Rarely are there issues more contentious than the modern question of Palestine and Israel. One can find a plethora of media sources concerning Israel and Palestine, ranging in breadth and depth from history books to social media commentary, or from live broadcasts to stories passed down through family members. Online news media has become more and more of a force to be reckoned with, however, with its accessibility and its surge in popularity over the past ten years, according to the Pew Research Center. This paper aims to investigate the vehicles through which biases might arise in Western and Israeli news media coverage of Palestinians, with Operation Protective Edge used as the sample time period for news stories.
Brief History of Zionism
Though there are different “stripes” of Zionism, as an umbrella term it indicates a belief in the creation of a Jewish homeland, specifically in nation-state form, and that all Jews constitute a cohesive nation of people. Zionism began in the nineteenth century, as anti-Semitism—a virulent presence throughout European history—surged, exacerbating Jewish people’s perceived need for a nation-state as a response to worldwide anti-Semitism. The Dreyfus Affair in 1894 exemplified this rising tide of anti-Semitism, especially in the mind of Theodor Herzl, one of the main theorizers of modern Zionism.  Herzl wrote Der Judenstaat (“The Jewish State”) after his experience covering the Dreyfus Affair, and in it he “talks mainly about the prospects of effectively turning the Land of Israel into a refuge.” This literary work put Herzl at the forefront of the secular Zionist movement, a specific form of Zionism arguing that Jews could not forgo their religious identities and integrate into secular society in the face of anti-Semitism, that Jews thus had to create a new, secular, and Jewish-ethnocratic state. After Herzl’s ideas gained momentum among Jewish people and other Westerners, the British government declared its support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine (after first considering Argentina and Uganda) as part of the Balfour Declaration of 1917 following World War I. 650,000 mostly Arab people were documented in Palestine in the 1880s and, after the Balfour Declaration, it can be extrapolated that similar if not larger populations of indigenous Arabs lived there. The influx of Zionists into Palestine caused a significant disruption to these indigenous peoples’ way of life and access to resources.
During and after World War II, more and more Jewish people began to emigrate to where Israel would later be founded, due to the Holocaust in Europe and the closed borders of other Western countries, including the United States, to Jewish refugees. After World War II in 1947, the United Nations passed resolution 181, splitting the land of Palestine and giving 55 percent of the land to Jewish immigrants in order to create the state of Israel. Violence between the immigrating Jews, the resident Palestinians, nearby Arab armies, and British military forces supporting the Jewish immigrants after the resolution led to the systematic expulsion of over 750,000 Arabs from Palestine, along with the destruction of 531 villages in what Israeli scholar Ilan Pappe terms an “ethnic cleansing” of the land by Westerners and Jewish settlers. The bulk of refugees, between 250,000 and 350,000 people, were expelled in April and May of 1948, and 4,244,776 acres of land were seized from Palestinian inhabitants after the creation of Israel in 1948. Thus, Zionism’s creation of the state of Israel caused the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians; in the aftermath, many scholars of a multitude of backgrounds, such as Ilan Pappe and Edward Said, came to explicitly align Zionism with other European colonial enterprises of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The colonialist nature of the Zionist venture has been discussed most notably by Edward Said, a Palestinian-American scholar. He argued in his 1979 essay Zionism from the Standpoint of its Victims that inherent to modern Zionism’s thesis is an alignment with European imperialism and consequent colonialism. He writes:
There is an unmistakable coincidence between the experiences of Arab-Palestinians at the hands of Zionism and the experiences of those black, yellow, and brown people who were described as inferior and subhuman by nineteenth-century imperialists. For although it coincided with…virulent Western anti-Semitism, Zionism also coincided with the period of unparalleled European territorial acquisition in Africa and Asia.
Said could not find the Zionist venture distinct from other imperialist ventures conducted within the same time frame, referring to other examples of colonialism occurring in Africa, Asia, and beyond. To him, a unifying factor of these subjugated peoples was their non-whiteness, synonymous with a lack of institutional power due to imported Western thought about racial and genetic superiority; white colonizers often saw the oppressed as inferior and ultimately dispensable in achieving a colonial goal. For instance, in Der Judenstaat, Herzl wrote that Israel would essentially be “an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.” Said found a sentiment in Herzl’s as well as other Zionist authors’ writings that echoed other common beliefs about the inferiority and dispensability of indigenous peoples in non-Western lands:
Zionism…saw Palestine as the European imperialist did, as an empty territory paradoxically ‘filled’ with ignoble or perhaps even dispensable natives; it allied itself…with the imperial powers in carrying out its plans…and it did not think except in negative terms of ‘the natives,’ who were passively supposed to accept the plans made for their land.
Said was not the only individual who found a correlation between Zionism and other Western colonialist undertakings. In the 1973 book Israel: A Settler-Colonial State?, Maxime Rodinson also contextualizes the movement within the trends of Western colonialism and imperialism: “The advancement and then success of the Zionist movement thus definitely occurred within the framework of European expansion into the countries belonging to what later came to be called the Third World. […] Wanting to create a purely Jewish, or predominantly Jewish, state in an Arab Palestine in the twentieth century could not help but lead to a colonial-type situation and to the development…of a racist state of mind.” As discussed later in this paper, the founding of state defined as “Jewish” from the outset within a formerly Arab-majority land created a de facto ethnocracy that was then codified by law.
On the one hand, Zionism can be distinguished from other imperialist doctrines, mostly because Western Jews were not looking to create an empire akin to that of the French or the British, and a Jewish refugee from anti-Semitism elsewhere in the world cannot be individually referred to as a colonialist. Thus, what is referred to as settler-colonialism within Zionism is the mass displacement of and violence against indigenous Palestinians on a state-sponsored level, justified by the cause of creating a Jewish state. Additionally, the same racist sentiments that European settlers or colonists held towards indigenous Africans or Indians are encapsulated in many of Zionism’s founding thinkers’ beliefs, including those of Herzl, as indicated in his writings, and the founding of Israel occurred under the encouragement of then-current colonial powers like the U.S. and the British under the Balfour Declaration.
