“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie, the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie, the standards of thought) no longer exist.”
– Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism
Many people seem to appear relieved after reading or knowing about the recent ceasefire by Israel in Palestine: a news that has been doing rounds on social media after months of escalation in the ongoing attacks on Palestine by the Israeli forces. However, before one pauses to laud the ceasefire, one needs to take note of yet another betrayal by the mainstream media through its reportage of the events: the epitome of misrepresentation of the violence perpetrated by Israel calling Palestine as “Arabs on the offensive”! Forty years ago, Palestinian American scholar Edward Said lamented how the US mainstream media largely ignored a UNESCO report, which documented Israel’s war crimes against civilian targets, including schools, hospitals and refugee camps. Today the situation is the same. You name the most reputed media house and they would fail the test of true reporting wherein the case of Palestine serves as a litmus test of “Speaking Truth to Power”.
Democracy dies in darkness, and humanity vanishes in falsehood: this is something that the likes of Washington Post chose to ignore in the following headline in its edition of 15 May 2021: “Israeli forces hit Hamas tunnels in Gaza as all-out war looms; more rockets rain down.” While this appears as a powerful headline, what this title does is that it conveniently conceals that the Israeli F16 jets struck Palestinian families in their homes in the middle of the night, not tunnels. Indeed, imagery that conveys the Palestinian human dimension, fear, loss, and devastation, was obscured in what seemed like a deliberate move.
Perhaps, not only the governments, but the media also seems to be complying with the famous quote: One death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic”, first attributed to Stalin in the Washington Post published on 20 January 1947.
Another famous international publication too joined the club. On May 5, Reuters ran a report documenting the incidents at Sheikh Jarrah ahead of the court case that fueled the ongoing violence. Reuters claimed Sheikh Jarrah as a part of Jerusalem that Israel has “captured” from its eastern neighbour in the 1967 Middle East war, masking a history of forced expulsions in the area, thus contributing to the discreet worldwide understanding that Israel has legal rights over the area and opposing views are debatable at best. The May 11 Reuters coverage, titled “Palestinian rocket fire, Israeli strikes in Gaza run into second day” suggests that the Israeli strikes were meant “as a response” to “Palestinian” rocket fires raining down on Israel.
In a similar vein, the Wall Street Journal, in its edition of 14 May 2021, read “Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in the contested city of Jerusalem have escalated into a broader conflict, with Israel striking targets in Gaza in response to rockets launched by Palestinian militants.” This false equivalence conveys the false narrative that Israel has been acting in self-defense. By using the word ‘clashes’, it also overlooks a major fact, namely, that this is not any conflict between the equals. This is aggression by a hyper-armed state with the finest and most lethal arsenal of expensive weaponry.
Let’s call the Spade a Bouillabaisse, it might hurt less!
Words are potent of holding the perpetrators to account and so are silences. And what is interesting is that the mainstream media has an expertise with both! They know exactly how to blend both in news coverage through language manipulation, resorting to euphemisms and other acrobatic semantics to dilute the impact of words on the audience.
Newspapers like The New York Times is doing its best to stay neutral, albeit hinting on their social media captions of “Gaza militants” firing rockets followed by Israeli retaliation, masking the Palestinian struggle. One would have given into this, had it not been for yet another reportage recently that reeks of language manipulation. ln an article published on 7 May 2021, the New York Times used the headline: “Evictions in Jerusalem Become Focus of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” In the blurb that followed, the newspaper wrote: “The effort to evict six Arab families from a contested neighborhood has drawn attention to the Israeli effort to remove Palestinians from parts of East Jerusalem and led to protests.” If the editors were unbiased, they would not use the word ‘evictions’. As eloquently demonstrated by Palestinian activist Mohammed El-Kurd in an interview with CNN, newsrooms should use the term ‘forced ethnic displacement’ instead.
In this case, ‘eviction’ implies the implementation of legal edicts in favor of legitimate landowners. The ultra-nationalist racist settlers are not the legitimate landlords; they are illegitimate usurpers. Moreover, Israeli courts have no jurisdiction in the occupied territories under international law. Also, this is not a ‘contested neighborhood,’ as these families are ethnically displaced from their homes. Furthermore, this was not an ‘effort.’ It was a crime condoned by the state. When media uses terms interchangeably to lessen the impact and gravity of the situation for its audience, it does injustice not only to the idea of news reporting but also to the ones who consume such reportage.
If it does not cater to the pleasure of the bosses- then censor it
A favorite formula, (of the ones ironically fighting for free press and who would not stand a day of work without such rights) to prevent the truthful depiction of events is censorship. Researcher Dalya al-Masri related the experience of many pro-Palestinian academics in Canada, whose opinion pieces were ignored or rejected by leading media outlets, such as CBS, Toronto Star, and The Globe and Mail. Meanwhile, several personalities, including media figures, published an open letter criticizing Canadian media coverage of the Israeli violations against the Palestinians. On the other hand, Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) has restricted critical reporting of Israel citing the country’s special responsibility for the Jewish state due to the Holocaust, in the two-page internal document leaked on social media.
One wonders, should this history of Holocaust not instill a sense of empathy in the powers of the day to speak out and prevent any act of aggression potent of repeating the history. While such appeals seem to be going unheard, in another move, DW’s editorial board has banned its reporters and editors from covering Israeli government’s crimes of “apartheid” and persecution of Palestinians, in a new reporting guide sent to the staff amid recent escalation in the region. David Cronin, who used to report from Gaza for The Guardian, said one of his editors advised him to “steer clear of covering the conflict altogether”.
The decimation of independent investigative journalism has been replaced with carefully crafted soundbite information designed to manipulate the public to believe what the powerful elite want us to believe. When the market has an invisible hand in the media affairs too, one really wonders what the guarantees of like the freedom of press really signify. The narratives we read turn “cause and effect” on their head, making villain into victim. Were the Palestinian rockets the cause of Israeli police storming Al-Aqsa Mosque, firing bullets and stun grenades on worshipers and evicting Palestinians from their homes or was it the other way around? What is cause and what is effect?
It is true that the international human rights organisations continue to accuse Israeli government of apartheid, systematic oppression and inhumane acts against Palestinians. In a recent report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that the Israeli authorities are committing crimes against humanity, and crimes of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians. Yet, when one comes to evaluating the mandates to act, with such tall institutions boasting of keeping a check on violence of such scale, one can only see ‘inaction’ as their guiding motto of action.
Over time, mainstream media has become habituated to neglect the contextual history of Israel’s military aggression on Palestine. Sometimes, to please the powers of the day, to satisfy the boss, other times because of running prejudices, or for taking care of the market or simply for the reason that it did not directly affect them. In any case, these omissions have been deliberate, habitual and conscious, whatever be the reason. As a result, the readers have a limited understanding of what is going on, how the Palestine territory was, and still is, occupied, and how one-sided the aggression has come to be historically. This forms a classic case of betrayal by those who were supposed to act as the guardians of truth. The betrayal by the media will be equally responsible in paving the way for Palestine’s falling off the map. (The phrase has been inspired from Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “At the Train station which fell off the Map“, from “A Map of Absence: An Anthology of Palestinian Writing on the Nakba”.)
Featured image source: France24