Mainstream media portrayal

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  • by Anup Shah
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The abuse being directed at anyone who dares to criticise Israel is reaching McCarthyite proportions.

Robert Fisk, I am being vilified for telling the truth about Palestinians1, The Independent, December 13, 2000

Worst of all is the US media, completely cowed by the fearsome Israeli lobby, with commentators and anchors spinning distorted reports about cross fire and Palestinian violence that eliminate the fact that Israel is in military occupation and that Palestinians are fighting it, not laying siege to Israel, as the ghastly Mrs Albright put it.

Edward Said, Double Standards2, The Guardian, October 12, 2000

What the media reports, how, and who influences all this is no doubt important in how we understand the issues and what opinions and perspectives we therefore form. As Israeli reporter, Amira Hass points out3, what journalism should be about is to monitor power and the centres of power. Aspects of mainstream biases then are worth noting.

On this page:

  1. Palestinian Aggression
  2. The issue of Occupation is hardly discussed
  3. Cycle of violence and peace plans partially explained
  4. Israel’s own War On Terror
  5. More Information

Palestinian Aggression

The US and other Western mainstream media and Israeli leaders solely lay the blame of the current violence on Yasser Arafat. However, there is no real alternative to provide the Palestinians and they are also fed up with Arafat himself. The recent violence can equally be attributed to the actions of Israeli leaders, and also the frustration of the one-sided peace process4, to which Arafat has not represented the Palestinian people, but instead, advanced his own interests.

Headlines of many mainstream sources also give misleading perceptions. Things like Israel extends time for peace (USA Today, October 10, 2000) leave the impression that it is solely the fault of Palestinians. As Jewish-American media critic, Normon Solomon says5, At this rate, we may someday see a headline that reads: Israel Demands Palestinians Stop Attacking Bullets With Their Bodies.

One US report even advocates brutality against Palestinians6, which has been condemned by Amnesty International.

This is a story about lies, bias, hatred and death. It’s about our inability after more than half a century to understand the injustice of the Middle East. It’s about a part of the world where it seems quite natural, after repeatedly watching on television the funeral of 11- year-old Sami Abu Jezar who died two days after being shot through the forehead by Israeli soldiers for a crowd to kick two Israeli plainclothes agents to death. It’s about a nation that claims purity of arms but fires missiles at civilian apartment blocks and then claims it is restoring order. It’s about people who are so enraged by the killing of almost a hundred Palestinians that they try to blow up an entire American warship.

As usual last night, the television news broadcasts those most obsequious and deforming of information dispensers were diverting our minds from the truth. They did not ask why the Palestinians should have lynched two Israeli undercover men. Instead, they asked why Palestinian police had not protected them. They did not ask why a suicide bomber in a rubber boat should have bombed the USS Cole.

Instead, they asked who he was, who he worked for, and they interviewed Pentagon officials who denounced terrorism. Always the who or the what never the why.

Robert Fisk, Lies, hatred and the language of force7, The Independent Newspaper (UK), October 13, 2000

The mainstream media often interviews a disproportionately large number of people that are supportive of US and Israeli policies and vilifying Arabs, Palestinians and/or Islam. The questioning is often very supportive rather than inquisitive. Senators, former or current military personnel etc are all regarded as experts on the Middle East. Civilian members, analysts and critics of American policy are usually not given much of a voice, or if they are, they are not usually present in a debate where their statements are analyzed by some sort of panel. For most of the population then, the framing of the discourse has been set and the perceptions made8.

Meanwhile our impartial media continues to suggest that there’s nothing very odd about using tanks and missiles against rioters and gunmen. The Los Angeles Times is now talking of the Israeli tactics as heavy handed – like a schoolmaster who prefers six of the best to three of the best – while BBC Television news told us when the first helicopter fired a missile into a Palestinian apartment block that the Israelis were resorting to extreme measures.

Is that what the Los Angeles Times and the BBC would have said if the Palestinians had fired a missile into an Israeli apartment block? I doubt it. I suspect our old friend terrorism would have been produced to account for such a barbarity.

