Rosheen Noushad has completed her Bachelors in Social Sciences from Bahria University, Islamabad. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in development studies from SZABIST, Islamabad.
The escalation of violence in the Israel-Palestine conflict commenced in May 2021 and caused hundreds of people to lose their lives, the majority being Palestinians. Different news media outlets have given coverage to the Israel-Palestine conflict. The purpose of this paper is to compare different news media outlets and analyze how they portray the current ongoing Israel-Palestine crisis and what is their agenda behind it.
The paper is based on qualitative research and compares four news media outlets—namely BBC News, Al Jazeera, The Times of India, and The New York Times. This is done to analyze how they represent the ongoing crisis. The analysis showed how language is used as a tool in representing the conflict and that BBC News, The New York Times, and The Times of India showed their support for Israel in subtle ways.
The Israel-Palestine conflict is an ongoing conflict that has been going on for a hundred years. After World War I, Britain took control over the area which was known as Palestine. It had an Arab majority and a Jewish minority at that time. Britain was tasked by the international community to set up a “national home” for the Jewish people in Palestine. But it was claimed by both the Jews and Arabs that Palestine was their land.
During the 1920s-1940s, a lot of Jewish people fled to Palestine to escape the Holocaust. However, that provoked the Arabs living there, which led to violence between the Arabs, Jews, and the British. The United Nations voted for Palestine to be split into two states, one belonging to the Arabs and the other to the Jews.
The holy land of Jerusalem was decided to become an international city. This plan was accepted by the Jews but rejected by the Arabs. The problem couldn’t be solved so in 1948, the British left. After they left, the Jewish leaders created the “State of Israel” which caused a war to break out between the two countries. The war was tragic for the Palestinians; it forced thousands of them to flee the country.
In 1967, The Six-Day War took place, leading Israel to capture the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and other Arab territories. Many Palestinian refugees live in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel does not allow them to return to their country because it fears that their arrival would threaten the existence of a Jewish state.
Hamas—a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist organization—has been governing Gaza since 2007. It has battled Israel countless times. The Palestinians claim that Israel’s actions are making them suffer, while Israel claims that it is only taking action to protect its people from Palestinian violence.
In April 2021, Israel attempted to evict Palestinians from East Jerusalem and on 10th May 2021, the Israeli police forces raided the Palestinian worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque. Israeli soldiers entered and shot tear gas and rubber bullets at the worshippers. Israel carried out airstrikes on Gaza, and Hamas countered with rockets back at Israel. The violence, and the outbreak of fighting between Palestine and Israel, was sparked by Israel’s controversial actions in Jerusalem.
When it comes to media coverage and news reporting of the Israel-Palestine conflict, news outlets choose to construct their own versions of events, which would prove beneficial to their interests and their agendas. Every news outlet molds the event in such a way that it befits its plan.
The research questions that this study will seek answers for are:
- What is the stance behind BBC News’s and Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the recent escalation of violence in Israel and Palestine?
- How can language and the selection of words by any news media can depict their agenda behind the coverage of the conflict?
- What is the stance behind The Times of India and The New York Times’s portrayal of the recent Israel-Palestine conflict?
This paper is based on qualitative research and will incorporate a comparison of BBC News, Al-Jazeera, The Times of India, and The New York Times. Their news articles and the headlines of the news channels will be critically analyzed to find the different agendas and stances behind their coverage of the recent Israel-Palestine conflict.
This is the era in which the best-trained minds have made it their business to get inside the public’s head. Their objective is to manipulate, exploit and control their minds. The persuasive messages of the media are intended to create confusion in the minds of the public (Soules, 2015). There has always been disagreement over the content of media, and it has always been accused of having hidden messages and being an agenda-driven medium.
It has been used as a propaganda tool and the manipulation of information is done to influence the public’s opinion (Mass Media and its Messages, n.d). Propaganda should be condemned as it is inappropriate speech and misleads the general population. Government-run media should be abolished, and public service media should be established instead (Propaganda and Freedom of the Media, 2015).
According to Weaver and Choi (2017), the news media agenda is influenced by certain factors—journalistic norms, news sources, other media, and media audiences. The news media agenda is a product of the joint influences of these factors. People rely on media to learn about the world beyond our reach.
Everything that the world knows about wars and political campaigns is based on what the media wants the world to know. The news media gives priority to the news that it considers worthy and significant. These priorities then become the priorities of the general public and policymakers (Valenzuela & Mccombs, 2019).
