Israeli Censorship and the War on Gaza
While most of the global media who are reporting on Gaza remain stuck inside Israel, AlJazeeraEnglish is one of the few media organisations with a bureau inside Gaza that has been able to cover the war on the ground from the start.
Al Jazeera’s Listening Post looked at the ways both sides of the conflict have tried to manipulate the media in order to promote international support.
Gideon Levy, a columnist for Haaretz, says that in Israel: “Whoever recoils from our heroic tales, bias, whitewashed words, Rorschach images of bombing, IDF Spokesman-distributed photographs, propagandists’ excuses, self-satisfied generals and half-truths is invited to tune in” to watch Al Jazeera‘s reporter, Ayman Mohyeldin.
“At age 29, he has already seen one war, in Iraq, but he says this war is more intense. He is frustrated that his broadcasts are carried virtually everywhere in the world except the United States, his own country, the place he thinks it is most important that these images from Gaza be seen.
” ‘At the end of the day, if there is one country that can have influence, it’s the United States. It’s frustrating to know you’re not reaching the viewers you would like to,’ he told me this week from the roof [of the central Gaza City office building from which he has broadcast every day for the past two weeks, noon and night, almost without rest]. On Friday he finally came down, for safety’s sake, after the Israel Defense Forces bombed a neighbouring media center.
“Is he afraid? ‘I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel fear, but my obligation is greater than the fear,’ he says.”
Press TV reported on Israel’s attack on Al-Johara Tower, an eight-storey building in Al-Rimal neighborhood in Gaza City, which has been hit twice by Israeli aircraft, even though the building is clearly marked as housing media staff.
Meanwhile, as the Israeli government continues to impose its blockade on media coverage inside Gaza, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has called on the world of journalism to raise its voice in protest.
“The IFJ call comes as another Palestinian journalist was reported killed – the fourth victim of recent Israeli military action in Gaza. Eyhab Al Wahidi, who worked as a cameraman for the Palestinian Broadcast Corporation in Gaza, was killed with his wife and mother in law yesterday when Israeli troops shelled their home in Gaza city. The family children were injured.
” ‘The media crisis in Gaza has become intolerable,’ said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. ‘The systematic manipulation and control of media trying to report on Gaza and the casualties being sustained inside the territory require a concerted response from the world’s media.’
The Washington Post reported: “While television screens around the world display grisly scenes from Gaza of blood-smeared hospital floors and critically wounded Palestinian children, Israelis are watching a very different war. Here, images from Gaza are relatively scarce, while the plight of Israelis injured or killed during the war is covered around the clock.
” ‘The suffering of the citizens of Gaza is unbelievable. It’s hell. But we are not uninvolved. We are broadcasting for our citizens,’ said Reudor Benziman, chief executive of Channel 10 News, one of the two major private stations in Israel. ‘We don’t pretend to show the whole picture, as though we are covering a war in Tanzania. It’s our war.’
“The disparity in coverage may help explain why Israelis have been so resolute in their support for a military campaign that has still not achieved its objective of halting Hamas rocket fire and that has come under international scorn for the high civilian toll.
“But to Benziman, the coverage does not shape Israeli public opinion so much as it reflects it. Relatively little airtime is given to civilian deaths in Gaza, he said, because Israelis accept the government’s position that Hamas must be attacked, no matter the cost.”
The Israeli journalist and historian, Tom Segev, said that while flipping between international television channels, each showing ever more gruesome images of Gaza, a friend diverted his attention to Mezzo, a concert channel where a rather obscure oratorio by Beethoven was being performed.
“As I listened to the Beethoven on Mezzo for a while, I was doing what more and more Israelis tend to do these days, even as the atrocious events in Gaza continue: escaping the news and taking refuge in cultural and other non-political activities. That escapism reflects the new Israeli fatalism.
“I belong to a generation of Israelis who grew up believing in peace. At the end of the Six-Day War of 1967, I was 23, and I had no doubt that 40 years later, the Israeli-Arab war would be over. Today, my son, who is 28, no longer believes in peace. Most Israelis don’t. They know that Israel may not survive without peace, but from war to war, they have lost their optimism. So have I.”
Uri Avnery said: “In this war, as in any modern war, propaganda plays a major role. The disparity between the forces, between the Israeli army – with its airplanes, gunships, drones, warships, artillery and tanks – and the few thousand lightly armed Hamas fighters, is one to a thousand, perhaps one to a million. In the political arena the gap between them is even wider. But in the propaganda war, the gap is almost infinite.
“Almost all the Western media initially repeated the official Israeli propaganda line. They almost entirely ignored the Palestinian side of the story, not to mention the daily demonstrations of the Israeli peace camp. The rationale of the Israeli government (‘The state must defend its citizens against the Qassam rockets’) has been accepted as the whole truth. The view from the other side, that the Qassams are a retaliation for the siege that starves the one and a half million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, was not mentioned at all.
“Only when the horrible scenes from Gaza started to appear on Western TV screens, did world public opinion gradually begin to change.
“True, Western and Israeli TV channels showed only a tiny fraction of the dreadful events that appear 24 hours every day on Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel, but one picture of a dead baby in the arms of its terrified father is more powerful than a thousand elegantly constructed sentences from the Israeli army spokesman. And that is what is decisive, in the end.