Robert Fisk, CIA promise of a just peace is not to be trusted9, The Independent, October 6, 2000

According to then U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, she saw the US as an even-handed peace broker. In addition, [t]hose Palestinian rock throwers have placed Israel under siege adding that the Israeli army is defending itself. (Meet the Press, NBC, October 8, 2000). Many officials claim this position, and the US mainstream media accept it mostly without question.

For sure, it can be seen that Israel does have to defend itself against these attacks, for it has had a devastating toll on Israeli civilian lives. And, while there is often detailed reporting on some of the horrific events, on some of the talks that various sides have tried to initiate, and so forth, the deeper context within which the latest Palestinian uprising is ocurring is often left out.

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The issue of Occupation is hardly discussed

The Palestinians have indeed risen up with protests, riots, violence and often with horrendous suicide bombings that target Israeli civilians. However the deeper context within which the Palestinian uprising has occured is often not looked at in detail. For example, some aspects often not looked into by much of the mainstream is that:

  • It is Palestine which is occupied.
    • Israeli tanks, helicopter gun ships etc have been used against villages, camps and cities, firing missiles and live rounds. (They also targeted the Palestinian National Authority’s Gaza headquarters, the Voice of Palestine radio station and police stations.)
    • In comparison, the Palestinians don’t have an army in the first place. The Palestinian police force, accused of firing against Israeli soldiers are doing their primary job of protecting their citizens.
  • Israeli extremists have also been turning on Palestinians living in Israel.
  • For analysis and critique about Albright’s statements, see this report titled A Tragic Reversal: Madeleine Albright’s View of Reality10 by Hanan Ashrawi, Arab Media Internet Network, October 9, 2000

It is worth quoting at considerable length, the following background context, of the Camp David negotiations:

To understand what actually happened at Camp David, it’s necessary to know that for many years the PLO has officially called for a two-state solution in which Israel would keep the 78 percent of the Palestine Mandate (as Britain’s protectorate was called) that it has controlled since 1948, and a Palestinian state would be formed on the remaining 22 percent that Israel has occupied since the 1967 war (the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem). Israel would withdraw completely from those lands, return to the pre-1967 borders and a resolution to the problem of the Palestinian refugees who were forced to flee their homes in 1948 would be negotiated between the two sides. Then, in exchange, the Palestinians would agree to recognize Israel (PLO Declaration, 12/7/88; PLO Negotiations Department).

Although some people describe Israel’s Camp David proposal as practically a return to the 1967 borders, it was far from that. Under the plan, Israel would have withdrawn completely from the small Gaza Strip. But it would annex strategically important and highly valuable sections of the West Bank—while retaining security control over other parts—that would have made it impossible for the Palestinians to travel or trade freely within their own state without the permission of the Israeli government (Political Science Quarterly, 6/22/01; New York Times, 7/26/01; Report on Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Territories, 9-10/00; Robert Malley, New York Review of Books, 8/9/01).

The annexations and security arrangements would divide the West Bank into three disconnected cantons. In exchange for taking fertile West Bank lands that happen to contain most of the region’s scarce water aquifers, Israel offered to give up a piece of its own territory in the Negev Desert—about one-tenth the size of the land it would annex—including a former toxic waste dump.

Because of the geographic placement of Israel’s proposed West Bank annexations, Palestinians living in their new independent state would be forced to cross Israeli territory every time they traveled or shipped goods from one section of the West Bank to another, and Israel could close those routes at will. Israel would also retain a network of so-called bypass roads that would crisscross the Palestinian state while remaining sovereign Israeli territory, further dividing the West Bank.

Israel was also to have kept security control for an indefinite period of time over the Jordan Valley, the strip of territory that forms the border between the West Bank and neighboring Jordan. Palestine would not have free access to its own international borders with Jordan and Egypt—putting Palestinian trade, and therefore its economy, at the mercy of the Israeli military.

Had Arafat agreed to these arrangements, the Palestinians would have permanently locked in place many of the worst aspects of the very occupation they were trying to bring to an end. For at Camp David, Israel also demanded that Arafat sign an end-of-conflict agreement stating that the decades-old war between Israel and the Palestinians was over and waiving all further claims against Israel.

