Western media has been struggling to question the Israeli narrative when it comes to conflict and perspective.
By Charlotte Silver
The worst time to try to grasp a political conflict is during a military confrontation. And yet, it is only at such times that the US media covers the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.
On November 20, one day before the ceasefire was reached between Palestinians and Israelis and eight days after Israel broke the prior truce by assassinating Ahmed Jabari, Gary Rudoren, the husband of the New York Times‘ Jerusalem Bureau Chief, Jodi Rudoren, disbosomed himself of his anxieties about seeing his wife enter the fray of F-16 and drone strikes on Gaza: “We’ve been in Israel for five months now. It’s been in my head since the beginning that at some point there would be a need for her to cover a situation.”
It was a rare instance of honesty – even if inadvertent – for the Times. Mr Rudoren unapologetically conceded that Ms Rudoren had been absent in covering the ongoing “situation” in Palestine.
One can only wonder what the Jerusalem Chief for the US paper of record had been up to since she replaced the problematic Ethan Bronner, introduced herself on Twitter and set up housekeeping in the West Jerusalem home that was stolen from the family of noted author Ghada Karmi, a family that was forced to flee during the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948.
Eye on Gaza
Rudoren turned her attention to Gaza when she arrived – like most foreign journalists – in the middle of the recent violent attack. Her dispatches read more like postcards back home from a witless tourist who happened to land in the midst of a conflict zone and whose casual racism – while unsavory – is not surprising given her sheltered and uninformed background. But Jodi Rudoren is not your racist neighbour or family member and should not be uninformed; she is the Jerusalem Bureau Chief of the paper of record – a paper reaffirming itself as willing to trade in overt racism where Palestinians and Arabs are concerned.
Of repugnant note: In writing about the funeral of the al-Dalu family, of which 12 members were killed in Gaza, Rudoren coolly inserts her own orientalist fantasies of Palestinians: “But the tone [of the funeral], far more fundamentalist than funereal, was also a potent sign of the culture of martyrdom that pervades this place, and the numbness that many here have developed to death and destruction after years of cross-border conflict.”
While Rudoren has attempted to qualify and soften her outrageous commentary on Palestinian lives in response to pointed criticism, she had already exposed the racist and condescending position from which she views Palestinians.
In her lack of respect or empathy for Palestine, Rudoren is not all that different from other US commentators on the Israeli assault on Gaza Strip. US mainstream media largely ignore the reality of life for Palestinians – whether in Gaza, the West Bank or the diaspora – until there is a surge in violence or an attack on Israelis. The ongoing suffering and losses experienced by Palestinians at the hands of the Zionist state is simply not discussed.
While the callow and callous nature of Rudoren’s words is appalling, any exposés on death, grief and destruction are of little real value when they appear in a newspaper that has done nothing to clear the fog of the “intractable conflict” that leads people on all sides of the political spectrum to throw up their hands and conclude the situation is just a big “mess”.
The NYT is not alone. The New Yorker book-ended its coverage of the carnage with two pieces by militant Israelis cheerleading Netanyahu’s crackdown on Hamas. Introducing the recent escalation in bloodshed on November 16, Avi Issacharof congratulated Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for proving that he is not a man of restraint. And on November 21, Ari Shavit commented on the ceasefire, saying, “It also proved that when Israel manifests sanity, some of its neighbours respond with sanity, too.” This was after he established the “context” in which Israel launched “Operation Pillar of Defence”:
“For after Israel tried occupying Gaza and tried peace in Gaza and tried unilateralism in Gaza and tried brutality in Gaza we learned that nothing works in Gaza. With more than a million and a half inhabitants squeezed into a hundred and forty square miles of despair, Gaza has no solution, at least none based in reality. Gaza contains within it all the poison of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For Gaza is not merely a place. It is where all the sins of the Jewish national movement and all the sins of the Palestinian national movement have created an unbearable human condition that forms the bile duct of the Middle East.”
The New Yorker also published three articles critical of Israel’s assault on Gaza and to its credit two of them were written by Palestinians, including prominent political analyst Yousef Munayyer. Again, one has to question how much impact these worthy articles can have toward achieving clarity in the highly biased atmosphere the magazine has established. Earlier this year, The New Yorker published a seven-page feature on Meir Dagan, former head of Mossad, as well as a blatantly propagandistic fiction piece by a former Israeli soldier that blames Palestinians when Israeli soldiers shoot them.
In The New Republic, Nathan Brown places his hope for “peace” as dependent on Hamas’ ability to “transform” itself into – presumably – the equivalent of the West Bank’s domesticated (read: quisling) Palestinian Authority. The magazine had given space on November 16 to Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi to introduce the “current round of fighting” as a result of the non-existent “peace process”, and lament that fighting would distract voters in the upcoming Israeli elections from important domestic issues.
The Atlantic served up Jeffrey Goldberg’s plea to his American readers that they not compare the number of dead Palestinians and Israelis, but rather assess the differing “intentions” between Israeli strikes and Hamas’ rockets. “The Israeli body count isn’t low because Hamas is trying to minimise Israeli casualties. Quite the opposite: Hamas’s intention is to kill as many Israelis as possible.”
In other words, he’d like the American public to not only disregard the reality of what occurs when Israel bombards one of the most densely populated places on earth, but also be the judges of thoughts, which can be divined by utilising the wise principle of the United States’ radicalisation theory that identifies “being Muslim” as the second step to becoming a terrorist.
Slate Magazine‘s two articles included Dahlia Lithwick’s paean to the 1979 Camp David Accords between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, contrasting it with today’s “mess”; and William Salaten – channelling Alan Dershowitz – putting the blame for the escalation squarely on Hamas (and Egypt) and arguing that Israel only strikes military targets.
The US media intentionally ignores unambiguous Israeli policies pertinent to the ongoing conflict such as the Dahiya doctrine and the policy of preemption, which was presciently explored by Andrew Bacevich in his November article for Harper’s Magazine. As talk of “intentions” regarding attacks on civilians consumes media coverage of the recent escalation, any reasonable discussion must include this information.
The Dahiya doctrine refers to an Israeli “security” tactic to target and destroy civilian life so as to deter resistance. In the words of the 2009 Goldstone Report, the Dahiya doctrine involves “The application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure and suffering to civilian populations.”
Lest anyone forgot this explicit policy of targeting civilian infrastructure, Israeli Interior Minister, Eli Yishai helpfully reiterated it on November 17: “The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.”
And despite that policy being on flagrant display yet again during the eight day bombardment of Gaza, with police stations, media centres, banks, a football stadium, as well as the buildings of the ministry of culture and education and homes being decimated, “Dahiya” does not make an appearance in US coverage. The press is largely silent about these policies.
The failure of the US press to adequately cover Israeli militarism clearly extends to American militarism as well. The massive Israeli arms arsenal is primarily provided by US indebted coffers. Moreover, President Barak Obama tempted Netanyahu to accept the offer of the ceasefire on the table by promising to increase military assistance to Israel, help prevent arms smuggling into Gaza, and fund more Iron Dome and anti-missile systems.
Acknowledging these realities in its coverage of Palestine would afford the press the ability as well as the compunction to scrutinise and challenge the talking points put forth by the Israeli government and military during times of violent onslaught. Therefore, it’s unlikely that these realities will be acknowledged any time soon.
Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in San Francisco and the West Bank. She is a graduate of Stanford University. Follow her on Twitter: @CharEsilver