The Role Of U.S. Media in The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
By Jayne Gardener
Following a war between Israel and the countries of Syria, Jordan and Egypt in 1967, Israel established a military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
That same year, United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 242 calling upon the State of Israel to withdraw. To date, Israel has yet to comply.
Millions of Palestinian Arabs live under a brutal, oppressive military occupation while the everyday lives of both Palestinians and Israelis are plagued with violence and insecurity. Palestinian people react to the oppression within the limited means of resistance at their disposal bringing upon themselves the full weight of Israel’s military arsenal. While there have been many casualties on both sides, the number of dead Palestinians, including children, far outweighs any loss of life on the opposing side.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict dominates the news media in the United States when it comes to coverage of foreign affairs. But does the mostly Jewish-owned corporate media reflect the truth of the situation? Or are we being given biased coverage that is failing to reflect the stark and extremely harsh reality of the tremendous human suffering created by the ongoing situation?
The veracity of the matter is that Israel has created an extremely brutal and violent military occupation in the territories, bringing about a situation that makes any semblance of a decent life virtually impossible for the Palestinian people. The occupied territories have almost no economy with a 65% unemployment rate and 75% of the population living below the poverty line.
Often their communities are surrounded by Israeli tanks which makes going about the activities of daily living next to impossible. Their roads are totally under Israeli control with hundreds of checkpoints where you may be denied permission to travel even with the correct documentation.
Their crops are often bulldozed into oblivion, their irrigation piping vandelized and they face endless curfews where they are unable to leave their homes to work, go to school, visit a neighbor, shop for food or medical necessities or to even access medical care. To be a Palestinian in the occupied territories is akin to being an inmate in a huge maximum security prison with precious little hope of parole or pardon.
The Palestinian people are often detained, tortured and subjected to horrendous human rights violations by the Israeli Defense Forces including the wanton destruction of homes, sometimes with family members inside, blocking of ambulances and denial of humanitarian assistance as well as the use of Palestinians as human shields for the IDF, all of which have been labeled war crimes by Amnesty International and other human rights watchdog organizations.
Pregnant Arab women are frequently unable to avail themselves of medical assistance when giving birth and often have to watch their babies die while waiting at Israeli checkpoints to access help.
The majority of Americans have no clear understanding of just how horrific the conditions are under which the Palestinians live on a day to day basis and this is because of the journalistic void in the coverage of the conflict. There is a dearth of reporting when it comes to the egregious treatment of the Palestinian people as well as a glaring lack of analysis.
The American media controls the lexicon when it comes to explaining the conflict while Israeli wages a public relations campaign in the United States, more or less occupying the American media ideologically.
Israel's rigorous public relations campaign really started in the early 1980s with the invasion of Lebanon that eventually earned Israel world-wide criticism and condemnation. In retrospect, it would seem that Israel was more concerned with her public image and the world's perception of her than she was about the almost 20,000 Lebanese civilians killed over a three month period, including those killed at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps.
As a result, Israel set up permanent institutional structures to rehabilitate and guard the public perception of her, including what was called the Hasbara project, also known as the Israeli Citizens Information Council whose activities include:
1.Training speakers and organizing speaking engagements and media appearances abroad.2. Hosting visiting groups from abroad.3. Providing assistance and guidance for individual and groups involved in hasbara and advocacy campaigns.4. Encouraging participation in media "watch" groups.5. Providing a resource to the foreign media outlets for Israeli grass-root opinion and experience.6. Supporting the activities of student groups advocating pro-democracy, human rights and anti-terror messages.7. Forming liaisons with individuals, communities and public officials overseas through e-mail and personal contact.8. Providing information and "alerts" to support the above activities through our website, wwwhasbara.com.
The ICIC engages in these activities through liaison with communities outside of Israel. Our goal is to provide diversity to official Israeli government positions by using citizens from all walks of life and political persuasions. Our "citizen diplomacy" allows the presentation of mainstream Israeli thinking as represented by the grass roots. ICIC speakers are academicians, professionals and community activists who can provide communities with an authentic voice reflecting the mainstream in Israeli opinion. (source:www.hasbara.com)
As part of this process, trained press officers are put into American Consulates for whom the Israeli press office provides ready-made stories which are also given to American journalists in Israel who are reporting on the conflict. This way, Israel completely controls what information about the conflict is disseminated to the world.
Israel has in place many filters through which news must pass before it is given to the American public either in their newspapers, periodicals or on television.
The first filter is the owners of American media firms who are, as we know, predominately Jewish. Next come the political elites who work hand in hand with the media outlets, an almost incestuous relationship in many respects. The third filter is the large and prestigious American public relations firms which are hired to put a positive (read Israel friendly) spin on any news concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Also part of the chain of command in Israel's public relations campaign are the Israeli consulates in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. who monitor coverage of the conflict to make sure that the correct pro-Israel emphasis is in place before it is put into the hands of journalists covering middle eastern news.
