“The stories told about Palestine-Israel are as notable for what they exclude as they are for what they include.” This is an apt introduction to the three main narratives discussed in Greg Shupak’s book, “The Wrong Story. Palestine, Israel and the Media” (OR Books, 2018). It is imbued with meanings and not necessarily as straightforward as one would think upon first reading. Exclusion and inclusion, within the mainstream media context, are not juxtaposed against each other. On the contrary, both exclusion and inclusion operate within the parameters of projection; namely the attribution of violence to Palestinians by eliminating the historical and political framework.
Shupak discusses how mainstream media simplifies the colonisation of Palestine into three points of normalised discourse: the rhetoric of “both sides”, conflicts between “extremists and moderates” and Israel’s alleged right to defend itself. These generic and erroneous disseminations have resulted in a reframing of colonisation. The “both sides” framework fosters “false equivalence between the rights and responsibilities of the coloniser and the colonised.” Extremism discourse, states Shupak, encourages a narrative of “Palestinian terrorists and in some cases a fringe of hard-line Israelis.” Propagating that Israel has a right to defend itself “advocates solutions characterised by Palestinian surrender and Israeli dominance.”
The book analyses mainstream media’s normalised discourse through rigorous criticism of opinion articles and editorials across a spectrum of outlets, with particular scrutiny of the New York Times during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge offensive in 2014. It also employs a historical background which is sadly missing from mainstream narratives, yet is of paramount importance if the context is to be given the required prominence. Each chapter discusses a single observation in detail, exposing how the mainstream media has contributed to Palestine’s isolation. Shupak commences with the “both sides” framework, which sets the pace for exposing the other false narratives.
Insight into the editorials associated with Operation Protective Edge show how Israel was exonerated from instigating the massacre through several angles. Shupak mentions the distortion of timelines and obscuring news and the socio-economic situation of Palestinians — in this case, in Gaza — to eliminate the possibilities of differentiation. Besides obscuring Israel’s killings of Palestinian civilians and the equating of Hamas rockets with Israel’s military power to evoke the “both sides” framework, colonial violence is also depicted as a conflict that plays out on different levels of purported equality, an example of which, published in the Guardian, echoes bizarrely. It takes a different slant on the “both sides” rhetoric, describing the shifting of blame as “a perverse landscape in which both Israelis and Palestinians find themselves.” The vague connotations, as well as attribution of perversity to the scenario rather than colonialism, are not only disruptive in terms of reporting, but also contribute to the Israeli framework of oblivion when it comes to Palestinian history, thus legitimising Israel’s presence in Palestine.
Shupak, however, reminds readers that the differentiation between Israeli violence and Palestinian resistance in response to such violence is rooted in responsibility and accountability for the history that commenced with the Nakba in 1948. “Media coverage suggesting that Israelis and Palestinians have wronged each other to similar extents ignores that it is only one side that made millions of people refugees and that is responsible for them continuing to have that status,” he writes.
History, the author asserts, discredits the “both sides” fable. Throughout the book he demonstrates how international failure to protect Palestinians has contributed not only to the violence, but also to how the media depicts the coloniser and the colonised. The mainstream media exposes the dynamics of protecting the colonial project unabashedly, a form of contention that defies logic. The author disentangles media distortion in a simple manner: “Since there is no Israeli population that Palestinians have colonised and made into a minority that is subject to discrimination… the narrative of Israelis and Palestinians reciprocally harming one another does not stand up to scrutiny.”
Likewise, discourse about extremists and moderates serves several agendas but not the truth. Shupak speaks of the media as being party to civilising violence by depicting Israeli violence as rational and a response, while legitimate Hamas resistance is classified as irrational terror. However, it is not only the differences spun by mainstream media regarding Israel and Hamas that endangers the Palestinian cause. Settler violence is also dissociated from state violence, despite the fact that the former derives its power from the government and so Israeli settler extremism cannot be isolated from the state. The author is adamant that classifying only small groups of settlers as extremists “present the problem of Israeli violence towards Palestinians in individualistic rather than systemic terms.”
He also portrays extremism in terms of the repercussions generated by the Oslo Accords. Within Israel, he says, Oslo institutionalised colonialism and created dependency upon the framework and its implementation among its settler population. On the other hand, the Accords also pushed the mainstream narrative of the Palestinian Authority as “moderate”, standing in contrast to the labels associated with Hamas. Quoting a New York Times editorial from 2014, Shupak shows how the newspaper appropriated the concept of Palestinian unity by describing the unity government as the “chance to erode Hamas’s political standing further and boost Palestinian moderates like Mr. Abbas.”
With the Palestinian Authority branded as moderate and its role established as an extension of the Israeli colonial violence that has been rationalised by mainstream media, Israel’s alleged right to defend itself is mostly a tirade against Hamas and Palestinian resistance, despite the fact that all Palestinians have been impacted. Shupak refers to historical massacres committed by Israel, such as Sabra and Shatila, Kafr Qasem and Qibya (all years and decades before Hamas existed) to illustrate the Zionist aim of ethnically cleansing Palestine of its indigenous population, and discusses how the Israeli concept of defence has altered to include other forms of violence that hark back to the Zionist plan of taking the maximum amount of land with the minimum number of Arabs on it.
In all three points discussed by Shupak, it is evident that colonial gain is the result of the mainstream media’s erroneous portrayal of Israel’s colonial violence against Palestinians. Interestingly, the author also notes the dependency of Israel on the media, as well as the latter’s disposition to accommodate the colonial narrative. He describes mainstream media as “embedded in a system of global imperialist capitalism built around US hegemony of which Israel is an important characteristic.”
Greg Shupak’s book resonates with clarity. Political decay and pandering to Israel have resulted in a situation where the obvious is eliminated in favour of distorted narratives. To return to Shupak’s earlier references to exclusion and inclusion, the book contributes to defining the importance of awareness at a time when terms are used interchangeably; corruption has meddled with justice and words are losing their significance to the forces assisting Israel’s colonial propaganda.