A War of Words: Israel in the Media

Becca Friedland

Thankfully, a ceasefire has been orchestrated between Gaza and Israel through the help of Egypt and the United States. The tensions may have escalated into a full-out war, but at least for now, they remain at bay. But while the physical fighting has mostly dissipated, the media war continues. Most people are aware that both the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), the military of the state of Israel, and Hamas, the leading party in Gaza, set up and used Twitter accounts to live tweet the events that were happening on the ground. This was a first for this sort of violence to be presented in such a technological way and I presume media wars will forevermore be the new face

of conflict. Beyond Twitter, anyone with a Facebook probably noticed how, depending on a certain person’s political views, lines like “Free Gaza!” or “Am Yisrael Chai(the nation of Israel lives)” were posted, sometimes coupled with images of one side committing any

number of atrocities to the other.

Everyone has his or her own opinion on the fighting in the Middle East. Nearly everyone I talk to knows (or chooses to believe) a different history. This is the heart of the problem. In addition, the way language is used to narrate a history really changes the way one interprets a story. For example, one can refer to the security that Israel developed during the second Intifada during the first years of the 21st century either as a “security fence” or an “apartheid wall.” See how the former indicates a national security operation for Israel, the latter a human rights abuse against Palestinians? Wording is everything in both how the conflict is viewed and how it is passed on. If you don’t do your homework (or even if you do!), it is hard to figure out exactly what is happening and exactly who is to “blame.” The term “terrorist organization” is another example of how language can be used to manipulate public opinion. Some newspapers refer to Hamas as a “terrorist organization,” because both the United States and Israel deem it so. Some newspapers do not and instead use the term “militant.” At least from a Western view, terrorism seems much worse than militarism, so you can learn a lot about the position of the writer or the leanings of the paper depending on what is said.  Even the nature of the conflict itself changes depending on how you coin it. If it is a “Muslim-Jewish conflict,” one might assume some sort of ancestral hate at its core. If it is an “Arab-Israel conflict,” it sounds like all Arab nations are against Israel. If it is a “Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” does that include Palestinians in the West Bank or in Gaza? You see how this gets

very confusing. The role of discourse also applies to complicated photos and statistics. For example, one emotion-jerking photograph of injured children could have been taken in Israel, in Gaza or even in Syria. Some websites, like Yahoo, have learned this the hard way by incorrectly citing photos. But often it is too late to take back the anger associated with the picture before it is already out in the news. Another component is statistics. Statistically, more Palestinians have died in Gaza than in Israel, both in this conflict and in 2008 when similar rocket tensions occurred. Did more Palestinians die because the Israeli military is out to kill innocent people? Or did more die because Gaza is a more densely populated area than the deserts of Southern Israel? Or is it because Hamas uses residential areas as places of military operation, so perhaps the line between civilian and militant is less clear in Gaza?

Does it even matter the intent if innocents are dying anyway, and if it doesn’t matter, why is that such a popular news topic? It is hard to know, and depending on which truth you choose to believe (or which media source), the situation changes. Context is important. At the end of the day, fault lies with both Palestinians and Israelis. No government is immune to wrong doing, and innocent civilians on either side have equal worth.

The most important thing is to be careful of the judgments you make when you read the news, especially when the news and the media are so charged like in this situation. Judge for yourself when an article sounds biased to one side or another. And make your own decisions on what the discourse surrounding instances of conflict mean for you. Let us use our intellect and analytical skills as college students to come to our own

conclusions on this conflict and other instances of conflict in

the media.

Contact Becca Friedland at [email protected]