Media coverage of the Mideast conflict is plagued not only by specific episodes of bias, but also by a dangerous set of more subtle, underlying assumptions. To the typical Westerner, the media has generated the following desert mirage:
In this small stretch of arid land dwell two stubborn peoples, led by two even more stubborn elected leaders, and locked in a seemingly endless cycle of tit-for-tat violence. If only the two inflexible sides could be convinced to lay down arms and settle border differences, they could co-exist and the world could put this matter behind us.
The problem is that this depiction ignores what Western observers now recognize, after years of Palestinian violence, to lie at the heart of the conflict ― a deep political and cultural clash between a free, Western democracy on the one hand, and a dictatorial thugocracy, fueled by radical Islam, on the other. As Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief Bret Stephens recently stated: "The principal problem in the Middle East is not the unsettled status of our borders. It is the unsettling nature of Arab regimes ― and of the bellicosity, fanaticism, and resentments to which they give rise."
In their overarching effort to "remain neutral," the media have settled into a pattern of distorting this objective reality ― simultaneously beating Israel over the head with Israel's own organs of democracy, while granting "democratic" legitimacy to a corrupt and dictatorial Palestinian regime. For example, Associated Press recently quoted Yassir Arafat defending his ongoing rule:
"(Bush) has to remember that he had been elected by the Americans and he is representing the Americans, and I have been elected by the Palestinians and I am representing the Palestinians."
The democratic equivalency claimed by Arafat is absurd, yet AP supplies no qualifying statement such as "Arafat was elected with no legitimate opposition, and his term of office expired years ago."
By allowing such a statement to pass without comment, AP flattens key political-cultural differences, and distorts objective reality in favor of the Palestinian regime.
Some recent news items further illustrate the problem:
On September 30, an Israeli court sentenced three Israeli men to extended prison terms for plotting to bomb a Palestinian school. Newspaper editors and ombudsmen have written scores of articles to justify their refusal to call Palestinian suicide bombers "terrorists" ― yet news outlets such as AFP and BBC were quick to label the convicted Israelis a "terrorist network."
Striking in its absence was any contrast between Israel's system of justice for controlling extremists, and the utter lack of internal prosecution on the Palestinian side. Consider:
On Sept. 27, two Palestinian teenagers, aged 15 and 16, were apprehended by IDF troops near the Egyptian border with a suitcase filled with weapons and ammunition. The teenagers had been sent to pick up the suitcase by an adult who paid them each a small sum of money. [This, a week after a similar incident in Northern Gaza mentioned in a recent HonestReporting communique]. The kids, fortunate to escape alive after being sent on a nighttime stealth mission to an active war zone, were released by the IDF.
It goes without saying that the adults responsible for this act will never be tried in a Palestinian court for child abuse, let alone for anti-Israeli terror. This clear indication of a lack of internal Palestinian policing is sorely underreported by the same Western sources that were quick to broadcast the conviction of the Israeli "terrorist network."
The result: The media flatten key political-cultural differences, and distort the objective reality in favor of the Palestinian regime.
Or consider these recent news items:
On September 29, the Israeli State Comptroller submitted his annual internal review of security service and governmental practices. The 400-page report covered a wide range of issues, but the only item emphasized by the world press dealt with occasional lapses in IDF crowd control. The AP report begins as follows: "Israeli soldiers sometimes fire live ammunition at Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip because of a shortage of non-lethal weapons, according to a state comptroller's report released Tuesday."
Buried deep in the story ― and shrugged off by the AP reporter ― was the comptroller's report of Israeli restraint, i.e. the waiting until nightfall to strike so as to limit casualties. Indeed, countless Israeli anti-terror operations have been called off, delayed, or lessened so as to avoid civilian casualties. Sheik Yassin of Hamas chooses a mosque full of worshippers for public appearances, because, as the LA Times reports, "Yassin's security team believes that the presence of worshipers would deter an Israeli attack."
Contrast this with a Palestinian culture that continues to glorify the killing of Israeli civilians.
Perhaps a more interesting angle (one wholly ignored by the media) would be to use the comptroller's report to illustrate Israel's democratic process of internal critique and the spirit of safe, open debate ― completely unique in the region.
This, in stark contrast to a Palestinian society that squelches dissent and open debate. For example, when would-be Palestinian interior minister Nasser Yusuf criticized Arafat in a meeting last week, Arafat cursed at Yusaf, spat in his face, and stormed out of the room.
Further, an op-ed in the Washington Post (Sept. 28) points out how the Palestinian press regularly toes the party line at the cost of accuracy:
"One of the victims of the Cafe Hillel bombing in Jerusalem on Sept. 9 was a waiter, Shafik Karam, from Beit Hanina, a Palestinian Christian. The Palestinian press does not speak of acts of Palestinian terrorism, even when the terrorism hits Palestinians. The obituary [in El Kuds, the East Jerusalem daily] said Karam, 27, had been 'called by God' as a result of 'an accident at his place of work,' as though a tray had fallen on his head."
This lack of an open Palestinian press (and the mass psychological repression it causes) is sorely underreported by the same Western sources that were quick to pick up on the highly critical Israeli comptroller's report.
By skewing coverage of matters central to democratic process, the media give the impression of a level playing field. Far from achieving "media objectivity," this instead projects a distorted image of the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ― a conflict of political cultures to which Western media consumers are increasingly left in the dark.