The public relies on news media to get objective information, but particular ideologies are propagated to the public through that media. The mass media is influenced by different political, economic, and cultural values and structures. It is controlled by different institutions which hold power. The purpose behind propagating particular ideologies is to strengthen the social relations of oppression and the media is manipulated by different institutions so what the public sees on the media is not the reality but the “representation of reality” (Hassan, 2018).
The role of news media in violent conflicts has been researched by many scholars. The news media has been known for spreading hate and intolerance for a long time (Wolfsfeld, 2017). The world is not just divided by geographical boundaries but also by political power, religious and cultural differences, and the power of media. The media is at the core of international conflicts, which are usually due to differences in geographical boundaries, or disputes over land, water, and natural resources. The Israel-Palestine conflict is one such dispute over land ownership (Zanuddin & Almahallawi, 2017).
It is believed that journalists should be unbiased in reporting any event, but this may not always be the case. The issue between Israel and Palestine is widely covered by the western media. The West has always had a special relationship with the Middle East. An NBC correspondent, Marilyn Robison, agreed that there exists an anti-Arab and pro-Israel media bias in the US. This caused journalists to not make any distinction between Arabs and Palestinians. This pro-Israel media bias and ignorance caused people to have a distorted image of Palestine, which they do not know much about (Schweitzer & Mandelbaum, 2015).
Analyzing the News Coverage of the Israeli Attacks on Palestinians
News channels and newspapers have a major role in representing any event. If they have to give coverage to a crisis like the Israel-Palestine conflict, they would do it in a way that will be useful to them. In today’s world, social media also has a significant role to play in depicting and representing any situation. People showed support for Palestine by using #SaveSheikhJarrah and posting videos of clashes with the Israeli forces. People also supported Israel by uploading a video of an Israeli soldier shielding a Palestinian woman from the Palestinian protestors.
BBC News reported that a video went viral on TikTok which showed Jews dancing around a burning tree in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. People said that they were celebrating all the chaos and destruction that they had caused but the BBC proclaimed that “in reality”, they were celebrating Jerusalem Day. The Israeli police officers claimed that the fire was caused by the Palestinian protesters whereas, the Palestinians said it was because of the Israeli forces (Luckhurst, 2021).
The BBC News used the term “in reality”, which shows their support for Israel in a subtle manner. The executive director of a German think tank, Michael Broning, said, “It’s like a TikTok Intifada”. The state of Israel and other states as well, have a hard time now trying to control the narrative of events (Hussain, 2021). But news channels do put forward their stance and agenda by describing the events in whatever way they want.
Every news media will report and portray any event that takes place in the world in a way that suits them. The Muslim Council of Britain’s Centre for Media Monitoring published a report after two weeks of Israeli attacks on Palestinians. According to the report, the British media coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict is biased against Palestinians and has influenced public opinions and perceptions.
British media also showed misleading headlines. It referred to the situation in Palestine as a “real-estate dispute” which implied that the forced displacements were legal. The report also stated that almost 50 percent of broadcast news used the word “eviction” to describe the illegal plans of settlement. They used words like “clashes”, “conflict” and “skirmishes” which imply that both parties are equally responsible for the violence which killed hundreds of Palestinians.
An over-emphasis on religion was also noticed in broadcasting news in Britain. It stated that the Muslims used “the third holiest site in the world” to throw rocks and stones at Israelis. The religious importance of Jerusalem is to be noted but the media should avoid referring to the Israel-Palestine conflict as anything other than settler colonialism (Zanuddin & Almahallawi, 2017).
This type of narrative ignores the oppression by Israel of Palestine and the Israeli attacks on the Palestinians. When the Israeli forces raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque, BBC News stated that Palestinians threw stones at the police, and in return, the Israeli forces threw stun grenades and shot them with rubber bullets. This makes it look like the Palestinians were the ones who initiated the violence.
BBC’s news used the word “died” for Palestinians while using the term “were killed” for Israelis. It also used the term “Israeli military” for Israel’s forces, and for the Palestinian groups, words like “Islamists” and “militants” were used (“Israel Intensifies Attacks in Gaza, 2021). This implies that both groups have different legitimacy (Zanuddin & Almahallawi, 2017). The media narrative changes the history and legitimacy of the Palestinian cause and portrays them as the aggressors and the Israelis acting in self-defense.
