former journalists discuss a profession in crisis

Media Coverage of the Israeli-Hamas Conflict Requires Empathy for both sides

In Blog on July 19, 2014 at 10:25 am

When I first wrote this blog, it seemed so easy to make a judgment about coverage of the the conflict between Israel and Hamas.  There is no doubt that Palestinian civilians have suffered the lion’s share of the casualties, and that fact must be a part of any coverage.  Reporters must take us into the hospitals, the makeshift morgues, and the homes of the grief-stricken.  

But an email from our family in Israel made me realize that while unharmed for the most part, Israeli civilians are living in almost paralyzing fear.  As a family member noted, the country is the size of New Jersey.  So Israelis feel very vulnerable.  This isn’t a matter of bias.  But news outlets need to ensure that the coverage is as complete as possible.  That doesn’t mean censoring reporters.  Ayman Mohyeldin is doing a superb job in Gaza.  But we need reporters  to tell us the stories of average Israelis. We need to better understand the fear that is pushing these families, even those who have long worked for peace, to support the invasion.  

 

I am married to a Jewish man, and his uncle and aunt, both New Yorkers, made the astounding decision in the 1960s to pull up stakes and move to Israel. I am very fond of my extended Israeli family, living on two kibbutzim in the country. Whenever there is renewed conflict, I worry about their safety. But I found it disturbing when a Jewish colleague of mine recently commented that the media was terrifically biased in reporting on the current troubles between Israel and Hamas.

She thought the TV coverage was unbalanced and favored Hamas. I disagree. TV reporters were showing their viewers the facts as they experienced them. Their coverage was not about assessing blame. The media have reported on the impacts of the conflict in both countries.

As Hamas rockets landed deeper and deeper into Israeli territory, the networks have shown Israelis running for their lives as sirens went off, seeking shelter, visibly anxious and afraid. But the truth is far more Palestinian civilians have died in this war than Israelis. This is a tribute to the effectiveness of Israel’s defense system.

But this also means that in the propaganda war, Israel is a victim of its own success. So viewers see the collateral damage in Gaza – the homes destroyed, the children hit by missiles, the grieving families, the emotional funerals.

I believe that broadcast news correspondents have been careful to note that Israel accuses the other side of hiding their terrorists among the people, making it nearly impossible to avoid killing women and children. Israel has often warned Palestinians to flee when attacks were imminent. That, too, has been reported.

But the images are visceral. When four young boys at play are suddenly killed before our eyes, we feel the loss. Israel to its credit does not appear to have impeded the media’s coverage of this bloodshed. The media is just doing its job, and the pictures are not pretty.

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