The Israeli conquest of Palestine has always been a difficult issue for Western mainstream media to cover. The difficulty lies not in the task of reporting the facts on the ground and transmitting an accurate depiction of them to the public, but in refraining from doing so.
The journalistic mission, to provide citizens with factual information that enables them to be informed participants in democratic decision making, conflicts with the corporate mission, to maximize profits and influence.
The role of U.S. mass media — and Western media in general — as a tool for disseminating propaganda was first argued by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in their landmark 1988 book “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.” Their analysis reveals a media propaganda system based not on “formal censorship” but rather “by reliance on market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship, and without significant overt coercion.”
Although it does not consciously and overtly do so, Western corporate media serve the critical function of protecting the financial and business interests of institutional power.
“A propaganda model suggests that the ‘societal purpose’ of the media is to inculcate and defend the economic, social and political agenda of privileged groups that dominate the domestic society and the state,” the authors write. “The media serve this purpose in many ways: through selection of topics, distribution of concerns, framing of issues, filtering of information, emphasis and tone, and by keeping debate within the bounds of acceptable premises.”
More than 25 years later, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the BBC keep churning out work that continues to validate Herman and Chomsky’s argument in “Manufacturing Consent.” In no foreign policy story is this more apparent than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel would not be able to exist in its current form – an ethnic exclusivist state with discrimination inside the internationally recognized borders and apartheid in the occupied territories – without the financial and diplomatic support of the United States.
The U.S. gives Israel more than $3 billion every year, the highest amount of aid to any foreign country. The U.S. government also provides a diplomatic shield for Israel, allowing Tel Aviv to carry out its decades of criminal atrocities with complete impunity. In the United Nations, the U.S. has exercised its veto in the Security Council 43 times since 1972 on resolutions concerning Israel.
Equally as critical, the United States government provides Israel with the ideological support necessary to effectively sanitize the colonization of Palestine. This would never be possible without the mainstream media replicating Israel’s distorted framing of the narrative, which is echoed by the U.S. government.
There are innumerable examples of corporate media propaganda on Palestine. For example, the portrayal of the brutal Israeli aggression of Lebanon in 1982 and the ensuing terrorism and slaughter by Israeli invaders that killed 20,000 people. The Western media docilely followed the ideological propaganda of the Israeli and U.S. governments to portray Israeli actions as a liberation, rather than the criminal aggression it clearly was.
“Lebanese Hail Israel’s Actions as Liberation,” proclaimed former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg in the pages of the New York Times. This conflicts mildly with the view of the U.N. Secretary General, whose report to the Security Council several months earlier spurred Resolution 509, which affirmed “the strict respect for the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and political independence of Lebanon” and demanded Israel “withdraw all its military forces forthwith and unconditionally.”
The propaganda narrative requires that Palestinians always be portrayed as the aggressors, and Israel as responding in self-defense. In the last decade, four military confrontations have taken place in Gaza — in 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2014 – in which Israel has invaded and carried out wholesale slaughter. Israel in each case has been the party who routinely and flagrantly violates the cease fires.
Israeli cease fire violations are simply ignored or reported as inconclusive accusations. When they are mentioned at all, it is as something Palestinians say but that journalists dare not corroborate with verifiable facts.
It is instructive to study the period leading up to and after the ridiculously named “Operation Protective Edge” and its portrayal in corporate media as a test of the Herman-Chomsky propaganda model.
The previous war in Gaza occurred in November 2012. As a study in the Jerusalem Fund indicates, rocket fire from Gaza in the period afterwards was virtually non-existent.
“In the immediate aftermath of the cease-fire agreement no projectiles were launched from Gaza into Israel,” writes Yousef Munayyer. “Rather Israel continued to fire into Gaza, killing one Palestinian, injuring 42 others, committing four incursions and firing at or detaining 48 Palestinian fishermen off the coast. It was not until after most of these violations that the first projectile from Gaza post-ceasefire was launched on Dec. 24, 2012.”
Human rights groups like Visualizing Palestine analyze the data and reach the same conclusion as the Jerusalem Fund. Their data shows conclusively that Israel commits vastly more cease fire violations than Palestinians.
