The Los Angeles Times and the Palestinian-Israeli Crisis

In the critical period of late March through early April, as Palestinians launched terrorist attacks against Israel and Israel responded with incursions into Palestinian areas, the most striking findings concerning the Los Angeles Times coverage of these events concerned headlines and photographs. The headlines were sharply unbalanced, with Israeli actions against Palestinians highlighted in active voice and with the Israelis identified. In contrast, when Palestinians acted against Israelis, the language was passive and the perpetrators were usually not identified. Similarly, photos of the events reflected a serious lack of balance, with few photos of suicide bombings and the Jewish victims versus an abundance of images of the Israeli incursion and the impact on ordinary Palestinians.

Although the news coverage was less consistently problematic, there were instances of editorializing, pejorative labeling, misrepresentations, minimization of Palestinian terrorism, more detail provided on Palestinian victims than Israeli victims, and omissions. The op-ed section was balanced in terms of the number of pro-Israel versus pro-Palestinian columns. However, Lynn Cohen’s April 7 column, which draws comparisons between Israeli treatment of Palestinians and Nazi treatment of Jews, stepped over the line of reasoned discourse based on historical and present day realities.

Unbalanced Headlines

When Palestinians act against Israelis, the headlines are generally in passive voice. In comparison, when Israelis act against Palestinians, the headline writers employ active voice. Likewise, when Israel is the one perpetrating an action, the country is clearly identified. However, when Palestinians are perpetrating acts, Palestinians are not identified as the perpetrators. (Examples: “Attack in Israel Kills,” “Bomb Found,” “Dozens are Hurt,” “. . . suicide bomber struck,” “Attack Hits”)

Israel Acting Against Palestinians  
March 29: Israel Attacks Arafat Compound”
March 30: Israel Corners a Defiant Arafat”
March 31: “Arafat Appeals for Help as Israel Presses Crackdown”
March 31: Troops Hit the Heart of Palestinian Power Bases”
April 2: Israel Hunts Arafat Aides as Assault Mounts: Army pounds security complex in Ramallah and thrusts into Bethlehem”
April 3: “Gun Battles Rage in Bethlehem; Warfare: Soldiers order armed Palestinians inside Church of the Nativity to surrender, witnesses say
April 3: Israel Pulls Credentials of Two Arab Journalists”
April 4: Israel Steps Up West Bank Offensive”
April 4: “Arafat Lives With Enemy Breathing Down His Neck” (This headline doesn’t fit the pattern; the story is more like a feature than a straight news story.)
April 5: Israel Tightens Grip, Sends More Tanks to West Bank”
April 6: Israelis Dig In for Standoff at Church”
April 7: Army Bears Down on 2 West Bank Cities”
April 8: Israeli Attacks Persist Despite Call for Pullout”
Palestinians Acting Against Israelis
March 28: < FONT face=Arial size=-1>“Attack in Israel Kills 19, Hurts 100″
March 28: Bomb Found in Ambulance, Army Says”
March 29: “Celebration of an Escape Turned into a Death Trap: Isaac Atsits and friends were marking Jews’ exodus from Egypt when a suicide bomber struck
March 31: “Mideast Bloodshed Hardens Resolve to Fight: Conflict: Dozens are hurt in a suicide attack in Tel Aviv. A police officer in an Israeli Arab town dies in a gunfight with would-be bombers”
April 1: Attack Hits Place Where Jews and Arabs Mixed”
April 4: Palestinians Stand Defiant in Bethlehem” (This headline is a rare exception, in that it identifies the Palestinians as perpetrators and is in the active voice.)

Photos and Captions

How does the Times cover Palestinian attacks against Israelis pictorially, versus how it covered Israel’s retaliation? The most striking observation is how few photos there are of suicide bombings and their victims, versus the abundance of images of the Israeli incursion and its impact on ordinary Palestinians.

The day after the March 27 Park Hotel bombing, two pictures ran covering the attack. The following day, a third photo ran. On March 30, the day after a Palestinian bomber blew herself up in a Jerusalem supermarket, the Times ran only one photo–and it was on an inside page. (The front page photo was of Arafat’s compound coming under attack.) Similarly, the March 31 paper ran a photo of a suicide attack on page 10. (On this day, the front page photo was of Palestinians bent down surrendering to Israelis in front of a tank.) The April 2 page 2 photo was of a burned-out car in a Jerusalem car bombing. Thus, a total of six photos ran depicting suicide attacks. In contrast, 33 photos ran depicting images of the Israeli incursion and its impact on ordinary Palestinians.

While the period of coverage in this study includes five days of Palestinian attacks against Israelis (March 29 to April 2), the study includes 11 days of Israel’s actions in Palestinian areas (from March 29 to April 8). The Times photo selections are not consistent with this figure. One would reasonably expect that the number of incursion images would be just over double the number of images of Palestinian attacks. Instead, the ratio is more than five to one. (Furthermore, Israeli victims of the Park Hotel bombing continued to die from their wounds several days into April. Their funerals were not included in photographs.)

