Posted by Guest on July 27, 2017 in Blog
By Sarah Decker
“2 Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza clash: Death toll tops 330 as Hamas militants step up attacks.”
This July 2014 headline in the Washington Post illustrates the increasing reality of media bias that undermines Palestinian deaths and manipulates American perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Political analyst Omar Baddar cites headlines like this as one of the main sources of the widespread misinformation surrounding this political fault-line. The article, reporting on the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, presents a narrative that focuses on the “inflammatory and violent tactics” of the Hamas militants while failing to mention the underlying reality of Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories. It is not until the eleventh paragraph that the article explicitly reports the Palestinian death toll: 330, including more than 60 children. From the headline alone, one might falsely think the death toll of 330 refers to Israeli casualties from Hamas attacks.
Watching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the lens of American media can be frustrating, given how disconnected it is from the reality unfolding on the ground. This frustration is only further compounded by the coverage’s missing context of the occupation. Baddar, AAI’s Deputy Director, argues that the debate of whether Israeli soldiers overreact to Palestinian children throwing stones is irrelevant when confronted with the context that the occupation itself is illegal, thereby disqualifying Israeli soldiers’ claims to “self defense” when they invade Palestinian towns. The same can be said for the recent reports that Israel installed then removed flashpoint metal detectors at Al-Haram Al-Sharif, or Temple Mount. Without the context of the illegality of the occupation it is easy to lose sight of the driving force of the conflict: Not stone throwers, metal detectors, or checkpoints, but Israel’s disregard for international law.
In the reporting of Israeli and Palestinian casualties, there is a fundamental inequality in the value of life. Baddar attributes this to, among other factors, the Orwellian nature of Israeli government talking points and their influence over American corporate media. “While Israeli deaths are humanized, Palestinian deaths are just made into hardened statistics that are easy to disregard. Israelis are killed, while Palestinians just die.” Baddar was the keynote speaker at the Palestine Center’s July 25th talk, part of the summer series, “Media’s Distortion and Misrepresentation of the Palestinian Issue.” During his presentation, Baddar explained how American corporate media often unconsciously follows the leanings of political power.
According to Baddar, lobby groups for Israel, which have far-reaching bipartisan support, create misinformation in the media through simplified talking points. For example, ‘Israel left the Gaza Strip and in return, Palestine shot rockets at Israel.’ This narrative serves to reify the perception that Palestinians are obstructing peace through violence, when in reality, Gaza remained under Israeli control, and the occupation continues to be the driving force of the cycle of violence. Israel’s closure of Gaza, restricting its economic engagement with the rest of the world is, in Baddar’s words, “by design”—an effort to demonstrate that when Palestinian’s are given land, it fails.
How do we fight back against this bias? Baddar recommends improving our debate skills. “We need to get out of our echo-chambers and focus on the main points. It’s not about electricity, it’s about the siege on Gaza.” Informing the American public of the injustices faced by Palestinians is especially important because of the U.S. geopolitical positioning in the conflict, with Israel as the biggest recipient of U.S. military aid. Baddar spoke to the importance of this outreach, noting that everyone has a skill set and a unique way to contribute to combatting media bias. “The only country in a position to leverage Israel is the U.S.”
We need to challenge public discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by recognizing and calling attention to anti-Palestinian bias in the media. Palestine is being erased in many forms, but by separating Palestinian lives from the American moral consciousness, media erasure is perhaps one of the most damaging.
See AAI’s Palestine Issue Brief for more information.
Sarah Decker is a Summer 2017 intern at the Arab American Institute.