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U.S. Media Coverage of Israel-Palestine Conflict

U.S. Media Coverage of Israel-Palestine Conflict


By Sonia Nettnin

Few Americans realize that U.S. mainstream media coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict passes through America’s political elites, Israeli public relations organizations and private American organizations, before it reaches the public.

One of The Media Education Foundation’s latest films, “Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land: U.S. Media and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” directed by Sut Jhally, examines how these filters distort the realities on the ground. It demonstrates how through word choice, limited historical context and one-sided perspectives, U.S. journalists provide the American public with limited news coverage.

This MEF documentary, in memoriam of Edward W. Said (1935-2003), describes the public relations strategies of U.S. corporations and lobby organizations to manipulate news coverage for the financial and political interests they represent. Since American public opinion is malleable, the media’s misinformation can mold the foundation of public perceptions. Hence, people draw conclusions based on biased news reports.

Through interviews with journalists, media analysts and political activists, the film explores the co-opted media’s techniques for reporting the conflict and mobilizing public opinion. For example, on September 3, 2001, a news network did not want its journalists referring to the Israeli settlement, Gilo, as a “settlement.” Instructions given to journalists explained that “…we don’t refer to it as a settlement…” so in one of the network’s news clips that followed, the journalist reporting from Gilo used the officially substituted word “neighborhood.” The word change altered the perspective of the news report drastically because it removed any perception of colonization from the report’s context. Clearly, replacing or eliminating words from a report can assist with removing skepticism about the nature of its subject matter. Moreover, it helps modify public perceptions as to who is the aggressor.

PR-media strategies explain why the news continues to emphasize the violence directed against Israelis. However, the media reports do not include international law in their coverage, with regards to human rights, the rights of Palestinian refugees and the obligations of occupying forces. The Geneva Conventions and several UN Security Council Resolutions are solid sources for reference. If news reports included the historical fact that Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem exist on Palestinian land, the background information may cause Americans to raise questions about the legality of those settlements. Moreover, people may begin to reassess the root causes of the conflict. When news consumers have thorough, accurate information, the conflict between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians can reflect different meanings or interpretations, absent from the current patterns of news coverage.

The film shows news footage of the Israeli Army as they attack Palestinian civilians. In response, Palestinians throw rocks. Without historical background in the news report, it appears as a violent conflict over disputed land, where Israeli Defense Forces use tanks and gun ships against the Palestinian people. If the media reported the conflict’s history, then news consumers may see a military regime’s occupation of Palestinian land and its indigenous people. With tanks and gun ships, Israeli soldiers attack Palestinian civilians. The color of media’s stock images change with history’s clarifying hue.

Other unfair aspects of the media’s conflict coverage are the absence of news reporting about the Palestinian’s daily life with checkpoint violence and curfews; and the organizations that protest their living conditions. Overall, the U.S. media does not cover the Israeli peace movement. When 2,000 Israeli and Palestinian women from the organization, Women in Black, marched down the streets of Jerusalem, the U.S. media did not cover the demonstration. Whenever an organization, such Gush Shalom (which considers itself the core of the Israeli peace movement) has a demonstration, it is not in U.S. news coverage.

However, the media is not just the news, but artistic and intellectual endeavors also. People communicate through storylines, public discourse and art, which shows their everyday life. If the Arab countries expressed their humanity in American pastimes, then it would create a Transatlantic, cultural bridge for American public awareness. Movies, music, magazines, radio programs, and television shows (maybe even a soap opera) entertain people, but it engages their beliefs and their values also. Cultural catalysts would reverse the adverse affects of current news coverage. Over time, the stereotypes and racial hate embedded in the American psyche would have no room on the political stage.

The Arab media and the Arab socio-political elite could contribute for these cultural initiatives. The alternative, media sources would focus on the people of the Middle East, and the media’s cultural lenses would reach American families in their homes. Cultural pastimes cultivate global awareness in people. The potential result is American media consumer’s understanding of the Middle East. After American families see Arab families across the world, they would realize that the similarities outnumber the differences. When they learn about families with common problems and aspirations, the use of the word “terrorist,” in America’s lexicon, would prove a linguistic challenge.

Since journalism is about public enlightenment, some of these educational endeavors would help Americans comprehend the daily violence endured by the Palestinians. If anything, Americans will gain more understanding about the pain and the suffering of Palestinians caused by the occupation. The tragedies within the Palestinian narrative cannot be filtered away anymore.

*************

Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.

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