As Americans, our opinions must be based on what we know, and what we know comes from the papers. Both overt and subtle editorializing, prioritizing and slanted reporting are unjust to the people and the situation being described, and to the reader. But while we must all demand even-handed reporting by the media, we must understand, as some do not, that questions of media bias are rarely one-sided, simple and black-and-white.
Sameer Doshi ’02 wrote an opinion piece on April 6, “Media Not Impartial on Mideast,” that thoughtfully makes clear the shortcomings of the American media in reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have heard both the American Jewish and the American Arab communities complain loudly of the hatefully unfair reporting of The New York Times, CNN and others. Yet if the reporting is so overtly pro-Israel as Doshi describes it, one is hard pressed to understand what the American supporters of Israel are complaining about. If the reality on the ground is really so one-sided, it is a wonder that Jews and supporters of Israel around the world do not hide their heads in shame and murmur a silent prayer of thanks that the media are unfair in their reporting. The answer is clear. They are not.
American media sources are somewhat fickle. It is true, and unconscionable, that Palestinian lives are not worth as much as Israeli lives in the American media. It may be prejudice; it may be simple journalism (with over five times as many dead, a Palestinian casualty is not big enough news). I stand with the Palestinians in denouncing the media for this disparity.
However, American news sources are remarkably unsophisticated in their understanding of the reality on the ground, in a way that seems consistently to paint Israel and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) as black as can be—rather than admit the grayness of the situation. The restrictions and humiliations inflicted on Palestinians that have often been described are, unfortunately, quite accurate. Nor can anyone debate the disparity in numbers of dead and wounded, or the sad, inevitable results of a clash between violent Palestinian demonstrators and the Israeli army. American media have given extensive coverage to the ugly realities of closures and occupation, checkpoints and restricted freedom. But it would be irresponsible to call attention to these facts in the international media without considering the context and the reason.
Several weeks ago the world was outraged at the total closure imposed on several West Bank cities including Ramallah. The closure lasted for a few days, causing the Palestinian people significant and unacceptable discomfort and humanitarian and financial loss.
What the American media either ignored or buried was that while the closure was in place, Israeli authorities apprehended a terrorist cell in Ramallah led by a member of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat’s personal guard, which admitted responsibility for eight separate lethal attacks and confessed that they had been on their way to lay several bombs in Jerusalem’s civilian centers. Then another cell of four Palestinian terrorists, including a Palestinian policeman, were apprehended trying to leave Hebron, also on their way to carry out an attack. The IDF termed the closure a success and it was lifted. The following day a Palestinian walked out of Bethlehem down to the road from Jerusalem and riddled an oncoming car with bullets, killing its driver, and two bombs were discovered and dismantled on a civilian highway. Can we really consider a call for more attention to Palestinian suffering if the media ignores the reasons that make it necessary?
International law, including U.N. resolutions and the Geneva conventions, deserve the high respect they are given by the general public, but they do not address the complicated realities of the Middle East. As morally problematic as closures and restrictions are, they are extremely effective in preventing terrorist attacks and bloodshed. Israeli authorities estimate that through its sometimes-questionable techniques, the defense apparatus has prevented upwards of 4,100 specific incidents in the past seven months.
It is easy to condemn closure and to call in the television crews. So long as the Palestinian Authority gives free hand to these terrorists and indeed aids in attacks, it will be far less easy to find a better solution. To focus on Israeli closures without admitting that they are, in the harsh environment of the Middle East, the only thing that saves scores of lives, is no less unfair than to fail to report on the closures at all.
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