BBC News published an article in which it stated how false and misleading news had been going viral on social media, regarding the Israeli attacks on Palestinians, and was also being shown on mainstream media (“Israel-Gaza Violence Dominates Arab Media,” 2021). The news channel tried to prove how the pictures all over the internet were fake and only what they were saying was true and based on facts. BBC News has always been greatly criticized for being a biased and pro-Israel media outlet.
The New York Times
Mitch McConnel, a member of the United States Senate said that if Hamas puts down its rockets, there would be no more fighting, and if Israel puts down their rockets, there would be no more Israel (Desiderio, 2021). This clearly shows the US’ support for Israel and the denial of the fact that Israel and Palestine are not equal partners in this situation. It also disregards the Israeli attacks on Palestinians. There are reports that suggest that the Republicans are becoming extremely pro-Israel and the country is also significantly supported by the Democrats.
The New York Times’ podcast—The Daily—recently did an episode where they interviewed a Palestinian woman in Gaza. The woman later posted on Twitter that the podcast had edited out her comments about Palestinian resistance. Three Israeli officers told The New York Times that they were told that no person would be hurt in the attacks on the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera offices and only the building will be destroyed.
This shows that Israel wanted the world to know that they have no regrets on bombing the Associated Press building while at the same time, they knew that the world would condemn their actions so, they chose to claim that they were not aware that people could also get hurt during the attack.
The New York Times headlines have been very biased and ambiguous. One headline was “More than 30 dead in Gaza and Israel as fighting escalates” (Kingsley & Kershner, 2021). But the article did not clarify that out of these 30, 28 were Palestinians, and 2 were Israelis. The New York Times did not mention the death of 58 Palestinians but made sure to highlight the death of an Israeli child in an attack.
It is important to be critical of the sources we refer to for news. Israel launched an airstrike on a 12 story building in Gaza and argued that the building had military assets of Hamas. But that building had offices of the Associated Press, Al-Jazeera, and other media outlets as well. The President of the Associated Press said that the world will not know what is happening in Gaza due to this attack (Jones, 2021). This is actually a war of narratives and by destroying the building that was housing different media outlets, it is obvious that Israel does not want the world to know Palestine’s side of the story.
The Times of India
The Times of India published an article that stated that India announced that it was concerned about the violence in Jerusalem and the possible eviction in Sheikh Jarrah. India was being very diplomatic when it made this statement. It was careful to use the word “concerned” and not condemn when mentioning the violence in Jerusalem and the Israeli attacks on Palestinians. It also used the term “possible eviction”, while there are pictures of Israeli police dragging Palestinians out of their homes.
In a video, The Times of India said that an Israeli airstrike destroyed a building that housed the Associated Press, Al-Jazeera, and other media outlets. The video also stated that this was done so that Palestine could not report about the situation and to battle with Hamas, the militant group as well (“Israeli airstrikes in Gaza,” 2021). Israel has not yet shown any evidence that Hamas was in the building, or the building contained their military assets.
The Times of India also argued in an article that after the 11 days of violence, a truce was announced but within minutes of announcements, people were warned of incoming rockets on the Israeli border and an airstrike was also heard in Gaza (“Israel Strikes Gaza,” 2021). Then the article goes on to state that Hamas claimed that the ceasefire will be mutual. This implies that Hamas was at fault here and ended the truce.
India has supported Israel for its bombings in Palestine. The hashtag “#IndiaStandsWithIsrael” was trending on Twitter. There exists a section of Hindutva groups that support the Israeli attacks on Palestinians just because Muslims are being killed and evicted. It is their hate against Muslims which is making them cheer and support Israel’s actions (Kuchay, 2021).
Al-Jazeera published an article which asserted that the Israeli police has started an operation called “Operation Law and Order”, and there will be a wave of mass arrests of demonstrators who took to the streets of Israel. The Israeli police said that 1,550 people have been arrested and more will be arrested in the days to come. But the police never mentioned anything related to the arrests of the Jewish settlers who have attacked hundreds of Palestinians and their families (Najjar, 2021).
The Israeli Jews and police assaulted the Palestinian protestors and chanted slogans like “Death to Arabs”. According to protestors, it was a peaceful sit-in protest and the Israeli police assaulted them and beat people. One of the protestors stated that the secret services and undercover forces are also a part of this. He said that there have always been two systems, one for Arabs and one for Jews. He also made claims that the police has collected false evidence during the interrogation of minors (Najjar, 2021).