Seth Ackerman, The Myth of the Generous Offer; Distorting the Camp David negotiations11, Extra! July/August 2002, Fairness and Accurary In Reporting (FAIR)

The above quoted article from FAIR also details how the mainstream media has claimed that generous concessions by the Israeli side have been met with hatred and violence from the Palestinian side. Yet, the above context suggests that those generous concessions were at the least very questionable from a Palestinian perspective.

At the same time, the following quote summarizes well the failing of the Palestinian leadership to help clearly articulate their issues so that others will listen and understand:

Thus far, this intifada has been a total failure. It hasn’t succeeded in realizing three of its clear political aims: to explain to the Israeli public in particular and to the world in general that the Israeli presence in the territories is nothing other than occupation; to explain that the occupation-control of another nation on its own land, by means of military force, when that nation does not have the the right to make decisions about its life, is both morally wrong and bad from a pragmatic political point of view; to explain that the Palestinians are sick of this occupation.

Amira Hass, They don’t see the occupation12, Ha’aretz (English Edition), August 22, 2001

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Cycle of violence and peace plans partially explained

Foreign Policy In Focus also adds some economic and other context:

The current violence grows out of Palestinian frustrations with the peace process. During years of waiting for promised benefits, Palestinians have seen their standard of living steadily decline. In the seven years between the signing of the Oslo Accords and the start of the uprising in September 2000, Israeli policies—including border controls, retention of Palestinian funds, and restrictions on trade, investment, and access to water resources—resulted in growing trade and budget deficits for the Palestinians. Unemployment was hovering at 50%, poverty rates increased, health standards deteriorated, and any sense of opportunity among Palestinian youth began to fade. The anger and despair that ignited the 2000 uprising and the current wave of suicide bombings stems from these policies and their effect on daily Palestinian life. The Spring 2002 re-occupation of Palestinian cities and widespread killings by Israeli forces using American armaments, detention and maltreatment of unarmed civilians, and the wanton destruction of economic and social infrastructure have only increased the Palestinian desire for revenge. This has also strengthened popular support for extremist groups like Hamas and Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, resulting in less security for Israelis.

Joseph Yackley and Stephen Zunes, U.S. Security Assistance to Israel13, Foreign Policy In Focus, Volume 7, Number 3, May 2002

There have been numerous comments and concerns about what Palestinian educational systems are teaching their children with regards to how they view Israel and Jewish people in general. While some of these concerns might be justified, less mentioned is about similar things from certain Israeli teachings, as this article14 from the French paper, le Monde Diplomatique, points out. (The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee also reports15 that, A new report from George Washington University Professor Nathan Brown strongly challenges the cliche that Palestinian children are systematically taught to hate Israelis and Jews in their textbooks and school curriculum, and that this incitement is a major cause of the current uprising against Israeli occupation.

There have been a number of attempts at negotiating peace but it is always spun by the media as if it is down to Arafat to accept or not, without really explaining why he either cannot, or why it may seem like peace to one side, but may not be acceptable to the other. Furthermore, as Edward Said commented16 on the apparent rush to a peace agreement before Clinton left office, Clinton’s final attempts at peace have more to do with making Yasser Arafat terminate his own people’s sovereign existence.

The way a situation is reported can be affected by the words that are used (or not used). It can also have a subtle but important effect on our perceptions and perspectives of the situation, as the following example shows:

Up to 60 Palestinian activists – and numerous civilians, including two children killed last week – have been gunned down by Israeli death squads or missile-firing Israeli helicopter pilots. The White House has gently chided Israel about these attacks, but already this week the BBC has been using the phrase targeted attacks for the policy of murder. The Palestinian killing of Israelis, however, is regularly referred to – accurately – as murder or assassination.

Robert Fisk, BBC staff are told not to call Israeli killings assassination17, The Independent, August 4, 2001.

For a while from around March 2002 to May 2002, it seemed like the mainstream media were becoming increasingly critical of Israeli policies and their use of excessive force, especially against civilians. Incidents like those at Jenin raise a lot of outcry the world over, which the mainstream reported in some detail. Underlying issues though still appear to be far from frequently discussed, and it has continued to be about an equivalence of violence.

