US Media Bias: Covering Israel/Palestine

On July 18, 2005, fourteen year old Ragheb al-Masri sat in the back of a taxi with his parents at the Abo Holi checkpoint. An Israeli bullet penetrated his back and cracked open his chest. His mother screamed as his body lay lifeless. Have you heard his name? I wouldn't expect that you have because CNN, The New York Times, and the Washington Post didn't report the killing online. If they had quoted his parents, their readers would have been able to feel their tears and envision the heartbreak. Ultimately, no Israeli soldier was arrested or even reprimanded.

Every time a suicide bombing strikes Israel, mass coverage of the tragedy begins instantly. Whether landing on the front page of The Times or taking up the headline block on CNN.com, the pain Israeli people endure is shown endlessly. Israelis do suffer. Suicide bombings are horrific. Nevertheless, Palestinian pain occurs far more frequently, and yet often overlooked by the mainstream American media.

Since the uprising in September of 2000, more than 3,800 Palestinians have been killed in the Occupied Territories as a result of the conflict. Most Americans are unaware of the toll because it is not properly reported. In 2004, If Americans Knew — an American organization that exposes and examines the facts of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict — conducted a study and reported 808 Palestinian conflict deaths and 107 Israelis conflict deaths. The study, however, found that The Times covered Israeli deaths in the headline or the first paragraph in 159 articles — meaning in some cases they covered the same death numerous times. In contrast, The Times only covered about 40 percent of Palestinian deaths — 334 of 808 — in the headline or in the first paragraph of the articles. Nearly eight Palestinians died for every one Israeli. Disturbingly The Times is considered the quintessential "liberal" newspaper in the US.

When Palestinian deaths occur, especially militant deaths, the Israeli government's version of the story is taken as fact in the mainstream US media. In most cases, articles covering Palestinian deaths only include Israeli quotes, without citing Palestinian witnesses and other credible non-governmental organization sources. This continues to be the case even after human rights groups have released reports stating Israel has indiscriminately shot at civilians, even using them as human shields. In as early as 2001, Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated, "At least 470 Palestinians have been killed, most of them unlawfully by Israeli security forces when their lives [Israeli Security Forces] and the lives of others were not in danger." Since the AI/HRW report, more than 3,350 Palestinians have been killed. It is remarkable how so many can accept the Israeli government as the sole, objective source when it forcibly occupies the Palestinian territories.

On Aug. 25 the headline on CNN.com read, "Israel: Five Militants Shot in Raid." The article claims the militants were suspected of being involved with a suicide bombing; they were armed and exchanged fire with the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF), and five Palestinians were shot. The report also mentioned the town, Netanya, where the suicide bombing referenced in the article took place, was a frequent site for suicide bombings. No Palestinian quote, no witnesses giving an alternative perspective, and no mention that three of the victims shot were under the age of 18.

The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, covered the same event including Palestinian quotes and some Palestinian claims. The paper reported that the IOF killed five Palestinians on Aug. 25, three of whom Palestinian sources claim to be between the ages of 14 and 17 with no known links to militant organizations. Four of the victims died at the scene, while one of the young victims died later that night.

A number of Palestinian reporters cited witnesses claiming all five Palestinians were unarmed, including the two militants killed. This was the first fatal attack since the "disengagement" of the Gaza Strip.

The contrast in coverage between CNN and Haaretz is staggering. The CNN headline was written in absolutes: "5 militants shot in raid." Their article continues by stating only the Israeli claim that five militants were killed, making the headline biased and misleading. The Haaretz headline read: "U.S. urges restraint after IDF raid that killed 5 Palestinians." This headline refers to the people who were shot as Palestinians and not solely as "militants." The Haaretz article covers conflicting Israeli and Palestinian claims, which made it impossible to determine whether or not all five killed were militants or civilians.

On Sept. 7 the findings of a probe, conducted by Haaretz and the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, found that three of the five Palestinians killed in the assault on Aug. 25 were under the age of 18 and did not have any links to known terrorist organizations. Their investigation also found that the two militants killed were low ranking operatives who were not armed at the time. This repudiates the Israeli claim that IOF soldiers were in the area involved in an operation against militant leaders and a "ticking bomb" with connection to suicide bombings in Israel.

"Ticking bombs" are characterized as individuals that are an imminent physical threat to the state of Israel or people holding information that imminently threaten the security of the state of Israel. In most cases, such individuals are referred to as would-be suicide bombers or those holding valuable information on persons planning on carrying out a suicide bombing. Israel used this scenario in the past as an excuse to torture Palestinians with impunity. In a 1998 study on the "ticking bomb" scenario, B'Tselem found Israel's claim that it is necessary to use torture against "ticking bombs" was in most cases "totally unsubstantiated." The recent findings of Haaretz and B'Tselem profoundly call into question Israel's reliability on affairs in the Occupied Territories and reaffirm the notion that using only Israeli sources is careless and unacceptable.

Israel professes it doesn't have the death penalty, but it has in the past and "maintains the right" in the future, to carry out extrajudicial assassinations of "wanted" Palestinians. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz admitted on Aug. 26 that Israel invaded and fired first in the incident that killed five Palestinians, while maintaining the notion that the militants — meaning all five killed — were armed. Again, Israel, the occupying force, reserves the "right" to play God with the lives of the Palestinian people. There are many examples of unarmed children and disabled Palestinians being injured or killed by Israeli forces. More than 875 women and children have died since the start of the conflict under the guise of security. Nearly 25 percent of the children killed were under the age of 12.