Orientalism and its Relevance to Consideration of Israel and Palestine
One can examine the Zionist movement within post-colonial and orientalist analysis, pioneered by writers Edward Said and Franz Fanon.
“Orientalism” refers to attitudes of Westerners towards the Orient, or the East (as opposed to the Occident, or the West). According to Orientalist theory, the West uses various constructed binaries to emphasize its own perceived differences from the East in order to justify the subjugation and exploitation of “Oriental” lands, as well as violence against the people of those lands.
According to Said, when confronted by the unknown—the Orient, for Westerners—Westerners are inclined to compartmentalize and binarize their intellectual prowess, their cultural experience, and moral capacity against those of the East, to the East’s detriment. These binarizations, even though they seem to be small-scale psychological categorizations, lead to a lack of empathy between the West and East. This will implicitly justify to the Westerner the colonization of the Easterner’s lands.
Another scholar, Frantz Fanon, wrote The Wretched of the Earth. This book covers the psychological traumas of colonization in French Algeria, and his observations of the dynamic between the colonized and the colonizers are easily universalized to other instances of colonialism. In his work, Fanon proposed that Western binarizations of the Orient came from a place of anxiety on the part of the colonizers. Specifically, the ongoing worry belonging to the colonizers that the colonized want to “take their place,” or that their hold over the colonized land is illegitimate, leads the colonizers to create hostile representations in the media that they control. They turn “the colonized into a kind of quintessence of evil,” to justify to themselves and to others that what they are doing is just. The French colonizers of Algeria created an unmistakably Orientalist binary of the moral, righteous colonizer, as opposed to the unenlightened, uncivilized indigenous people devoid of Western morals.
Arabs and Muslims are often caught in the crosshairs of Orientalist discourse. Their media representations are molded from “the web of racism, cultural stereotypes, political imperialism, [and] dehumanizing ideology” that arises inevitably from Orientalist binaries that serve to negatively “otherize” the East from the West in order to justify colonial expansion and exploitation. In Fanon’s survey of psychological belief involved in justifying colonial expansion at the expense of the indigenous populace, he noted that conceptions of the colonized stemmed only from what the colonizers chose to disseminate, which tended to be images harmful to the colonized and beneficial to the aims of the colonizers. In the Israeli case, this phenomenon would include depictions of all Palestinians as terrorists or negative influences on society, thus justifying action that Israel might take against them.
Israel’s own legitimation relies upon the legitimation of the Zionist mission to create a Jewish state in a majority-Arab land. Nurit Peled-Elhanan, a lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote about the rhetorical legitimation of Zionism in schoolbooks, and described its necessity as due to the nature of Israeli citizenship: “This is because ethnicity and not citizenship is the main determinant for the allocation of rights, power and resources in Israel. Jews who are citizens of other countries and Jewish settlers who live beyond the official border of the state have full citizenship rights while , and Palestinians from the occupied West Bank are listed as ‘state-less.’” Because Jews, by 1948, had been spread throughout a global diaspora for up to a thousand years and had undergone various levels of assimilation within their local cultures or diasporic communities, “common language and common culture and history were hardly available to the modern Jewish-Israeli nation…they had to be manufactured by education, literature, and the media, for the purpose of building a collective homogenous memory and identity.” This phenomenon makes Israel unique from other existing ethnocracies, in its goal to unite Jews with a multitude of diasporic experiences setting them apart from one another. This reality of the Jewish experience drove Israeli state-builders to new efforts of bringing the worldwide Jewish population under one identity and one narrative—a “collective memory.”
Peled-Elhanan, as well as other scholars she cites within her work, describes this building of collective memory as at odds with the goals of history. The inherently contextual nature of memory depends on “a special group in a special place.” Collective memory can be created most effectively by distinguishing one’s own group from out-groups, and one of the methods of doing so is outright antagonism towards out-groups. Official accounts stemming from those involved in creating this collective memory must categorically reject out-groups’ accounts: “Official narratives draw sharp lines between stark opposites—black and white, good and evil, true children of the land and untrue children of the land…the ethnocratic public space is formulated around a set of cultural and religious symbols…practices which tend to reinforce the narratives of the dominant ethno-national group, while silencing, degrading, or ridiculing contesting cultures or perspectives.” The creation of this black and white picture, an “us versus them” mentality within Israel, allows for a “fast and simple” creation of common collective memory for all Israeli citizens. The in-group out-group distinctions inevitably cause Orientalist binaries to enter discourses concerning Israeli identity.
In Peled-Elhanan’s inquiry into Israeli history and geography textbooks, she found three vehicles through which textbooks could craft Israel’s collective memory and delegitimize Palestinians: the erasure of Palestinians’ presence and history, the demonization of the Palestinians’ current existence, and justification of the means used to achieve an end after events such as massacres in Palestinian villages. In this paper, I study the coverage of Operation Protective Edge from the Israeli daily news site the Jerusalem Post (JP), the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) website, and the New York Times’ (NYT) website. This study aims not to verify facts presented in these news accounts, but rather to examine their discourse and rhetoric when recounting common events. I will also apply Peled-Elhanan’s three frameworks that she used to critically analyze the discourse of Israeli schoolbooks.
Carefully constructed narratives, communicated in Israel and throughout the West using mass media, further the ideologies of Israeli supremacy and of Palestinian inferiority through portrayals of Palestine and Palestinians grounded in Orientalism, as well as in colonialist policies conducive towards the erasure, dehumanization, demonization, and justification of violence against Palestinians. These strategies have continued being used in news media, evident in the coverage of the Israeli 2014 incursion into the Gaza Strip, “Operation Protective Edge,” by Western and Israeli news sources.
