Challenging Mainstream Media Narratives on Palestine

Published in teleSUR

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When the media obscures Israel’s crimes as an occupier or equates its brutality with Palestinian resistance it does not constitute objective coverage.

On Oct. 3, dozens of Jewish settlers raided the Palestinian village of Burin southwest of Nablus in the occupied northern West Bank. Some were armed with guns and other carried rocks and firebombs as they marauded through the village, chanting racist slurs against Palestinians and calling for revenge.

Backed by the Israeli occupation army, settlers set fire to dozens of olive trees belonging to Burin villagers shortly before the start the olive harvest season, the most important time of the year for many of the villagers. Meanwhile, Israeli occupation forces fired stun grenades and tear gas canisters on the villagers as they provided cover for the settlers.

Saturday’s attack was the second in three days that Burin had faced. The previous attack on Thursday also saw Jewish settlers, under Israeli military protection, rampage through Burin, burning olive trees and attacking Palestinian homes and property. The village, with a population of just over 3,000, set up popular committees to defend the village with help from some neighboring Palestinian towns in case of a settler attack.

Zaid Imran al-Burini, a resident of Burin, says that his village is a constant target of attacks and harassment by Israeli settlers and military. The village is surrounded by four illegal Jewish-only colonies, constructed on lands violently confiscated from Burin residents. The village’s relative seclusion from other Palestinian towns make it even more vulnerable to settler and army attacks.

The assault on Burin and other Nablus area towns came at the heels of the fatal shooting of two Israeli settlers, killed by Palestinian gunmen while travelling in their car between the illegal Jewish settlements of Itamar and Elon Moreh. The Palestinian gunmen, whom the Israeli army claimed to have arrested on Monday, shot dead the adult couple but left their four children unscathed.

While the killing of the Israeli settler couple captured headlines, the subsequent attacks on Palestinians, euphemistically labeled as “price-tag” operations, remained glaringly absent and largely overshadowed by the stabbing to death of two Israeli settlers in occupied Jerusalem’s Old City.

The mainstream media’s frantic focus on the killing the Israeli settlers in Nablus and Jerusalem stands in stark contrast with the virtually non-existing coverage of Israel’s collective punishment, revenge attacks and daily violence against Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. This is, however, far from an anomaly. When three Israeli settler teens were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank in June 2014, their abduction was used by the Israeli military as a pretext to carry out mass arrests against Palestinians and put the entire governorate of Hebron under siege. As the three slain teens continued to dominate the headlines, scarcely a story was written about the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were subjected to Israel’s terror and collective punishment for weeks.

For mainstream media, the “escalation” always seems to start with the shooting or killing of an Israeli while the daily theft and colonization of Palestinian land, the regular night raids on Palestinian villages and the countless restrictions imposed on Palestinians are treated as “relative quiet” or “business as usual.” Only the most brutal attacks against Palestinians, such as the burning to death of Palestinian teen Muhammad Abu Khudayr or the murder of baby Ali Dawabsha and his parents warrant some coverage. Even then, however, the crimes are described as “extremist acts” perpetrated by few settlers rather than the result of state-sponsored terror.

Palestinian violence, a legitimate and inevitable response to Israel’s settler colonialism, is often de-contextualized and treated as a chain in this endless, senseless cycle of violence. Nowhere in mainstream Western media was it mentioned, for instance, that the two Israeli settlers who were killed were actually living on stolen Palestinian land and that their very presence there was illegal even according to international law. The burning to death of baby Ali Dawabsha and his parents, which was carried out by settlers who reside in the Nablus area, was promptly forgotten, as is the fact that perpetrators are enjoying full impunity.

It was also barely noted that the killing of the Israeli settlers sparked waves of collective punishment by the Israeli army and revenge assaults by settlers. Missing from this equation are the voices of Nablus-area villagers who not only had to put up with escalating Israeli raids and restrictions, but also had to resist with modest means the destruction of their olive trees which is their main source of livelihood. The impact of these attacks on Palestinians and the sometimes invisible violence that Israel exerts are rarely discussed. Any violence against Israelis instantly becomes the main story while the suffering of millions of Palestinians under Israel’s military occupation is merely a footnote.

At best, one can find a blame for “both sides” whenever an escalation of violence in Palestine takes place.

Yet, obscuring the crimes of the occupier or equating its brutality with the resistance of the oppressed Palestinians do not constitute an objective depiction of the reality in Palestine.

Speaking of “two sides” and laying equal blame on them are prime examples of how the ostensible neutrality of mainstream media turns to be complete and total bias in favor of Israel.

An objective and balanced coverage of events in Palestine does not mean drawing parity between a settler-colonialist state that possesses one of the strongest military apparatuses in the world, and with Palestinians who practice their legitimate right of resisting this occupation.

So long as Palestinian voices are marginalized in the media and that Israel and the Palestinians are equated under the jargon of neutrality, coverage of Palestinian will remain highly flawed and biased.

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