By Dr. Tarek Cherkaoui
The writer is Manager at TRT World Research Centre and the author of "The News Media at War: The Clash of Western and Arab Networks in the Middle East ". Cherkaoui is an expert in the field of strategic communications.
The Middle East is once again in a state of turmoil. Throughout the past two months, many developments turned the already complex situation into an extremely volatile powder keg. On the one hand, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and other Trumpist minions celebrated in Israel the relocation of the American Embassy to Jerusalem, which is seen as a malign way to bring down the curtain on the Palestinians’ aspirations for independence. On the other hand, Palestinians in Gaza have been protesting for weeks, calling for the right of return for Palestinian refugees to the towns and villages they were forcibly ousted from in 1948. The protests were timed to coincide with the Nakba, or Catastrophe, which marked 70 years since the establishment of Israel on 15 May 1948, following a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign. Israel’s reaction towards the peaceful protests in the coastal enclave was extremely bloody and heavy handed. Israeli snipers killed at least 111 innocent protesters and injured 12,733 others near the fence with Israel since 30 March 2018.
In the light of this bloodshed, one would have hoped that the Western mainstream news media provide a fair and balanced coverage of these events, especially as the death toll among Palestinian protesters sharply rises in Gaza. However, in most cases Western news outlets resorted to sanitization of these atrocities, if not masking, through the use of blame-shift strategies and other defensive mechanisms, which avoid pointing the finger at Israel, and downplay or simply ignore any agency on its part.
For instance, the BBC referred to the killing by snipers of dozens of Palestinians, many of whom were children, as a “clash”.
Likewise, The Guardian put forward a headline that read “Fatal clashes in Gaza after opening of US embassy”. Clearly, the word “clash” implies an exchange of fire and fatalities, or injuries on both sides, but this was so evidently not the case.
The Wall Street Journal proposed the following headline: “Chaos as U.S. Embassy opens," thus shying away from clarifying the situation.
The New York Times was obliged to edit its previous headline that was shocking -- “At least 28 Palestinians die in protests as US prepares to open Jerusalem embassy,” as if Gazans died of natural causes -- to the more forthright: “Israeli troops kill dozens of Palestinian protesters as US embassy opens in Jerusalem.”
But overall, there is a clear tendency to absolve Israel of any liability. Another notorious headline by The New York Times seemed directly inspired by the motion picture World War Z – “Waves of Gazans vs. Israeli Bullets” (later “tear gas” was added to the title).
These examples of media bias reveal double standards vis-à-vis “worthy” and “unworthy” victims, but also how some news outlets tend to blur the difference between facts and misinformation in violation of the journalistic standards. The cases also signal the existence of systemic causes like the direct influence of dominant ideological and economic orders in determining the way stories are featured and framed. It is no secret that powerful lobbies in the U.S., such as the evangelical right, Christian Zionists, and hawkish pro-Israel groups, play a big role in steering the U.S. Foreign Policy under President Trump. Many believe, for example, that gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson, who helped bankroll Trump’s campaigns and the GOP with $83 million, and pitched in $5 million for Trump's inaugural parties, was a driving force behind the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem.
In a region that has been considerably weakened by foreign interventions and internecine rivalries, official positions vis-à-vis the recent Israeli provocations, with the exception of Turkey, are nowhere near the peoples’ expectations. The Turkish response was swift, as when the Foreign Ministry asked the Israeli ambassador to leave the country as well as the consul in Istanbul. Moreover, being the president of the 13th Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took the initiative to call for an extraordinary session of the OIC on May 18, Friday in Istanbul to deliberate on the critical developments in the Palestinian territories. These actions clearly provoked the ire of the Israeli establishment, and prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to use his Twitter account to attack President Erdogan, who replied by pointing to the Apartheid state that Israel represents, as well as its countless violations of UN resolutions.
In parallel, resistance to Israel’s quasi-hegemony on the framing of the Palestinian cause is mounting. Increasingly, established news organizations (primarily located in the Global South) provide a voice to the voiceless in Gaza and Palestine. In this context, the important role played by TRT World and Anadolu Agency cannot be understated. Their balanced coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is grounded in strong journalistic norms, offers a powerful challenge to the dominant and binary mode of representation. It goes without saying that the struggle over the meaning of events is -- more than ever before -- of utmost importance, especially in these times when the Palestinian cause is at the risk of falling into oblivion strategically, politically, geographically, and symbolically.
* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.