Previous studies and methodologies
Zvi Bekerman and Michalinos Zembylas describe four possible steps for legitimation of a state and the crystallization of collective memory: “First, they justify the outbreak of the conflict…Second, the societal beliefs of collective memory of intractable conflict present a positive image of the in-group. Third, the societal beliefs of collective memory delegitimize the opponent. Fourth, the beliefs of collective memory present one’s own society as the victim of the opponent.” In this paper, I will extend these existing frameworks of critique to interrogate news coverage during Operation Protective Edge, and how through biased coverage they assist in continuing the collective memory of the Israeli state and furthering the “Zionist grand narrative.”
Summary of Operation Protective Edge
Operation Protective Edge was an Israeli military offensive upon the Gaza Strip that started on July 7, 2014 and lasted seven weeks, ending on August 26, 2014. A situation report conducted by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs found that at least 2,131 Palestinians were killed, of whom at least 1,473 were civilians. More than 11,100 Palestinians were wounded, of whom 3,374 were children. During this same seven-week period, 71 Israelis were killed, four of whom were civilians. The operation left around 108,000 Gazans homeless, due to the destruction of 18,000 civilian housing units. Israeli military activity damaged the only power plant in Gaza, as well as the largest sewage treatment plant. 450,000 Gaza residents were unable to access municipal water systems. Throughout the Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) 2014 military actions in Gaza, according to the Institute for Middle East Understanding, which quoted Amnesty International and the Israeli news outlet Haaretz in its analysis, they used “imprecise weaponry, artillery in particular, in densely populated areas” as well as “massive and disproportionate force, including against civilian targets.” The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development released a report on September 1, 2015, which states that Gaza could become “uninhabitable” by 2020, “due to ongoing de-development, eight years of economic blockade and three military operations in the past six years.” Online news media coverage of Operation Protective Edge, as discussed in the remainder of this paper, often did not portray Palestinians and Israelis in a light reflective of the proportionality of their actions during Operation Protective Edge.
Part of crafting a collective memory for Israel’s people, erasure includes tactics of denying memories through outright omission and construing them as threatening.
Peled-Elhanan found that, in school books, a common aim appeared to be the creation of “a homogenous identity to all the Jewish ethnicities in Israel…while attempting to erase—both physically and spiritually—traces of a continuous Palestinian life on the land.” This assists a Zionist narrative seeking to make a direct link between biblical Judaea and modern-day Israel: “The cult of Jewish continuity…also includes obliterating all signs of Palestinian continuous existence on the land…means forgetting 2000 years of civilization on this land and seeing present Jewish life in Israel as a direct continuation of the biblical kingdom of Judea. The 2000 years of Jewish “absence” from the land…are literally bracketed in school books….” In the late 19th century, the phrase “A land without a people for a people without a land” was commonly used to gloss over the presence of indigenous Palestinians or render them “insignificant” to the goals of Zionism. Before and after the founding of Israel in Israeli history textbooks, “The Palestinian citizens of Israel…are practically absent from the texts, except as negative phenomena: a primitive lot which is a developmental burden or a security and demographic threat.” Many geography textbooks do not mention the internationally recognized border of Israel, instead placing Israel’s borders as stretching over the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and Gaza and even into the Jordan Valley.
Erasure is useful for furthering a Zionist narrative by rejecting other out-groups’ historical explanations or causes of their actions by placing Palestinian actions outside of the existing historical context of the people’s traumas. For instance, referencing the Nakba, or disaster, of 1948—defined by most Palestinians and other sources as the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from Palestine in 1948—by name is banned in Israeli textbooks: “The ‘nakba law’ expresses the fear prevailing in Israel, of teaching Palestinian children their own narrative lest they be given cause to grieve and would indeed try to ‘redeem’ their lost cause.”
This paper will analyze the extent to which NYT, BBC, and JP propagate systems of erasure through investigating the sourcing of articles—whether or not Palestinians are as present as Israelis in discussing narratives that affect them—as well as the coverage of deaths and casualties during Operation Protective Edge to see whether or not the disproportionate tolls of Operation Protective Edge are apparent and easily accessed by readers of these news outlets.
Dehumanization—used here as the deprivation of an actor of human qualities—can take many forms, most often through the invocation of stereotypes and other negative images. Often, the positive actions or actors within a certain group that do not fit the desired negative mold are omitted. Peled-Elhanan found some textbooks between 1994 to 2010 that even had “the most blatant comparisons of Palestinians with Nazis or the Devil.” When Palestinians are present at all within Israeli schoolbooks, they are usually “engaged in negative or problematic actions: terrorism, being refugees, working their fields with primitive tools, etc.” In general, demonization can be defined as “depicting people as the agents of actions which are held in low esteem or regarded as subservient, deviant, criminal or evil,” “showing people as homogenous groups and thereby denying them individual characteristics and differences,” and invoking “negative cultural connotations” and “negative racial stereotyping.”
The act of dehumanizing Palestinians is very much aligned with Orientalism. Demonization makes it easier for the in-group to cast out the narratives and histories of the out-group and maintain their own narratives’ dominance in media within the state and throughout the West.
Ross and Lester, in Images that Injure, defined a stereotype as something that imposes “a rigid mold on the subject,” and emphasized that it is “ultimately used to stigmatize.” Stereotypes undoubtedly contribute to demonization and dehumanization, usually because they invoke nonhuman imagery to communicate meaning: “A central, persistent and often systematic mechanism in achieving this construction of the Other…is the use of dehumanizing imagery: that consistent set of subhuman animal, insect, and disease images that circulates through media and popular culture to “mark” groups such as immigrants and racial or ethnic communities as less than human.” By comparing the out-group to a nonhuman or subhuman entity, thus “dehumanizing” them, one may find it easier to exhibit hostility towards the out-group. Peled-Elhanan noted the pervasive use of word choice surrounding Palestinians as “the Palestinian problem” or as a “demographic threat.” Ross and Lester connect the act of dehumanizing the other to creating conflict rather than resolving it: “These metaphors make us not more but significantly less safe by fostering the rage, misunderstanding, and alienation that create and foment conflict.” Stereotypical images of Palestinians within Israeli school books often include depictions of “Palestinian refugees, farmers or masked terrorists, located in no-places, nameless and timeless.” The schoolbooks that Peled-Elhanan studied also cast wide generalizations of Arabs as primitive by virtue of blood: “These statements portray the ‘Arabs’—all millions of them—as possessing by nature or by heredity these ‘negative’ qualities…it symbolizes all Arabs, as they are seen in Israeli eyes.”
