Of settler crimes and media silence

13 October 2004

If Americans appreciated the scale of human rights abuses committed by Israeli colonists in the occupied territories, they would condemn the journalists who keep them in the dark, a US peace activist says. Al-Jazeera.net reports.

Kim Lamberty, a member of the Christian Peacemakers Teams (CPT), has told Aljazeera.net on Tuesday that a cruel and criminal practice is largely going unreported: settlers are routinely attacking children on their way to school.

And Lamberty should know. Unable to walk since a vicious attack on 29 September by Jewish colonists, she says physical assaults on schoolchildren and the volunteers who escort them have all increased in the past two weeks.

“Human rights abuses are being carried out by Israeli settlers on a massive scale, but the US media continues to choose not to present the whole Palestine/Israel story - just the Tel Aviv version,” she says.

“Dozens of volunteers from Amnesty International, CPT, Operation Dove, as well as numerous parents, and of course Palestinian schoolchildren, have all been assaulted this week alone.

“We are not talking verbal abuse, taunts and pushes - we are talking punctured lungs, broken arms, fractured ribs and whipping with chains. But Israeli police are not investigating.”

When contacted by Aljazeera.net, no Israeli Defence Force spokesperson was prepared to comment on whether the latest attack on children and volunteers (last Sunday) - or the assault on Lamberty - was being investigated.

No coverage

But the absence of interest in investigating attacks on schoolchildren and international peace volunteers is matched by a western media disinterest in reporting it.

Alison Weir, the executive director of ifamericansknew.org, says that while Americans are well informed about the deaths of Israeli children, very few realise that approximately six times more Palestinian children have been killed.

“For three and a half months [at the beginning of the al-Aqsa Intifada], Palestinian children were being killed - often by gunfire to the head - and the world’s governments did nothing,” she says.

Weir blames a western media bias in Israel’s favour, and her views are backed up by studies into headlines from prominent US newspapers. One such investigation into the coverage of deaths in Israel and Palestine in 2003, revealed a major pattern of omission.

San Francisco study

Analysis of the San Francisco Chronicle has shown that headlines reported prominently on Israeli children’s deaths at a rate 30 times greater than Palestinian ones.

While 150% of Israeli children’s deaths had resulted in headline coverage (some deaths generated multiple stories), only 5% of Palestinian children’s deaths received similar coverage.

But studies of media omissions on Palestinian issues are not limited to the US. Academics studying BBC coverage have reached similar conclusions.

Greg Philo and Mike Berry of the Glasgow University Media Unit in the UK studied television news coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reached some startling conclusions regarding its effect on audiences.

BBC reporting criticised

Based on an audience sample of more than 800 people and a detailed analysis of TV news over a two-year period, the main conclusion was that BBC television news on the Israel/Palestinian conflict confuses viewers and substantially features Israeli government views.

Israelis are quoted and speak in interviews over twice as much as Palestinians, and there are major differences in the language used to describe the two sides, the researchers discovered.

Jewish settlers regularly target Palestinian families for attack

Speaking to Aljazeera.net on Wednesday, Philo said TV news says almost nothing about the history or origins of the conflict.

“The majority of those surveyed did not know Palestinians had been forced from their homes and land when Israel was established in 1948. In 1967 Israel occupied by force the territories to which the Palestinian refugees had moved.

“Most viewers did not know that the Palestinians subsequently lived under Israeli military rule or that the Israelis took control of key resources such as water, and the damage this did to the Palestinian economy,” he said.

“And because there was no account of historical events such as the Palestinians losing their homes, there was a tendency for viewers to see the problems as ‘starting’ with Palestinian action.”

Settlements

Philo also found that Israeli actions tended to be explained and contextualised - they were often shown as merely “responding” to what had been done to them by Palestinians.

The study concluded that there is also a tendency to present Israeli settlements in the occupied territories as vulnerable communities, rather than as groups of colonists playing a role in imposing the occupation.

But as the Israeli historian Avi Shlaim has written, they have a key military and strategic function. They have been built on hilltops to give a commanding position and their occupants are often heavily armed.

“Most viewers knew very little of this - one participant expressed his surprise at learning that the settlements controlled over 40% of the West Bank,” Philo concluded.

Subversive language

However, a few western mainstream journalists are not afraid to speak out about the issue of poor and confusing media coverage from the occupied territories.

Twice chief Middle East correspondent for the BBC, Tim Llewellyn has pointed out the way language is used to spin a one-sided story in the book Tell Me Lies.

“For a short while on BBC news, ‘occupied territories’ became ‘disputed’. We heard much of Palestinian ‘claims’ of occupation rather than of the 33-year-long fact of it,” he writes.

“Illegal Jewish settlements near Jerusalem became ‘neighbourhoods’. Palestinians are killed (it happens); but Palestinians killing Israelis (that is deliberate); dead Israelis have a name and identity, dead Arabs are - just, well, dead Arabs.

“When Palestinians die their bereaved vent ‘rage’ at apparently riotous funerals; Israeli survivors express shock. The list goes on. The news-speak of the crisis is adjusted to favour the Israeli side.”

Activist speaks out

And with nothing to suggest that western media coverage is about to change anytime soon, CPT activist Chris Brown wonders how the system of apartheid currently practised in the occupied territories is going to change.

Suffering a punctured lung for merely walking Palestinian children to school himself, Brown says that the settlement his attackers came from is not “even supposed to be there. It was supposed to be dismantled”.

However, he believes Americans do increasingly appreciate that it is their $16 million a day in taxation that allows the settlements to survive.

Brown says he can see a day when statements “from the floor of the House and the Senate that this kind of thuggery is not accepted in any democratic society” will be made.

It just saddens him that this may happen despite western media coverage rather than because of it.

Related Links

  • Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians and their property, 1 January–30 June 2004, Palestinian Monitoring Group (13 October 2004). [PDF Format, 192K]
  • Al-Jazeera
  • If Americans Knew
  • Christian Peacemaker Teams
  • Glasgow University Mass Media Unit