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Opinion //

Media outlets must stop absolving Israel of responsibility

When Palestine is covered in the media, it is usually done so using neutral language that absolves Israel of any responsibility.

From Sydney's 2021 #SaveSheikhJarrah protest. Credit: Aman Kapoor.

“Clashes,” “tensions,” “Israel-Hamas conflict.” These are just some of the key words currently permeating media headlines worldwide. 

Palestinians and their allies have criticised mainstream establishment media outlets the world over for employing passive and neutral language to describe recent events in Palestine. When Palestine is covered in the media, it is usually done so using neutral language that absolves Israel of any responsibility or portrays it as two equal sides fighting. Palestinians “die” but Israelis are “killed.” If Palestinian death tolls are mentioned, they are reduced to a footnote or are skimmed over a few paragraphs down. 

The New York Times was recently criticised on social media for its headline, lede, and skewing of events to frame the story in a euphemistic angle. The Times framed the story through its title as a new wave of violence following rockets from Gaza and protests by Palestinians in Jerusalem, thus obscuring the everyday violence Palestinians face. This framing also infers that the protests and the rockets were two separate events rather than connected events.

In Australia, our own media has either been silent or equally complicit in peddling the Israeli narrative of victimhood. The ABC especially has been challenged on its silence, publishing and broadcasting very few news pieces since Palestinian protests against home evictions in Sheikh Jarrah began a few weeks ago. The lack of news stories was especially noticeable after Israel began its most recent assault on Gaza, despite the buildup of events over weeks that led to it.

In particular, Schwartz Media, which owns outlets such as The Saturday Paper, 7am Podcast, Black Inc. Publishing, has been widely called out for its silence on Palestine. While its flagship publication, The Saturday Paper, is known for publishing pieces on a range of progressive and social justice issues from Indigenous rights to climate action, many journalists and writers have noted its lack of pieces on Palestine, with calls for writers and journalists to withdraw pieces and cancel their subscriptions to the paper.

Media silence and lack of coverage often obscures the whole story, removing the victims from the narrative, and providing tacit support for Israel’s actions against Palestinians while deeming it as not “newsworthy.” 

The media often portrays these events as a ‘two-sided conflict,’ this could not be further from the truth. While Palestinians in Gaza search for those who died under the rubble, Israelis go to the beach and enjoy brunch. As Palestinians commemorated the 73rd anniversary of the Nakba on May 15, it remains a stark reminder that the Nakba was not a one-time event, but is an ongoing occurrence.

Since early May, Palestinians in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem have been protesting the planned forced evictions from their homes. The state-sanctioned evictions are part of a large plan to Judaise Jerusalem, expelling its Palestinian inhabitants to make room for an increase in Jewish settlers. This is not the first time residents of Sheikh Jarrah have faced eviction or had their homes stolen by settlers; in 2002 and 2009 the Israeli Supreme Court evicted Palestinian families after ruling that the property was owned by Jewish settlers according to Israeli law.

A few days after the protests in Sheikh Jarrah began, Israeli police stormed the Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem, attacking Palestinian Muslim worshippers with stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas. As a response to events on the ground in Jerusalem, militant group Hamas vowed to launch rockets if Israel did not stop its violent attacks on Palestinians and Muslims in Jerusalem. Since then, Israel has rained down airstrikes on Gaza which have killed over two hundred civilians.

If there are any doubts that Israel maintains an apartheid regime, one should only look to the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Strip has been under siege for the past 14 years, enduring Israeli military assaults in 2008, 2012, and 2014. Unfortunately, many Palestinians in Gaza cannot leave without exit permits as both border crossings are controlled by Egypt and Israel. Half of Gaza’s population live in abject poverty as Israel’s occupation and siege has destroyed the local economy, leaving many Palestinians unemployed. Due to Israel’s constant assaults, many Palestinians in Gaza also face homelessness as they struggle to rebuild. As a result of the recent bombardment, almost 40, 000 have been internally displaced.

Since Israel escalated its attacks on Gaza two weeks ago, 232 Palestinians have been killed, including 65 children, at the time of writing. Israel has additionally killed 29 Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem protesting against Israel’s attacks on Gaza. 

In its recent round of strikes, Israel has destroyed residential buildings, a clinic housing Gaza’s only coronavirus testing lab, also hitting the Health Ministry and offices of the Red Crescent. Reports also mention that roads leading to Al Shifa hospital have been destroyed, further restricting Palestinian access to basic health services. Additionally, on Saturday May 15, Israel leveled a building hosting the offices of many international media outlets, including Al Jazeera, and the Associated Press. This is not the first time Israel has attacked media offices in Gaza, raising significant concerns regarding press freedom. 

A ceasefire was recently called between Hamas and Israel which came into effect yesterday. As Palestinians in Gaza get a brief moment to breathe, Gaza remains under siege and occupation, and Palestinians continue to face the brunt of Israeli brutality in all its forms. 

Hundreds of Australian journalists, writers, media workers, and commentators, including Honi Soit, have signed an open letter demanding an improvement in coverage on Palestine. These demands call for fair coverage on Palestine that doesn’t resort to ‘both-sides’ and makes space for Palestinian perspectives without repercussions for journalists that express solidarity with Palestine. 

Palestinians have long been silenced by the media and powerful institutions. Although the narrative is slowly shifting as more Palestinian perspectives are showcased in mainstream publications and on mainstream television channels, it is clear that the media must do better. Expressing solidarity with Palestine and reporting truthfully is a moral imperative that is not up for debate.