Making Sense out of Nonsense – Media Coverage of the Intifada



Adjectives such as “aggressors”, “villains” and “attackers” have been used to describe the Palestinians in the Intifada.  And words such as “victim”, “self-defense” and “beleaguered” have been used to describe the Israeli role and actions.  But these words é being used as they are – do not reflect the reality on the ground.  Why?  Simply, because of the fact their application distorts or ignores the relationship of power in the ongoing conflict.  Even though the disparity of power between the Israelis and the Palestinians has become commonsensical to even the most casual observer of the enduring conflict Western é and in particular American – journalistic works continue to deny the reality staring them in the face.

It should seem logical that aggression derives from a position of power.  Aggression is not necessarily synonymous with power because the former tends to have a “hostile” connotation to it whereas the latter is a crude calculation of one’s position/status.  Aggression is a way power can be used.  Power can be used “aggressively” or for defensive purposes, though we are more familiar with examples of the former. Now, aggression connotes an “offensive” quality – to “aggress” is to make the first attack.  A cornered animal is reacting to an attack.  An otherwise aggressive act becomes defensive because it is a reaction in a particular context.

The stronger can use aggression against the weaker whereas the opposite is highly unlikely. Thus, when Iraq (stronger) invaded Kuwait (weaker) that act was one of aggression. Now, a powerful actor can commit such an act because it has the power to support that act.  It is important to point out that a strong actor will decide to act accordingly because doing so will benefit its position (or it may perceive a “benefit”).  Subsequently, a weak state é like Kuwait – will not risk invading Iraq because such an act will be detrimental to its position.  Therefore, acts of aggression (i.e. invasion, occupation) are acts deriving from power.

Having offered such a clarification, it should seem apparent that the journalistic narrative of the Arab-Israeli does not conform to reality. Israel is clearly in a position of strength vis-é-vis the Palestinians.  The Israeli military ranks in the top 3 (along with the US and Russia) and has proven its worth in battle on numerous occasions. Israel receives upwards to $4 billion US in military-economic aid annually, and is more than what the entire continent of Africa receives annually from the US!  Clearly, Israel is powerful and is in a position of strength.  The continued occupation of Arab lands derives from this strength and is testimony to that strength.

Therefore, the portrayal of Israel as a besieged state at the mercy of attacks by Palestinian gunmen is detached from reality. 

            Despite this discrepancy, the general media has succeeded in portraying Israel as the victim.  What’s more disturbing is the general public’s willingness to accept the representation uncritically.  In order to make sure this picture is endorsed by the public words like “terrorism”, “terrorist” and “terror” are used to discredit whatever actions the Palestinians commit in the conflict.

Furthermore no attempt is made to really define “terrorism” or to question the application of the term solely to the Palestinians.

What is terrorism?  There actually is no accepted definition.  As a result, I will not venture to define the term.  Rather, I will focus on what is implied by the term.  The term “terrorism” implies that the objective is terror – terror, for the sake of terror.  Now, that does little to clarify the motives behind a “terrorist” act.  What it does – and it does successfully é is to discredit the actor doing the “terrorizing”.  For instance, little effort is done to understand the reasons behind the WTC bombings or the attack of a suicide bomber on a crowded pizzeria in downtown Tel Aviv.  Efforts to understand are in no way attempts to legitimize. However, discussion of the reasons for such actions are discouraged out of fear of discovering a semblance of truth which may shatter the “truths” constructed by a sophisticated system of indoctrination.

Now, if we take the WTC case as example, we have to determine the reasons – perceived or actual – behind the attacks.  Contrary to popular belief, the attacks were not an “attack against civilization” – as Washington would have us believe – or an attack on innocent civilians for the sake of killing innocent civilians.  What motivated these individuals (known in the media as “terrorists”) was decades of unfair US foreign policy in the Middle East based on the premise of blindly supporting Israel and its continued occupation of Arab lands.  Furthermore, there is the issue of US troops in the Holy Sites of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, as well as the crippling sanctions on Iraq which have killed upwards of half a million people.  If we accept these factors and realize their significance we are closer to understanding the actions on New York and we are a step closer to understanding a phenomenon we continue to “mystify” with labels like “terrorist” and “terrorism”.  We need to bring into light a subject that has been kept in the dark.  As for the suicide bomber blowing himself up in a crowded pizzeria in downtown Tel Aviv we need to determine the reasons that compel an individual to go to such lengths.  Well, a cursory review of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and its continued occupation of Arab and will shed some light on the situation. Israel continues to confiscate land, demolish homes, monopolize water sources and impose curfews on a population of Palestinian refugees.  This does not include the atrocities committed against these people since their dispossession in the late 40s.  There are many reasons behind these actions.  We just have to make an effort to discover them.

Ultimately, the actions of these individuals (or groups) are symptoms of significantly unjust practice done to them at the hands of more powerful actors. The Hizballah, it will be remembered, was created in reaction to Israel’s occupation of South Lebanon and their role was as “defender” of “occupied” lands.  They are reacting to a cause – they are reacting to something they deem gravely wrong.  They have targeted civilians – which is dead wrong. Even if we say they do commit a “terrorist” act, does that make the actor or his cause “terrorist” as well?  If we answer in the affirmative, then why does the same logic not apply to countries such as Israel when Israel is guilty of targeting civilians and destroying homes?  Does it and should it make a difference if the means employed include an army of Apache helicopters or that it is State-sanctioned?

Essentially the narrative of the ongoing conflict is skewed and is partly responsible for the continuation of the conflict.  Public opinion will back policy that is in actuality detrimental to the situation but only seems beneficial because it suits the distorted picture we get from the media.  Moreover, the concept of “terrorism” does not contribute in any way, shape or form to simplifying the situation or offering an understanding of the reality on the ground.  Terrorism discourse only adds to the confusion and debate and only blurs the line between fact and fiction.  We need to re-look the reality in the face, dissect it and understand it.  We need to é ultimately – let the facts speak for themselves and not speak for the facts.