On top of all of this, there are American grassroots organizations (both Christian and Jewish) which stand in direct opposition to any news that might be considered unfavorable to Israel. There are quite a few of these, the most important of which is the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) which is unarguably the most powerful foreign lobby in America. Those organizations who dare to oppose Israeli government policy such as Jews Against The Occupation or Americans For Peace Now will never get their voices heard because they will never make it past the Israeli public relations filters put in place.
If that weren't enough, there are also several media watchdog organizations that keep a watchful eye out for anything that might appear in the media that criticizes or condemns Israel. This would include the Anti-Defamation League and Palestinian Media Watch among others, the most important being CAMERA, or the Committee For Accuracy In Middle East Reporting In America.
With all of these organizations standing at the gate to monitor all news concerning Israel, the voices for the Palestinians are essentially silenced and Americans never hear the truth of what is taking place in the occupied territories. Journalists who dare to cross the line and report news that is unfavorable to Israel will often find themselves and their editors harassed and/or fired and their newspapers or media outlets boycotted.
Strangely enough, it is the American media that is the worst as far as being biased and one-sided in their reporting of the Palestinian crisis. The BBC has been known to give more fair and balanced coverage of the issue and even Israeli outlets like Ha'aretz cover the conflict more accurately than American news organizations which only serves to illustrate just how "owned" the American media is.
There are many ways in which the American news reports slant the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Israel's favor, often using both commission and ommission to distort the facts and paint a false or at least skewed picture of the crisis.
One way would be by failing to put the entire situation in the context of a foreign occupation. The Palestinians are seen as the instigators of violence rather than as a desperate people lashing out against tyranny and an oppressive occupation by a foreign power. This military occupation can claim no international legitimacy and has been the subject of numerous UN resolutions. In essence, the Israeli defense forces, having occupied the land, uses extreme and brutal military force against a largely unarmed population who are simply reacting to the cruel and repressive treatment.
According to Fairness And Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) for the year 2001, only 4% of American television network reports on the conflict even mention that Gaza and the West Bank are occupied. The fact is, they ARE occupied and when the residents resist, Israel claims to be "under attack" and any news coverage is worded in a way that makes it appear that Israel is doing nothing more than defending herself. How is it defense when you are responsible for a hostile military occupation? Why would you even need to defend yourself on someone elses land if you weren't there uninvited and unwelcome?
The news media in America also frequently distorts the coverage of the conflict by failing to inform the American people that by building settlements in Gaza and the West Bank and by forcing Palestinians from their land and demolishing their homes, the Israelis are slowly accomplishing what has long been their plan, annexation of the Palestinian land into greater Israel. This long range plan has been extremely costly not only in terms of money but in terms of human misery and lives lost.
Israeli settlers build in locations that give them strategic advantage in terms of control of the area and of the natural resources, namely water. They build roads that carve up and crisscross the area and by doing so, restrict Palestinian movement. These roads also give Israelis direct and easy access to Israel itself. The settlements themselves contravene the Geneva Conventions Article 49 which states:
"The occupying power shall not transport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."
Media tries to soften the impact of the settlements by sanitizing the language they employ when referring to them by calling them "neighborhoods" which have a much friendlier connotation than "settlements.." Much of this linguistic sleight of hand is dictated to journalists by the Israeli public relations machinery and no American journalist seemingly has the intestinal fortitude to be true to the purpose of his profession, which is, of course, to report the news.
The Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are completely illegal under international law and the Palestinians simply want all building stopped as they, rightly so, view it as a threat to their sovereignty. The American media also deliberately obscures the fact that the Israeli government actively promotes the settlements as a means of rationalizing their control of the annexed areas and as part of their strategy in the process of complete annexation.
Settlers have only added to the almost impossible conditions under which the average Palestinian lives. Many settlers have been violently aggressive towards their Palestinian neighbors, smashing their cars, vandalizing their property, burning their fields, demolishing their homes and generally stripping them of all human dignity.
Thousands of Palestinians are left homeless by demolitions and it is nearly impossible for a Palestinian to acquire a building permit. If they build without said permit, their home can be demolished and the media will portray the demolition as being necessary since the homeowner in question failed to abide by the law. Some of this land has been in Palestinian families for generations, but once it is is seized it becomes state land and they have no further claim on it. This is nothing short of a slow means by which the Israelis attempt "ethnic cleansing" against the Palestinian Arabs.
American media distorts coverage of the Palestinian crisis is by creating the perception that the violence in Israel as well as in the occupied territories happens in a vacuum with no context. Palestinians have engaged in both violent and non-violent resistance to the occupation but it is, of course, the violence which creates the headlines.
