“Peace Under Fire: Palestinians and Israelis on the Brink of War,” the cover story of the October 23, 2000 edition of Teen Newsweek (a magazine distributed to middle school students across the country) is filled with errors and distortions about the current Israeli-Palestinian clashes. This one-sided article allows students to read only Palestinian views, seriously miscaptions a gory photograph depicting the bloody hands of a Palestinian who took part in the murder of Israeli soldiers, and leaves out key information regarding the violence of the last few weeks.
A detailed description of these problems follows:
Inaccurate photo caption
On page 4, is a prominent photo of three Palestinians, with the man in the middle holding up his blood-covered hands. The caption reads: “In the West Bank city of Ramallah, bloodied Palestinian protestors express their rage.” The false impression most uninformed readers would gain from this caption is that these Palestinians are victims of Israeli aggression, wounded during fighting.
The facts: The Palestinians pictured here took part in the bloody lynching of two Israeli army reservists who took a wrong turn into Ramallah on Oct. 12 and were set upon by an Arab mob. The photo shows a Palestinian proudly displaying his blood covered hands. The blood came from the Israelis whom the mob had shot, burned, mutilated, dropped from a window, tied to the back of a car and dragged through the street.
Question: Shouldn’t Teen Newsweek magazine make clear to readers that the Palestinians pictured here are perpetrators of violence against Israelis – not victims of violence at the hands of Israel? It is one thing to shield young readers from the graphic details of the gory murders; it is quite another to leave students with the false impression that the murderers in this case are actually victims.
1) The article quotes directly from Palestinian officials, but never gives Israelis a chance to state their position. Thus, Hassan Abdel Rahman, the Palestinian representative to the United States, is quoted:
You have to view the protests on the West Bank in the context of people fighting for their freedom. . . . One has to remember that the Israelis are in Palestinian towns. They are on Palestinian territory, and the Palestinians are very, very tired of the Israeli occupation.
Also, Saeb Erekat, Yasser Arafat’s chief negotiator, speaks twice:
The voices of moderation have been silenced. It’s going to be a killing field out there. The worst has not yet come.
Further along, he gets the last word of the article. He speaks of the fears of his 9-year-old son:
“He was extremely scared. I was scared,” he said. And then his son cried: “Is this the peace that you are bringing us?”
The facts: Without hearing the Israeli perspective, readers will likely believe whatever the Palestinians say. They will believe that Palestinians are the only victims in this conflict. While we gain sympathy for the human struggle of Erekat and his son, we learn nothing of the fear of young Jewish children in Gilo, Hebron, Psagot and other towns, whose homes are constantly shot at by the Palestinians.
Also, if an Israeli had had the chance to respond to Rahman’s allegations about the occupation, he/she might have pointed out that as a result of the Oslo peace process, Israelis have withdrawn from many areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and as a result, more than 95 percent of Palestinians no longer live under Israeli rule; they live under the administration of their own government, the Palestinian Authority (PA). The PA – not Israel – controls virtually every aspect of Palestinian life – schools, medical institutions, civic and political establishments. Palestinians now have passports, a flag, an international airport, and a sea port is underway. If Palestinians are angry with their poor economy, corrupt officials, and/or badly repaired roads, the Palestinian Authority is responsible, not the Israelis.
Question: The Code of Ethics for the Society of Professional Journalists requires journalists to “Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.” Why has the Teen Newsweek article, in which Palestinians are blaming Israel for the current crisis, not given Israel “the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing?” Is this ethical?
2) In another example of one-sided coverage, the article reports on the breakdown of Camp David peace discussions and Ariel Sharon’s controversial visit to the Temple Mount. It states the Palestinian argument that the visit was a provocation, while completely ignoring the Israeli position:
On September 28, however, Israeli hard-line politician Ariel Sharon staged a very public visit, complete with a large police escort, to an old Jerusalem site sacred to both sides – known by Jews as Temple Mount and by Arabs as the Noble Sanctuary. The Palestinians considered Sharon’s visit a provocation – a way of saying, “This site belongs to us, not to you.” Angry Palestinians took to the streets to protest. Israel cracked down hard, which only made the Palestinians angrier.
The facts: This chronology of events reflects the Palestinian argument which blames the Israeli side for provoking the violence; it identifies Sharon’s visit as the start and cause of the fighting. The Israeli account, on the other hand, which notes that violence began before Sharon went to the Temple Mount, is ignored. On Sept. 27, one day before Sharon visited the contested holy site, Palestinians exploded a roadside bomb at Netzarim Junction in Gaza, fatally wounding an Israeli soldier. Furthermore, Israelis point out that while there was heckling, pushing and shoving by Palestinians during Sharon’s visit, the intense violence did not start until Friday, the next day, when Muslims were falsely told in a sermon that the Jews wanted to tear down their mosque on the Temple Mount. Following the sermon, in which worshipers were encouraged “to eradicate the Jews from Palestine,” Muslims began throwing rocks at the Jews praying below at the Western Wall. Israeli security forces responded with tear gas, rubber-coated pellets, and eventually – when the Palestinian violence appeared to threaten lives – real bullets.
While Teen Newsweek focuses on Palestinian anger, allegedly due to Israel “crack[ing] down hard,” the magazine does not give any information about what Israelis consider to be the major reason for Palestinian anger and rioting – anti-Israel incitement by the PA. Even though the Palestinian leaders signed peace accords promising to stop teaching hate, propaganda on Palestinian television and radio stations continues to encourage Palestinians to believe that peace talks are a bad way to achieve their goals, and that violence is a much better way to get what they wanted from the Israelis. Palestinians are called upon to prepare for war.