In this paper, to investigate the extent to which NYT, BBC, and JP contribute to the dehumanization of Palestinians, I will look at the instances of terminology such as “terrorism” and “terrorist,” as well as the quality of images chosen to represent Israel and Palestine in news coverage of Operation Protective Edge.
Justification, or specifically the legitimation of certain measures taken as a means to a desired end no matter the cost, can be found in schoolbooks’ references to massacres throughout the history of the Israel and Palestine conflict. Even though a distinction is drawn between condoning the actions needed to bring about the end result and the endorsement of the result itself, Peled-Elhanan argues: “Its consequences are legitimated on the grounds of utility and effect.” Peled-Elhanan found that, in order to legitimate army orders or military operations that resulted in the massacre of hundreds or thousands of Palestinians, schoolbooks would report the massacres “in such a way that the negative act is counterbalanced or even rewarded by positive consequences such as victory or rescue, and the conflict between evil and good results in the victory of good, namely in positive consequences for Israel.” This legitimation a posteriori was present in Israeli history textbooks’ accounts of the Dier Yassin, Qibya, and Kaffer Kassem massacres, events in which upward of 700 Palestinian civilians altogether were killed by Jewish forces in 1948, 1953, and 1956 respectively. The textbooks also excluded important aspects of the narrative that would contribute to a well-rounded understanding of Israeli actions and their consequences; according to Peled-Elhanan, “The reports on massacres studied here omit the reasons for the killing, exclude both the immediate and the long-run consequences for the victims and any verbal or visual proof of their suffering, as well as details that may raise unnecessary questions regarding the legitimacy of Israel’s actions and goals.” In general, a media source can implicitly justify the action of one party against another by stating that the ends have justified the means, even if the potential ends were unknown when the means—in the above examples, namely the massacres of Palestinians and their expulsion from their residential villages—were first employed. Additionally, justification can also entail removing an action from the context in which it has occurred in order to make the action seem more or less acceptable, as well as leaving out any mention of consequences for the affected party.
To investigate the extent to which NYT, BBC, and JP promote this justification through their news coverage of Operation Protective Edge, I will look at the content of headlines and leads and compare how often a side takes on the role of aggressor versus the role of a respondent to aggression.
Past News Media Research
Other researchers have interrogated the sources I plan on investigating for various related aspects of biased coverage, and their findings in general reflected my own.
The Jerusalem Post
Founded in 1932, The Jerusalem Post is a broadsheet newspaper that also maintains an online presence at jpost.com. The Jerusalem Post is an English and French-language Israeli daily news source that claims to be the most widely read Israeli news source and to have a readership of over seven million monthly visits, along with 22 million monthly page views.
A 1998 dissertation written by Hala Habal of Baylor University found that, during coverage of Syrian-Israeli relations during the 1990s, the Jerusalem Post had more attributions to Israeli and official Israeli sources as compared to attributions to Arab sources and official Arab sources. Additionally, in the dissertation “Settling the Dispute or Disputing the Settlements: Representations of the Disengagement Plan in the ‘Jerusalem Post,’” Reisa Klein argued that the newspaper “works discursively to privilege Zionist and state hegemonic ideologies. Further, the Jerusalem Post reifies an Orientalist trope in which Palestinians are constructed as ‘Other’ and figured outside of the demos and public debate” in its coverage of settlement disengagement plans in the early 2000s.
The NYT is one of the leading daily print and online news sources in American journalism. From 2012 to 2013, the NYT had an approximate average total circulation of 1,865,318 and a digital readership of 1,133,923. Richard Falk and Howard Friel investigated the NYT’s reporting on Israel and Palestine from 2000 to 2005 and concluded that “[F]rom 29 September 2000 to 31 December 2005 the Times published about fifty front page articles on Palestinian suicide bombings and other terrorist acts, in addition to twenty-five articles on Palestinian terrorism reported elsewhere in the front section . . . In contrast, there was much less emphasis in the Times on the far more numerous Israeli killings of Palestinians in the occupied territories during this same period.” In the same time period, four times as many Palestinians were killed, and seven times as many children.
In another study from the journal International Security, Jerome Slater compared the levels of nuance and criticism of coverage of Israel and Palestine within The NYT and the highly-respected Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Slater found that the NYT often “downplayed the devastating consequences of the occupation” by focusing typical news stories on “practical costs” to Israel: “its loss of international support, the impending ‘demographic problem’ (i.e., the concern that the Arabs will become a majority, forcing Israel to choose between being a Jewish or a democratic state), and the like.” Moreover, NYT’s stories often decontextualized Palestinian violence outside of the Israeli occupation, put forth a de-emphasis of the differences in scale and motivation for Israeli and Palestinian violence, and when critical of Israeli violence often also put forth semi-justifications for its actions. Furthermore, Mohamad Elmasry’s content analysis of the NYT side by side with the Chicago Tribune resulted in similar findings that the two sources “framed Israeli-Palestinian conflict violence in such a way as to legitimate Israeli killings by implicitly justifying Israeli violence and assigning more prominence to the Israeli perspective.”
America offers the largest amounts of the foreign aid it gives out to Israel, totaling up to over $100 billion since 1949, and Israel remains the United States’ closest ally in the Middle East. As a result, maintaining good PR relations with the United States government and populace is vital for Israel’s legitimation on the world stage. In Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land, journalism professor Robert Jensen discusses specifically the “public relations front” that Israel must maintain, especially in the United States: “To ensure continued support for Israel’s occupation… you could say that in addition to the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel is also involved in an attempt to ideologically occupy the American media.” Jensen pointed to a quote from a speech given by Alon Pinkas, Council General for Israel in New York and the Co-coordinator for Israel’s PR efforts: “We are currently in a conflict with the Palestinians, and engaging in a successful PR campaign is part of winning the conflict.”
