5 Ways Media Are Twisting Coverage of the Israel-Hamas Conflict
The topic of Israel and the Palestinians is notoriously contentious. A minor clash in Jerusalem has the potential to generate headlines around the world, stir up sentiment throughout the Middle East, and, in turn, lead to more fighting and even war.
That’s why it’s essential the media tell the story accurately. But news organizations repeatedly distort stories relating to the conflict.
Here are five ways news outlets continue to do so:
1. Blaming Israel for Palestinian violence
From the beginning of the latest escalation, Israel was routinely blamed for the decisions of Palestinian terrorists.
Consider, for example, this headline by The New York Times, suggesting that rocket fire from Gaza was in response to the actions of Israeli security forces in Jerusalem: “After Raid on Aqsa Mosque, Rockets from Gaza and Israeli Airstrikes.”
Repeatedly, journalists have framed the decision by Hamas to launch projectiles at Israeli civilians throughout the country as a response to an Israeli “raid.”
In reality, Israeli security forces were compelled to enter the mosque after Palestinians had turned it into a stronghold, stockpiling rocks and boulders meant to be thrown at Jews, and using fireworks as makeshift missiles. Concurrently, Arabs in numerous locations pelted Jewish pedestrians and drivers with stones, and attempted to lynch at least one Jew close to the Temple Mount.
Notwithstanding the “raid,” Hamas had no justification to target Israeli civilians. Suggesting that rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorists came “after” Israel quelled violent rioters, confuses — whether intentionally or maliciously — cause and effect.
More recently, comedian John Oliver recorded a segment in which he accused Israel of committing “war crimes” and “child-murder” in Gaza.
But the responsibility for the deaths of civilians in Gaza lies with Hamas, which has a modus operandi of placing military assets in densely-populated residential areas.
International law is very clear on this: Hamas, not Israel, is to blame for casualties resulting from its use of Palestinians as human shields.
1. A rocket fired from Gaza fell short, killed six children on Monday. Israel can’t be blamed.
2. Talking only of the “immediate trigger” leaves readers misinformed: Hamas is desperate to oust Fatah, is using the situation in Jerusalem to its benefit.@NYTimes, @MelinaDelkic. pic.twitter.com/aUJk2pi1lW
— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) May 11, 2021
2. Failing to note that rockets fired from Gaza at Israeli civilians are war crimes
It’s astonishing that this needs to be stressed, but media reports about the latest round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas have routinely failed to call out the latter for war crime after war crime.
Each time a missile from Gaza deliberately targets Israeli civilians, that’s a war crime. Each time a rocket is fired from a densely-populated civilian area in Gaza, that’s a war crime, too.
Some 4,000 rockets were fired at Israel during the fighting. Just because it keeps on happening, does not mean it’s any more acceptable and any less of a war crime. And by failing to label these acts as such, the media allow terrorists to strike without public pressure building against them, as opposed to the massive public pressure on Israel to stop striking back.
3. Masking the chronology, drawing false equivalences
The current round of violence can be traced to a rash of gratuitous, random attacks on Israeli Jews by Palestinians in mid-to-late April. The attacks were recorded and circulated on the TikTok video-sharing app. Footage of the unprovoked assaults went viral, prompting additional copycat attacks on Israeli civilians, leading to a small number of fringe far-right Jewish activists to attack Arabs in “revenge.”
Two salient facts were not noted in numerous reports, though:
- The violence was initiated by Arabs
- The number of reprehensible and widely condemned violent attacks perpetrated by Jews was far exceeded by those committed by Arabs.
Instead, the media tended to lump the two groups together, often failing to make clear how the violence started.
In this respect, The New York Times headlined one of its pieces on the subject, “Israelis and Palestinians Clash Around Jerusalem’s Old City.” This creates a false equivalence.
Similarly, a CBS report was titled, “Officers injured, 40 arrested in Jerusalem as hardline Jewish group and Palestinians clash with police during Ramadan.”
Meanwhile, The Huffington Post published an article under the headline, “Israeli Extremist Group Chants ‘Death To Arabs’ During Jerusalem Protests,” and Australia’s ABC News ran a story titled, “Why are mobs in Jerusalem chanting ‘death to the Arabs’?” Both of these focused on the Jewish extremists while ignoring the larger problem of Arab hooliganism.
4. Downplaying and erasing Palestinian violence
Media analysts have long noted that Palestinian violence is frequently not explicitly labeled as such in news reports. Often this is done through the use of modifiers, such as “Israel said.”
In other cases, editors and journalists have effectively erased Palestinian belligerence by talking about “attacks” without identifying those responsible.
Take, for example, this headline by the BBC: “Israel closes Gaza border after mortar attack.” (The headline was later revised after the article underwent major changes).
The BBC fails on a number of counts. First, it does not identify who was responsible: Hamas. Second, it does not make evident where the attack took place: At a border crossing. And third, it focuses on Israel’s response rather than the fact that Hamas took aim at a border crossing at a time that humanitarian aid was being transferred through it.
Similarly, The New York Times’ daily briefings often minimized the impact and scale of Palestinian terrorism, sometimes “forgetting” altogether to include Palestinian attacks.
— Eylon Levy (@EylonALevy) May 18, 2021
Similar problems were observed in British news coverage, with a report by Ashlie Blakey of the Manchester Evening News incorrectly describing only “hundreds of rockets” fired at Israel, when the number was of a far greater magnitude, well into the thousands. Her phrasing also failed to make clear that Hamas has targeted civilians, whereas Israel has targeted Hamas and other terrorist groups.
All of the above can be compared to articles focusing on the Israeli response to rocket strikes.
For example, a New York Times story published on May 18 detailed how the only coronavirus test laboratory in Gaza was rendered unusable — but only deep into the text did it become apparent that the lab was not targeted by Israel, did not suffer significant damage, and would be back in use within a matter of days. All damage sustained was as a result of a strike that took place across the street.
5. Counting terrorists and civilians together
During the recent eruption of violence, several news outlets reported decontextualized casualty figures. See, for example, the headline below, produced by The Guardian: “Israel-Gaza conflict: 200 Palestinians killed in a week, say officials.”
This phrasing was echoed by The New Yorker, which described how “two hundred Palestinians have been killed, including dozens of children.”
The problematic terminology appeared throughout the media, with a Fox News headline earlier reading, “Gaza officials: Death toll from Israeli strikes rises to 43.”
It’s vital for readers to understand that civilian casualties are entirely the fault of Hamas for opening fire on Israel, and any unfortunate instance in which civilians may die in the fog of war is ultimately the consequence of the decision by Hamas to start a war.
Additionally, the lack of clarity regarding civilians and combatants killed is the fault of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terror organizations, whose members fail to comply with international law and often do not wear uniforms or otherwise distinguish themselves from the urban environment from which they frequently operate. Journalists operating from Gaza are impeded from doing their jobs by Hamas, which harasses and threatens reporters exposing abuse of civilians. Unable to do their jobs freely, journalists are reliant on Hamas-run government ministries.
By failing to mention that many killed in Gaza are either confirmed or suspected terrorists, news sites contribute to false accusations that Israel is “massacring” Gazans. It’s just one more of the many journalistic attacks that have been launched against Israel.
Emanuel Miller is a writer-researcher for HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias.
This article originally appeared at HonestReporting, which is providing vital work in correcting anti-Israel narratives during the current crisis.