Since the media play such a large role in our perceptions of the world, and our perceptions influence our opinions, and our opinions feed conflict, I have decided to read leading Israeli and Palestinian newspapers to try to make sense of the perspectives of the protagonists of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have decided to read four newspapers every day for one week: the Palestine Chronicle, the Palestine Times, the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz. (The Palestine Times is not a daily, actually, so I will not read it every day. I may read a different paper to substitute.) I am mostly interested in news related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and learning local perspectives on it, although any more about the newspapers that could be relevant I will try to take note of.
I realise that there is more to the conflict than newspapers report, and that there are (or at least, should be) more opinions than there are writers, but newspaper readers do not always bear this in mind. I also realise that seven days is not long enough to get more than a superficial understanding of the way people think. Nonetheless, it may be enough time to understand how a newspaper thinks. I doubt I will learn any “true” history, but I do expect to understand the purported grievances of the two sides of this endless confrontation. Over this week, I expect to become frustrated and tired, but that is the nature of resolving conflicts.
The Palestine Chronicle
The leader is called “How much really separates Obama and Netanyahu?” Jennifer Loewenstein from the University of Wisconsin-Madison writes that the term “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” implies that both sides have equally reasonable grievances, and that this is why finding a fair resolution is so difficult. People who believe this have been, she says, deeply indoctrinated.
Loewenstein uses more charged language throughout her story. She calls the US and Israel’s approaches to Palestinian statehood, with reference to a 1976 UN Security Council resolution recognising national rights for Palestine (which, incidentally, I could not find on this page), “rejectionist”. She calls Barack’s speech in Cairo “patronising” and “obsequious”. She says he supports “a depraved Holocaust industry”. And she all but accuses him of a cynical approach to the two-state solution because he knows Bibi will reject it.
The writer reminds us of the grievances of the Palestinians. She writes of the hypocrisy of condemning violence by Hamas when war in Gaza earlier this year was far deadlier. And she uses pathos to great effect, filling the readers head with images of children in Gaza, “[t]he rocketing, fire-bombing and bulldozing of entire neighbourhoods”, and asking why Obama failed to chastise Israel for attacking “hospitals, schools, ambulances, UN buildings and shelters, food warehouses, businesses, factories and family homes”. In the end, she says, Barack has told Bibi exactly what he wanted to hear.
Other articles are lighter on Barack. Several articles that claimed to be about Barack’s speech were really just historical analyses of the inherently hawkish Israeli state and its actions against Palestine. One said that the speech was encouraging, but it showed the president was not willing to go far enough. It was, he wrote, more of the same. Another article even praised him for bringing his country into the 21st century and well away from the policies of the Bush administration.
The Chronicle website even had a picture of Ehud Olmert with the words “most corrupt” above it. The link took you to a story on Transparency International and corruption in the Israeli state. However, the article did seem to twist the facts to make them sound as if the Israeli government was hopelessly riddled with corruption, when what it really said was that 86% of Israelis said that the government’s fight against corruption was ineffective. That is not a sign of corruption, but of public perception. I wonder how many newspapers know the difference between fact and opinion.
The Jerusalem Post
The main editorial in today’s Post is called “Why Obama is wrong about Israel and the Shoah”. It comments on Barack’s trip to the Buchenwald concentration camp, and his statement “[t]he nation of Israel [arose] out of the destruction of the Holocaust,” and his next, that “it is also undeniable that the Palestinians… have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.”
The editorial corrects Barack’s mistake immediately. “Barack Obama has been terribly misinformed if he thinks Israel’s legitimacy hinges on the Shoah.” (The Shoah is the Hebrew word favourable to some people to “Holocaust”.) “What the Holocaust proved is that the world is too dangerous a place for Jews to be stateless and defenseless.”
The writer continues by citing the historical precedents for a Jewish state in Israel, since “long before Christianity and Islam appeared”. And yet, he says, if the US president continues to call Israel the state created to atone for Nazi genocide, Arabs will never accept the Jews’ three thousand year old claim to the soil, and peace will never come.
While the Palestine Chronicle only had stories on Israel, Palestine, the US and the Lebanese elections, the Jerusalem Post writes on business, politics, science, health and sports. That said, it is clear that the focus of the paper is on the same issues as the Chronicle. It is clear that everyone considers the Israel-Palestine questions central to the news of the region; it is equally apparent, however, that few are willing to admit their side has done anything wrong.
An article on NGO fact-finding missions in Gaza dismisses the NGOs’ reports out of hand. One might be tempted to dismiss the article in the same way, though it proceeds to make a good point about bias. According to the article, 500 NGO statements were released condemning the three-week war in Gaza in January 2009. During the same period, “less than six” (so five?) NGO statements condemned the violence raging simultaneously in the Congo. That said, this article sets the tone for any number of similar articles in the future, articles that reject all organisations investigating the war in Gaza that find facts Israelis do not like.
