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How mainstream media fights Israel’s media war

For decades, the Zionist narrative has been adopted by a wide range of mainstream media, in such a way that public opinion about the Palestinian cause around the world, especially in the West, has been largely formed from the Israeli perspective. This narrative includes everything from the history of Palestine to the definition of the “conflict” within Israeli terminology. In times of armed confrontation, however, ‘Israel’ holds a special discourse that aims at establishing specific concepts about Israel’s military actions in general, and about every particular operation it is engaged in at the moment.

Just as the general narrative of ‘Israel’ about the history is installed, consciously or unconsciously in the mainstream media, presenting itself as objective, undoubted facts, the Israeli war propaganda does the same. A series of basic concepts and talking points are repeated, sometimes explicitly, and many more times referred to in a very subtle way as the grounds for “news” without being identified as Israeli discourse, to the point that they are taken for granted.

Far from journalism, this propaganda effort effectively fights the media war for the occupation state, in such a sophisticated way, that any poorly-informed media consumer can fall for it. However, a close look into the coverage of the latest Israeli 11-day bombing campaign on the Gaza Strip, would be enough to clearly identify some of these basic propaganda concepts, their true meaning and their ultimate goal.

Security operations, avoiding civilians

The first of these concepts aims to define the goal of any Israeli military operation as security. According to this logic, ‘Israel’ never fights political wars. It only conducts security operations, where civilian casualties are collateral damage. This was clear in the media coverage of the latest Israeli operation against Gaza.

For instance, On May 17, seven days into the Israeli operation against Gaza, the BBC website published a news story titled “The clock is ticking for Israel”. The piece begins by saying that ‘Israel’ is not done bombing and that it will continue for some time. Then it jumps immediately to define Israel’s goal of its bombings, according to Israeli officials: “Officials describe a phased series of attacks, with the overall aim of destroying as much of Hamas’s infrastructure and manpower as possible in the time available”.

Without putting the “officials’” claims under any journalistic scope of analysis, the news piece moves back to commentary: “And how much time is available? Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said last night that “violence must end immediately”. The news piece then describes diplomatic moves between ‘Israel’ and the US, before concluding: “Mr. Netanyahu knows that he still has time to achieve more in Gaza, provided Israel can avoid killing too many civilians”.

But Israel’s systematic targeting of civilians is an essential part of its military doctrine, and it has a political, not a security purpose. Especially when dealing with resistance groups. This asymmetrical war doctrine was developed during the 2006 war against Lebanon by the former Israeli chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot, who named it “The Dahiya Doctrine”, after Beirut’s southern suburb that was destroyed by the Israeli air force in the 2006 war.

Gadi Eizenkot spoke openly about the doctrine in comments that he made to the press in 2008, that were made public by Wikileaks. Eizenkot defined his strategy as causing “great damage and destruction” to civilian infrastructure by the use of “disproportionate force”, to deter the civilian population from backing the resistance. Eizenkot even went as far as considering that Southern Lebanon’s villages “are not civilian villages, but military bases”.

The Dahiya doctrine has been Israel’s strategy in all its operations against Gaza. The logic has been to weaken the resistance by inflicting destruction on its civilian environment, pushing the occupied population, eventually, into submission, and away from resistance. This explains the high toll of civilian losses in each of these operations. The rate of children killed in all Israeli operations against Gaza since 2008 has hit an average of a third of the total kills made by the Israeli army.

This time, it was no exception, despite the Israeli new method of warning families before their homes are bombed, giving them a few minutes to escape death. In total, between May 10 and May 21, ‘Israel’ exterminated around 15 Palestinian families, who were erased from Gaza’s civil registry records, as not a single one of their members survived. In total, out of 243 Palestinians killed in the 11 days of bombing, 66 were children, 39 were women, and 17 were elderly. More than half of the victims. Yet, on the morning of Nakba day on May 15, after the night when ‘Israel’ bombed 5 homes without warning and as Palestinians were pulling 50 people from under the rubble, the Reuters agency’s title read: “Israel pounds Gaza to curb Palestinian militants but rockets still fly”

All this background is well-known for the mainstream media, which deliberately chooses to ignore it. Without a single reference to the Dahiya doctrine, and without even taking into account the possibility of the Israeli claim of avoiding targeting civilians as possibly being inaccurate, the mainstream media repeats Israel’s definition of Israel’s military operations as facts. On May 12, the CNN reported the killing of three Palestinians of a single family, in Beit Hanoun, in the North of the Gaza strip, including a disabled person, closing with: “The Israeli army says it is investigating”.

Hamas, Hamas, Hamas…

Mainstream media reports rarely make reference to the possible political agenda behind Israeli official information. The public is just expected to assume it. However, when it comes to the information coming from the Palestinian side, it has to be put between quotations. On May 17, the CNN’s Jerusalem desk sent a memo to its journalists in Palestine, instructing: “When we cite latest casualty numbers and attribute them to the health ministry in Gaza, we need to include the fact it is Hamas-run.”

This instruction resonates with the Israeli logic of identifying any public body in Gaza as part of Hamas. The government in Gaza is run by Hamas, therefore all public services are “Hamas-run”. In Israeli logic, this makes schools and hospitals Hamas infrastructure, and potential targets.

The logic of framing all Gaza wars as between ‘Israel’ and Hamas has become a commonplace. On May 18, the CNN reported that ‘Israel’ was pounding “Hamas targets”. On May 12, ABC news reported that “Israel, Hamas escalate heavy fighting” then repeated Israeli official propaganda to the letter, saying that the building that Israel leveled was “used by Hamas”. And when the fighting ended, CNBC reported that “Israel and Hamas agree to cease-fire”, reaffirming the framing, again, in its comment on the phone call between US president Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu: “It was the fourth conversation since violence erupted last week between Israel and Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic political party …”.

