The ‘Israel-Palestine conflict’ is more than just an endless cycle of violence – the media needs to tell the whole story
Media coverage of the ‘Israel-Palestine conflict’ suggests an endless ‘cycle of violence’. This framing is far from the truth, writes Max Slaughter from Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP).
One year ago this month, Shireen Abu Akleh, a beloved Palestinian-American journalist and household name in the Middle East, was shot and killed by Israeli forces while reporting on a military raid on the occupied West Bank city of Jenin for Al Jazeera.
Suddenly, international media turned its attention to events in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). But as violence against Palestinians reaches yet another alarming level in 2023, much of the UK media continues to portray Palestinians’ struggle for dignity, justice and freedom as a never-ending ‘cycle of violence’, ignoring the issues at the heart of their 75 years of displacement, dispossession and discrimination.
The violence cannot be understood unless it is reported in context
In his new podcast series, ‘Frontlines of Journalism’, the BBC’s International Editor, Jeremy Bowen, says that when covering Israel and Palestine: “Fair reporters need to put the situation into context.” But while much of the UK media have reported on Israeli military raids in the West Bank and airstrikes on Gaza, their coverage frequently decontextualises the violence.
Take recent coverage of Israel’s military raids on the cities of Jenin and Nablus by the BBC and the Guardian respectively. While reporting the facts of the incidents themselves, neither article expands on the more than half a century of Israel’s military rule over the West Bank, which has continuously denied Palestinians their basic human rights. The result is that the average reader may be given the impression that these are isolated ‘flare ups’ of violence, rather than one element of the systematic discrimination and fragmentation imposed by an occupying power over decades.
The voices of the civilian population in Gaza need to be heard
Attention also again turned to Gaza when five days of Israeli airstrikes which began on 9 May killed 33 Palestinians, including six children, and injured 190 more. Rocket fire from Palestinian armed groups also killed two in Israel, including one Palestinian with a work permit, and injured more than 40 others.
Much of the UK media framed this offensive through the lens of its immediate triggers and Israel’s security justifications, lacking a long-term perspective on the root causes of violence, including Israel’s 16-year blockade, 56 years of occupation, and the ongoing displacement of the more than two thirds of Gaza’s population who are refugees.
The UK media’s focus on the killing of ‘militants’, particularly in headlines, often shifts focus away from the civilian population in Gaza who bear the greatest brunt of such bombardments. These stories deserve to be brought to the fore of coverage, and the voices of those affected given precedence over the official pronouncements of the Israeli government or armed Palestinian factions.
Some reporters have looked more closely at the impact on the daily lives of Palestinians
Some notable exceptions exist, as many journalists appear increasingly sensitised to the need to provide the effective “context” urged by Bowen. When Israel closed the Erez crossing into Gaza during its military operation – the only civilian crossing for Palestinians to exit Israel or the West Bank for very limited permitted reasons such as accessing healthcare – hundreds of patients were prevented from traveling to their appointments.
Yolande Knell and Rushdi Abualouf, of the BBC, sensitively reported on the impacts of this indirect form of violence that severely threatened the lives of Palestinians, particularly cancer patients.
In-depth coverage presents a more nuanced picture than daily news
Another notable example framed their story in the context of international law. The Washington Post’s investigation into the killing of a child during the 16 March raid on Jenin not only provided a valuable “deep dive” into Israel’s military tactics, but interviewed credible experts on international law to assess the lawfulness of the operation. But while investigative journalism on Palestine has improved – often due to strong partnerships with open source intelligence investigators such as Forensic Architecture – these successes in describing the realities on the ground remains largely absent from quick-reaction news coverage.
More context is urgently needed
Although sections of the UK’s media coverage of violence against Palestinians have improved over the last few years, the majority of reporting continues to perpetuate distorted, simplified narratives that imply equivalence between occupied and occupier, while overlooking crucial stories.
By contextualising the situation, shedding light on the root causes, including more Palestinian voices and covering human stories, UK media can provide a more accurate and nuanced portrayal of the plight of the Palestinian people.
Max Slaughter is Campaigns and Communications Officer for Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)
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