I was going to write about the Eid holiday which began today for Muslims around the world, but my attention has turned to rockets. More specifically, to how journalists report about the rockets in Palestine and Israel.
Sitting in Gaza, there’s no denying the fact that tensions have increased in recent days, and there have been more explosions on both sides of the border. What’s not so clear is which side initiated this most current volley.
A reporter from Boston, Josef Federman, writes:
Hostilities in Gaza have been simmering for weeks, with militants sporadically firing rockets into Israel and the Israeli air force responding with airstrikes.
Harriet Sherwood, a reporter in Jerusalem with the Guardian, also characterized this as an Israeli response to sustained rocket fire, but included a quote from a Hamas spokesman:
“These holy missions come in response to the repeated, continuous crimes of the enemy against our people, which killed four and injured 10 in the past 48 hours,” it said in a statement.
Reuters reported that Egypt had brokered a truce, restoring some calm, at least for a few days. The report ended with:
Hamas has refused to renounce violence or recognize Israel’s right to exist, and is ostracized by the Quartet of Middle East mediators comprising the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia.
We need a new way of talking and reporting about these actions which can have life and death consequences for Israelis and Palestinians. Reporters need some lessons in journalistic integrity. The words they choose, and the way they frame the “conflict” — has tremendous influence in shaping the public’s response.
- Each side can legitimately argue that they are “responding” to the other side. Isn’t it always better in the eyes of the public to be responding, rather than initiating, the hostilities? But the point is irrelevant. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a war for at least the past 45 years since the establishment of the state of Israel and the expulsion of the indigenous Palestinians.
- The media never, ever refers to the Occupation when reporting about these events. An uninformed reader might get the impression that there are two sovereign nations warring with each other. In fact, there is an occupier and an occupied. Using those words, which are factually and legally accurate terms for this “situation”, puts a totally different “spin” on the reporting, doesn’t it?
- According to the western media, one side has a military, while the other has militants. In the English language, a military is a legitimate force, but militants are considered illegitimate radicals. Western journalists need to dig deep into their own biases and understand how their reporting is shaping the conflict for the western audience. It might not be easy to break the mold and find terminology that doesn’t favor one side over another, but I think journalists of integrity need to make the effort.
And what’s the relevance of the Quartet mediators not recognizing Hamas, as mentioned in the last paragraph of the Reuter’s piece, as well as the reference to Hamas not recognizing Israel’s right to exist? Answer: It is totally irrelevant and inflammatory and pure journalistic manipulation of the western audience.
It would be just as irrelevant if some reporter concluded his piece by pointing out that the Likud charter does not recognize a Palestinian state, and that President Jimmy Carter and several Nobel Peace Prize winners have condemned Israel’s settlement expansion into the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The public is so easily manipulated. Reporters have a responsibility to inform and share the facts, not to play to the public’s fears and biases.