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By: Dr. Aref Assaf
News and stories about the killing of innocent civilians rightfully deserve front-page coverage. Yet it seems that American media outlets lazily adhere to the Israeli version of the tragic and deadly events.
You have given the world lull a new meaning. In the lexicon of Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it is now considered a lull period when only Palestinians are killed by Israelis.
What really happened during the period of “relative calm” between the disappeared and killing of three Israelis and the subsequent massive attacks on the entire Palestinian population? In that time, the Israeli military killed more than 10 Palestinians, 6 of which were under 16. Israel also destroyed or confiscated more than 5,000 acres belonging to Palestinian farmers; Israel destroyed 2 Palestinian homes and jailed more than 600 Palestinians.
Apparently, the death of Palestinians and destruction of their properties and denying them a normal life is considered an acceptable price for normalcy. Volatility, unrest, and terrorism capture your display pages only when Israelis are killed.
Coverage of the conflict has always been one-sided and viewed only thru the eyes of Israel military censure. Israel’s total grip on the borders and its restriction of reporter movement has created what I would describe a geographic bias that has rendered the battlefield – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – off-limits to foreign reporters. It is ironic that the only full-time reporter in the area is Amira Haas from the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz. We would, however, be given a totally different view of the conflict if you dared to report even half the stories Haas covers.
U.S. media’s bias is reflected in at least two manners: One is the amount of pro-Palestine editorials and commentaries by Palestinians or pro-Palestine writers compared to the pro-Israel views. The second, the editorial decisions by which Palestinian deaths and tragedies are reported and or presented compared to Israeli deaths. On the first front, a recent study by Patrick O’Connor concludes that Palestinians do not have easy access and thus permission to present their own narratives; generally aren’t allowed to speak for themselves or to articulate their historical narrative. Israelis, however, are permitted to speak, to explain the Israeli experience and even to explain about Palestinians. As a result, the Israeli story is known in the US while Palestinians are dehumanized.
I can attest to this dilemma for it is what I frequently face in my dealing with certain newspapers to which I have submitted editorials.
I recently submitted an op-ed piece about the subject of Israel imported dates which are sold in the United States without adhering to US regulation regarding country of origin labeling requirements. The editor of the paper replied that he would only publish my piece if I left politics out and instead focused my piece on the cultural and spiritual aspects of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month.
On the second point, placement of stories about Palestine compared to Israel indicate a serious lack of fairness and journalistic neutrality. According to If Americans New, most major American newspapers tend to relegate stories about Palestine deaths to the indexed pages, relying mostly on Israeli sources, while stories about Israeli death are given full attention on the front pages often accompanied by larger photographs. By deciding whose voices are heard, and which stories to cover or ignore, the US directly impacts the US public’s understanding of the conflict.
What is most dubious about American coverage is its almost total unquestioning of Israel’s assessment of events. It is now, for example, considered acceptable “collateral damage” when innocent Palestinian civilians are killed by a two-ton bomb directed at an apartment complex because the Israeli Army suspected a terrorist may be hiding there. When an Israeli is killed, the electronic media interrupts its programming to air the gavel-to-gavel story of the life that was lost, the agony of their weeping parents and relatives. When a Palestinian is killed, you only see “things” such as blown-up cars and buildings, as if Palestinians metaphysically exist without families and friends to mourn their loss also.
When Israel confiscates Arab lands and builds an illegal settlement for Jews only, it is described simply as a “neighborhood.” When an expectant Palestinian mother is denied access to medical service and is forced to give birth at a checkpoint, the justification is given as a “necessary” security measure.
Such deliberate and systematic dehumanizing of the Palestinians tragedy is the result of a mainstream media complicity that does not question authority or those who have the power and of a military capacity to affect the lives of millions of Israelis and Palestinians. This most pervasive and pernicious ineptitude of the media in covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict demonstrates not only a startling lack of professionalism and fairness but also a morally corrupt plateau that renders the lives of the Israelis as being inherently more valuable than those of the Palestinians.
The cycle of violence is neither cyclical nor random. The best metaphor to describe the Israel Palestine conflict is the causal effect theory. Israel’s illegal, immoral and brutal occupation of Palestinian lands has led to all kind of resistance manifestations. Simple acts such as people going to work and school every day, a farmer tilling his farm or a mother nursing her child, take on political dimensions that have sustained the Palestinian struggle for liberation and independence. True, some Palestinians have also utilized violent means to demonstrate their anger- condemnation of which must be made by all. However, this is not their exclusive actions when it comes to the region. Israel has systemically and systemically engaged in acts of terrorism against the Palestinian people.
It remains a fact that Israel’s continued military occupation of Palestine lands and the brutal subjugation of the Palestinian people are the two undeniable motives for Palestinian resistance both passive and violent. Relegating this reality only perpetuates the volatile atmosphere and brings Israel no peace or security and denies the Palestinians their inalienable legitimate rights to independence, justice, and a sovereign state.
The cause of peace, the security of Israel and justice for the Palestinians are mutually inclusive requirements for a peaceful Middle East. They will be advanced when we report the horrors of wars and terrorism by and against both Palestinians and Israelis.
Dr. Aref Assaf is president of the American Arab Forum, a think tank specializing in Arab and Muslim American affairs.