In fact, ‘Israel’ willingly attempts to hide the fact that there are 12 different Palestinian resistance factions in the Gaza Strip, all coordinating through a joint operations room. These factions are as ideologically diverse as Palestinians in general are. They go from Hamas’s Ezzedin Al Qassam brigades and the Islamic Jihad’s Quds brigades to the Marxist PFLP’s Abu Ali Mustafa brigades united only by the fact that they all identify as the Palestinian resistance. These factions, through their joint operations room, conducted a joint large-scale exercise in the Gaza Strip over several days last December, and it was widely reported. But in times of war, when all eyes are put on Gaza, the only thing mainstream media can talk about is Hamas infrastructure, Hamas targets, and Hamas rockets.

Even when the mainstream press tries to comment on the events with a critical stand, it repeats the same logic. For instance, The New York Times “The Morning Newsletter”, by its daily author David Leonhardt, was titled on May 18: “Israel vs. Hamas”. The article was supposed to explain the reasons behind the latest escalation. It mentioned the eviction orders against Palestinian families in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, described their conditions, talked about some of their members. It even pointed to the Israeli racist law -without calling it racist- used to evict the families, according to which Israeli settlers can claim any property that was once owned by Jews, even if it was more than a century ago. But before that, the article centers on Gaza, defining the conflict as follows:

“Many Israeli and Palestinian leaders have given up on the idea of a lasting peace, such a two-state solution. They are instead pursuing versions of total victory. For Hamas (…) that means the destruction of Israel. For Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel (…) it means a two-class society in which Palestinians are crowded into shrinking geographic areas and lack many basic rights”.

It’s Netanyahu’s Israel, against Hamas. Not even Hamas’s Palestine, just Hamas. And between a “terrorist” and “Islamist” organization, and a “democratic” state, which might be run by a far-right extremist, but nevertheless is being threatened of destruction, chances for even a balanced position become very narrow.

The most important part of this logic is the denial of an essential fact: That Israel’s conflict is against an entire people. A fact which if presented, would contradict the narrative on wars being fought for “security”, and would inevitably demand a larger context and explanation.

No or limited context

The context of Jerusalem’s events that preceded the armed confrontation between ‘Israel’ and Gaza, was too obvious to hide this time. Despite that, once this context provided, the armed confrontation itself was framed as a separate battle itself, where ‘Israel’ was only responding to attacks, as CNN reported on May 12: “Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have escalated further as Palestinian militants in Gaza fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, which responded with ramped up airstrikes”.

Context is an essential principle in journalism. And when it comes to Gaza the immediate context has been for the last 14 years the Israeli siege on its people. Very little mention of this siege has been provided by the mainstream media in its coverage of the last armed confrontation between ‘Israel’ and Gaza, if any, just as in previous Israeli wars against Gaza. And when it’s mentioned, the aggressive, belligerent nature of the siege is totally ignored.

This siege has turned the Gaza Strip, according to the UN, into an unlivable place. Because of the siege, 2 million Palestinians, including one million children, are being slowly poisoned with polluted water. Gaza’s hospitals lack medicine and equipment to treat the wounded and the sick. By all measures, the Israeli siege of Gaza is a constant, ongoing act of war. This imperative piece of context, if provided, takes away from Israel the argument that it’s responding to rocket fire, even when it’s the Palestinian factions in Gaza who fire first, like in the last escalation. It is precisely because of this reason that avoiding to mention the siege or its effects on the Palestinian population in Gaza, in the midst of a war, is a direct service to the Israeli war discourse.

Even when the context of Jerusalem was provided in the last round of escalation, it was limited to the case of Sheikh Jarrah, with little or no mention of the fact that the Israeli threat to evict Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah is part of a larger policy, implemented in Jerusalem against Palestinians. Currently, dozens of families are facing the same threat of eviction in the town of Silwan, in Jerusalem. During 2020, 389 Palestinian properties were demolished, according to the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – OCHA, under the excuse of building without permit, while in Sheikh Jarrah itself, Israeli settlers are allowed to occupy houses in which Palestinians have been forbidden live, despite the fact that they built them, because they built them without permits.

Colonialism and revolutionary reality

This larger context is also well known by the mainstream media, who can easily dig into Israel’s policy literature, concerning Jerusalem and all of Palestine, like the ‘Israel’ 2020 master plan, which calls explicitly for demographic change, or by simply looking at human rights organizations record for the past two years, including Israeli human rights groups. But this context is disturbing for the adopted narrative of mainstream media, which is why it seeks to hide it. It’s not for nothing that the German broadcasting service Deutsche Welle distributed, during the last escalation, an internal memo to its journalists, forbidding them to make, or let any guest make any connection between the state of ‘Israel’ and colonialism, which proves to which degree some mainstream media are conscious about what they are doing.

The alternative narrative is not a Palestinian one necessarily. It is simply the crude, dry reality of facts. Reality, as Lenin once wrote, is necessarily revolutionary, because it speaks for itself. That’s the reason why governments, states, power structures and colonial powers need to build elaborate narratives to hide it. In order to question the discourse of the powerful and shed light on reality, societies need journalism. Real, sincere, professional journalism, that puts reality as it is in front of the eyes of the public. If this reality is shown, If context is provided, if wars against Gaza are shown for their political inhumane nature, not as security operations, and if is made evident that on the other side there is an entire people fighting, not just an “extremist” organisation, then the so-called “Middle East conflict” will be automatically understood for what it is: A conflict between an indigenous people, and a colonial power. The rest is details.

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