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  • Western Media Propaganda in Coverage of the Israel-Palestine Conflict
Published 21 August 2014
The recent Gaza assault lacked legitimacy in the light of international law. The media seem to have neglected this issue.

The Israel-Palestine conflict is extensively covered by the Western news media. Flagships of the liberal media like the Guardian (UK), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany) or The New York Times (USA) have relegated large sections of newspaper space to the latest Israeli assault on the Gaza strip. Most Western states are staunch supporters of Israeli policies. The Western liberal news media consequently includes recurring propaganda themes that facilitate Israeli over Palestinian interests. For a better understanding of Western media propaganda it might be worth fleshing out some of those themes as they have come up during the recent Israeli assault on Gaza.

Israel responds

Regular headline and front-page news coverage connects Israeli and Palestinian actions in a particular way: Israel is usually depicted as reacting to Palestinian provocations. During the latest Israeli assault on Gaza, the news media emphasized in countless items that the Israeli military responded to rocket attacks by Hamas. For instance, the German press argued Israel would hesitate to “retaliate” to rocket fire from Gaza (FAZ.NET, 9 July 2014), had “retorted the attacks” (Bild.de, 10. Juli 2014), or “responds to rocket fire“ (SpiegelOnline, 11. Juli 2014).

Such framing of issues implied a cause (Hamas) and effect (violent confrontation) framework that promotes a particular solution (Israeli military offensive actions to stop Hamas’s rockets). The news media framework included not only a subjective narrative that fostered a violent solution at the expense of diplomacy but was also in contradiction of available evidence. At the beginning of the recent Gaza assault, Israel had actually used the murder of three Israeli youths as a pretense to intimidate members of Hamas and sabotage the forming of the Palestinian Unity Government. Meanwhile, hundreds of Palestinians were incarcerated and several killed. And these actions had, together with Israel’s siege of the Gaza strip and its occupation of the West Bank, actually provoked Hamas’s rocket fire.

The terrorists and extremists are always on the Palestinian side

The propagandistic depiction of cause and effect in the Gaza conflict also touched on the various actors involved. In regular news media coverage of Gaza, Hamas and its members were often labeled as terrorists or extremists. This depiction was facilitated by Hamas’s strategy of indiscriminately firing low-tech projectiles towards Israeli territory. Israeli state and military personnel, on the other hand, were rarely depicted as state-terrorists or otherwise nefarious actors despite Israel’s indiscriminate use of high-tech weaponry in densely populated areas.

According to international law, Hamas has the right to resist Israeli occupation as part of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.

According to international law, Hamas has the right to resist Israeli occupation as part of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. Of course, Hamas’s indiscriminate firing of rockets can hardly be justified. However, scholar Norman Finkelstein has argued: “One might legitimately question the political prudence of Hamas’s strategy [of indiscriminately firing makeshift projectiles towards Israel]. But the law is not unambiguously against it, while the scales of morality weigh in its favor.“

In contrast, prominent international law experts have pointed out that Israel’s attacks on the heavily populated Gaza strip may amount to violations of the laws of war. The experts also indicated that Israeli actions may constitute terrorism: “Most of the recent heavy bombings in Gaza lack an acceptable military justification and, instead, appear to be designed to terrorize the civilian population.”

These facts have largely been deflected by the Western news media’s positive depiction of Israeli actors that likely enhanced the legitimacy of Israel’s actions whilst Palestinian actions appear to be delegitimized.

Israel is at war

“Wars kill people, including teachers in their classrooms, nurses in their hospitals, and farmers in their fields,” stated an editorial “on the killing of children in Gaza” in the British liberal newspaper The Guardian. War evokes connotations of reciprocity and heroism: battles between two equally strong sides and debilitating tasks for the soldiers. Moreover, the war context implies that civilian deaths constitute casualties - the tragic outcomes of war.

The “war” context has been used by the Western news media when covering the events in Gaza. “War” constitutes a myth because its defining property has largely been a missing element in Gaza. As Carl von Clausewitz observed in his classic treatise On War: “Essentially war is fighting, for fighting is the only effective principle in the manifold activities generally designated as war.”

Did you see any fighting in Gaza?

Did you see any fighting in Gaza? In fact, according to B’Tselem, at least 1,767 Palestinians were killed in Gaza – including 431 minors, 200 women and 85 persons aged 60 and over - from the time the “war” begun until 10 August 2014. During the same period, two Israeli civilians, one foreign national and 64 Israeli soldiers were killed. These numbers point to a massacre and not a war. However, the news media’s reference to war hid the effects of unnecessary Israeli offensive actions and Israel’s responsibility for civilian deaths.

Denying International Law

In their major study (Israel-Palestine on Record, Verso 2007) on New York Times coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict, scholars Howard Friel and Richard Falk found that the newspaper had largely neglected to cover the conflict in consideration of Palestinian rights enshrined in international treatises. Similarly, when covering Gaza, the Western press has favored Israeli over Palestinian rights. In numerous items the Western media has emphasized “Israel’s right to self-defense.” We don’t hear much about Palestinian rights.

Almost the whole world agrees upon a solution of the conflict based on UN-Resolution 242 which suggests a two-state settlement: The recognition of Israel, inside the borders prior to the Six-Day War of 1967, and the recognition of a vital Palestinian state. The resolution incorporates Israel’s full withdrawal from occupied territory as well as the dismantlement of all Israeli settlements. This proposal is supported by the Palestinians (including Hamas), the 22 members of the Arab League (and Iran), and has been agreed upon in numerous resolutions of the UN-General Assembly. The legal context is unambiguous as well. According to Norman Finkelstein, “The law is very clear. In July 2004, the highest judicial body in the world, the International Court of Justice, ruled Israel has no title to any of the West Bank and any of Gaza. They have no title to Jerusalem. Arab East Jerusalem, according to the highest judicial body in the world, is occupied Palestinian territory. The International Court of Justice ruled all the settlements, all the settlements in the West Bank, are illegal under international law.”

Unfortunately, there is a crucial problem: Israel and the USA are not supporting the international consensus and reject the rulings of the International Court of Justice. Every year, since 1989, they voted against the UN-General Assembly Resolution called “Peaceful Settlement of the Palestine Question.”

These aspects suggest that Palestinian rights as enshrined in international law are not evoked by the Western press when covering Gaza and the Israel-Palestine conflict. Israel can hardly insist on its right to self-defense until it ends the occupation. Thus it could be argued that the recent Gaza assault lacked legitimacy in the light of international law. The media seem to have neglected this issue.

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