In recent years, particularly in the wake of the 2023 Israel-Gaza conflict, the media has played a pivotal role in shaping the perception of Hamas, often echoing the sentiments of governments that label them as terrorists. This portrayal of the Palestinian group as an equivalent to global terrorist organizations like ISIS is a simplified narrative that fails to consider the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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In comparison, the media does not use the same language to categorize Israeli officials who dehumanize Palestinians and refrain from drawing conclusions as they do with Hamas or PLO leaders. For example, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister actively opposed the Peace Process initiated in 1993 and called for “vengeance against Palestinian in the current war”; Itamar Ben Gvir, serving as the Minister of National Security, openly asserted before the October war that his right to life takes precedence over the Palestinian right to freedom of movement; Yoav Gallant, the defense minister, shockingly referred to the conflict as a battle against “human animals”; Bezalel Smotrich, the Israeli Finance Minister, disturbingly declared prior to the current war that he believed the village of Hawara in the West Bank should be eradicated, with the State of Israel being the entity to carry out such actions; lastly, the Heritage Minister, Amichai Eliyahu, proposed the use of an atomic bomb on Gaza, which, in essence, can be seen as a continuation of an official policy that considers East Jerusalem and a large part of the West bank as a part of Israeli territory.
One cannot underestimate the media’s influence on public opinion and policy decisions. When media outlets align their narratives with the perspective of a government, it can have far-reaching consequences. In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, framing it as a religious war between Islamic values and Christian-Judaism values oversimplifies the deeply rooted political and historical aspects of the issue. This narrow narrative fails to address the fact that the conflict originated from the displacement and dispossession of Palestinians during the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967.
Moreover, the media’s portrayal of Hamas as equivalent to ISIS is not only overly simplistic but also ignores the fundamental differences between the two. While Hamas primarily targets Israeli military and civilians as part of its struggle against the Israeli occupation, ISIS is an organization with a global agenda, aiming to fight Western countries, particularly the United States. Equating these two groups serves to legitimize military operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which can have dire consequences for Palestinian civilians by killing thousands and destruction of infrastructures and buildings.
The media’s role in perpetuating this narrative has been instrumental in maintaining or shaping the positions of governments, including the United States, United Kingdom, and the European Union. Leaders of these nations, such as US President Joe Biden, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and French President Emmanuel Macron, have expressed support for this narrative while their countries have added Hamas to their terrorist organization list.
While there have been calls for a more proportionate response and the protection of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, there has been a reluctance to explicitly condemn the actions of the Israeli government and labelling it as war crimes. This hesitancy can be attributed to the desire to maintain positive relationships with Israeli authorities.
It is worth noting that as the conflict escalates and casualties rise, there has been a shift in the stance of some governments. Calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, indirectly acknowledging the root cause of the conflict, and the call for humanitarian support to the Gaza Strip highlight a growing recognition of the dire situation in the region. However, these declarations come late in the conflict, and the Israeli government has already received substantial military and political support to initiate its wide military operation.
Furthermore, the lack of a United Nations Security Council vote for a ceasefire or a condemnation of Israeli bombings in Gaza Strip has been a missed opportunity to alter the course of the conflict. The media’s role in shaping the perception of the conflict, along with the positions of world leaders, has set a challenging course to reverse. Nevertheless, this evolving situation allows for these governments to play a mediating role in future negotiations if they seek a global solution of the conflict including all Palestinian and regional actors.
This situation echoes events from the second Intifada, when Yasser Arafat, the late president of the Palestinian Authority, refused an Israeli proposal for partial sovereignty over East Jerusalem including incomplete restitution of the occupied Palestinian Territories in 19667. The media, influenced by the Israeli perspective, presented Arafat as responsible for the failure of the peace process and supported a portrayal of him as corrupt and violent. Arafat was eventually confined, and encircled by the Israeli tanks to his headquarter in Ramallah where he accepted the financial and institutional conditions imposed by the EU and the US. Mahmoud Abbas, the current Palestinian president, was initially seen as a potential leader for the Palestinians to revitalize the peace process, but he too, faced challenges, and the political status quo persisted due to Israeli policies and practices on the grounds, including the interference in the Palestinian political system with the Support of the US and EU.
The media’s influence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is undeniable. Biased narratives can oversimplify complex issues, exacerbate conflicts, and hinder their resolution by presenting a one-sided perspective. Acknowledging the role of media framing is essential for achieving a more balanced and informed understanding of international conflicts. To foster peace and promote justice, media outlets, and policymakers must strive for a more impartial and comprehensive approach, recognizing the multifaceted nature of these issues and the need for a just and lasting resolution. In fact, wars incur significantly higher costs. However, it appears that international actors tend to be actively involved in wars rather than supporting inclusive and lasting peace process.
Rafe Jabari is a Political Scientist & a specialist in the Middle East.