On a trip to Cuba in May, I had to look twice when an elderly man selling newspapers walked past the restaurant I was eating in. On the front page of one was a huge photograph of an Israeli soldier holding a Palestinian boy by the neck, the boy’s face twisted away from the camera in pain.
The photo said it all: an aggressive, well-built soldier wearing a helmet, bulletproof vest and carrying a machine gun was manhandling a child half his size, not more than 10 years old, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. Why was I so shocked to see such an image published on the front page of a mainstream newspaper? Because this would be a rare moment in the UK.
Over here, the images that are used to represent almost 50 years of military occupation are of Palestinian youth throwing stones, black-and white-kuffiyeh wrapped around their faces. The Cuban picture portrays the Palestinian as the subject of aggression, the UK image as the perpetrator; just like that, our media helps perpetuate the myth that Palestinians are faceless terrorists predisposed to random outbursts of violence and against whom Israel has every right to defend itself.
A closer look at how the British media has covered the recent escalation of violence in Palestine reveals some worrying trends. For the past year right-wing Israeli groups have entered the Haram Al-Sharif compound daily with their armed escorts, often chanting anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian slogans. This came to a head on 13 September when a group of settlers and the Israeli minister of agriculture Uri Ariel, protected by Israeli soldiers, actually entered the Al-Aqsa mosque shooting tear gas, stun grenades and rubber coated steel bullets at worshippers, injuring Palestinians inside and causing damage to the interior of the mosque.
With this in mind take a look at how these confrontations were described in the Telegraph: “Four Israelis and 23 Palestinians have died in 12 days of bloodshed fuelled in part by Muslim anger over increasing Jewish access to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem.”
And earlier in the year, Reuters reported that: “Those groups [devout Jews and Israeli nationalists] are at the centre of a creeping shift in Jerusalem: After 900 years, Jews are chipping away at Muslims’ exclusive control of the site, the third holiest in Islam. The shift, which has provoked violence in the past, threatens to open a dangerous new front in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, adding religious enmity to a political struggle in the very heart of the disputed city.”
Not only do these reports reduce the provocation by Israeli settlers and soldiers in the Al-Aqsa mosque to Muslim anger and a failure to compromise over increased Jewish access to the compound, but they make the current protests in Palestine sound as though they are merely a religious dispute. Al-Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam and holds huge religious significance for Muslims across the world, but Palestinians are also protesting against almost 50 years of military occupation under which their land has constantly been taken away from them.
Since 14 September, 72 Palestinians and 11 Israelis have been killed and over 8,000 Palestinians and 134 Israelis have been injured – yet many reports have picked out and highlighted the knife attacks carried out by Palestinians, using phrases such as “Israel’s knife terror”, describing “knife wielding” Palestinians or “anti-Israeli knife attacks”. The following report published on the BBC answered the question of what is happening between the Israelis and the Palestinians in the following manner:
“There has been a spate of stabbings and gun attacks on Israelis by Palestinians since early October, and one apparent revenge stabbing by an Israeli. The attacks, some of which have been fatal, have struck in Jerusalem and in northern and central Israeli cities and towns, and in the occupied West Bank. Israel has tightened security and clashed with rioting Palestinians, leading to deaths on the Palestinian side. There has also been associated violence in the border area inside the Gaza Strip.”
Note that there is not even a mention of what took place at Al-Aqsa mosque on 13 September. The weapons used by Palestinians are specified but Israel’s excessive use of tear gas, stun grenades, live ammunition and rubber bullets is not included.
The term “Palestinian rioters” (other reports have used “Muslim rioters”) has been widely adopted in the British media; the notion of “rioters” is associated with wild disorder and conjures up very different images than the word “protesters”, which suggests a group of people who are simply asking for their rights. Another common term used in the above quotation and frequently in other articles is “clash”, which implies fighting between two equal forces– Israeli soldiers, part of the fourth largest army in the world, storming the Al-Aqsa mosque and firing tear gas and rubber bullets at Palestinians armed with stones, sticks and knives cannot be described as a “clash”.
Deaths on the Palestinian side are a result of rioting Palestinians, and so somehow justified. This headline from Reuters, this one in the Independent and this one in the Daily Mail all report Palestinian deaths but say they took place after Palestinians attacked Israelis with knives. In contrast, this article from the BBC is typical of how Israeli casualties are reported across the media: “Three Israelis killed in Jerusalem bus attacks”. No justifications or explanations of the deaths in sight.
The BBC casually writes about “associated violence” in the Gaza Strip. Between 13 September and the publication of this article, 12 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed, including 26-year-old Nour Rasmi Mohammed Hassan who was five months pregnant and her three year-old daughter, both of whom were at home when an Israeli airstrike hit their house.
Rather than recognise that their excessive use of force and almost 50 years of occupation – under which Palestinian homes have been demolished, children have been arrested, freedom of movement restricted and Gaza placed under siege – may evoke anger in some Palestinians, Israeli authorities, echoed in news reports, would rather blame Palestinian leaders and the use of social media for “inciting” violence, as seen in this headline: “Israel sentences Islamic leader to jail for incitement”; and this one too: “Is social media driving the current violence?”
In this video, Israeli security forces have planted undercover stone throwers among a group of Palestinians who then turn on one of the Palestinians in the same group before ten Israeli soldiers drag him away (note – excessive use of force). In fact there are numerous videos online that highlight Israeli aggression and incitement of violence towards Palestinians but they are not widely published in the mainstream press. This particularly disturbing video filmed on a mobile phone in Aida refugee camp last week captures an Israeli soldier announcing: “You throw stones and we will hit you with gas until you die – the children, the youth, the old people; you will all die. We won’t leave any of you alive.” This video shows an Israeli soldier running over a Palestinian then preventing paramedics helping him; this one shows settlers throwing stones at Palestinian homes in Hebron.
On 16 October, much media attention was focused on the case of a Palestinian man who dressed up in a press jacket and inflicted moderate wounds on an Israeli soldier in Hebron before being shot dead by another soldier. On the same day, four other Palestinians died, including 36-year-old Shawqi Jamal Jaber Ebeid who succumbed to injuries after sustaining a bullet wound to the head a week before whilst working in a stone factory in Gaza. His story is much harder to find and yet it is part of the media’s job to help give a voice to those who have been deliberately silenced – those like Shawqi Ebeid and his family – and to hold politicians and people in authority to account when they do something wrong; even more so if they commit war crimes. If, however, the media is complicit in silencing those same people, then in some cases we may be looking at political propaganda dressed up as news