The publication of this article by Al-Jazeera shows that they want the world to know that special units are also involved in this violence against the Palestinians, along with the Israeli police. According to Al-Jazeera, the Foreign Minister of Palestine said that Israel is killing them and there were no words to describe the horrors that the Palestinian people are facing (Najjar, 2021).
Al Jazeera also published another article in which it said that the deliberate ongoing killing of Palestinians is done by the undercover Israeli forces. They are known as Musta’ribeen and they are disguised as Palestinians (“Killing with Impunity,” 2021). They dress like them and can speak Arabic fluently. Palestinians have reported that the Israeli forces use the “butterfly bullet” which explodes upon impact and causes severe injuries. The Musta’ribeen make it easy for the Israeli forces to identify the Palestinians they want to arrest and detain. Their aim is to gather intelligence.
Israel targeted Gaza for the second time on 17th June, since the ceasefire was announced. A clear difference can be seen in Al Jazeera’s and The Times of India’s headlines. Al Jazeera gave the headline that “Israel air raids target Gaza for the second time since ceasefire” whereas, the headline of The Times of India was “Israel strikes Gaza after Hamas fires incendiary balloons”.
The latter headline shows the subtle support for Israel. It is constructed in such a way that it appears that Hamas is to be blamed for initiating violence and Israel merely retaliated by launching air raids in Gaza. The New York Times’ headline was similar to The Times of India’s. It stated, “Israel strikes Gaza again after militants set fires in Israel”. This headline also implies that Israel attacked Gaza in response to the fire caused by militants in Israel.
It further implies that Israel would not have been the one to break the ceasefire if it weren’t for the militants’ actions in Israel. Similarly, BBC News used the headline “Israel strikes in Gaza after fire balloons launched”. This headline is similar to The Times of India’s and The New York Times’ headline and blames Gaza for initiating the launch.
News coverage is significantly affected by media coverage bias and it impacts it greatly. Misrepresentation, framing, linguistic determinism, and media manipulation can be observed in the news coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The mainstream media distorts the facts about the Israel-Palestine conflict and as the research shows, The New York Times, BBC News, and The Times of India present the news in a way that portrays Israel in a more favorable light. Hence, they serve as the perfect examples of pro-Israel media sources.
The number of Palestinian casualties is far greater than Israeli casualties but media bias prevails and misrepresents the factual data. When the media presents the situation as “the way things are” then there is a need to see things with a critical eye. If the readers of The New York Times or The Times of India use only these mediums to obtain information, then there exists no alternative with which the reader can make a comparison. That information will appear as the “reality”.
Facts are not given priority when labeling occurs. The items that appear on the front pages of newspapers and are in the headlines affect the way the public views the world. It has an impact on their ideological stance. The media also sets its agenda through linguistic determinism. The most common way in which language is used as a tool to portray fixed judgments about a specific group of people is through the selection of words.
Every media outlet has its own narrative. Using terms like “were killed” for Israelis and “died” for Palestinians, or “military” for the Israeli forces and “Islamists” and “militants” for the Palestinians has an impact on the general public. Language plays a vital role in the personification of groups and conforming to a particular stereotype.
The choice of words affects the ideological stance of people and reinforces prejudices. With regard to The Times of India, BBC News, and The New York Times, the information is presented in such a way that it makes it difficult for the reader and the viewer to make an independent decision regarding his/her views on the recent escalation of violence in Israel and Palestine.
Calling the Israel-Palestine conflict a “real estate” dispute covers the fact that the Palestinians have been forcefully displaced. Using words such as “clashes” and “skirmishes” denote that they consider both sides as equally responsible. The covering of some of the vital issues in this topic is very troublesome. Some media outlets have also made use of religion to explain the war. The actual atrocities committed by the Israeli forces are not mentioned or rarely discussed.
The media has also accused the oppressed of using religious sites—like Al-Aqsa Mosque—as a ground for carrying out activities against Israelis. This misleading news has buried the actual events happening on the ground. They should have referred to the Israel-Palestine conflict as what it is—settler colonialism; religion has nothing to do with it.
This shows that certain media outlets, such as BBC News, have not remained neutral and have been taking sides and airing and publishing pro-Israel media. In the aftermath of the ceasefire violation, it was again the Palestinians who were blamed, even though the airstrikes were carried out by the Israeli forces. The coverage of the incidence by BBC News, The New York Times, and The Times of India portrayed the oppressor as the victims. This reveals the power of media in today’s interconnected world.
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