Wednesday

28th Feb 2024

Opinion

Seven ways Gaza conflict gets misreported in Europe

  • 'Cycle of violence' narratives that frame the conflict in terms of Palestinian attacks and Israeli retaliation are partial (Photo: UNRWA)
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Information has become a crucial front in Israel's Gaza war, with routine military censorship, the mass killing of Gazan journalists and comms strategies to support attacks on hospitals.

Israel has posted contrived tapes of "Hamas operatives" saying that Islamic Jihad bombed one hospital, and hallucinatory graphics of non-existent Hamas headquarters under another.

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Its foreign ministry had to delete one inadvertently comic video of a "Palestinian nurse" claiming Hamas was stealing hospital supplies, after widespread online derision.

The Israeli army says it employs more than 200 people in its international communications office. Whatever security goals it meets, the office is also manipulating international opinion.

New research by the Glasgow University Media Group shows that in a four-week period of the war, BBC TV journalists used the terms "murder", "murderous", "mass murder", "brutal murder" and "merciless murder" 52 times to refer to Israelis deaths, but not once for Palestinian deaths. Similar bias existed in the use of "massacre," "slaughter" and "atrocity."

Another study found that Palestinians received one mention for every two Palestinian deaths, while Israelis got eight mentions for every single Israeli death, a 16-1 disparity.

Here are seven other ways that the European media, plus that in the US, misrepresents the war in Gaza.

1. The war did not start on 7 October.

Israel has besieged Gaza since Hamas won an election in 2007. Palestinians couldn't leave; business couldn't enter. Even before the war, 80 percent of Gazans needed humanitarian aid and one half were unemployed. Moreover, since its 2022 election, the Netanyahu government — Israel's most far-right ever — has moved to dismantle judicial oversight, establish a private militia, annex the West Bank, and divide Jerusalem's Al Aqsa mosque. It forcibly transferred at least four communities and killed at least 248 Palestinians. Meanwhile, settler killings doubled and Hamas was eclipsed by new resistance groups in the West Bank. The world's response was deafening silence.

2. Israel is not simply "fighting in self-defence".

This is mainly because Israel has no legal right of self-defence in the occupied territories, according to an International Court of Justice ruling (page62). Many Palestinians see Gaza's destruction on a continuum stretching back over 56 years of military occupation to the ethnic cleansing of 700,000 Palestinians in the 1948 Nakba, many to Gaza. This is why "cycle of violence" narratives that frame the conflict in terms of Palestinian attacks and Israeli retaliation are partial. Under international law, occupied peoples have a right to resistance. Actions targeting civilians are unlawful, and so is the occupation.

3. Israel has no more legitimacy than Palestinians.

But Israel's war aims of destroying Hamas, freeing hostages and taking control of Gaza are known. Less publicised is the agenda of Gaza's 11 resistance groups — including Fatah's Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade — ending the blockade, and the occupation, and releasing Israel's 5,000+ Palestinian "hostages". If Gaza's death toll must be undermined by attributing it to the "Hamas-run health ministry," Israeli casualty figures should be sourced to the "far-right Netanyahu administration." The "settler-run Israeli national security ministry" should also be name-checked when, for example, it hands out weapons to settlers.

4. Actions speak louder than words.

Israel's claims to be minimising civilian deaths often lead stories, even as its' army bombs hospitals, mosques and schools. Facts on the ground should take precedence over spin. The liberal broadsheet fondness for over-briefed US demands to de-escalate and "calm tensions" typically ignores Washington's concurrent huge war subsidies, military intervention, and diplomatic shielding that enable the conflict. Headlines such as "Israel expresses regret for 'unintended harm' to civilians in Gaza airstrike" or "Israel says it is scaling down Gaza war" reflect military communications strategies more than news.

5. Biased tones, jaundiced assumptions.

Unlike Israelis, Palestinians can be patronised, insulted, shouted down and slandered by news anchors without consequence, as in UK broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer's car crash interview with the renowned Palestinian statesman Mustafa Barghouti on Talk TV. Widening the picture, if it is "terrorism" to kill Israeli civilians at a rave attended by soldiers, why is it not terrorism to bomb an apartment building in which Palestinian fighters live? Such double-standards are long-standing and under-remarked. Like Sky news, the BBC missed South Africa's presentation of the case for genocide in The Hague last week but live-streamed Israel's defence. Its headlines routinely equalise the size of small pro-Israel protests with huge pro-Palestinian ones. The unconscious bias was exemplified by this Daily Mail story: "Lionesses of the Desert: Inside Israel's all-female tank unit taking on Hamas terrorists," about a Jewish Briton who went to fight in Gaza. A Palestinian-Brit who went to fight for Hamas would have received very different editorial treatment.

6. Love for the lurid.

Uncorroborated — and later debunked — press horror stories claimed that Hamas slaughtered 40 babies on 7/10, beheading many. This concoction was repeated by US president Joe Biden and Israeli officials and used to build consensus for the ensuing carnage. Claims by the Daily Mail and The Sun that Hamas "roasted babies alive in ovens" hardly qualify as journalism. One baby, Mila Cohen, was indeed shot dead through a door on 7/10. More than 10,000 Palestinian children have died since, to much less tabloid fanfare.

7. Passive voice in headers.

Journalists often adopt the passive voice to avoid attributing acts to Israel. One Sky News journalist reported how: "accidentally, a stray bullet found its way into the van ahead and killed a three-or-four-year old young lady," rather than say that an Israeli soldier had killed a child. Another Washington Post headline read: "Four fragile lives found ended in evacuated Gaza hospital," fogging who "the endee" was, and how the "ending" happened. 'Witnesses blame Israeli troops for deaths of four babies' would have been more accurate.

Journalists covering Gaza from afar face limited access, contested facts, lobby pressure and a power imbalance. But when they let these distort their coverage, it ceases to reflect reality and start to shape it, in unintended ways.

"From many a mangled truth a war is won," as the poet Clifford Dyment put it. "And when no truth is pure, who of us can be sure, of lie and truth and war, when the war is won?"

Author bio

Arthur Neslen is the author of two critically-acclaimed books about Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian identities: Occupied Minds - A Journey Through The Israeli Psyche and In Your Eyes A Sandstorm - Ways of Being Palestinian. From 2004 to 2009 he was based in Ramallah and Tel Aviv, where he wrote about the Israel-Palestine conflict for the websites of Al Jazeera, the Guardian, the Economist, Haaretz and Jane's Information Group. He is now based in Brussels, writing about the environment for The Guardian and others.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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