Over this past summer, thousands of Palestinian children attended camps run by the Palestinian government. There they learned weapons training and how to kidnap and shoot Israelis, among other military skills. Also, Arafat’s school system teaches Palestinian children the false beliefs that Israel has no right to exist, that Jews don’t belong in the Middle East, have no historical or religious claims to the land, and therefore Palestinian youth should expel all the Jews from their land, which the Palestinians would then take over.
Question: How can readers understand the full story if Teen Newsweek gives only the Palestinian viewpoint?
Omission of Key Facts
As mentioned earlier, leaving out important information from an article can be extremely damaging to the reader’s understanding of events. The negative result can be the same as giving false information. To take an example, on page 4, Teen Newsweek reports on Israel’s response to the Oct. 12 lynching of two Israeli soldiers: “Israel, in revenge, bombed the police station.”
What wasn’t said? The Israelis gave a three-hour warning of the attacks to give Palestinians plenty of time to safely leave the buildings, and also fired warning shots. As a result, not one Palestinian was killed in the strikes.
In a separate example, the sidebar on page 5 entitled “Whose Land?” provides a balanced and informative historical account of the land covering the last 3,000 years. However, it states:
After the Arabs conquered the region in the A.D. 600s, Palestine became largely an Arab land, and eventually the majority of the population converted to Islam.
About 100 years ago, however, Jews from Europe, inspired by Zionism – a movement to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine – began coming back to Palestine.
What wasn’t said? The Ottoman (Turkish) Empire ruled Palestine for 400 years, ever since 1516, and was followed by the British Mandate starting in 1917, which continued until Israel’s establishment in 1948. Thus, contrary to the suggestion of the account reproduced above, no independent Arab or Palestinian state ever existed in the region.
Taking Statistics Out of Context
The “Days of Rage” table on page 8 is perhaps the most disturbing misrepresentation in this entire article. The chart illustrates the number of Palestinian and Israeli minors killed since 1987. By a quick glance, it is quite clear that the Palestinian numbers, which are represented in a startling red, many times exceed Israeli losses (shown in the less visible yellow). What is not clear is the context. In what circumstances did the children die? Was the child killed while throwing a deadly Molotov cocktail (firebomb) at Israeli forces, as many Palestinian children do, or was the child, sitting in the backseat of his mother’s car, killed when stones smashed through the windows, as happened to Jewish children?
Circumstances and context are extremely important in understanding why the number of deaths are so high on the Palestinian side. Why are Palestinian children in dangerous situations of conflict so much more than their Israeli counterparts? According to Western, Israeli and Arab accounts, Palestinian children are encouraged by PA officials and teachers to participate in the riots against Israeli soldiers. Schools have been closed to allow children to join in the fighting. An Oct. 31, 2000 Associated Press (AP) article confirmed that Yasser Arafat “called for renewed resistance by young activists, ‘these children who throw the stones to defend Jerusalem, the Muslims and the Holy places.’ ” An Oct. 25 article from the Jordan Times describes the violent extracurricular activities of children like Omar Assad, who flings stones and Molotov cocktails at Israelis after school. A professor interviewed at the scene of the riots boasts of the rock-throwing students nearby: “At this stage it is better that they are engaging the Israelis than going to classes. . . . We have to capitalise on this momentum. They can always study mathematics later.” Despite the fact that these children often find themselves in the midst of older Palestinian gunmen who are shooting at Israelis, there is not an official effort to keep them home and out of bullet range. To the contrary, the editor-in-chief of the official PA newspaper, Al Hayat al-Jadidya, published an editorial calling parents who try to keep their children away from clashes as a “fifth column” (traitors) and accuses them “of the most severe transgression” (Oct. 27, 2000, translated by Palestinian Media Watch).
Teen Newsweek leaves out this crucial context, leading students to believe falsely that Israelis are callously gunning down children, when in fact, these children are often involved in highly violent activities which endanger lives – their own and others’. In addition, the “Read the Graph” exercise which accompanies the chart displays a poor sense of judgment. It would seem that it is in extremely bad taste to test students on their graph reading skills by answering questions about the number of dead children. Such an inappropriate exercise raises real questions about the suitability of Teen Newsweek for middle schoolers.
What Can You Do??
Make your voice heard!!
1) Choose a couple of the issues discussed above, and in your own words, write to Teen Newsweek’s Executive Editor Charles Piddock at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let him know why the story was not fair and request that the magazine reprint the mislabeled photo with accurate information about the lynching of Israeli reservists. Also, you can ask him to carry a balanced story on the involvement of children in the Palestinian/Israeli struggle in an upcoming edition. It should include an explanation of why Palestinian children choose to take part in such hateful, violent activities instead of going to school. Stories can be written about Israeli children’s fears about being shot at or bombed in their home, car, or school bus. In addition, you may want to remind him that balanced articles should carry statements from both sides – not just the Palestinians!
2) Discuss the “Peace Under Fire” article and its many problems in your class. You may want to draft a letter as a group. Also, look for other sources of information which may have presented information in a less biased way. You can use those alternative sources to help gather information for your letters to Mr. Piddock.
3) One helpful source of information is CAMERA’s website at www.camera.org. Please check under “New Material” for the latest updates on bias and inaccuracy in the media. That information will help you respond to articles like “Peace Under Fire” and others like it.