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How Middle East media made war but could build peace

Ittay Flescher
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How Middle East media made war but could build peace

Published: 19 May 2023

Last updated: 13 March 2024

ITTAY FLESCHER assesses Israeli and Palestinian coverage of recent violence between Israel and Gaza and explores how the media could work differently to reduce conflict.

The media is not just a mirror of society. It is also the glasses through which see our world. During last week’s violence between Gaza and Israel, the media acted as a powerful lens that distorted and inhibited our ability to see the full picture.

Neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian media reported the violence in a manner that encouraged empathy with the other side of the conflict.

In Israeli media

On the Israeli news channels, there were almost 24/7 discussions with live updates on all developments. The panel experts were mostly comprised of middle-aged Ashkenazi men, many either in uniform or former generals. There were few Haredim or Arabs, and even fewer women or young people on most panels, which prevented the majority of Israelis from hearing the voices of these sectors representing more than half the population.

A panel discusses the Gaza operation on Israel's Channel 12
A panel discusses the Gaza operation on Israel's Channel 12

There was not a single interview on any of the stations with any Palestinians in Gaza. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) leaders killed were named, with their photos and job descriptions, but there were no photos, personal stories, or interviews with family members of innocent civilians killed in Gaza.

The discussion on the Israeli news channels mainly praised the “resilience of residents bordering Gaza,” and the “pinpoint” or “surgical” strikes of the IDF.

Most commentators referred to Palestinian casualties as “incidental damage.” An exception was Labor MK Efrat Rayten who commented on photos of some of the victims, smiling Palestinian children holding school certificates, as “pictures that are hard to explain.”

There was public anger from several coalition MKs when Channel 13 deviated from the script. The station showed footage from a funeral of Gazans killed in their sleep as a result of rockets targeted against their parents and neighbours, with the heading, “Not so surgical: With the Prime Minister’s approval, women and children were killed in tonight’s strike.”

Channel 13 later issued an apology reading: “The title that appeared as part of the main edition was worded inappropriately and in an incorrect and misleading manner. We apologise for this to our viewers.”

The absence of Palestinian voices in Israeli media coverage of the recent fighting was particularly striking because of the powerful part they have played in the past.

In the 2009 Gaza operation, Izzeldin Abulaish, the first Palestinian doctor to receive a staff position at an Israeli hospital, appeared live from Gaza on Channel 10 every evening. He was on air the evening his three daughters were killed in an Israeli airstrike.

Hearing his pain on air opened the hearts of many Israelis to the Palestinian. Shlomi Eldar made a film about Israelis who help Palestinians receive medical care.

The contrast with what happened on Channel 13 last week shows how far dehumanisation has grown in the intervening years.

In Palestinian media

While The Jewish Independent did not survey Arabic media, an assessment of the most popular Instagram pages from a Palestinian perspective in English provides a contrasting view.

Al Jazeera (with 5.9 million followers), Eye on Palestine  (3.4 million)  and Quds Network (1.8 million) all offered extensive footage of rockets fired into Israel and the resulting damage.

Al Jazeera English correspondent Youmna El Sayed reported live, “Rockets are being launched from the Gaza Strip from different areas … we are surrounded by barrages of rockets … the sky above us is full of smoke … we can see them coming from all directions at the same time being launched towards Israeli towns right now.”

There were no interviews with Israelis who lost loved ones, were wounded or traumatised, or had to relocate due to the attacks. Inga Avramyan, the 82-year-old Israeli woman killed in Rehovot was referred to as a "settler," although Rehovot is firmly inside pre-1967 boundaries.    

There was also no reference to the damage done by the PIJ rockets which fell short and landed in Gaza.

The most common stories included images of people running to hospitals carrying injured people, lots of rubble from damaged buildings, and dramatic photos of massive explosions of civilian buildings showing their collapse, which looked far from surgical.

The Jewish Independent

There were also many heartbreaking photos and video testimonies about the children killed, with extracts from their diaries or social media posts sharing their unfulfilled dreams to be doctors or firefighters, lamenting the tragedy of innocent lives cut short.

A better way

For those working on finding a resolution to conflict, the failure of the media to cover the other side is deeply disappointing.

 “In this era of profound Israeli-Palestinian separation — with walls, checkpoints, anti-normalisation and ignorance — the media sadly provides one of the few lenses that Israelis and Palestinians have to understand each other. Journalists and editors have a responsibility to platform the voices from the other side who are working to shape a more peaceful reality, as well as the ideas to deliver that reality. Otherwise, we are left with dehumanising stereotypes, decontextualized violence, and a sense that it is unavoidable and inherent to the very identify of the other,” ALLMEP Executive Director John Lyndon told The Jewish Independent.

The Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University in Parkville, Missouri, has advanced the concept of peace journalism, a practice in which “editors and reporters make choices that improve the prospects for peace.”

Uki Maroshek-Klarman runs a three-year peace journalism program for 180 Jewish and Arab Israelis at the Adam Institute for Democracy and Peace, an Israeli educational NGO. She said the media’s habitual focus on winners and losers fuelled conflict.

  “The fighters are the heroes, rather than those who toil to prevent or stop the violence. Peace journalism, on the other hand, opens alternatives with its steady coverage of solutions to conflict,” she told The Jewish Independent.

 “By reporting regularly on potential partners on the other side who are open to peace, we change our consciousness. That exposure lowers the risk of the next conflict erupting.”

Illustration: Avi Katz

About the author

Ittay Flescher

Ittay Flescher is the Jerusalem Correspondent for The Jewish Independent. For over twenty years, he has worked as an educator, journalist, and peacebuilder in Melbourne and Jerusalem. He is the co-host of the podcast ‘From the Yarra River and the Mediterranean Sea' and the author of the upcoming book ‘The Holy and the Broken.’ He is also the Education Director at a youth movement that brings together Israeli and Palestinian teenagers who believe in building equality, justice, and peace for all.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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