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The Untold Truth: Generations of Biased Reporting on the Israel-Palestine Conflict

On this New Year’s Eve (2008-2009), I did not go out to party and celebrate like most people around the world did, instead I went to the downtown of Ramallah, Palestine to protest against Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Most of my winter break I spent my time shifting between the television and internet, trying to get a feel of the reality of what was going on in the Gaza Strip, and spreading as much of what I know to my friends here in the U.S. Hundreds, including many children, had already been killed in less than three days of ruthless Israeli air raids.

Yara Abbas

Editor’s note: Yara Abbas, a sophomore Electronic Media Arts and Technology major, is studying here at the University of Tampa from Ramallah, Palestine. Originally from Safad, which is now a part of Israel. It is an area where Arabs are not allowed to live or visit. Abbas has seen firsthand the conflict in the region, living there during the Second Intifada (2000-2006). This is her personal account of biased reporting within the region.

On this New Year’s Eve (2008-2009), I did not go out to party and celebrate like most people around the world did, instead I went to the downtown of Ramallah, Palestine to protest against Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Most of my winter break I spent my time shifting between the television and internet, trying to get a feel of the reality of what was going on in the Gaza Strip, and spreading as much of what I know to my friends here in the U.S. Hundreds, including many children, had already been killed in less than three days of ruthless Israeli air raids.

I heard any news bulletin I could get and read anything I could find on the internet. One thing I could never comprehend: how and why is such massive killing described as self-defense?

In the U.S., just like many other countries in the world, the media is required by law to be ‘neutral and objective’.

It is, however, neither neutral nor objective when it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In the West, particularly in the United States, the media through its representation and framing of the conflict, appears considerably biased in favor of Israel. This can be observed in the terminology used, selectivity in news coverage, and the extent of coverage and even through false reporting.

The terminology used in western news reports often indicates a bias against Palestinians.

Certain words suggest that Palestinians are at fault or are evil, implying that Israelis are right. Israeli attacks on Palestinians are ‘retaliation’ or ‘self defense’, whereas Palestinian attacks are ‘terrorism’. FAIR (Fairness ‘amp; Accuracy in Reporting), which monitors U.S. media, studied the use of words that seem to favor Israel in American media.

It found that between Sept. 28, 2000 (the beginning of the Al Aqsa Intifada or uprising) and March 17, 2002, in 79 percent of the cases, the three main broadcasting networks used the word ‘retaliation’ to describe Israeli acts of violence, in comparison with 12 percent only for Palestinian acts of violence. This gives the impression that Israel only acts violently in self-defense, whereas Palestinians rarely, if ever, act so.

Ironically, the first use of firearms and the first five deaths in the Second Intifada ‘were all perpetrated by Israeli soldiers and policemen. Furthermore the Israeli army on occupied Palestinian soil is generally referred to as ‘security forces,’ while Palestinian protesters and demonstrators are either militants or rioters.

Illegal Jewish settlements in Palestine are referred to as ‘neighborhoods’ but the removal by force of Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is related to the U.S.’s War on Terrorism, implying that Palestinians are all terrorists, rioters, and militants. The word ‘terrorism’ is often used to describe the aggressive acts of Palestinians but not the aggressive acts of Israelis. In effect, the word terrorism has become a ‘racist term that demonizes any aggressive action against Israel’s occupation’. While this selective terminology may go unnoticed, it is a central factor in the misrepresentation of the conflict and often the public does not realize its impact on shaping their own opinions.

Omission of information is another form of bias. A study (Accuracy in Reporting of Israel/Palestine) found that the U.S. television networks reported Israeli deaths at a much higher rate than Palestinian deaths. In 2000, the Times reported on about 42 percent of Palestinian deaths, and 119 percent of Israeli deaths, through follow up headlines that often repeated the news of Israeli deaths. The media is even more reluctant to report the deaths of Palestinian children. In fact, ‘only 20 percent of these deaths were reported, as compared to 89 percent of Israeli minors’ deaths .’ The U.S. media virtually ignores the deaths of Palestinian minors, but emphasizes those of Israeli minors.

Significantly, media reports often do not tell the whole story or include all information from both sides. In August 2005, a CNN headline read ‘Israel: Five Militants Shot in Raid’. CNN described Palestinians as ‘militants’, a word rarely, if ever, used to describe the Israelis. In this case, CNN reported that there were indications that these militants were involved in a suicide bombing. It also reported, ‘They were armed and exchanged fire with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).’ CNN, however, did not include any Palestinian quotes, or witnesses who could provide an alternative perspective. Neither did CNN mention that three of the shot Palestinians were minors. In contrast, the Israeli newspaper, Haartez coverage included the Palestinian side of the story with quotes from Palestinians; it reported that IDF killed five Palestinians, of whom three were between the ages of 14 and 17, pointing out that that they had ‘no known links to militant organizations’. It would appear that even the Israeli press could be less biased than the American press.

CNN has also been guilty of bias in its selection of venue of coverage. Violence occurred at about the same time in both Tel Aviv and Rafah. Tel Aviv however, is an Israeli city, whereas Rafah is Palestinian. The news on Tel Aviv, which turned out to be an ‘internal criminal attack’ was posted almost immediately.

However, CNN said nothing about the Rafah attack until it received a complaint from Partners for Peace. Eventually, the Rafah attack was mentioned at the end of a news report about Ahmed Qureia’s, (head of the Palestinian peace negotiating team,)’criticism of Israel’s Segregation Barrier’. When the public only hears about attacks against Israelis, the Palestinians are depicted as perpetrators of violence, whereas omission of attacks against Palestinians impedes the audiences’ ability to determine which side is guilty, or at least guiltier.

Some media reports are simply false. On the first day of the second Intifada, CNN reported on its website that, ‘Palestinian protestors pelted Israeli worshippers at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem with stones’. Stones were in fact thrown at Israeli police officers and soldiers, ‘who accompanied Ariel Sharon to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount’; they were armed, killed Five Palestinians and wounded hundreds, while on the other hand, the Palestinians did not shoot or kill any Israelis; few soldiers sustained minor injuries caused by stones.

I have learnt that media is about providing the audience with facts, enabling them to make informed decisions and positions. The neutrality of the media is a topic for on-going debate, as journalists are after all humans too. Nevertheless, the media has a responsibility. It contributes to shaping public opinion and in doing so could potentially contribute to aggravating conflict or to conflict resolution. More importantly, many argue that human values of peace, justice, and equality are a major part of its mission. Aren’t all human lives equal in value? Shouldn’t all children be protected from violence? Is it possible that victims trigger reactions of perpetrators?
Questions for the Western, particularly American media, to answer with an open heart, mind and conscience.

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