Last Monday, the bodies of three Israeli youths were found near Halhul in the West Bank. Let me begin by stating that there can be no justification for the killings; they, like all such acts of violence, are to be condemned. They have deprived three young men of life, and three families of their sons. But any sense of tragedy which attaches to the deaths has been entirely lost beneath the weight of wall-to-wall media coverage. The sheer extent of it aside, such coverage has been unsatisfactory for at least two reasons.
Firstly, in daubing their front pages with news of the murders, the mainstream media afforded to Frenkel, Yifrach and Shaer a courtesy which is never extended to those Palestinian children who have been slain by the Israeli state. In the last fourteen years, Israeli security forces have killed 1500 Palestinian minors. How many of that number received such rapt and sympathetic attention from newspapers and broadcasters? How many journalists were dispatched to al-Jalazun refugee camp to cover the killing of Wajih al-Ramahi, 15, who was shot in the back by a sniper last December? How many reported live from Beitunia when Nadeem Nawara and Mohammed Salameh were murdered on Naqba Day this year, by troops who, in shooting the boys, may well—according to Human Rights Watch—have committed war crimes? And so on and so forth.
Some might say that the case of the three Israelis is different from those of the foregoing Palestinians: after all, Frenkel, Yifrach and Shaer were kidnapped before they were killed. Indeed, the mainstream media gave us ample notice of the abduction, and apprised us every so often of the status of the search operation. But where among the selfsame media can one find coverage of the de facto abductions of Palestinian children, who are routinely ripped from their homes in the dead of night by armed Israeli soldiers? Over the years, many thousands of minors have been arrested in this fashion; many thousands have been detained, frequently without charge or explanation, and sometimes in solitary confinement. And yet the media, which wants us to believe that Palestinians alone are capable of such inhumanity, maintains for the most part a careful silence on this issue. The double standard which exists here leads us ineluctably to our conclusion, namely that the mainstream media—and especially the self-proclaimed ‘objective’ parts thereof—values the lives of Israelis considerably more than the lives of Palestinians.
This might be understandable if the Israeli people were suffering the appalling indignity of military occupation. But of course, it is the Palestinians who have, for nearly fifty years, endured the unspeakable misery of living and dying under Israeli control. The second and more general problem with the coverage of the last few days pertains to this fact, which is seemingly beyond the ken of journalists everywhere. In this regard, the so-called ‘liberal’ sections of the mainstream media are especially deserving of blame. They appear to take a considered position, and so do not very often demonise Palestinians out of hand. Nevertheless, they report as though there is a moral (and martial) equivalence between the two sides, as though they are just as bad as each other. They report, then, without regard to context.
Hence, in the last few days, we have seen the employment, time and time again, of weasel words like ‘escalating tensions’ and ‘cycles of violence’. We have heard jeremiads about ‘tit-for-tat attacks’. Such insidious phrases are completely estranged from the reality of life in occupied Palestine, and that reality is, of course, as follows. The brutal and illegal blockade of Gaza, together with decaying infrastructure, will render that territory unliveable by 2020. East Jerusalem is slowly but surely being cleansed of its native residents. Meanwhile, illegal Israeli settlements blot the West Bank like pustules; they continue to swell, and fragment the land in such a way as to make the emergence of a viable Palestinian state impossible.
We can say, therefore, that ‘tensions’ will seethe until Israel begins to make real and dramatic concessions. The ‘cycles of violence’ (their Ixions mostly Arab) will not be stayed so long as Israel continues to extract, expel and expand. The claim that attacks in the region follow a pattern of ‘tit for tat’ has no basis in reality, and never will, unless the Palestinians, with the backing of a superpower, somehow assemble a standing army of almost matchless strength, and use it to subjugate the civilian population of all Israel.
What the mainstream media has wilfully failed to convey—on this occasion and on others—is that any violence (regrettable though it may be) carried out by Palestinians in the direction of Israel does not occur ex nihilo, or by reason of abstruse religious differences. It occurs because Palestinians, their spirits crushed by decades of terror, of fruitless talks and demonstrations, would like very much to be free.
On Wednesday, as the State of Israel exploited the deaths to inflict yet more humiliation upon the Palestinians, 16-year-old Mohamed Abu Khdeir was abducted and murdered. In the days which followed, large parts of the mainstream media covered the killing. One might then ask: doesn’t the existence of such coverage, widespread as it was, negate the criticisms advanced above?
Despite appearances, the answer must be No. In fact, the coverage has, quite plainly, worked in Israel’s favour. It has served to characterise Israeli violence against Palestinians as infrequent, as retaliative only, or as the business of lunatics. It has allowed the State of Israel, which oversees the long-standing structural oppression of Palestinians, to seem concerned with peace and justice. And so, despite the illusion of balance, it has reinforced the idea that, for the mainstream media, some lives are—and always will be—more precious than others.