The claim that Israel has managed to do so entirely is ludicrous. However, there’s no questioning the clout of pro-Israel voices in American life. Because of America’s continuous foreign aid and military support to Israel, American news media’s coverage of Israeli military actions and the occupation is very much worth investigation. As a democracy, America’s foreign policy is determined, to some extent, directly and indirectly by the general populace, which is informed a great deal by American news outlets, such as the NYT.
British Broadcasting Corporation
The British Broadcasting Corporation, founded in 1929, expanded its presence onto the internet in 1999. The public company is the largest and oldest broadcasting corporation in Britain, and also has a considerable international presence; in December 2012, its website bbc.co.uk reached 45.8 million unique users a week.
In the past, the BBC has come under fire from various critics, notably a JP correspondent to London who decried the news service for its “portrayal of Israel as a demonic, criminal state,” while other studies have been conducted that show the opposite to be true. Hanadi El Tuhani’s 2003 dissertation comparing BBC’s coverage of the second Palestinian intifada with the American news source CNN’s found that both news sources “indirectly assisted in maintaining the status quo, U.S. hegemony, by narrowing the news source list and focusing on the more sensationalistic aspects of the conflict. In so doing, they deflected attention away from important issues of historical and political significance that, if told, would offer a different and more illuminating interpretation of events.” The Glasgow University Media Group also carried out a separate three-year study of the BBC and other TV news coverage of Israel and Palestine in the early 2000s. In Bad News from Israel, the research “makes the scientifically based case that the main news and current affairs programmes…are failing to tell us the real story and the reasons behind it. They use a distorted lens. The result is that the Israelis have identity, existence, a story the viewer understands. The Palestinians are anonymous, alien, their personalities and their views buried under their burden of plight and the vernacular of ‘terror’.”
I intend to analyze the degree to which the above findings remain true in present-day coverage by measuring the extent of erasure, dehumanization, and justification of violence occurring in selected articles during Operation Protective Edge in the BBC, NYT, and JP.
Results and Analysis of Selected Articles
This paper analyzes 105, 119, and 124 respective BBC, NYT, and JP articles published during Operation Protective Edge and concerning Operation Protective Edge. For each article, the number of Palestinian, Israeli, and “neutral” sources were tallied. The articles were then organized by day of coverage, and the percentage of Palestinian sources out of the total number of sources consulted on each day of coverage were graphed.
Fig. 1: The BBC percentage of Palestinian sources used out of total sources used in a day’s online written news coverage of Operation Protective Edge. 103 BBC news stories were considered.
Fig. 2: The NYT percentage of Palestinian sources used out of total sources used in a day’s online written news coverage of Operation Protective Edge. 118 NYT news stories were considered.
Fig. 3: The JP’s percentage of Palestinian sources used out of total sources used in a day’s online written news coverage of Operation Protective Edge. 122 BBC news stories were considered.
The BBC used Palestinian sources the most out of the three news sources: Palestinian sources were used around 45 percent of the time, and most of the days of reporting fell close to or around the 50 percent line. The NYT had a similar total percentage of around 44 percent, while the JP only had around 26 percent of all sources cited or quoted coming from Palestinian voices. On the whole, however, the vast majority of all JP and NYT reporting on each day of Operation Protective Edge still have percentages that fall below the 50 percent line.
The significance of these statistics lies in the fact that Palestinians’ voices are less present in narratives about events that directly involve and concern them. Palestinians’ inability to advocate for themselves contributes to one-dimensional, overly simplistic, and usually negative portrayals of Palestinians within media, as Israeli assertions about the nature or actions of Palestinians, as well as Israelis’ own actions, often go unchallenged. The lack of Palestinians’ voices thus facilitates dehumanization or demonization and justification of aggression towards Palestinians, further illegitimating them and their struggle.
Dehumanization of Palestinians: Vocabulary Choices
Fig. 4: The number of instances that each news outlet applied “terror” or “terror”-derived words in describing actors, actions, or locations. The same number of articles for each source were surveyed as in the graphs counting sources.
The vocabulary attributed to actors on Israeli and Palestinians sides were also examined. The first term (or set of terms) was the word or prefix “terror,” including derivative words (i.e. “terrorist,” “terrorism”). Attribution of these words to Palestinians or Palestinian infrastructure (e.g. “Three terrorist casualties” or “Terror targets” or “Using terror”) as well as to Israelis or Israeli infrastructure were calculated and compared.
JP used “terror” and related terms the most liberally, with around 225 instances of these derived words being attributed solely to Palestinians (“terrorist”) or Palestinian-sourced structures or actions (“terror attacks,” “terror targets” struck by the IDF). The NYT and the BBC also used these words to refer to Palestinian-affiliated subjects most of all, though in one article the NYT notably used “terror” to refer to an Israeli’s kidnapping and burning of a Palestinian teenager from the West Bank. When referring to Israeli acts of violence, the vast majority of all three news sources preferred to use other terminologies, namely “extremism” in the case of the kidnapping of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, as well as other more “military” terms related to Israeli operations in Gaza.
When Israel leveled an eleven-story, inhabited apartment building in Gaza City and bombed a crowded civilian marketplace in the Shejaia massacre with many civilian casualties, no “terror”-related epithets were attributed. However, as the data points out for Hamas’ less targeted and less impactful attacks (four Israeli civilians died over the course of the entire summer-long operation), if Palestinians were able to commit such acts with the accuracy and the same disproportionate toll on Israelis then “terror” would surely be one of the first words used to describe the perpetrators in news media. “Terror” as a word irrationalizes the perpetrators of the actions being described and removes them from the context of the rising and wholly disproportionate loss of Palestinian lives, as well as the indignities of living under continuous Israeli occupation and permanently remaining second- or third-class citizens of the land.
