Reviews | How Media Coverage Whitewashes Israeli State Violence Against Palestinians
When we look at the pictures enough to come, the dynamic is evident: forces with gear and guns against worshipers kneeling in prayer. However, Western media coverage regularly calls this situation “complicated”, describing this state violence as “clashes” and “tension” between the two sides. Media headlines such as the Associated Press, New York Times, Guardian, Wall Street Journal, NBC News and others use language that fails to acknowledge the power imbalance between the Israeli military apparatus and the original Palestinian people.
It’s a pattern we’ve seen time and time again in media coverage of Palestine. Palestinians are not killed; we just die. When Israeli forces attack our neighborhoods in the middle of the night, bomb our children, demolish our homes, colonize our land and kill our people, we are somehow equal instigators. Media portrayals regularly imply a false symmetry between occupier and occupied, supporting anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic narratives that blame the Palestinian people for Israeli aggression.
This contrasts with the coverage of the war in Ukraine, in which the Western media makes it very clear that Russia is the aggressor and that the Ukrainian people are resisting, as anyone would if their home were to be invaded. From calling for sanctions against Moscow to praising the use of Molotov cocktails against Russian soldiers in kyiv, mainstream Western media have backed the Ukrainian people’s attempts to defend themselves.
Yet when it comes to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, these same media often fail to name the aggressor. Ukrainian civilians throwing Molotov cocktails at Russian tanks are described as ‘brave’, but 14-year-old Qusai Hamamrah was described as posing an immediate threat after armed Israeli soldiers claimed he threw a Molotov cocktail at them . This marks a stark and racist difference in media coverage, which has obscured eyewitness accounts that the boy was running to hide from Israeli bullets aimed at another Palestinian.
Newsrooms cannot choose what state-sanctioned violence is legitimate. They must make an effort to report the actions of the Israeli military and Israeli settlers in the same way that abuses in Ukraine and other countries are covered. Indeed, the Israeli government is very aware of the potential of the media to expose these abuses. Israeli forces bombed news offices in the Gaza Strip last May and journalists attacked as Nasrine Salem in Al-Aqsa.
Last summer, more than 500 journalists signed an open letter exposing harmful malpractices in US media coverage of Palestine. The cry was not heard; biased coverage continues to be the norm.
This month, the Association of Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists reminded journalists to pay attention to language and context and re-share the reporting guidelines issued during Israel’s deadly assault on Gaza last year, which killed 259 Palestinians, including 66 children. The guidelines ask journalists to acknowledge that Palestinians are subject to an unjust and unequal system, which has been labeled apartheid by international organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as the Israeli human rights organization man B’Tselem. He also asked journalists to be wary of religious framing and to “tell readers who was killed or injured, where and by whom, using active rather than passive language”. In concrete terms, this means specifying who the aggressor is, what measures he has taken and against whom.
Journalists have a responsibility to report the facts without bias. Journalism is about people: their stories, their history, their reality. This includes the Palestinian people. Factual reporting should include seeking Palestinian voices and investigating government officials’ allegations before reporting them as the truth.
By neglecting to contextualize Israeli state violence, the media has given the Israeli government a free pass, allowing it to continue the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people with impunity. It’s time for outlets to right the wrong they’ve done. They should make an effort to hire Palestinian journalists and center Palestinian voices, instead of systematically erasing them from their own stories. The endless sequences of documented violence against Palestinians must not remain confined to social media feeds (which face another form of censorship).
Instead of conveying incomplete narratives that give reign to Israeli aggression, the media must start telling the whole story.