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How the media turned the Israel-Palestine conflict into a war of words

Published October 14th, 2015 - 06:00 GMT
Orthodox Jewish men stand behind Israel's controversial separation barrier as a soldier makes his way through the West Bank entrance to Bethlehem, October 12, 2015. (AFP/File)
Orthodox Jewish men stand behind Israel's controversial separation barrier as a soldier makes his way through the West Bank entrance to Bethlehem, October 12, 2015. (AFP/File)

The eruption of violence across Gaza and the West Bank over the past few weeks has again painted Palestinians as the aggressors and Israel’s army acting in self-defense. Most of the pro-Israeli narratives blame Palestinians for the unrest but there appear to be gaps. So what is wrong with this series of events?

On Friday, an Israeli settler stabbed four Palestinians in the southern city of Dimona, yet the incident barely hit international headlines. Mentioned halfway through a few articles, it was predominately the Israeli media who covered the attack and even at that, it was not referred to as a terrorist act, which is the case when the attacker is Arab.

Abed Rahman Shadi, a 13-year-old boy was reportedly shot by Israeli troops during clashes in Aida refugee camp last week while helping in a clean-up project of the area’s community football pitch, according to the BBC.

Similarly, describing Sunday’s airstrike in Gaza, which killed a pregnant woman and her two-year-old daughter, the root cause was when “Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque/Temple Mount compound,” with no mention of the right-wing settlers who have constantly violated the 1967 agreement between Israel and Jordan to storm the holy site.

The state broadcaster described an alleged stabbing by a Palestinian as “the latest in a wave of attacks by young Palestinians on Israelis that have fuelled tension in East Jerusalem and the West Bank,” adding that “Israel has responded with tougher security measures.”

To an outsider who isn’t aware of the conflict, word choices can immediately change the narrative in headlines; “Palestinians die in Israel Gaza strike”, as was reported on Sunday is different from “Israeli airstrike kills Palestinians”.

A particular flaw in media coverage is how the conflict between Israel and Palestine is portrayed as an equal-opportunity event, glossing over national inequalities in military might, political power, and economic strength. The occupied are never on a level playing field with the occupier.

Writing for news watchdog Media Lens in 2013, ex-Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook spoke of his editor’s concern over covering the Israel-Palestine conflict. “This propaganda war is being fought on multiple fronts; but all with one central goal: to limit criticism of Israel’s conduct and evidence of its oppression of the Palestinians in the international media and especially in the United states, where Israel’s lobbyists are at their most muscular,” he wrote.

Coverage of the conflict has formed a pattern of biased reporting. From the first intifada to last year’s Gaza war, the use of language set by most Western media creates an unrealistic view of what is really happening on the ground.

Since the flashpoint at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in mid-September, 26 Palestinians and four Israelis have been killed. World news remains focused on Palestinian violence instead of the underlying causality. The killing of innocent civilians on both sides is deplorable, and is symptomatic of the deeper troubles beneath the daily death toll. Responsible news organisations should be reporting on that, factually, and without political spin. 

By Zab Mustefa

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