Fig. 5: The number of instances that the term “soldier” was applied to actors of one side or another during online written news coverage of Operation Protective Edge. The same number of articles for each source were surveyed as in previous graphs.
Fig. 6: The number of instances that each news outlet applied the word “militant” in describing actors on one side or another. The same number of articles for each source were surveyed as in the graphs counting sources.
The next word usage looked at was the frequency and recipients of the terms “soldier” versus “militant.” Each of these terms was entirely applied to Israeli actors and Palestinian actors, respectively—no Israeli actor was ever referred to as a “militant,” and no Palestinian actor was ever referred to as a “soldier.” The dictionary defines militant as “combative and aggressive in support of a political or social cause, and typically favoring extreme, violent, or confrontational methods,” whereas a soldier is merely “a person who serves in an army.”
Overall, Peled-Elhanan similarly found that aggressive, “irrational” vocabulary was used when describing Palestinians’ actions or Palestinian individuals. In the case of textbooks, she asserts that “Israel ‘reacts to Arab hostility,’ performs ‘operations’ in their midst, and executes ‘punitive deterring actions’ against Palestinian terror, while the ‘Arabs’ murder Israelis, commit terror actions against Israel, take revenge and use what they call their suffering in anti-Israeli propaganda.”
In order to see the extent to which the aforementioned news outlets justified disproportionate Israeli military activity, I looked at leads and headlines. I studied the extent to which they posited one side as responding to the other side’s attacks and the other as the aggressor. In these graphs, each entry along the x-axis indicates that this group was shown to be the aggressor in the article.
Fig. 6: A count of the JP’s headlines and leads that posited one side or the other as the aggressor.
Fig. 7: A count of the NYT’s headlines and leads that posited one side or the other as the aggressor.
Fig. 8: A count of the BBC’s headlines and leads that posited one side or the other as the aggressor.
As stated previously, the aim of this paper is not to verify that one “side” of the debate over who attacked first or who started what is more correct than the other—rather, I focus on the discrepancy between the three news sources over who the “aggressor” actually was. In the JP, Palestinians are disproportionately more likely to be portrayed as the aggressor in the headlines and ledes, whereas in the NYT or BBC, either both sides or neither of the sides were portrayed as such in both headlines and ledes. When a side was portrayed as the aggressor, the NYT was more likely to put Palestinians in that position in their headlines, whereas the leads ever so slightly leant on the other direction. The BBC, however, had the opposite inclinations, with Israelis overshadowing Palestinians as the aggressors slightly in headlines, and then more so in the stories’ leads.
Peled-Elhanan similarly found in textbooks that, especially in cases of disproportionate Israeli violence, context is used to legitimate Israeli aggression or military action. In one example of a textbook’s retelling of the Dier Yassin massacre, or as the book refers to it, the Dier Yassin “affair” or “episode,” the textbook begins with “’the dreadful, cruel, and bloodthirsty massacres by Arabs of [Jewish people]’ in order to counterbalance the negative impression created by the Dier Yassin episode…in this context, the Dier Yassin ‘affair’…is made to seem absolutely justified according to Israeli norms of deterrence and revenge.” Even as the casualties of Operation Protective Edge continued to be stacked far higher on the Palestinian side, in the JP as a whole and in the NYT’s headlines, Palestinians were portrayed disproportionately as the aggressor, implicitly justifying the disproportionate Israeli response — even as other news outlets, even such as the BBC, do not frame events in such a manner.
In-depth Analysis of Three Representative Articles
On July 7 and 8, the JP, the NYT, and the BBC published news articles concerning the escalation of conflict between Israel and Hamas towards the beginning of Operation Protective Edge.
The BBC chooses Hamas rockets as its news peg for the article, chronicling the back and forth of rockets and airstrikes that followed, and then expanding the focus to discuss the deaths of three Israeli teens in the previous month and the death of a Palestinian teen following that. The article lists a report from Hamas that nine Palestinians, including a woman and two children, and five of its fighters were killed because of Israeli airstrikes and explosives, and a quote from Lt. Lerner of the IDF not taking responsibility for the deaths of the five fighters. The IDF itself is quoted justifying its airstrikes as hitting “terror sites,” and Hamas is quoted again describing airstrikes on its own fighters. The focus shifts to internal Israeli politics, including Netanyahu’s condolences to the family of slain Palestinian teenager Khdeir. The article ends with Israeli authorities claiming to have arrested six suspects in Khdeir’s case, while also naming two Hamas operatives as responsible for killing three Israeli teenagers in the previous month, which Hamas denied.
In total, the BBC article uses ten Israeli sources compared to seven Palestinian sources. 398 words of the 550-word article are given to coverage of the Israeli side of events, while the remainder goes to Hamas sources. Israelis also see multiple facets of their society represented and quoted in this article, including the internal political front in the interplay between Lieberman and Netanyahu, as well as liberally quoting the visibly human Netanyahu on his condolences towards the Palestinian family affected by Israeli extremism. The Palestinian health ministry is quoted once, and all Hamas spokesmen remain unnamed. The only time a Palestinian civilian is quoted is at the very end of the article, when Khdeir’s family asserts their belief that Khdeir’s death was a revenge killing.
The article posits Israel as responding to Palestinian aggression, and only goes so far back as the deaths of three kidnapped Israeli teens in giving historical context for the aggression between Gaza and Israel.