When a Palestinian suicide bomber blows himself up and kills Israeli citizens in the process, the media covers the story as though it is a random, senseless act of violence by a Palestinian who hates for no discernible reason. While I personally don't condone terrorist acts of any stripe, I think it is important for all Americans to understand why the Palestinians engage in this type of terror tactic.
The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is the longest military occupation in history, lasting from 1967 to the present. In those years the Palestinian people have been victims of a ceaseless campaign of violence, oppression and tyranny. Their fundamental human rights are denied. They can be detained and tortured at will. They are kept from simple travel to carry on the activities of daily living without constant harassment. They are a frustrated and desperate people, some of whom finally reach the conclusion that guerilla warfare is their only answer.
The American media, however, never frames these suicide attacks in the context of forty-two years of oppressive military occupation and when the Palestinians have finally had enough and resort to violence themselves, the media portrays them as the aggressors and casts Israel in the light of the innocent victim who is doing nothing but defending herself from hostile attacks. When Israel does retaliate, as they always do, it creates even more anger among the Palestinian population making the recruitment of suicide bombers even easier.
The media constantly portrays the occupation as the result of Palestinian violence when the exact opposite is the truth. Headlines scream "Palestinian Hatred" while rendering a forty-two year occupation by a hostile and oppressive foreign power invisible and therefore, by default, Israeli "defense" is seen as justified. Coverage of the conflict is always couched in phrases such as "Israel reacts," "Israel defends," Israel retaliates" or "Israel responds" while placing total blame for any aggression on the Palestinians.
Since 9/11, the American media has also drawn the Palestinian-Israeli conflict into the fold as part of the "war on terror," creating empathy between Israeli and American citizens when the two situations are not even the slightest bit analogous. It is not fair and balanced reporting to constantly portray the Israelis as the perpetual victim while placing total blame for the conflict on the Palestinian people.
American coverage of the Palestinian crisis determines which victims are newsworthy and what seems to be the case, at least in the minds of the media, is that Israeli victims are far more newsworthy than those who happen to be Palestinian. Israeli victims are presented in a way as to make us more empathetic towards them. We hear their names, see their pictures, are told their hopes, and dreams and aspirations, we see and hear their grieving families and our hearts are tugged on as we view scenes from their funerals.
Palestinian victims, on the other hand, are treated as just another nameless statistic. We don't learn their names, hear about their lives or see their grieving families. They are simply numbers, despite the fact that many of them are killed in their own homes, in their own back yards or simply going about their daily business such as going to work or to school. In the minds of many Americans, Palestinian victims are just the price that must be paid for the conflict and there is no empathy, despite their innocence.
News of attacks by Palestinians against Israeli citizens is always couched in terms such as "horrible carnage," "massacre" or other similar terms but when there are few, if any, Israeli casualties but many Palestinian victims, the media will often describe these periods as being one of "relative peace."
Newscasters "normalize" the horror of raining missiles down on civilian populations when those missiles were deliberately chosen by the Israelis because "they do more damage." Arab victims are dismissed or downplayed. Roadside bombs are placed in areas where children pass to go to school and often the victims are blamed for their victimization. There is an inherent injustice in using "sanitized" language that serves only to represent the Palestinian victims as somehow less than human and less deserving of our empathy and sorrow.
Corporate media in the United States serves to perpetuate the myth of American neutrality in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. The U.S. is urged to become "more engaged" in the peace negotiations or to take more of an "active" role, etc.
However, while presenting itself as a neutral broker between the two sides, its news coverage favors Israel almost 100%. The United States has vetoed more than 33 United Nations Security Council resolutions against Israel making it impossible for any country to place sanctions against her and actively blocks diplomatic moves to handle the situation. The peace process might more aptly be called how the U.S. prevented peace.
The United States provides billions of dollars to Israel each year, much of it in military aid of the most deadly kind. If peace is the ultimate goal here, it can only be described as an abject failure.
The fact of the matter is that the U.S. wants control of all middle eastern oil not only as a source of enormous wealth but as a means of keeping its hegemony in the Middle East. With the European Union and Russia as potential competitors, controlling the oil would be a means by which to retain ultimate control.
Things have gone from bad to worse since the Neo-cons have moved onto the scene, occupying various high level government positions in the United States. With these Israel Firsters in power, it can honestly be said that "Israel is in the White House."
For all intents and purposes, US policy is Israeli policy. As a result, the US wants to make sure that Israel can control the current situation by violence while the American media provides the diplomatic cover.
