Editorial statements allow newspapers to articulate their collective position on the issues of the day and, in the case of major publications, they carry particular authority. Such articles play an important role in shaping public opinion and therefore need to be subject to special scrutiny.
One shortcoming is that they foreground Israeli concerns and sideline those of Palestinians.
For example, the Globe is worried that “the growing sense of hopelessness among Palestinian youth will continue to threaten Israel’s future.” The paper evidently does not regard the “hopelessness among Palestinian youth,” or the causes of that, as urgent problems in their own right. Rather, it regards them as troubling if they adversely affect Israel.
Similarly, the Los Angeles Times’ 20 October editorial opens with the sentence, “For weeks, Israelis have been terrorized by frighteningly random assaults.”
The United Nations monitoring group OCHA reports that in the 19 days leading up to that editorial, 43 Palestinians were killed and 5,100 injured, compared to the seven Israelis who were slain and the 70 who were injured. But the leading paper of a major US city does not bother itself with whether those Palestinians felt “terrorized.”
For The New York Times, “Israel has every right to defend its citizens, and it should.” Yet nothing in its 15 October editorial suggests that Palestinians have any such right.
What recourse Palestinians have in the face of myriad forms of daily violence is so low a priority for the paper that it is not mentioned in that editorial. By this omission, the paper is suggesting that what Palestinians “should” do is submit to Israeli brutality of the sort displayed in the days leading up to the editorial.
Such brutality included Israeli forces killing nine Palestinian civilians in Gaza, one of them a child; the Israeli air force launching missiles ostensibly at a military training site south of Gaza City and killing a 26-year-old pregnant woman and her 3-year-old daughter; eight attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians between 6 and 12 October and 29 during the previous week.
Meanwhile, the first four paragraphs of The Washington Post’s editorial are devoted to describing and assigning blame for the recent violence. Seven sentences therein focus on how to stop violence enacted by Palestinians against Israelis.
Of the three that criticize Israel, one does so on the grounds that the extrajudicial killing of Palestinian minors is “counterproductive” and another on the grounds that Israeli state violence is supposedly useful to “Palestinian leaders.”
The message the Post sends is that Palestinian violence is unjust and must immediately be halted, whereas Israel should avoid killing Palestinian youth when it might generate bad PR that could hinder its objectives.
Furthermore, none of the editorials provide their readers with context necessary to make sense of what has recently happened between Israelis and Palestinians.
To understand the events of this fall, it is necessary to have a sense of their long-term, underlying causes. Endless expansion of Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank are one such factor that goes unmentioned in the editorials.
There are now at least 600,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The construction and expansion of Israeli settlements violate international law: the Fourth Geneva Convention forbids an occupying power from moving its civilian population into the territory that it occupies.
Also absent from these editorials is any mention of Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes. In 2014 alone, this practice displaced 1,177 Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. More than 500 people have been displaced so far in 2015.
America brings calm?
Demolitions are an important part of the dynamics at play, yet the editorials fail to inform their readers about them.
Israel has reacted to Palestinian protest by attempting to crush it and by resorting to such tactics as arbitrarily arresting minors, detaining activists without charge or trail and arresting the family members of activists.
The proliferation of illegal settlements, the demolition of homes and the violent repression of dissent are features of daily life for the Palestinians at the center of the current tension in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Overlooking this all amounts to a lie of omission by these widely read papers.
Another weakness common to these editorials is the remedies they suggest. The papers call for further negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority as a way to reach a solution.
This proposal is hopelessly flawed.
Mahmoud Abbas’ presidency of the PA lacks a democratic mandate and he cannot legitimately claim to represent the Palestinian people. The Post knows this: it writes that Abbas “has become irrelevant” and notes that he remains in office six years after his elected term expired.
In the next paragraph, the paper suggests that the US and some other governments should try to halt the current violence with “calming interventions.”
Similar arguments are made by the Globe and the Los Angeles Times. This position is absurd because, as Israel’s sponsor, the US is a party to the conflict rather than a neutral arbiter.
The American ruling class and its arms industry have a vested interest in Israel’s regime of occupation and apartheid and have supported this regime for decades. There is no reason whatsoever to think that this policy has significantly changed.
This handling of the fall uprising is only the most recent example in the long and sorry chronicle of US media coverage of Palestine and it demonstrates that American media outlets are not simply reporting the news. Rather, they are active participants in the country’s power elite.
By misleading their readers, these newspapers help maintain consent among the American public for the US government’s crucial support for the oppression of Palestinians.
Dr. Greg Shupak is a writer and activist who teaches media studies at the University of Guelph. He lives in Toronto.