For many years that I have been following international politics, I have always harboured that belief that the media’s role is to inform and enlighten, to be the eyes and ears of the people, and to monitor power.
However, in western media’s coverage of the Palestine-Israel quagmire they have consistently favoured the partisan views of the United States and Israeli governments at the expense of the Palestinian experience. And they have failed the public in understanding this longest of Middle East conflicts, which is at the heart of so many of the problems in the region. Not only is Israel waging a military campaign in the occupied territories, but a second battle is being waged through the western media to ensure continued western especially US support for its expansionist policies.
After the 1967 Six Day War, Jewish organisations undertook a propaganda campaign to ensure Israel’s legitimacy and cement its relationship with the United States. It included the conflation of Israel with the Holocaust and victimhood and the writing of a mythical history of Palestine as an unpopulated desert that “good” Israelis made bloom.
To regain control of public opinion, the American Jewish Congress sponsored a 1983 conference in Jerusalem with the goal of devising a strategy for reselling Israel. Top executives, journalists and academics from Israel and the United States developed talking points that are recognisable in today’s rhetoric, which stresses the following ideas: Israel’s strategic importance to the United States, its physical vulnerability, shared cultural values with the West and Israel’s desire for peace!
Participants also understood the importance of an all-out campaign to convince the public that Jewish settlements in the West Bank are not an obstacle to peace. The conference also produced the Hasbara or Propaganda Project. Its goal was to guarantee that the United States did not waver in its economic and military support, and to make it almost impossible to critique Israel’s actions. This has resulted in news organisations coming to expect pressure if they go outside the level of acceptable discourse regarding Israel. Hence, they avoid potentially troublesome subjects and punish journalists who expose them. For example, Lincoln states that Ariel Sharon, then minister of defence, filed a libel suit after Time magazine accused him of encouraging the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon. The lobbying group Americans for a Safe Israel filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission requesting that NBC’s licence be revoked over its reporting of the invasion.
President Jimmy Carter, before and after publication of his book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” received his share of intimidation and vitriolic accusations of anti-Semitism. Ran Baratz, communications director appointee for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accused President Obama of “modern-day anti-Semitism” after the United States reached an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program in
One of the most glaring fabrications sold to Americans is that the struggle (between Palestinians and Israelis) is between two peoples with equal resources and claims. In reality it is a conflict between the coloniser, Israel, and the colonised, Palestinians.
Another persistent fallacy is that of gratuitous violence. Words matter as they manage perceptions. Violent Jewish settlers are referred to as extremists, while Palestinians reacting to occupation are called terrorists. Palestinians “attack,” while Israelis merely “retaliate.” With a compliant US press, Israel’s propaganda network has successfully linked the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in the United States to Palestinians’ continued rebellion in the territories. In another unchallenged remark, the Prime Minister Netanyahu contended that “ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same political tree.” Whatever one may think of Hamas, it is not the Islamic State, in reality it is an internal resistance movement in a singular battle with Israel. These associations of terrorism with Arabs, Muslims and the Middle East have created an unhealthy climate of indifference and fear in many Americans’ minds.
Furthermore, news organisations unquestionably proffer another fiction that Washington has been an “honest and neutral” interlocutor in Palestine-Israel peace negotiations. They deliberately ignore a glaring fact that Israel’s viability has been based on the $500 billion in aid it has received from the United States since 1949 and the $6 billion it continues to receive annually. American administrations have vetoed all but one UN Security Council resolutions critical of Israel. Essentially, the United States has been financing the occupation and rewarding colonial policies.
America has more often than not been an obstacle to peace because of its bias in favour of Israel. The 2000 Camp David meeting is a poignant example. The press praised Prime Minister Ehud Barak for proposing the “most generous offer ever made” to the Palestinians while rebuking President Yassir Arafat for failing to accept Barak’s offer.
The occupation, with its curfews, 500 checkpoints and harassment by the Israeli army, has made access by journalists to the Palestinian experience almost impossible. Palestinians who are allowed on rare occasions to speak or write in the mainstream media have to use language acceptable to Israel and America. Israelis who oppose their government’s policies are excluded from mainstream media as well. Ignored is the growing number of Israelis refusing military service in the occupied territories. News companies give little attention to how the rest of the world has responded to the occupation.