The Itifida and the Western Media


The coverage of the Palestinian intifada in the Western media has revealed outrageous patterns not only of hostility and racism against Palestinians and Arabs, but also visceral hatred of Muslims and Islam. The Western media (and the US media in particular) have not only downplayed the Palestinians’ suffering and brutalization at the hands of their occupiers, but are also engaged in a brazen effort to distort reality and lay the blame for the current events on the victims.

Double standards typify most media coverage of the intifada. Negatively loaded terminology, such as “brutal,” “savage,” “barbaric,” “murder,” “lynching,” “terrorism,” and “aggression,” are reserved for Palestinians, while the antiseptic terminology of “restraint,” “robust action,” “toughness,” “law and order,” “security” and “anti-terrorism” is used to describe the Israelis’ actions. Out of this welter of skewed reporting, veiled racism and crude stereotypes emerges an image of Israel under attack by Palestinians who do not share the faculties of rationality and reason that “civilized people” possess, and who do not understand the need for security on their own land. Israel’s unbridled violence against the Palestinians is validated as a justified crowd-control police action.

It is no wonder that few commentators have the moral courage or intellectual honesty to acknowledge that the West Bank and Ghazzah, where most of the Palestinian victims lost their lives, are actually under belligerent Israeli occupation. This is no simple oversight; the omission ignores the fact that Israel, as an occupying power, is bound by international law to withdraw from these territories and to respect the rights of their inhabitants. These rights were highlighted in UN Security Council Resolution 1322 (October 7) which “calls upon Israel, the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and its responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of August 1949.”

Similar distortion is also applied to the violence of Israeli settlers against Palestinian towns and villages. Rather than reporting the lethal nature of settlers’ violence as being the handiwork of armed extremists with the full backing of the Israeli military, the settlers are portrayed as “Israeli civilians” surrounded by a sea of Palestinians. The illegality of the settlements under international law is overlooked.

But most bizarre of all are the attempts of some media commentators to confer moral and material equivalence on the victims and their victimizers. The image conveyed is that of a symmetrical conflict: army against army, Goliath versus Goliath. These attempts to equate the oppressor and the oppressed, the illegal occupiers and the occupied, those with attack helicopters and tanks and those with rocks and stones, those with a huge nuclear-armed military juggernaut and those with a rag-tag police force, are frankly ludicrous. Although a few skirmishes have pitted Israeli soldiers against Palestinian policemen, the fact remains that Israel has one of the most powerful armies in the world and enjoys the unconditional support of the world’s foremost superpower, while the Palestinian ‘police force’ consists of lightly armed policemen equipped by the Israelis in order to control the unarmed Palestinian population. An attempt to establish symmetry between the two sides is morally and ethically reprehensible.

Is it not time that the South African media adopts a more balanced approach to international events, instead of simply disseminating Western bias constructed by Zionist spin doctors.

(Mr. Firoz Osman is Secretary of the Media Review Network, which is an advocacy group based in Pretoria, South Africa.)