Coincidence or Collusion?

Why are "left wing" media outlets such as The New York Times and CNN not reporting the Palestinian side of the story? Well, the simple answer is The Times and CNN are not liberal, nor honest. They cover injustices only when there is no risk of backlash from readers and advertisers. The media moguls are only "aware" and objective when it pays them to be. CNN and The Times must vet their content, so as not to be viewed as "pro-Palestinian," in fear that advertisers will pull their ads or commercials, leading to a loss in revenue.

Israel solidified itself as the strategic ally of the US in the Middle East after its victory in the Six Day War (1967 Arab/Israeli War). Israel was taken under the wing of the US, which saw its potential as a strategic, military, and political force.

The rise of religious Zionism after 1967 and the subsequent call for the preservation of the Jewish homeland became relevant in America with the Jewish elite as well with Christian conservatives. Jewish historian, Norman Finkelstein, recalls in his book The Holocaust Industry,

"Accordingly, American Jewish elites suddenly discovered Israel. After the 1967 war, Israel's military élan could be celebrated because its guns point in the right direction — against America's enemies."

Finkelstein continued,

"Now they [The Jewish elite] could pose as the natural interlocutors for America's newest strategic asset. From bit players, they could advance to top billing in the Cold War drama. Thus for American Jewry, as well as the United States, Israel became a strategic asset."

As the years progressed, Israel claimed victory in the 1973 Ramadan War (Yom Kippur War) with the defining help of America. The mounting support for Israel as a war victor, a "democracy," and a capitalistic society settled well with Americans.

38 years after the Six-Day war, America sees an even stronger military and political ally in Israel, and the pro-Israeli lobby has made sure that the sense of Jewish victimization has never faltered. Finkelstein commented, "Organized Jewry has exploited the Nazi holocaust to deflect criticism of Israel and its own morally indefensible policies."

The effectiveness of the pro-Israeli lobby hinges on the willingness of the US government to support Israel. According to the strongly pro-Israeli Web site, the Jewish Virtual Library, the US has given Israel nearly 50 billion dollars in aid from 1974 to 1997. If the US government didn't have significant interests in backing Israel, the pro-Israeli lobby would be less of a factor — much like the Palestinian lobby. Interestingly, the Jewish Lobby only supported Israel when it was in their interests to do so. Finkelstein noted, "The Holocaust industry sprung up only after Israel's overwhelming display of military dominance and flourished amid extreme Israeli triumphalism."

The convergence of American and Israeli support found success in de-legitimizing the Palestinian cause. This consequently washed Israel's hands clean in US eyes of the atrocities committed throughout the Middle East — i.e. the invasion and indiscriminate bombing of Beirut in 1982 — and more directly to the Palestinian people through dispossession and occupation. Strikingly, the American media refuses to differentiate between the past suffering of the Jewish people and the suffering Israelis endure due to inept Israeli policy which has besieged the Palestinian people for 58 years.

Consider the backlash professors at Colombia received because they were accused of promoting anti-Semitism. In reality Joseph Massad, one of the accused professors, and others simply critiqued the Israeli government. As a result, pro-Israeli groups like the David Project and Campus Watch tried to silence their right to free speech. Just as questioning the war in Iraq is "un-American," the idea of questioning Israeli actions is "anti-Semitic." Ridiculous assertions such as equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is a way in which the pro-Israeli lobby restricts the media from criticizing Israel or fairly reporting matters.

In a post-9/11 world, it has been much easier to side with mostly European Israelis, who look more like Americans, who love capitalism like Americans, and who are fighting "Arab terror" like Americans. Unfortunately for the Palestinians, the media doesn't like to diverge from mainstream political correctness. If objectivity was the top priority of the media, they would not have dropped the ball in the coverage leading up to the war in Iraq. Even Bob Woodward of the "liberal" Washington Post admitted, "We did our job but we didn't do enough, and I blame myself mightily for not pushing harder."

The media are corporate sponsored outlets that feed into the majority support at a time when the Palestinian lobby is virtually non-existent in America. The "biblical rights" of Jews and their suffering the Holocaust are exploited to reassert the status of victimization. Pro-Israeli advocates incorporate the notion that the Arabs are trying to "drive the Jews to the sea."

But who would really push the American/Israeli agenda, besides those fearing backlash? The neoconservatives and Christian coalitions support Israel. The Pat Robertsons and the Billy Grahams. Neoconservative talk radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Best selling authors Alan Dershowitz and Thomas Friedman. Lobbying groups like AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and the ADL (Anti-Defamation League), and attack dogs such as Daniel Pipes and his cronies in Campus Watch. Fortune 500 companies such as Caterpillar, McDonalds, Disney and Starbucks, to name a few. But most damningly, it's the "liberals," that complete the majority support. Hilary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, the honest broker himself — Bill Clinton, the heads of The Times, CNN and the rest of the "left wing" media that won't stand up for what's morally right. These people are too selfish or too weak to do what's right, and its "off with the heads" of those who do.

The dilemma of the "free press" in America is that it isn't free. The media hinges on the support of the people, newspaper subscriptions, television viewership, advertisements, and the bottom line of their companies. We live in a capitalistic society run by corporate profits and essential year over year growth.

I understand why The New York Times and CNN report the way they do. They are media hacks run by the corporate dollar. Injustice is injustice. Murder is murder. While Palestinian suffering goes on unreported, children like Ragheb Al-Masri remain dead and forgotten, and the American press remains biased.

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Remi Kanazi.