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Have the media been fair in covering the conflict?

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Have the media been fair in covering the conflict?

The international media's coverage of the conflict in the Middle East has in many cases been unfair and biased against Israel.

The electronic media, must by its nature, provide speedy and concise information. However, this can lead to a simplistic and superficial portrayal of realities that are actually complex and complicated, such as the one existing in the Middle East. The contradiction between the need to report about the intricate reality of the Middle East and the need to report as quickly and as simply as possible, often results in the distorted and unbalanced coverage of matters that pertain to Israel.

In many cases, the media tends to portray a complex situation through black-and-white stereotypes, in which Israel is perceived as playing the role of an "occupier" that is trampling on the rights of the "occupied." This in turn automatically leads to the distorted portrayal of Israel as the root of all evil in the Middle East.

However, the reality is much more complicated than that. Fairness requires that the reason why Israel came into control of the territories should be examined, as should the fact that ever since 1948, the Arab world has called for the destruction of Israel, by whatever means possible. Unfortunately, this set of circumstances, with its broad and profound ramifications, is difficult to convey in a television report that lasts mere seconds, or at most just a few minutes.

News coverage of the Middle East usually provides a momentary snapshot of current events. Visuals can provide dramatic pictures, but in most cases they provide little insight into the broader circumstances in which the image was shown, indeed often taking events out of their context.

The image of a Palestinian youth facing an Israeli tank is a news story that stirs the emotions of the television viewers, a story that sells well. But this imagery is a gross distortion of the reality. In the picture the tank is seen as representing the "cruel and powerful occupier," the embodiment of a wrong that is supposedly the source of the Middle East conflict. However, reality is much more complicated than an image that captures a single moment - its before and after unknown to the viewer. Furthermore, the picture and its accompanying report generally say very little or nothing about the ongoing Palestinian terrorism which is the sole reason for the tank's being there in the first place. The media says very little about the Palestinian terrorists intentionally operating from urban centers. Little is shown about how the terrorists mingle with the Palestinian civilian population, cynically using children and other civilians as their pawns and shields behind which they launch their attacks against innocent Israelis. Very little, if anything, is said about the fact that the Israel Defense Forces act to avoid harming innocent civilians, even at the expense of endangering the lives of Israeli soldiers.

The international media has severely criticized Israel for restricting the freedom of movement of the Palestinians and for the suffering of the Palestinians at roadblocks that were placed in the territories by the Israel Defense Forces since the outbreak of violence in September 2000. The scenes that appear on television screens are indeed hard-hitting. They show Palestinians waiting, often for long periods, for security checks at the roadblocks.

These reports illustrate a situation that is only part of the picture, for the most part ignoring the context; that the only reason for the roadblocks being there is to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from reaching Israeli civilian populations. Also ignored is the Israeli government's obligation to defend its citizens from those who are on their way to blow themselves up and murder innocent bystanders in cafes, buses, shopping malls and other public places in Israeli cities. Does the media's focus on the roadblocks give due consideration to the right of Israeli civilians to live free from the threat of terrorism and violent death? The answer generally is no.

One of the most prominent examples of the fundamentally biased and unfair approach taken by much of the international media was seen in its handling of the fierce battle between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian terrorists in Jenin in April 2002. A short time after the battle began, most of the international media swallowed the Palestinian propaganda version of what was happening hook, line and sinker. They hastily jumped to conclusions and described the battle as an Israeli "massacre" of Palestinians. Israel was also immediately accused of having destroyed the city of Jenin.

Israel was both tried and judged in the media, before even the most basic facts were known. Had the international press verified the facts the media would have known that what was described as a massacre was actually a battle in which 56 Palestinians (the vast majority of them armed terrorists) were killed, as were 23 Israeli soldiers. What was described as the "destruction of Jenin" turned out to be a battle zone in only a very small area (about 100 x 100 meters), a tiny fraction of the entire city.

Another reason for the imbalance in the media coverage is that on Israel's side reporters work in an open and democratic society, in which freedom of the press and freedom of expression are guaranteed. The international press in Israel has access to every news source and to every opinion in the democratic political spectrum, as it should be.

In contrast, Palestinian society and the societies in most of the Arab world have no freedom of expression, no freedom of the press. The opportunity in those societies to independently report events is virtually nonexistent, and, consequently, the ability of the foreign press to provide authentic, objective and credible reports is very limited. Reporting from these areas without noting this fact demonstrates a lack of moral clarity.

This situation was clearly seen in the coverage of the Second War in Lebanon. On the one side, the foreign press was provided with nearly unprecedented access to Israeli soldiers, while on the other, Hizbullah places severe limits on reporters. The result was that few, if any, pictures of Hizbullah terrorists appeared in the Western media, nor were there any interviews with anyone but a very small cadre of Hizbullah spokesman.

In the past, there have been a number of known cases in which the Palestinians threatened to harm foreign reporters who sought to report events that might damage Palestinian interests. The threat of kidnapping looms over the heads of all foreign correspondents in Palestinian controlled areas. Likewise, there have been cases in which the Palestinians agreed to allow the press some freedom in doing their work on the condition that the reports would correspond to the views and message that the Palestinians wanted to convey.

In the worst manifestations of media bias, particularly in some political cartoons and opinion columns, the language and content vis-a-vis Israel have gone to the extreme. The very legitimacy of Israel's existence is questioned and at times even antisemitic stereotypes and symbols, similar to those attacking the Jewish people in the past, have been used.

However, what has generally characterized the international media's bias is the double standard it uses towards Israel. While as a democracy, Israel welcomes legitimate scrutiny, the media relentlessly scrutinizes Israel, out of proportion to any other western democracy. Totally and unjustifiably ignored is the fact that Israel faces an existential threat from a significant portion of the countries in the region. These states, who have not yet reconciled themselves to Israel's existence as a Jewish state, are themselves very far from meeting even the most basic standards of democracy and freedom. Moreover, while criticizing almost everything Israel does in fighting terrorism, the international media has often ignored the fact that other western democracies have used similar or even harsher measures when confronting threats to their national security and the safety of their citizens. The criticism of Israel has reached such a level that any action taken by Israel - no matter how defensive in nature, no matter what the threat facing Israeli - is automatically condemned.


These texts are taken from material published by the Israel Ministry of Foreign affairs. with additional comments and hyperlinked materials. They were apparently published in connection with the Annapolis peace conference of 2007, but they have extensive applicability beyond it. They explain fundamentals of Israeli policy as well as the meaning of Zionism and history of the conflict.

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Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs text is at Israel, the Conflict and Peace. Original text  is copyright by Ami Isseroff and Zionism-Israel Center.

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