A lot was also in today’s Post about the defeat of Hezbollah in the Lebanese elections, mentioning its violent past and sidestepping the fact that these elections were peaceful. “Israel cautiously hopeful on Lebanon”, said one headline, while another quoted Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah as saying “Hizbullah will fight Israel”. It seems to have no desire to conceal its confrontational ideology, with one article on the Barack administration’s loyalty to Israel titled “Which side are they on?”, one headline asking “Are Jews ready for Obama?” and a third, related article, “What’s best for the Jews”.
The Palestine Times
The Palestine Times is based in London. The first headline reads “Last-ditch effort to end rift between Hamas and Fatah” at the talks in Cairo aimed at ending the violent rivalry between the two political factions representing the Palestinian people. It quickly blames the US for backing “Fatah security lords” trying to overthrow Hamas in Gaza and surrender to Israel.
The article quotes various Palestinian leaders as desiring a national unity government to confront Israel. Highly contentious, however, is the matter of recognising Israel, which could lead the talks into deadlock. Curiously, at the end of the article, there is a seemingly perfunctory note that the “Israeli occupation army arrested hundreds of suspected political activists in the West Bank in recent weeks.” While I was scratching my head wondering what that had to do with Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, the next paragraph made it slightly clearer. “Israel is holding thousands of Palestinian activists and political leaders hostage in concentration camps all over occupied Palestine, mainly as a pressure tactic to force Hamas to capitulate to the Zionist regime.”
Some of the other leading articles are regarding Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah. In a tone of slight accusation, Fatah is implied to be pro-Western, corrupt and less representative of the Palestinian people than Hamas. Abbas is shown as a divisive figure, even within his party. This may, of course, be common knowledge in Palestine.
The first article in the “articles” section is about a massacre in 1948 by the Hagana attacked the village of a man who is still alive to talk about it. It cites the first Israeli minister of agriculture, Aharon Zisling, as having said of its brutality that “Jews, too, have committed Nazi acts.” The man who witnessed it all recalls all the brutal details, none of which are spared the reader. The whole article was written from an interview with one man, aged nearly 100.
The second headline reads “Freed Palestinian woman speaks of ‘horrific mistreatment’ in Israeli jails”. The third spits bitter poison as it outlines UN Security Council resolutions (one from 60 years ago) regarding Israeli occupation and continually addresses the Quartet (the US, the EU, Russia and the UN) as one might rap another’s head to wake him up. And as with the Palestinian Chronicle, the Times details the brutal existence of Palestinians under Israeli occupation, and as many details of the January 2009 war in Gaza as can fit in a well-written news article.
Binyamin Netanyahu is convinced President Barack wants a confrontation with Israel in order to bolster his image among Arabs. Washington and Jerusalem are rowing over Jewish West Bank settlements. More on Netanyahu. More on Barack. The headlines are in-depth stories on personalities and policies.
But there are fewer bitterly political stories than the other papers. Haaretz also features a count of how many days (and seconds) since Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip. After the first five headlines is an article on joining the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). It follows a new recruit, proud and psyched to be there, and tells the reader how great it is to be in the Golani Brigade. I am not the most perceptive person, but I think even I can recognise propaganda. The article really does feel like another “support our boys” piece. My suspicion rises a bit more when I read related articles “Were IDF close-range killings in Gazan justified?” (the conclusion turning out to be ‘who says we did?’) and “Iraqi general tells of Arab armies’ admiration for IDF”.
In fact, the former article on close-range killings writes, during the siege of Gaza in January of this year, of Israeli soldiers ordering the Abu Hajaj family out of their home. A shell burst through the wall of their home and a young girl suffered from a shrapnel wound in her hand. They went out with white flags, saw Israeli tanks in front of them, tried to run, but the mother and sister were shot.
Could it be that the IDF admits it killed two innocents at close range during the war in Gaza? Well, said a spokesperson, the army denies knowledge of such an incident; and by the way, “Hamas cynically exploited the civilian population and used it as a ‘human shield’”. So maybe it was Hamas.
Haaretz has all kinds of other articles: like the Jerusalem Post, it is not dedicated solely to anti-Palestinianism but also business, sports, travel and the arts. For some reason, the news on Lebanon’s election is way down the page, under the Jewish World section where “Will anti-semitism take over Hungary?” is the top story. It is interesting, too, that unlike the other papers, there are sections called Diplomacy and Defense. I will look more closely at them tomorrow.