The quality of images selected for this article showcases a variety of angles in which this story is covered, with civilian scenes of mourning, shots of the physical effects of Israeli airstrikes, and shots of the militaries of both sides. The video still of the airstrike on Gaza that starts the article bears a caption related to Gazan aggression rather than Israeli aggression, which would more accurately suit the photograph. Additional shots include a still from a video covering the mourning tent for Khdeir set up in Shufat, and a photograph of an emotional Palestinian funeral at the Bureij Refugee Camp. However, the dead Palestinians are unnamed and relegated to “militant” status by the photo caption. Another photograph immediately follows that image, showing armed Hamas fighters walking down the street, with the caption of “Militants in Gaza have stepped up rocket attacks on Israel in recent weeks,” as if to cast aside Palestinian mourning at once. The commonality of the usage of “militant” in both photos serves to implicitly link the two photos in readers’ consciousness, as if justifying the deaths of the two militants above because of a threatening-looking photo like the one below. A lone Israeli fighter is featured in the next image, sitting in a tank, with the caption of “The Israeli military has sent reinforcements to the frontier with Gaza.” The juxtaposition of this image with the above image of the line of Hamas fighters gives an inaccurate sense of scale of the conflict, in which Israeli forces hugely outnumber Gazan forces. The variety of these chosen photographs are undercut by the biased quality of the caption-writing, which contextualize the photographs in a pro-Israeli way.
All in all, the number of Palestinian sources is nearly but not quite equivalent to that of Israeli sources used in this article, though the number of words given to the Israeli side of the article vastly outweighs words given to the Palestinian side. Hamas and the Palestinian people in general remain faceless and nonhuman, only quoted when the article refers to military activities. Additionally, the use of photojournalism in this article furthers the demonization of the Palestinian side, while the ahistorical lack of context relegates Palestinians to the position of “aggressor” with Israel only “responding” to Hamas’ rockets.
The NYT article bears the headline “Israel and Hamas Trade Attacks as Tension Rises” and was published on July 8, 2014. The news peg of this article is Hamas claiming responsibility for rocket fire on over 40 targets with no injuries or damage, which prompted Israel to conduct more airstrikes and call up 40,000 reserve soldiers. For historical context, the NYT starts a little further back with the “collapse of American-sponsored peace talks” and the attempts at a Palestinian coalition government. Palestinians are quoted referring to 23 dead from airstrikes, and Israelis claimed two were wounded on their side. There is some elaboration on the background, which now only extends to the kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli teenagers followed by the one Palestinian teenager. Israeli military representatives are quoted giving details about Hamas rocket fire as well as the “150 targets” that the Israeli military struck in response. Following that, the article quotes authorities in Gaza on the death count from the Israeli strikes, which killed two teenagers targeting the civilian homes of “Hamas members and officials.” A Health ministry spokesman and President Abbas are quoted against Israeli strikes, followed by many different Israeli officials rationalizing Israeli actions. Israeli civilians from Sderot are also quoted alongside Gazan civilians, describing day to day life. The article quoting a member of the Khdeir family rejecting the government’s condolences but accepting the 350 anti-settlement Israelis that came to mourn at the Khdeir home.
The narrative of Hamas as the primary aggressor and Israel as a respondent is reinforced continuously throughout the article, beginning with the lead, “with Israel carrying out extensive air attacks in response to heavy rocket fire” and continuing with “…the barrage of rockets…put pressure on the Israeli government to respond with greater force.” This statement implicitly and inaccurately characterizes Hamas rockets as more dangerous than they actually are, as they struck mostly empty areas with barely any injuries and no casualties. With Israel’s state of the art military, it is rather pressure from the political and public sphere, such as the accusations from Lieberman of Israel’s response not being hardline enough toward Gaza, that heightened Israeli military activity toward Gaza.
The headline for this article indicates a “trade” of attacks, as if the scale and proportionality on each side are equivalent. The article dedicates 446 words out of the total 1444 in the article to Palestinian sources and events, whereas the remaining 998 go to Israeli sources indirectly and directly quoted as well as a narration of day-to-day events in Israel. The article liberally describes the impact of Hamas rockets on Israeli consciousness while leaving out any mention of the effects of Israeli airstrikes on the Gazan civilian population until the last paragraphs.
The first image in the article is a shot of Gaza City post-airstrike, though readers’ reactions to this image is tempered by the one-sided sourcing of an Israeli official that claimed that this strike fell on a military target. The next photograph is a video still titled “‘Cutting the Grass’ of Hamas’ Militancy,” a misleading title due to the fact that it invokes “Hamas’ Militancy” by providing a photograph of Gaza itself under attack, reflecting Israel’s militancy as opposed to Hamas’. Following that, a map that the NYT compiled from statistics provided by both the IDF and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights shows locations where rockets from Hamas and airstrikes from Israel have landed; once again, this map fails to show the difference in scale and strength when comparing Hamas’ rockets and Israel’s disproportionate response, as well as the capacity given by the Iron Dome defense system as well as bomb shelters to protect Israel and Israelis from rockets, whereas Gazans have, as this article describes later, a five-minute warning before civilian homes are struck. An image of Palestinian civilians salvaging belongings from their destroyed home does indicate the scale of the devastation brought down upon Gazan citizens. An image of a lone Israeli tank and a video still of Gazans mourning the body of a dead fighter end the article’s photojournalism. In general, the quality of images in this article misrepresent the scale of Hamas attacks while downplaying the effects of Israeli airstrikes, painting an inaccurate picture of a level playing field between Hamas and Israel.
The third and final article analyzed comes from the JP, published on July 7, 2014 with the headline “IAF strikes Gaza underground rocket launchers, terror tunnel amid heavy rocket fire.” The article opens with an account of Israeli airstrikes on “targets in the Gaza Strip” in response to “heavy rocket fire” on communities in the Negev region. The number of rockets and the places they “pounded” are then recounted, as well as the military targets that the IDF struck in response. Unnamed Palestinians are quoted as saying a boy was “moderately injured,” and then the IDF claims to have struck a tunnel aimed at “carrying out a terror attack against Israeli civilians.” The article gives more detail about the “targets in Gaza” that Israeli airstrikes have hit, and mentions nine “terrorists” killed. Though Hamas claims in the article that all were dead at the result of Israeli airstrikes, an IDF representative is quoted directly afterward arguing that they were mistakenly killed after triggering explosives in a tunnel. According to the source, five rocket launchers and a terrorist cell were targeted by the IDF in Gaza. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri is quoted threatening Israel, and the article ends by mentioning a mortar shell coming from the Golan Heights, to which Israel responded with shooting.
