Israel Journal: Analysis of media coverage of Israeli-Hamas conflict

Lisa Zehner

JERUSALEM, Israel — Facts can easily get lost in translation.

That’s why media coverage of the Gaza conflict often becomes diluted and in some ways inaccurate because of the many complexities that aren’t accompanied or explained in news stories. After spending a week in Israel, most Israelis and Palestinian that I came across found media coverage to be biased — toward Israelis, if the viewer was a Palestinian or Arab, and from the other side sympathetic toward Palestinians, if the viewer was an Israeli.


Both have their case, especially in western media coverage. I was reading the International Herald Tribune, the global newspaper edition of the New York Times, and found that some of the coverage of the airstrikes and the now-ground invasion was focused mostly on civilian casualties.


As a journalist, this makes sense to me. It is something that people care to know about and it important to the rest of the world. But, this should still include the context of why this is happening. Hamas has averaged some 40 rockets launched into towns of southern Israel in the last couple of days, but has rarely hit civilians due to the Qassan rocket’s inaccuracies. Then why has Israel’s airstrikes and shelling killed so many civilians? Of course, Israel contends that it has avoided civilian casualties that are at the same time unavoidable because the Hamas allegedly uses mosques, universities, and other institutions to store weapons. Both sides have their points, but let’s get back to the media coverage.


The story in western media organization usually would be balanced out with the Israeli voice noting that it was defending itself from rocket fire from the Hamas, the Islamist terrorist group controlling Gaza that has vowed to destroy Israel, and that many Hamas are using civilians as human shields. That is their reasoning for deaths. This point is usually made much later in the story, perhaps so much later that the reader might not get to it.


For Israelis, the fact that the story starts out with such a focus on the civilians makes it biased. Palestinians would say it is biased because it includes information, or makes a case for Israelis as a defensive reaction, not an offensive one. It seems, however, that it comes down to a matter of fact. Lots of civilians are losing their lives, according to those living in Gaza (it’s a never ending circle, isn’t it?).


What’s interesting though is the coverage of each side’s own media. Israeli headlines and TV coverage seemed to emphasize defense and often left out the number of casualties of civilians. It would also cover what actually was happening on the Israeli side of things, such as those wounded from the Qassan rockets that the Hamas was launching, and often note the amount of rockets launched and Israel’s restraint. All true things, but Gazans and especially the Hamas would argue that their reasoning for the rockets is Israel’s tight squeeze on Gaza through economic boycotts and border closings, which have left the southern strip without many needed supplies.


It makes sense that despite the free press in Israel it is still somewhat biased because most of the journalists at media organizations have or will serve in the Israeli army, the IDF. The journalists have felt it first-hand. They participate in the fighting for their land and so it seems almost impossible to be completely impartial when writing about and covering the conflict.


The Arab newspapers, such as Al-Quds, which has the largest circulation serving the Palestinian people in Israel, would often emphasize it’s coverage of the casualties of civilians. The paper’s Sunday edition included bright red letters citing Israeli invasion of Gaza. Al-Jazeera, the news broadcast station serving the Arab nations, was focused on criticizing Arab leaders and called for its people to stand up for its Hamas brothers and redeem the deaths of its people.


The coverage is diverse, but the criticism from western media remains mostly on Israel, who the media asserts has responded disproportionately, echoing the 2006 war on Hezbollah. But the legitimate questions remain as to what Israel hopes to achieve. Most western nations have said that Israel is responding in defense to the Hamas rockets. However, Israel has not said they want to take Hamas out of power or occupy Gaza. Then what will be achieved?


Most western nations and even some Arab nations (though they remain silent) would like the Hamas out, but the moderate Fatah in the West Bank has lost credibility and power to lead the Palestinians despite much funding from the European Union to help bolster its government. The Hamas drove the Fatah out of Gaza and has won much support from many Palestinians.


It is unclear where the conflict will head, but each side has vowed to keep fighting until its mission is complete. For Israel that is to keep its citizens living in the southern Israel free from rocket terror. For the Hamas it is to destroy Israel. Currently, both goals seem unachievable.