In most of the articles on the conflict two sides battle it out: the Israel Defence Forces, on the one hand, and the Palestinians, on the other. When a violent incident is reported, the IDF confirms or the army says but the Palestinians claim: ‘The Palestinians claimed that a baby was severely injured in IDF shootings.’ Is this a fib? ‘The Palestinians claim that Israeli settlers threatened them’: but who are the Palestinians? Did the entire Palestinian people, citizens of Israel, inhabitants of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, people living in refugee camps in neighbouring Arab states and those living in the diaspora make the claim? Why is it that a serious article is reporting a claim made by the Palestinians? Why is there so rarely a name, a desk, an organisation or a source of this information? Could it be because that would make it seem more reliable?This bias of course applies in the mainstream media and establishment politicians throughout the west, as is demonstrated in Ben White's article in the Palestine Chronicle.
When the Palestinians aren’t making claims, their viewpoint is simply not heard. Keshev, the Centre for the Protection of Democracy in Israel, studied the way Israel’s leading television channels and newspapers covered Palestinian casualties in a given month – December 2005. They found 48 items covering the deaths of 22 Palestinians. However, in only eight of those accounts was the IDF version followed by a Palestinian reaction; in the other 40 instances the event was reported only from the point of view of the Israeli military.
Another example: in June 2006, four days after the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped from the Israeli side of the Gazan security fence, Israel, according to the Israeli media, arrested some sixty members of Hamas, of whom 30 were elected members of parliament and eight ministers in the Palestinian government. In a well-planned operation Israel captured and jailed the Palestinian minister for Jerusalem, the ministers of finance, education, religious affairs, strategic affairs, domestic affairs, housing and prisons, as well as the mayors of Bethlehem, Jenin and Qalqilya, the head of the Palestinian parliament and one quarter of its members. That these officials were taken from their beds late at night and transferred to Israeli territory probably to serve (like Gilad Shalit) as future bargaining-chips did not make this operation a kidnapping. Israel never kidnaps: it arrests.
The Israeli army never intentionally kills anyone, let alone murders them – a state of affairs any other armed organisation would be envious of. Even when a one-ton bomb is dropped onto a dense residential area in Gaza, killing one gunman and 14 innocent civilians, including nine children, it’s still not an intentional killing or murder: it is a targeted assassination. An Israeli journalist can say that IDF soldiers hit Palestinians, or killed them, or killed them by mistake, and that Palestinians were hit, or were killed or even found their death (as if they were looking for it), but murder is out of the question. The consequence, whatever words are used, has been the death at the hands of the Israeli security forces since the outbreak of the second intifada of 2087 Palestinians who had nothing to do with armed struggle.
The IDF, as depicted by the Israeli media, has another strange ability: it never initiates, decides to attack or launches an operation. The IDF simply responds. It responds to the Qassam rockets, responds to terror attacks, responds to Palestinian violence. This makes everything so much more sensible and civilised: the IDF is forced to fight, to destroy houses, to shoot Palestinians and to kill 4485 of them in seven years, but none of these events is the responsibility of the soldiers. They are facing a nasty enemy, and they respond dutifully. The fact that their actions – curfews, arrests, naval sieges, shootings and killings – are the main cause of the Palestinian reaction does not seem to interest the media. Because Palestinians cannot respond, Israeli journalists choose another verb from the lexicon that includes revenge, provoke, attack, incite, throw stones or fire Qassams.
Interviewing Abu-Qusay, the spokesman of Al-Aqsa Brigades in Gaza, in June 2007, I asked him about the rationale for firing Qassam missiles at the Israeli town of Sderot. ‘The army might respond,’ I said, not realising that I was already biased. ‘But we are responding here,’ Abu-Qusay said. ‘We are not terrorists, we do not want to kill . . . we are resisting Israel’s continual incursions into the West Bank, its attacks, its siege on our waters and its closure on our lands.’ Abu-Qusay’s words were translated into Hebrew, but Israel continued to enter the West Bank every night and Israelis did not find any harm in it. After all it was only a response.
Of course, Western media outlets either unquestioningly reprint official IDF press releases, or ‘balance’ the two contradictory accounts.Going back to the idea that the Israeli media is more critical of Israel than the western media is, there was a line in the Mendel piece in the LRB that particularly caught my eye:
Let’s be clear. The residents of Sderot are unquestionably living through a nightmare. Indeed, some thought it worthwhile to organize a concert in Los Angeles this week in solidarity with the town. Hollywood stars were in attendance, and according to Yedioth Ahronoth online, the three presidential candidates all sent messages of support.
John McCain, bizarrely, believes that Palestinian violence “is not condemned by world nations”. Hilary Clinton commented on Sderot’s courage and sacrifice, while Barack Obama said that as a father, he “could only imagine the terror that these rockets cause”. The deaths of Mohammad the university student or Hassan the farmer, however, went unnoticed and unlamented.
Corruption, social decay and dishonesty are pursued with commendable determination by newspapers, TV and radio. That Israelis heard exactly what former President Katsav did or didn’t do with his secretaries proves that the media are performing their watchdog role, even at the risk of causing national and international embarrassment. Ehud Olmert’s shady apartment deal, the business of Ariel Sharon’s mysterious Greek island, Binyamin Netanyahu’s secret love affair, Yitzhak Rabin’s secret American bank account: all of these are freely discussed by the Israeli media.This is to offer a contrast thus:
When it comes to ‘security’ there is no such freedom.Not entirely fair given the work of Levi, Hass and, er, erm, ok Levi and Hass, but at least they are regulars in Ha'aretz. Who regularly condemns Israel in the UK media? (with links please if there are any takers - thanks!)