Given Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s recent promises to harshly punish any Palestinian attempts to disrupt the disengagement process, had last week’s gunman in the West Bank settlement of Shilo been a Palestinian rather than an Israeli, and the four dead Israeli rather than Palestinian, Gazans would have likely woken up the following morning to tanks in their streets. But as it stands, the shooting of four Palestinian laborers by an Israeli settler - whose motive is reported to have been to stop the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza - has not even merited putting the more ideologically extreme settlements under military curfew, which Palestinian population centers have experienced for thousands of hours during this Intifada.
Not only does the reaction to the shooting, the second such attack on Palestinians in recent weeks (before this incident, four Palestinians with Israeli citizenship were killed by a Jewish extremist in northern Israel) expose the hypocrisy of the Israeli military, but it also demonstrates the low priority the Western press gives to Palestinian suffering.
Last Wednesday, the day of the shooting, the Chicago Tribune treated the Gaza pullout as breaking news. After the shooting, the following headline was featured on its website: “GAZA PULLOUT: Israel begins forcible evictions/ Update: Troops enter Gaza synagogue; Israeli gunman opens fire on Palestinians.” Pity those hurt Palestinians, whose deaths are less newsworthy than IDF soldiers entering a synagogue.
The New York Times’s priority was not much different. “Israeli Troops Persuade, and Force, Settlers to Leave Gaza: While some residents had to be dragged out, it seemed that many had come to terms with the pullout. Also, an Israeli killed two Palestinians in the West Bank,” was the headline placed at the top of the front page of its website.
Twenty-four hours later, the brutal killing of four Palestinians was pretty much off the news radar entirely. The Chicago Tribune only had this headline on the front of its website: “Israeli Soldiers Surround Gaza Synagogue.” And on the Times’ website, where the shooting was still visible news, it was still a mere footnote to what is happening in Gaza: “Tearfully but Forcefully, Israel Removes Gaza Settlers: While there was little serious violence in Gaza, an Israeli settler in the West Bank killed four Palestinian workers.”
The British press wasn’t much better. The usually reliable Guardian’s website made no mention of the killing on its front page, nor did the BBC News (World Edition). And even the relatively liberal Israeli daily Ha’aretz, who on Wednesday rightly treated the killings as top news, only had one news headline and one commentary headline regarding the killing on its website, lower on the news hierarchy than reports coming from Gaza such as “Protester takes Torah scroll out of Neveh Dekalim synagogue.”
One can only imagine what kind of reaction the press would have had if four Israelis had been killed in a suicide bombing. But so far, the killing of four non-combatant Palestinians - who all worked with the perpetrator, yet he killed two at point blank while they were sitting in his car, and was not stopped by a guard as he ran into the aluminum factory where the others were shot - has elicited nary a peep from the press.
Perhaps part of the problem is that very few of the thousands-strong international members of the press who are currently in Israel-Palestine covering the disengagement are in the West Bank, nor are the journalists who are usually stationed here, covering what is considered the most politically important part of the world. But once again, this only shows the hypocrisy of the Western press: when it’s Jewish Israelis being removed from their homes, it’s the biggest story to happen here in decades. But when Palestinians weep over their displacement, which happens time and time again thanks to Israel’s collective-punishment home demolitions, their suffering is largely undocumented by the press.
The double-standard with which the press treats Palestinian suffering in contrast to Jewish-Israeli suffering is acute. In the last few days, each hug between and a crying settler and an emotional member of the Israeli army, which has inflicted countless horrors on Palestinians while “defending” these same settlers, seems to have been photographed. But where were these photographers when those very soldiers were blowing up Palestinian houses, the inhabitants of which were rarely granted much more than a fifteen-minute warning, and never $250,000 US compensation like the crying settlers?
To the press, a mass evacuation of some 7,500 settlers is more spectacular than the semi-regular house demolitions Israel commits (however, its larger operations in Gaza and Jenin were certainly of newsworthy spectre, but journalists were often denied access during those events). Similarly, when a non-state actor is responsible for atrocities like suicide bombings, it grabs the front page, while when the Israeli military shoots kids from tanks, it’s buried in the back of the newspaper.
Palestinians are not ignorant of this blatant double-standard. But then again, injustice towards the Palestinians is an old story, apparently making it no longer newsworthy.
Currently based in Ramallah, Maureen Clare Murphy is Arts, Music and Culture Editor for the Electronic Intifada