The war on Gaza: Western Media’s misrepresentation of Palestine and Palestinians
Western media’s relationship with the subject of Palestine and Israel, and the ongoing turmoil, violence and seemingly perpetual conflict, has been marred by inaccuracies, strange perceptions and incongruities.
It is true that the verdict on Western media’s success or failures in conveying an accurate account of the situation in Palestine and Israel is, ultimately, subjective. Even Israelis who support the occupation of Palestine and the rightwing policies of their government often complain of media bias.
However, we can say with certainty that Western corporate mainstream media is failing, not because of the pro-Israel attitude held by most Americans – and to a lesser degree of Europeans – but because of their sheer ignorance of the uncontested facts thereof.
For example, an IRmep poll fielded by Google Consumer Surveys, concluded two years ago that majority of Americans are under the misconception that Palestinians occupy Israeli land, instead of the other way around.
This devastating lack of knowledge, considering the amount of time spent discussing Israel on US television channels and in newspapers, is indicative of a horrific failure. It has created the kind of intellectual vacuum that allowed such twisted ideas as ‘Palestinian mothers hate their children’ to perpetuate for far too long.
Alas, the above line was in fact a media staple in major American TV networks during the Second Palestinian Intifada between 2000-2005. Such dark judgement was not founded in any rational claim to support it, but on Zionist ideals of the past.
The idea originated in a statement attributed to Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir, who allegedly said that “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” Regardless of the authenticity of the statement, many of Israel’s supporters have indeed eternalized the notion and perpetuated its racist undertone ever since.
Unfair media coverage is not fueled by the simplistic notion of “clever Israel, imprudent Arabs”. Western media is actively involved in shielding Israel and enhancing its diminishing brand, while painstakingly demolishing the image of Israel’s enemiesRamzy Baroud
The moral crisis is compounded when US media uses such heinous logic as a point of departure in the way they frame their understanding, and subsequently their readers’ perceptions of the unlawful Israeli occupation of Palestine,’ and of the brutal ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people which began 70 years ago and has continued to date.
But can all of this be archived under the one-size-fits-all’ notion of ‘media bias’?
Hardly. The term ‘media bias’ does not do justice to the western corporate media’s relationship with Israel and Palestine. The relationship is, indeed, far more profound than mere partiality. It is not ignorance, either. It is a calculated and long-term campaign, aimed at guarding Israel and demonizing Palestinians.
The current biased coverage of Gaza’s popular protests indicates that the media’s position aims at suppressing the truth on Palestine, at any cost and by any means.
Political symbiosis, cultural affinity, Hollywood, and the far-reaching influence of pro-Israel and Zionist groups within the political and media circles, are some of the explanations many of us have offered as to why Israel is often viewed with sympathetic eyes, and Palestinians and Arabs condemned.
But such explanations should hardly suffice. Nowadays, there are numerous media outlets that are trying to offset some of the imbalance, many of them emanating from the Middle East, but also other parts of the world. Palestinian and Arab journalists, intellectuals and cultural representatives are more present on a global stage than ever before and are more than capable of facing off, if not defeating, the pro-Israeli media discourse.
However, they are largely invisible to western media; it is the Israeli spokesperson who continues to occupy the center stage, speaking, shouting, theorizing and demonizing as he pleases. It is, then, not a matter of media ignorance, but policy.
Even before March 30, when scores of Palestinians in Gaza were killed and thousands wounded, the US and British media, for example, should have, at least, questioned why hundreds of Israeli snipers and army tanks were ordered to deploy at the Gaza border to face-off Palestinian protesters.
Instead, the media referred to ‘clashes’ between Gaza youth and Israeli snipers as if they are equal forces in an equivalent battle. The maxim that official Israeli propaganda or ‘hasbara’ is too savvy no longer suffices. In fact, this is hardly true. Where is the ingenuity in the way the Israeli army explained the killing of unarmed Palestinians in Gaza?
“Yesterday we saw 30,000 people,” the Israeli army tweeted on March 31. “We arrived prepared and with precise reinforcements. Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.”
If that is not bad enough, Israel’s ultra-nationalist Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman, followed that self-indictment by declaring that there are “no innocent people in Gaza”, thus legitimizing the targeting of any Gazan within the besieged Strip.
Unfair media coverage is not fueled by the simplistic notion of “clever Israel, imprudent Arabs”. Western media is actively involved in shielding Israel and enhancing its diminishing brand, while painstakingly demolishing the image of Israel’s enemies.
Take, for example, Israel’s unfounded propaganda that Yasser Murtaja, the Gaza journalist who was killed in cold blood by an Israeli sniper while covering the Great March of Return protests at the Gaza border, was a member of Hamas.
First, ‘unnamed officials’ in Israel claimed that Yasser is ‘a member of the Hamas security apparatus.’ Then, Lieberman offered more (fabricated) details that Yasser was on Hamas’ payroll since 2011 and ‘held a rank similar to a captain.’ Many journalists took these statements and ran with them, fuelling a false media view.
It turned out that, according to the US State Department, Yasser’s start-up media company in Gaza had actually received a small grant from USAID, which subjected Yasser’s company to a rigorous vetting process. Furthermore, a report by the International Federation of Journalists claimed that Yasser was actually detained and beaten by the Gaza police in 2015, and that Israel’s Defense Minister is engineering a cover-up.
Judging by this, Israel’s media apparatus is as erratic and self-defeating as North Korea’s; but this is hardly the image conveyed by western media, because it insists on placing Israel on a moral pedestal while misrepresenting Palestinians, regardless of the circumstances.
Media spin will continue to provide Israel with the needed margins to carry out its violent policies against the Palestinian people, with no moral accountability. It will remain loyal to Israel, creating a buffer between the truth and its audiences.
It is incumbent on us to expose this sinister relationship and hold mainstream media accountable for covering up Israel’s crimes, as well as Israel, for committing and perpetuating these crimes in the first place.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London, 2018). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.