Media’s Self-Censorship Abets Gaza Atrocities
By Ahmed Rehab
What will it take for our media to join much of the world in calling out the blatant human rights abuses committed by the Israeli military machine against the Palestinian people?
News anchors - joined by most guest commentators - seem to be in a self-induced haze when it comes to the facts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even as they unfold in crystal clarity before their very eyes.
While many in the media seem willing to write Gaza off as a terrorist haven, few are willing to report that Gaza is a vulnerable and frequent victim of widespread civilian killings committed by one of the world’s most sophisticated armed forces. Few are willing to report that Gaza has been oppressed by decades of Israeli occupation followed by a relentless blockade that has cut off many essential supplies making life unbearable for the average citizen. Few are willing to report that most of Gaza’s citizens are not even there by choice, but are refugees who have been forcibly displaced from their ancestral villages in the north.
Few are willing to admit that Gaza, the world’s most densely-populated province and its largest open air prison, has long been slowly choking to death as a result of these circumstances.
Why is the daily institutionalized oppression of Gazans seldom conveyed by American news networks? Why do the war crimes, that unfold even as I write, go unreported?
Why do most continue to report on the crisis as if there were only one side to the story: the Hamas rockets fired into southern Israel?
In just two weeks since the most recent Israeli air, sea, and ground shelling of the besieged Gazans began, more than 700 Palestinians, including many women and children, have already been killed; many more are sure to follow. Thousands more have been injured; hundreds of thousands lack access to basic food, clean water, electricity, and medical supplies.
Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territories, told the BBC: “Israel is committing a shocking series of atrocities by using modern weaponry against a defenseless population - attacking a population that has been enduring a severe blockade for many months.”
With no one to answer to, and no third party to verify its claims, Israel is able to shell homes, mosques, and schools by simply asserting that they contain militants, weapons stockpiles, or that they are covers for tunnels.
Strewn bodies of civilians, including children, seem to raise no red flags. They are simply brushed off. “We’ll pay the international price later for the collateral damage and the anticipated civilian casualties,” Israeli military correspondent Alex Fishman wrote in the daily Yediot Ahronoth.
Why do the media not hold Israel accountable for its brutal transgressions against civilians? Aren’t journalists supposed to act as a check against government excesses? If they turn a blind eye or act to whitewash human rights abuses, are they then not morally complicit?
Why has the media failed so far to air footage that shows the full consequences of Israel’s indiscriminating heavy hand: civilian corpses scattered in the streets, helpless mothers weeping over their dead children still in school uniforms, entire residential blocks destroyed? Why are American audiences denied eyewitness accounts readily accessible around the world? If we are able to see the anguish of Israelis when Palestinian militants strike - as we should – why are we largely denied the reciprocal even though it is exponentially more frequent and more deadly?
Why can’t we get both sides of the raw information necessary to form our own conclusions? For a nation that values transparency, accountability and a “caught on tape” culture, this is curious to say the least.
Cornered news editors may cite fear of propagating propagandistic material, as if the tragic events happening in Gaza today are staged somewhere in some Arab film studio.
And yet, self-censorship is only half the problem.
Instead of eye-witness footage of events as they unfold, American television audiences are served a steady line-up of polished pro-Israel “experts” who deliver preset conclusions invariably justifying Israel’s “necessary” use of brute force and arguing that the Palestinians are to blame for their own suffering.
As a result of this consistently skewed coverage, it is no wonder that most Americans are oblivious to the fact that we aid cruelty and oppression with our tax dollars by bankrolling Israel’s military aggression.
Those who speak out in support of Palestinians are often accused of sympathizing with Hamas. This is an unacceptable argument that will not succeed in silencing, intimidating or distracting voices of conscience. I for one am motivated by a sense of reverence for human life and dignity. I value the lives of innocent Israelis no less than those of innocent Palestinians. For the record, I happen to believe that Hamas is part of the problem, not the solution, but I do not accept that Israel is without blame, that it can hang responsibility for its own premeditated actions on others. Apologists for Israel’s brutality should ask themselves: if the murder of innocent civilians constitutes the main argument against Hamas, then how can the murder of large numbers of Palestinian civilians be justified or excused while simultaneously adhering to that same principle of respect for innocent life?
If you believe, as I do, that the murder of innocent civilians to achieve a political purpose constitutes terrorism, and agree that there can be no justification for terrorism under any circumstance, then join me in speaking out against the media’s apathy in the face of the hundreds of civilian lives crushed by what can aptly be described as sanctioned state terrorism. Write to your local media representatives and demand: why is the Israeli government able to engage in terroristic behavior and escape all accountability? Why the blatant double standard?
One answer you may get is that whereas Palestinians target civilians, Israelis targets militants. Then you may ask what Israel expects to find in a residential building, a school, a hospital, or a Mosque - actual targets of its rockets time and again. Ask about the recent bombing of two UN schools that killed more than 50 people, including an entire family of seven young children. Ask about the Samouni family that lost 11 members after a house they were told to seek refuge in by the Israeli army was bombed the next day. Ask how many innocent civilians have been callously killed by Israel since the Gaza occupation began.
Ironically, Israel’s brutality will not bring peace any closer; if anything, it may only inspire legions of incensed Gazan youth to retaliation, spurring an endless cycle of violence.
It is for the sake of Israelis, as well as Palestinians, that the international community led by the United States ought to hold Israel accountable for its actions, and exert pressure on all sides to solve the situation diplomatically. But this will not happen unless American public opinion becomes privy to the facts of the conflict, which in turn will not happen until prime time begins to convey complete and honest reporting and analysis.