The article quotes or mentions five Palestinian sources to seven Israeli sources, but the Israeli side is given weight in this article, as Palestinians have 105 words to 355 words given to Israeli-side events and sources. The language throughout this article posits Hamas as the primary and only aggressor, as well as constantly describing the targets struck by Israel as only military targets, even as this fact is not corroborated by Palestinian health authorities and other news organizations like the BBC and the NYT reporting on the ground. The context of the civilian death count resulting from Israeli airstrikes is also missing, while Hamas rockets are described in great detail, misleading readers about which side is militarily the most impactful. All in all, within the text of the article is a singular pro-Israeli viewpoint that demonizes and dehumanizes Gazans as aggressors in this situation in order to justify further military action.
The images in the article’s slideshow include an Israeli policeman removing a rocket, various shots of Israeli soldiers celebrating and walking, an Israeli tank, an Israeli launching a drone, more Israeli tanks, Israeli soldiers walking, a shot of Gaza City from afar with smoke rising from it, an Iron Dome rocket launcher, a tunnel from Gaza, and a soldier holding a rifle in a dark area. There are no images of Palestinian people, just Gaza City from afar, thus erasing human Palestinian presence in the narrative. Israeli soldiers are shown exhibiting a variety of emotions, including joy and determination, humanizing the Israeli soldiers on display and establishing empathy in the readers’ eyes towards Israeli soldiers. Israeli soldiers become familiar and human to the reader, while Palestinians either become absent entirely, relegated to an unimportant status in this story, or they become the menacing, faceless collective “Hamas.” The article overall posits a very one-sided recollection of events on July 7.
Conclusions and Suggestions for Further Study
This survey of online news coverage of Operation Protective Edge found that news coverage from Western and Israeli sources fulfills Peled-Elhanan’s three-pronged framework for describing the Palestinian people, using erasure, demonization, and justification.
The Israeli Jerusalem Post contained the most instances of each of these strategies in its writing, while the other surveyed publications followed behind. Of the three “prongs” of Peled-Elhanan’s framework for media analysis, “demonization” was the most clearly illustrated, with the disproportionate use of varying vocabularies upon actors of one side as opposed to another. The results from this study reinforce what Peled-Elhanan found in Israeli textbooks from the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first century.
Ultimately, the nature of media coverage of Palestinians reflects back on colonial anxieties as theorized by Franz Fanon and Edward Said. Zionism as a form of settler-colonialism required the gathering of a single community on the basis of ethnicity and religion from communities all around the world, which had spent thousands of years assimilating into local cultures through the diaspora. This new community thus lacked a common narrative and memory, which then had to be fabricated in order for it to become a cohesive people. With the inherent instability of a colonizers’ hold over the colonized, a collective memory had to be formed in a way that justified and legitimized the state of Israel as well as its actions against Palestinians. This formation of memory utilized the compartmentalization and binarization of Said’s theory of Orientalism in order to otherize Palestinians, as well as the tactics of demonization that the colonizers used upon the colonized. The legacy of these tactics has continued into the modern day, with Israeli aggression, military strategies, and expansion of settlements into occupied territories being offset by media representations of Palestinians that serve to legitimize the Israeli cause and a Zionist narrative of Israeli righteousness.
Problematic media representations of Palestinians compromise hope for diplomatic successes in lifting the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade on Gaza or in granting Palestinians true autonomy, as the representations permit Israel to impose its will with the help of the US as an ally unchecked by public opinion. As Palestinians grow frustrated with the status quo, they are bound to protest the occupation by many means, and Israel will once again respond with disproportionate force, thus perpetuating the cycle of military operation after military operation against the Palestinian people. Likewise, more equitable media representations of Palestinians would encourage people from the other side to see Palestinians in a three-dimensional light, as a people struggling for survival and autonomy and resisting settler-colonialism. These equitable portrayals could help in fostering empathic connections that Orientalist binaries and compartmentalizations tend to take away, and in turn assist in finding meaningful peace for this conflict.
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 Ibid., 6.
 Said, Orientalism, 27.
 Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 14.
 Nurit Peled-Elhanan, Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education, paperback ed. (London, UK: LB Tauris, 2012), 1.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 4.
 Ibid., 5.
 Zvi Bekerman and Michalinos Zembylas, “Fearful Symmetry: Palestinian and Jewish Teachers Confront Contested Narratives in Integrated Bilingual Education,”Teaching and Teacher Education 26, no. 3 (April 2010): 507, accessed February 7, 2016, doi:10.1016/j.tate.2009.06.010.
 Peled-Elhanan, Palestine in Israeli School, 6.
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 Peled-Elhanan, Palestine in Israeli School, 15.
 Ibid., 9.
 Ibid., 16.
 Ibid., 121.
 Ibid., 16.
 Ibid., 69.
 Ibid., 72.
 Ibid., 71.
 Susan Dente Ross and Paul Martin Lester, Images That Injure: Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2011), 43.
 Peled-Elhanan, Palestine in Israeli School, 65.
 Ross and Lester, Images That Injure: Pictorial, 53.
 Peled-Elhanan, Palestine in Israeli School, 69.
 Nurit Peled-Elhanan, “Legitimation of Massacres in Israeli School History Books,” Discourse and Society 21, no. 4 (2010): 382, accessed April 4, 2016, SAGE Journals Online.
 Ibid., 390.
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 Habal, “A Content Analysis of ‘the,” 2.
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 Howard Friel and Richard A. Falk, Israel-Palestine on Record (London: Verso, 2007), 25-26.
 Jerome Slater, “Muting the Alarm over the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: The New York Times versus Haaretz, 2000–06,” International Security 32, no. 2 (2007: 96, Project MUSE.
 Ibid., 97.
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 Peled-Elhanan, Palestine in Israeli School, 285.
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