Our congress is extremely pro-Israel which goes completely unchallenged by the media. There are virtually no critical views on American middle east diplomacy in the news and no alternative viewpoints are to be found unless one searches them out on the internet. There is no criticism of US-Israeli relations and absolutely no condemnation of what Israel is doing with American weapons supplied by American taxpayers. It is, for all intents and purposes, the last taboo in American..
One only has to see press conferences being conducted on the news. Whether it is the president of the United States or the Secretary of State or whomever, they are on a first name basis with the members of the press, creating an incestuous relationship which only serves to undermine the truth.
One of the more egregious and damaging myths about the Palestinian crisis that has been ubiquitous in the American media is the belief that the Israelis have made a generous and magnanimous offer of peace to the Palestinian people which was dismissed out of hand by the Palestinians because they don't want peace when, in reality, they were offered nothing.
The Camp David accords in 2000, for example, were meetings between Yassar Arafat, Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak. The claim was made in the media that the Palestinians were made a reasonable and perhaps even exceptionally generous offer of peace when it was an offer no Palestinian leader would ever accept on behalf of his people. It would have left them with no control of their borders, no control of their air space and no control over the only natural resource in the area, water. The Israeli roads which crisscross the territories would remain, still making it impossible for Palestinians to have free movement within their own state or to even have access to their holy sites. The peace plan also afforded no solution to the three million plus Palestinian refugees residing in camps under inhuman and degrading conditions.
The Palestinians were told they would have the right to call themselves a state, print their own stamps and have their own national anthem, but in reality, they would be only a nominal state in what was effectively part of greater Israel, which would continue to have strategic advantage in every sense.
It would allow for ongoing land expropriations, tree uprootings, accelerated settlement building and unfair water access. Palestinians often have access to clean running water for a mere two hours a week while living within view of settlers with their lush, green lawns and gardens and their full swimming pools. It was no real offer of peace in the eyes of Arafat and he had no choice but to reject it, realizing that the Palestinian people would still lose everything.
To add insult to injury, Ariel Sharon, protected by a huge number of riot police, decided to make a public spectacle by paying a visit to the Dome Of The Rock, the highest holy place for both Muslims and Jews, simply as another way for him to rub so-called Israeli superiority into the faces of the Palestinian people. They responded by hurling rocks at the police and the intifada was on. American media however, again played its role in covering up the real reasons for the Palestinian rejection of the plan and put the blame for all the resulting violence squarely on their shoulders.
Marginalizing opposing voices is another means by which the American media fails to give the American people an accurate view of what is going on in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the year 2000, The Woman's Peace Camp organized a march through the streets of Jerusalem involving 2000 women, all dressed in black, carrying signs in support of peace. I'm sure this is not known by most Americans since they would have no way of knowing it unless they sought out the information on the internet. It was never covered by American news agencies.
Another organization which gets no coverage by the American media is The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions where Jews and Arabs work side by side to rebuild Palestinian homes. There are many Israeli citizens who are vehemently opposed to the demolition of Palestinian homes and are willing to step up to the plate and offer assistance.
Also marginalized are the reserve Israeli combat officers who are now refusing to serve in the occupied territories. They have started a petition as follows:
"We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people."
Hundreds of IDF refuseniks have joined with them despite being called traitors by their countrymen and sometimes, in spite of being incarcerated for their refusal. Most of them agree, and rightly so, that the occupation does nothing to bring about any kind of security to Israel and they no longer wish to be part of Israeli military oppression. American Jews, including some rabbis, have been labeled "self-hating" for speaking out against the military occupation in Palestine while Christians who speak out against the situation are simply referred to in the media as anti-semites.
Eventually they will be unable to maintain the lie that speaking out against Israel's policy towards the Palestinian people is anti-semitism, but in the meantime, it remains their most effective way of silencing dissenters. Hurling the term anti-semite or racist at someone is grossly misused as a public relations strategy, the sole purpose being to silence decent, caring people.
The American media is complicit in the crimes against the Palestinian people by the Israelis and it is clear to me at least that the biggest obstacle to peace in the middle east is not the Palestinians, it is the United States. The fight must be waged here for the minds of the American people who need to know the truth in order that they may make it known that they do not want their hard-earned tax dollars used for the horrific and inhumane treatment of the Palestinians. We have a right to know what is being done in our name and let our government know that we want no part of it.
American people are, for the most part, good people who would not support the atrocities inflicted on the Palestinians in the occupied territories and if they truly understood the anguish of the citizens of the occupied territories they would never allow it to continue unchallenged. We can change American public opinion by demanding that the American media remain true to its purpose which is to report the news, not to lie, deceive, omit and obfuscate through manipulation of the language.
An end to the occupation of the disputed territories might just result in a decent life for the Palestinian Arabs and provide more safety and security for Israeli citizens. For her part, Israel must make peace with her neighbors and a just peace with the Palestinians.
It may be the only way to stop the carnage.
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