From November 2012 through July 7, 2014, Visualizing Palestine tallied 191 Israeli violations to 75 Palestinian violations. The Israeli violations were far more deadly. Israel was responsible for 18 fatalities and dozens of injuries, while Palestinians were responsible for 0 fatalities and 3 injuries.
After Israel assassinated 6 Hamas members in July, Hamas responded with rocket fire into Israel. U.S. officials unanimously proclaimed that Israel had a right to defend itself. The press uncritically repeated these assertions, despite no such self-defense justification existing in international law.
Israel went on to carry out the slaughter of 2,150 Palestinians, including 578 children. Civilians accounted for at least 70% of all Palestinian deaths. On August 26, 2014, after the conclusion of Protective Edge, a new cease fire was reached that called for cessation of hostilities, opening all crossings to Gaza, and permitting fishing for a distance of six nautical miles, increasing up to 12 miles.
Since then, Israeli cease fire violations have been an almost daily occurrence. A few examples:
- On September 9, the Isareli navy detained four Palestinian fishermen after gunboats intercepted their fishing boat.
- On September 18, the Israeli navy opened fire and injured a 70-year-old Palestinian fishermen on a beach.
- On September 25, Israel closed the Kerem Shalom border crossing for Jewish holidays. The closure lasted for three days, as critical shipments sat waiting unable to enter Gaza.
- On October 7, the Israeli navy opened fire on fishermen inside the six-mile off the coast of Sudaniya.
- On October 16, the Israeli navy sunk a Palestinian fishing boat off the coast of Deir al-Balah. A boat belonging to Jamal Abu Watfa. Watfa belongs to the family of the four boys who were killed by Israeli naval shells while playing soccer on a beach in front of dozens of foreign journalists during Protective Edge.
- On October 22, the Israeli navy detained seven Gaza fishermen from a single family off the coast of Gaza city.
In all, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights counted 18 shooting incidents against Palestinian fishermen during the month of September alone. They reported 11 arrest incidents, four confiscation of fishing boats or equipment, and four injuries.
The PCHR also reported 13 attacks by Israeli occupation forces near the border fence, in the Israeli-imposed “buffer zone” adjoining the border with Israel.
“Enforcing the ‘buffer zone’ through the use of live fire often results in, inter alia, the direct targeting of civilians and/or discriminate attacks, both of which constitute war crimes,” writes PCHR.
The violations in the buffer zone and in Gazan territorial waters added up to more than one cease fire violation per day.
A search of the New York Times reveals only one story since Protective Edge on Israel’s actions against Gazan fishermen, a one paragraph brief from September 9 with the headline “Gaza: Arrests Suggest Disagreement on Truce Details.” The story concedes that Israeli military arrested four fishermen, but predictably focuses on the “disagreement.”
A Ma’an article on the same incident provides important context absent from the Times story that helps readers evaluate the veracity of the competing claims: “Prior to the [Aug. 26] agreement, Israeli forces maintained a limit of three nautical miles on all Gaza fishermen, opening fire at fishermen who strayed further, despite earlier Israeli agreements which had settled on a 20-mile limit. The restrictions crippled Gaza’s fishing industry and impoverished local fishermen.”
The Ma’an article demonstrates that Israel has a history of provoking and harassing Gazan fishermen while failing to live up to their commitments to allow Palestinians to access their own territorial waters. This context is completely absent from the Times “he said, she said” piece.
In an article on November 2, Isabel Kershner writes in the New York Times that: “Israel said it had closed the crossing points into Gaza ‘until further notice’ after a rocket was fired into Israel on Friday.”
The Times relays Israel’s official position, without doing the same for Palestinians. But Kershner tries to make up for her selection bias by a disingenuous attempt at framing complaints of cease fire violations by colonizer and colonized as equally valid.
“Each side accused the other of having violated a cease-fire that ended in this summer’s 50-day battle between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.”
The long list of attacks on Palestinians documented by PCHR are turned into a false equivalence. They carry no more weight in the Times’ story than the accusations of Israel, which has been occupying Gaza and the West Bank while keeping its colonial subjects stateless for 47 years.
The Times’ silence, false equivalence, and failure to provide any historical context on Israeli actions in Palestine would serve as a perfect exhibit in an updated version of “Manufacturing Consent,” whose thesis holds as true today as when it was published two and a half decades ago.
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