While the spate of seemingly tit-for-tat violence has increased, the horrors and suffering are borne mostly by innocent civilians on both sides. Israeli military occupation and state terror, being resisted by a counter and extremist terror has led to anger on all sides. But, as Ali Abunimah suggests, while the Palestinians may be fighting for a cause, the means may not necessarily be justified, as it can itself be hypocritical, if justice is the aim:

None of this [violence] ought to be construed as implying that there is any moral equivalence between the Palestinian struggle for liberation and the Israeli effort to impose a foreign military dictatorship on millions of people outside of Israel’s borders. The inherent justice of the Palestinian cause is obvious, as is the deep immorality of the occupation. Palestinians have a right, recognized by the entire world community, to resist this occupation. But resistance cannot and should not involve the deliberate murder of innocent civilians. The ends, simply put, do not justify the means.

Ali Abunimah, A Missed Opportunity18, July 31, 2002

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Israel’s own War On Terror

The suicide attacks at the beginning of December 2001 have been able to provide [Ariel] Sharon with reasons for his war on terror as the British paper, The Independent describes19 (6 December, 2001).

And while the media are right to show and report the horrors of the effects of the Palestinian suicide attacks, the horrors of the effects of the Israeli actions are less shown. In deed, the subsequent F16, helicopter and tank based missile attacks on various Palestinian Authority buildings and forces, as well as residential areas are somewhat less reported in comparison. And so, with also a heavy focus on interviewing officials from Israel without questioning various claims and assertions (such as the often touted claim that Arafat is to blame for all this), a picture forms that for sure Arafat is harboring terrorists and not doing enough to quell it and so forth. Yet, as mentioned on a previous page20 on this site, there has been on-going almost tit-for-tat like violence, with Israeli forces assasinating Palestinians and Palestinians (Hamas in particular) doing likewise.

Robert Fisk, the longest standing western journalist in the Middle East, in an article in The Independent (December 4, 2001) dares to reverse the situation for a moment and ask21, Can Ariel Sharon control his own people? Can he control his army? Can he stop them from killing children, leaving booby traps in orchards or firing tank shells into refugee camps? Can Sharon stop his rabble of an army from destroying hundreds of Palestinian refugee homes in Gaza? Can Sharon crack down on Jewish settlers and prevent them from stealing more land from Palestinians? Can he stop his secret-service killers from murdering their Palestinian enemies—or carrying out targeted killings, as the BBC was still gutlessly calling these executions yesterday in its effort to avoid Israeli criticism. And he also suggests that, It is, of course, forbidden to ask these questions.

Furthermore, Israel pointing out that Arafat is not doing enough, while simultaneously intensifying attacks, makes it harder for Arafat to do enough, as the end of this BBC news report22 (13 December 2001) suggests. See also a similar point23 from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), December 6 2001 which notes that the Hamas leader was in a Palestinian prison until freed by an Israeli attack.

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More Information

For more information about the media, or from other sources, you can start off at the following links:

  • From Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting is their Middle East section24 that looks at how the US media report on the region.
  • Middle East Research and Information Project25 (MERIP). This site provides lots of articles and research.
  • Palestine Media Watch26 keeps an eye on biased and unfair opinion pieces, columns, and newspaper and magazine stories on the Palestinian crisis.
  • Arab Media Internet Network27
  • Jerusalem Post28, a right-leaning Israeli paper.
  • Ha’aretz29, a popular Israeli daily.
  • Jerusalem Report30, another Israeli paper.
  • The British newspaper, the Independent has a good section on the Middle East31.
  • "What Americans need to Know—but probably won’t be told—to Understand Palestinian Rage32 by Eduardo Cohen looks at US and Israeli racism at Arabs and the US media in particular. (He himself is Jewish).
  • The Ali Abunimah33 web site provides a look at media myths about the middle east.
  • has a Special Report34 on the Middle East, with audio reports from a number of sources.
  • Media omissions, army lies35 by Amira Hass, a prominent reporter for the Ha’aretz, criticizes the media and Israeli army.
  • Israel Independent Media36 has updated news stories.
  • From the
    • The Media and the Middle East37 is a section from that asks: Are the ways most media report and discuss the Israeli-Palestinian war making the crisis worse? Do accusations of media bias push people farther apart? How can news stories help bring about peace?
    • Israel / Palestine Media Bias38 from the provides a collection of articles looking at the media coverage of this conflict.

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