A few of us from the group went to watch a documentary last night, sponsored by the Beit Sahour branch of the Alternative Information Center (AIC), a group committed to making public alternative news media from the Middle East. The film was called “Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land” – a very well-done, non-Michael-Moore-ish type of documentary (some links: Rotten Tomatoes review, a link to buy it, and one more site about the film). The main point of the film was to discuss how the media (in particular, American media vs. European/World media) presents the Middle East conflict, and how important coverage, language and other factors are in the way the public views the conflict here in Palestine and Israel.
It was very interesting to just hear them talk about things, and then to see clips from prominent TV news anchors (Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, etc.) where they were doing the very things this documentary mentioned. For example, there was a CNN memo sent out to all journalists and news anchors that said that from then on, whenever they were referring to Gilo, one of the largest settlements around Jerusalem, they were to use the word “neighborhood” – they argued that these words are utterly different, “settlement” or “colony” implies an illegal presence in someone else’s land, whereas neighborhood makes everyone there seem very friendly, they’re just living in a neighborhood. So, the next clip showed Peter Jennings walking through the area saying something to the effect of “As you can see, I am walking through the quaint neighborhood of Gilo, in southern Jerusalem, where tanks have had to be moved in due to Palestinian attacks in this neighborhood.”
That sounds a lot different than talking about it in terms of a settlement in occupied land.
Another example was simply the lack of the word “occupation” in the majority of all news coverage (only 4% of news stories refer to the West Bank and Gaza as “occupied territories”); the BBC news is one of the few that makes a point to reference the “illegal occupation” whenever it is referring to these areas. But if you are only watching American newsmedia, you may have no idea that these lands are in fact, occupied, and this occupation goes against international laws.
Another way that language plays into this, is that Israel is always shown to be on the defense; they showed us clip after clip where Colin Powell, George Bush, Ariel Sharon, Condoleeza Rice and prominent TV news anchors (and not so prominent news anchors of Fox News) would consistently refer to “Palestinian attacks” and “Israeli retaliation.” Whenever these Palestinian “attacks” are mentioned, it is never mentioned, in American news coverage, that these attacks are happening on militarily occupied land, which has been occupied for over 38 years. Noam Chomsky, who was interviewed for this documentary (and who has a few books on this issue that I want to read) was quoted saying, “You can’t defend yourself when you’re militarily occupying another nation.”
Lastly, one other thing that was very interesting was how the media portrayed the humanity of people involved in this conflict, particularly the victims. When an Israeli IDF soldier was killed, we were shown clips of crying mothers, video footage from the funeral, interviews with the father, and we learned a lot about the young man, his dreams and aspirations, anecdotes about his life, etc. Yet, when Palestinians are killed, so often we simply get a number. The film showed a particular BBC clip about the 6 young boys who were killed by an Israeli booby trap years ago, and it did a very good job of following up with the family and doing interviews and representing the humanity. I think that a good news report could represent the humanity on both sides – since people on both sides of the conflict, are in fact, created in the image of God; they are humans and we need to see that – Israelis and Palestinians alike.
It is a film that I highly recommend – it was no “conspiracy theory” documentary; it simply shared with us a lot of who is influencing the American media and what that is doing to the American perception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is humorous (or horrendous) at times to see how differently stories are portrayed even by CNN vs BBC, or by other American news media. Even Ha’aretz in Israel has articles and Editorials that are critiquing Israel – but you will not find that in the US. To critique Israel is unheard of…
Has anyone seen any articles recently that are part of the mainstream American news media that really do critique Israel?