One week of the Israeli-Palestinian war of words

Day 4

It has become clear to me that it is too difficult to report every day on the same four newspapers I set out to on day 1, simply because not all of them change every day. My two choices for Palestinian papers, especially, are slower to change and not really written by Palestinians in Palestine. I am also having trouble keeping up with the workload of reading and analysing several newspapers a day. I will take from a wider selection of newspapers while keeping my main objective in mind: aiding our critical thinking by comparing reporting bias in Israeli and Palestinian news media.

Palestinian Information Center

The Voice of Palestine (or the Voice of Hamas), the PIC “aims to promote awareness about Palestine, the Palestinians and the Palestinian issue and to balance the often distorted picture presented in the mainstream media.” It is available in eight languages.

The leader reads “Palestine resistance fighters clash with an IOF [Israeli Occupation Force] patrol”. It is an interesting change of words. If this headline had been written for Israelis, it would have read “Palestinian militants clash with an IDF [Israeli Defence Force] patrol”. They even had a name for the organisation that released the information and conducted the attack: the Palestine Eagles Brigades. Newspapers give names to people they want to make seem more human, and ignore the names of those who are less than human. (One might read, for instance, “10 foreign terrorists were killed fighting with local citizen Menso El Rey.”) “The Eagles added that its fighters managed to withdraw safety and that the attack was within the framework of retaliating to occupation crimes against the Palestinian people in the West bank and the Gaza Strip, especially the aggression on farmers.” The article is only 107 words long.

Down the right side of the website, which always attracts my attention before the left side, are the following links (with pictures): Palestine: What it’s all about; T-shirts mock Gaza killings; Farming under fire and F16’s in Gaza; Attacks on medics during Gaza war; Use of phosphorus bombs in Gaza; Al Nakba: The catastrophe of Palestine, 1948. I do not contain my curiosity and go straight to the link about the t-shirts. It led to an Al Jazeera video on Youtube you may want to watch. (You can find lots of other Al Jazeera videos on how evil Israel is from here.)

Other PIC articles are also short. There is less attempt at providing an analytical justification for why the Israeli state must be destroyed; they just get to the point. One talks of a meeting between Hamas and the Egyptian government and combines this news with a Hamas statement that the “PA [Palestinian Authority] security apparatuses’ practices against Hamas and the resistance in the West Bank” must end. It is not clear how these two issues are related.

I find three links to an item titled “Barak calls on IOF to prepare for fresh war on Gaza” all visible at the same time. One was “Most Read”, one “Most Printed” and the other was running across the top banner. Clearly, this was an article I am supposed to read. A picture of an unsmiling Ehud Barak greets us. The article does not say much beyond the headline, except that it uses words like “deeper” and “larger” than in January to describe the threatened offensive in Gaza. Remember what I said yesterday about numbers being used to evoke sympathy, anger and evidence? This article ends with the following: “The latest Israeli war on Gaza that started late December 2008 and ended in late January 2009 claimed the lives of almost 1,500 Palestinians and wounded almost 6,000 others.” This is a quarter of the words in the article.

Another feature of note on this website is the left-hand banner, part of which reads “Palestinian Memory Bank”. Apparently, every day the site reports something that happened to the Palestinians in history on that day. There are two dates, 1996 and 1974, and neither is particularly damning or interesting. But since they presumably have something to put there every day, what this section is saying is that on every day of the year, the Israelis have been assholes.

The Jerusalem Post

Apparently, the number that turned out to vote for the next president of Iran was “massive”. As I clicked on this leader, the first thing I noticed was not the body of the article but a banner: “The Iranian Threat”, a small picture of Iran and an apelike Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I wonder, if Ahmadinejad is defeated at the polls, will they replace his picture with one of Ayatollah Khamenei. In wording almost identical to something I read yesterday, the article asks if Iran will keep “hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power or [elect] a reformist who favors greater freedoms and improved ties with the United States.” Whom would you rather elect, a hardliner or a reformist? The Post conceals its bias against Ahmadinejad like a burka made of air. I wonder if it would not be more effective to be more subtle. Anyway, says the article, it does not really matter who wins because “crucial policies are all directly controlled by the ruling clerics headed by the unelected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.”

And if the Ayatollah were not enough reason to give up hope, the next article says “Mousavi [that’s the other guy running for president of Iran] win would not stop nuke drive”. Oh dear. Then what’s the big deal? Do Israelis really care if the Iranian government stops cracking down on bloggers?

More headlines about Netanyahu’s speech on Sunday. “Noam Shalit gives Carter a letter for son” is probably just a way of reminding everyone that Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped in Gaza. “Israel better at security issues than US” is a funny headline about a funny subject: comparing the numbers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to those killed in Israel and Palestine, the numbers of minorities incarcerated in the US to those incarcerated in Israel, and the better life expectancies in Israel to those in the US, Egypt and Syria. If one is digging for the point of this article, it is probably to say to the US, “you have no business telling us how to treat people, because our record is superior to yours.” In other words, we will keep building settlements in the West Bank whether you like it or not.

And then we come to a thoughtful, relatively balanced article: the op-ed. I am used to Canadian and American newspapers, where the bias is most visible in the op-eds and editorials because they come right out and state their affiliations and beliefs. The articles feel more balanced. However, this feeling may come from my having been socialised by North American news media and not Israeli or Arab. It is possible that those socialised by the kind of reading I am doing this week find the language normal and balanced; and it is the differences that enable me to see bias more clearly.

Today’s op-ed is called “Peace vs. Reality”. Allow me to represent the opening passage. “Palestinian and Israeli youth gather on a soccer field for a friendly match as part of a sports peace program. Two steps forward. IDF soldiers kill Palestinian civilians in the war in Gaza. Two steps back. Bereaved Israeli and Palestinian parents meet each other to share their pain and promote peace and reconciliation. Two steps forward. Hamas launches dozens of rockets daily on the South, killing and terrorizing civilians. Two steps back.

“However many steps forward the grassroots peace process takes, the harsh winds of reality, fanned by the political leadership on both sides, send peace spiraling backward.”

At multiple levels, attempts at peace are being made. It is not just the governments that are talking. This piece discusses an argument that broke out among Israeli and Palestinian teenagers at a meeting arranged by the Peres Center for Peace. It then describes a documentary of the uphill battle Palestinian and Israeli peace activists face. The article makes little use of numbers and instead shows the humanity, the legitimate grievances, the bad choices, and the killing on both sides of the conflict. This editorial is my favourite of anything I have read so far this week. I will stop for today in order to preserve the hope with which it was written.