Covering Palestine: How US Media Betrayed Its Public

Free media is an important institution in a democracy. The media in a democratic society must be responsible for conveying the sort of facts and analysis that is necessary for an informed perspective of the issues at hand. The public that watches television, listens to radio and reads newspapers and magazines depends on journalists to tell them the truth and offer honest opinion as they see it. The media has a strong influence on the public political thinking by ascribing social acceptance to some ideas and rejection of others.

The media has the power of rearranging the priorities of the issues among the public. It can focus on a subject that looks irrelevant at first glance, and after frequent coverage, it can be elevated in importance in the minds of the public. The US media was very effective in swaying public opinion to support the government policies toward Iraq by provoking the emotions of fear, anger, and patriotism prior to Iraq invasion. The media provides the decision makers with issues that need to be addressed. Bernard Cohen, an expert on governments in action, states that many employees in the US State Department arrive early in their offices to read New York Times to prepare for their reports about the issues of the day. Since the outlook of the United States government and the American people bears directly on whether a fair solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be achieved, US news media that is the source of information about the conflict is essential factor in the peace process. The US media must have its share of the blame if a just peace is not achieved.

Unfortunately, in covering the Palestinian conflict, the US media has betrayed the public trust and corrupted its own profession by suppressing information for the sake of a political agenda biased against the Palestinians. It failed to identify the Palestinians as dispossessed and oppressed people not terrorists. The Palestinians are either living under occupation or in refugee camps and a sizable minority treated as second class citizens inside Israel. The media failed to identify Israel’s violations of the international laws in the occupied territories. It never reported that the Israeli violence against the Palestinians exceeds Palestinian violence against the Israelis by many folds. The International Red Cross and human rights organizations have been deploring the daily killing and detention of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank by the Israeli incursions by land and air.

New York Times “incorporates a rejection of evenhandedness” in its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict according to the global studies academics Howard Friel and Richard Falk. When human rights organizations demand neither side to attack the other, and Israel fires more than ten artillery high-explosive shells mostly on civilian targets in Gaza for every home made Qassam rocket fired by Palestinian armed groups that kill no Israelis, the Times condemns only one side, the Palestinians. It accuses Hamas of playing the “provocateurs’ game”, thus justifying killing and injuring hundreds of civilians including children, and the Times did not criticize the US veto of the UN cease-fire resolution that would stop the bloodshed.

How can a major paper in a self-proclaimed civilized society justify killing 19 Palestinians including eight children and seven women and wounding dozens when the Israeli military artillery shells struck a residential area in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun? This massacre was reported by Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz and other news organizations on November 8, 2006, but similar incidents happen almost daily in Gaza and the West Bank which is the home base of President Abbas. The US news media never mentioned that Hamas had maintained a sixteen-month cease-fire while Israel continued its incursion attacks on the Palestinians and the media never even questioned the purpose of such attacks. The media, however, calls any Palestinian use of force as “terrorism”, even if it is directed against military targets.

Ethan Bronner, deputy foreign editor of the Times and the main commentator on the Arab-Israel conflict has endorsed in writing the notion of the Zionist activist Allan Dershowitz that “evenhandedness” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “should be abandoned as a matter of principle”. Dershowitz wrote in his book “the Case of Israel”, “If the United States were ever to become as even-handed as the international community has been, it would surely encourage continuing aggression against the Jewish state”. The book that has been endorsed by Bronner rejects the concept that Israeli Jews and Palestinians should have equal rights within the territory of historical Palestine because according to them Israel occupies more legal and moral status relative to the Palestinians. Further more, Bronner agrees with Dershowitz that Noam Chomsky’s sympathy with the Palestinians in his book “The Faitful Triangle” is a form of support for extremism simply because Chomsky as a historian recognizes the Palestinians’ right to have a state of their own on 22 percent of their historic homeland. Recognition of any Palestinians’ rights has become extremism and even anti-Semitism in the US, thanks to the media.

When Israel withdrew its military and dismantled its settlement in Gaza, the US news media labeled it in so many articles as the end of Gaza occupation and that the Palestinians should be grateful for such Israeli painful concession. The news reporters and commentators did not explain to their audience and readers that Gaza continues to be a big prison and its inhabitants are still under occupation after the withdrawal. The Gazans are doomed to live in poverty surrounded by the Israeli military machine from the sea, the land and air, and if a group within the territory breaks the rules laid down by Israel, the whole population will be subjected to collective punishment. With the support of the US and the news media, the Israeli military campaign in Gaza and the West Bank continues to kill and wound Palestinians on daily basis. The US media does not refer to such attacks and the act of border closures by Israel that leads to major shortages of basic supplies, as a human rights violation according to Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Article 33 explicitly forbids “collective penalties” and punishment “for an offense he or she has not personally committed” but the US media calls the starving of a nation and denying their sick the medicine they need to stay alive, self-defense.

US media ignores reference to UN resolutions that apply to the conflict and it does not mention incriminating facts against Israel presented by the human rights organizations including those in Israel itself. The media does not care to publish or quote people like the Israeli commentator Amira Hass who dared to ask the researchers of Nazism and the Holocaust and Soviet gulags “could it be that you [the researchers] side with further expropriation of lands and the demolition of additional orchards, for another settler neighborhood and another exclusively Jewish road? That you all back the shelling and missile fire killing the old and the young in the Gaza Strip?”

The media never challenged the Israel-US insistence on basing the peace process exclusively on the gimmicks of 2003 Roadmap, rather than the international laws as a reference.

Disregarding the international laws on the fundamental issues has transformed the peace talks into bargaining process based on facts on the ground created by Israel illegally as an occupying power according to international laws. UN General Assembly Resolution 194 was the condition attached to Israel’s admission to the UN as a member. As an international law, it called upon Israel to allow repatriation of those Palestinians who had fled or been expelled and compensate those who choose to remain outside Israel. Israel has rejected it to preserve its Jewish identity, President Bush declared his support to the Israeli position and the US media never questioned its legality.

The fourth Geneva Convention calls for the protection of civilians during war or under occupation. Article 49 of the fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from establishing settlements occupied by its nationals. And it prohibits population transfer that alters the character of the occupied land. Israel ignored the Convention and established more than 200 Jewish only settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem protected by the Israeli military. The media does not explain that most of Palestinian violence against the Israelis is triggered by the provocative presence of these settlements. Occupying power is not permitted to alter patterns of beneficial use of resources in the occupied land, but Israel has diverted most of the water from aquifers under the West Bank for use in Israel and the Jewish only settlements.

Peace with justice will not be achieved as long as the behavior of the parties to the conflict is not appraised by the media equally based on the rules of the international laws.

-Born in Nablus, Palestine, Hasan Afif El-Hasan,Ph.D, is a political analyst. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com

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