When it comes to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, media warps cause and effect through misrepresentation and decontextualization.
Anti-Israel bias is rife in the media and international organizations like the United Nations; this has been the case since the founding of the Jewish State in 1948. This truth was humorously depicted by the Israeli statesman Abba Eban, who said “If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.” This prejudice is especially prevalent with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where media and anti-Israel actors paint Israel as the aggressor when it is far more often the respondent. The false presentation of the conflict is not only in the realm of history, but current events as well. Through decontextualization, differential treatment, and outright prejudice, a false picture of this thorny issue is painted. This has been clearly displayed in the past week, as violence – blamed on Israel, but stoked by Palestinians – has flared during the Ramadan and Passover holidays.
To put these recent tensions into their proper context – which the media is loath to do – Israel has been dealing with a wave of terror attacks over the past year, including stabbings, car attacks, and rocket assaults from Hamas in Gaza. This has boiled over in the past few days, sparked by an incident that has been blatantly mischaracterized by most coverage. On Wednesday April 5, Israeli police entered the Temple Mount compound – the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest in Islam – to disperse an illicit gathering and remove fireworks and other stockpiled non-traditional weaponry from the al Aqsa Mosque. This was described by almost all media coverage as a violent Israeli “raid” that was unprovoked and brutally targeted peaceful worshippers. This could not be further from the truth, and ignores critical context that puts the Israeli reaction into perspective.
The enemies of Israel, including terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah, and their backers in Iran, annually stoke violence on the Temple Mount around the Passover and Ramadan holidays, particularly when they intersect as they do this year. Attacks on Jews from atop the Mount have been commonplace, using fireworks, rocks, slings with ball bearings, and other non-traditional weapons. This is used to provoke Israel into responding, which becomes the focus of the narrative instead of the violence promoted by Palestinian leadership. That cycle has repeated this week, with videos of Israeli police “storming al Aqsa” – a typical rhetorical incitement meant to bring Islam as a religion into conflict with Israel – surging around social media. These videos are entirely stripped of context, which would show that the Israeli police entered the mosque compound after Palestinians within had begun shooting off fireworks at them.
Media reports have also uncritically mentioned the “fact” that Israeli police were keeping Muslim worshippers from remaining on the mosque grounds overnight, a common practice for the faithful during Ramadan. This ignores the reality of the situation, which is that the Islamic waqf, the Jordanian group which controls the religious aspects of the Temple Mount, chose to prohibit overnight stays as they have been used to stoke violence in the past. Most of those seeking to remain in the mosque overnight intended to either attack Jews when they arrived in the morning to walk the Temple Mount or block them from accessing the site. Israel already cedes religious control of Judaism’s holiest site to Islamic authorities, but anti-Israel activists still do not think this is enough, and want Israel to cede the security of its citizens to Palestinian whims as well. That is not something the Jewish State can countenance.
If you just read the mainstream media, you would lack all of this important context and think that Israel arbitrarily attacked worshippers in a mosque, when the reality is far more complex. After this deliberate provocation by Palestinian activists, attacks on Israel accelerated. The coverage of these terrorist atrocities shows another version of anti-Israel media bias, presenting Israel as the aggressor and equalizing Israeli responses with Palestinian terror.
Massive rocket attacks, some of the most serious in years, were launched at Israel by Hamas in Gaza and southern Lebanon. These attacks, as so many terror assaults on Israel, were directed purely at civilian targets. Israel’s response to these attacks, which involved using jets to precisely strike military targets like ammunition depots, was portrayed as equivalent to the indiscriminate rocket fire which prompted it. Outlets like BBC and CNN are specific about labeling Israeli actions as having happened, but use the formulation “Israeli authorities say,” or tack “alleged” onto Palestinian actions. For instance, Israeli police “conducted violent raids of Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque,” while the terrorist murder of two civilians is labeled as “what Israeli police described as a ‘terror attack’.” CNN helpfully follows that up by stating that Hamas and Islamic Jihad called the same attack a “heroic operation.” The inclusion of the terrorist perspective directly after the Israeli one, as well as the use of similar language in each sentence, is meant to present the two sides as the same.
In another piece, BBC describes an event in which a terrorist drove his car through a crowd of tourists, killing an Italian man and injuring several others, before pulling a rifle and being shot by Israeli police, as “a suspected car-ramming attack.” I’m curious as to what else that sequence of events could’ve been: An out-of-control parade? A 30-minutes-or-it’s-free meal delivery guarantee gone wrong? A wayward GPS? Of course it was a car-ramming attack! The feigning of ignorance is insulting to readers.
When two young British-Israeli women were assassinated in their car by a Palestinian terrorist who shot them and their mother at close range, it was presented by BBC as merely a “shooting in the West Bank” that “took place hours after Israeli warplanes carried out air strikes in southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.” By refusing to properly label these murders as terrorism and including the point about Israeli airstrikes, BBC presents these events – one a deliberate action against innocents, the other a purely military response to that attack – as moral equivalents. That is bereft of good sense, deliberately misleading, and a dereliction of journalistic duty – especially as the victims were British! It also ignores the reality of the civil responses to these actions. In Israel, significant segments of society protest the government’s actions and seek peace with the Palestinian people; in the Palestinian-controlled territories, people celebrate the deaths of Jewish civilians by handing out sweets to passersby. These are not the same.
Coverage of Israel is one of the most egregious areas of media bias, and perhaps the most dangerous. It often seems like mainstream outlets are willing to jump through hoops to excuse Palestinian atrocities and blame the Israeli victims. Misrepresentation, decontextualization, and false equivalence are used to paint Israel as the ultimate aggressor and downplay Palestinian terrorism and incitement. This biased coverage leads to further anti-Israel sentiment around the world, advancing the goals and aims of the Palestinian terrorists who seek to wipe out Israel as a state and Jews as a people. The terrorists who claim to represent the Palestinian people – and who the Palestinian people elected to represent them when given the chance – will not win. Israel is not going anywhere, despite the best efforts of its enemies over the past 75 years. It has offered peace and statehood to Palestinians over and over again, yet has been rebuffed every time. The false coverage of the conflict only boosts the terrorists who kill Israelis and Palestinians alike, but it can never get them over the finish line. That incentivization of failure will end in more death and destruction, and a hardening of Israel’s approach to the problem.
But if you’re a leader of Hamas, why would you not continue the bloodshed? With this fawning media coverage and the pecuniary support it brings, you’d be a fool not to.
One thought on “Reverse Causality”
Great piece! Thanks for writing it.