Western mainstream media has, for the last three weeks, covered the war on the Gaza Strip quite professionally, in most cases. Exceptions, though, come in the analysis and further comments on events, which tend to be biased against the Palestinians, despite the apparent suffering of civilians.
Reporting about Palestine, in general, usually follows Western governments’ declared positions which are supportive of Israel, particularly in this current war. Dissent is uncommon and Palestine-leaning reports are rare and can only be found in what major media dub “fringe” media.
Even the coverage of the huge public support for the Palestinians in the streets of major cities like London, New York and many others is hardly thorough. Many major media outlets ignore it altogether.
Yet one of the biggest problems of the Western mainstream media’s coverage of the on-going war remains to be, as it has always been, the lack of context in reporting certain facts and, in many instances, it is done deliberately. This leaves a larger portion of audiences rather baffled, confused and unable to decide for themselves. While this shapes public opinion, it does not provide for healthy debate expected in democratic countries, where the public is supposed to decide where they want to be. However, in order to do this, correct and contextual reporting is essential.
For example the BBC’s international editor, the veteran John Simpson, had to explain why the BBC does not use the term “terrorists” when referring to Hamas fighters by saying it is not the corporation’s job to tell “people who to support” because the word “terrorist” is politically loaded.
Indeed, Hamas “gunmen” are usually described as terrorists, despite the fact that only less than one fourth of the United Nations’ 193 member states label Hamas as such. The UN itself does not list Hamas as a terrorist organisation. Furthermore, the countries that see Hamas as a terrorist entity are mainly Western countries or others known to favour Israel, or its declared allies, like the United States.
When context is missing it is easier for biased reporters, or less informed correspondents, to use the terrorism label for Hamas, simply because context is already missing and the wider audience is unlikely to bother to try to contextualize certain events.
Without actually glorifying Hamas, the organisation, objectively, should not be labelled terrorist simply because it is fighting against illegal occupation as per numerous relevant UN resolutions. Accusing Hamas of committing violence against civilians might be difficult to refute. But, here, the Israeli settlers make such a case a difficult one. Thousands of settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are well armed, though they might be considered as “civilians”. They are also supported and protected by the Israeli army even when they commit horrendous criminal acts against unarmed civilian Palestinians – a daily occurrence.
Commonly most Western media prefer the phrase “Hamas militants” instead of fighters, or even gunmen, all of which are loaded but still better than “militants”. The word “militant” is widely accepted to mean someone who believes in an ideology and willing to use violence to advance it. In the wider public arena, this means such a person is an outlaw and viewed in the same way as members of Daesh (ISIS) or Al-Qaeda. In fact, the Israeli Prime Minister has repeatedly referred to Hamas as ISIS and Al-Qaeda, calling on the whole world to fight it.
But this is completely wrong and conveys the wrong message, further misleading the public. Ideologically, Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement. But this group has long been accepted by Western countries and media as “moderates”. They have even contested in elections and won in Egypt and Tunisia. Hamas itself won the first fair elections in Palestine in 2006 but was denied power because of Israeli, American and Palestinian Authority collaboration that refused to accept its victory. Furthermore, most top Brotherhood leaders, with the exception of Hamas, have lived for decades in the West, including in the United Kingdom, the United States, France and Switzerland to name few, and no one thought of them as fanatics, let alone “terrorists”.
On top of all that, Hamas has never been implicated in any violence outside Palestine where it is fighting brutal and debilitating Occupation.
Again, this not to exonerate Hamas from any illegal acts, or to praise it, but rather a statement of facts to enlighten public debate.
On the other hand, few if any, Western media repeated the phrase used by Israel’s Defence Minister, beyond reporting it for the first time, in which he described Palestinians, not just Hamas, as “human animals” and rarely any context was provided as to why, for instance, Mr. Gallant used such a phrase, despite it being loaded with Nazi connotations. Only a few observers noted the fact that “human animals” is coined and used by Nazi theorists to justify why Jews, black people, gypsies and other minorities are not fully developed humans but “human animals”. Without going into too much detail, the phrase easily justifies the killing of such groups of people by first dehumanising them and, once they are tagged as non- humans, their lives do not matter anymore and their murder would be a technicality, at best.
The same meaning was further amplified by Israel’s President when he accused the entire population of the Gaza Strip of “complacency” with Hamas by not “uprising” against it. This was to justify bombing out of existence all Gazans, including children, women, the elderly and the disabled.
At the same time, almost all Western media reports about the war, in attempts to provide context, usually starts with this sentence “…Hamas terrorists launched unprovoked attack on Israel, killing 1400 people …” This appears to be an honest statement of fact, but it is out of context. First the word “unprovoked” is completely untrue. Hamas’ Al-Aqsa Flood Operation, as the 7 October attack was code-named, becomes “unprovoked” only when taken out of context or contextualised in the wrong way.
If decades of Occupation of Palestine are not enough provocation, what could be, then?
In the case of the Gaza Strip, for example, Israel was, indeed, forced out in 2005 but it kept tight and suffocating control on the overcrowded open-air prison – as the region is sometimes nicknamed – from the air, land and sea. Nothing can go into the Gaza Strip without Israeli permission, including fishing rods – fish is the staple food for the majority of the 2.3 million Palestinians living there. After the war broke out, Israel went further in its strangling of the Gaza Strip by cutting water, electricity and imposing a total ban on everything else, including medicine.
False and out of context news reporting confuses public opinion and misleads even decision makers, as we have seen how President Biden was misled to believe that babies were beheaded by Hamas fighters simply because Netanyahu told him so.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.