinian academics in Canada, whose opinion pieces were ignored or rejected by leading media outlets, such as CBS, Toronto Star, and The Globe and Mail. Meanwhile, several personalities, including media figures, published an open letter criticizing [13] Canadian media coverage of the Israeli violations against the Palestinians.

    Israel’s destruction [14] of office buildings in Gaza, which hosted more than a dozen international and local media outlets, is no coincidence, either. It is an outright act of censorship and intimidation. It also takes place simultaneously with social media organizations’ complicit [15] removal [16] of content from hundreds of pro-Palestinian accounts. The aim is to silence oppositional voices and offer a unidimensional pro-Israel coverage.

    Seventy-three years after the Nakba, which marked the establishment of Israel on 15 May 1948, following a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign, there is little reference to the core issues at stake. The Palestinian predicament’s root causes, including genocide, settler colonialism, ethnic cleansing, and the perils of racist Jewish ultra-nationalism, are rarely discussed in Western mainstream media. Instead, the latter tend to sanitize Israeli atrocities, falsely convey an impression of self-defense, and justify the mayhem unleashed upon innocent Palestinian civilians.

    This article originally appeared in Anadolu Agency’s analysis section.

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