Also, the coverage includes 15 images of Israeli soldiers and military equipment, but only six of Palestinian fighters and weapons, despite the fact that there was pitched fighting between the two sides. On the other hand, there were four photos of wounded Palestinian fighters, but none of wounded Israeli soldiers.

One caption completely got the facts wrong. In a factual error, a page 10 photo on April 6 stated: “Smoke rises from the entrance of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank, after the Israeli army fires a mortar shell.” In fact, the Israeli army does not use mortar shells, which are highly inaccurate. This smoke is generated by a smoke grenade, which the army uses as a screen.

There were several instances in which captions lacked critical context. On March 31, a front page caption read: “Palestinians surrender to Israeli soldiers in Ramallah. All men ages 16 to 45 in the West Bank city were ordered to report to detention centers and were checked for terrorist connections.” No context is provided to explain the circumstances of these surrendering Palestinians. Are they Palestinian gunmen or are they simply members of the multitudes who must report to the detention centers? Presumably, there would be a difference in their treatment. In addition, an April 8 page one caption states: “Israeli soldiers search a Palestinian in Bethlehem. The military is under intense pressure to pull out of West Bank cities, but the defense minister has said, ‘we will not pull out only to return soon.'” No context is provided as to why he is being searched.

A particularly tendentious caption on March 30 reads:

Israeli volunteers gather human remains at a supermarket in Jerusalem where a Palestinian suicide bomber killed two. U.S. observers say the army’s actions are likely to lead to more violence.

Aside from the fact that the Times has relegated suicide attacks to the inside pages, while promoting Israel’s response to these attacks on page one, this caption suggests Israel is at fault for the latest and any future suicide bombings. While there are U.S. observers who say the IDF’s actions would lead to more attacks, there are other American observers who would say just the opposite. Moreover, what about the suicide bombing? Couldn’t that be said to lead to more violence?


In her March 29 story entitled “Israel Attacks Arafat Compound,” Tracy Wilkinson reports on the murder of four members of one Jewish family in Elon Moreh. Without giving the victims’ names, she dehumanizes them with the pejorative label “settler family.” She also writes: “Elon Moreh is one of the more radical settlements among the more than 170 that fragment the West Bank and Gaza Strip and are considered illegal under international law.” (For an explanation of the legality issue, please see the section “Misrepresentations.”) It is disturbing that Wilkinson places the murdered family, residents of a “radical” settlement, on the same footing as “the radical Islamic organization Hamas [which] claimed responsibility for the attack, as it had for Wednesday’s bombing.” (Emphasis added.) Where is the equivalency here? (Although these victims are not named, Wilkinson does find the time to name in the same story “Suad Attalah, a mother of three from Ramallah,” who was going grocery shopping in anticipation of the impending Israeli invasion.)

On April 1, Tracy Wilkinson reports on the two suicide bombings from the day before, as well as Israel’s actions in Palestinian areas (“Israel Broadens Offensive as 2 Suicide Attacks Kill 17”). She writes “As Israeli forces tightened their harsh siege on Arafat and Ramallah. . . .” Yet, she does not apply any adjectives in her description of the deadly suicide bombings.

In the same article, Wilkinson makes the moral judgment that the group of activists who broke through the Israeli encirclement and reached Arafat’s compound on March 31 are “international peace activists” (emphasis added). Clearly, many Israelis and others wouldn’t agree with this assessment, since the activists are not putting themselves in harm’s way in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem cafes and pizza parlors. One of the activists, Miriam Ferrier, is very open about where their loyalties lie, and the New York Times quotes her on April 3: “We are a voice for the Palestinian people.” She stated her case very well. Why, then, doesn’t the Los Angeles Times label them “Pro-Palestinian activists” instead of “peace activists”? Wilkinson again applies this terminology in her April 4 story “Arafat Lives With Enemy Breathing Down His Neck,” when she refers to “Thirty-four peace and anti-globalization activists.”

Factual Error

Mary McNamara reports April 5 that Israeli soldiers have “opened fire on crowds.” This is blatantly false. There was no such episode. Israeli forces have avoided harm to innocent civilians. For example, the army decided to engage in dangerous house-to-house fighting in Jenin, where they lost 23 soldiers, as opposed to simply bombing densely populated areas where Palestinian gunmen are. Aerial bombing would greatly endanger Palestinian civilians on the ground, but would also prevent casualties among Israeli troops.


As she has done frequently in the past, Tracy Wilkinson inaccurately labels settlements “illegal under international law” (Israel Attacks Arafat Compound, March 29). In fact, it is not clear that settlements are “illegal under international law.” Those who hold this view base their claim on a tendentious reading of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which, in all likelihood, does not even apply to Israeli settlements. Indeed, no U.S. administration has deemed them “illegal.” International law is amorphous and open to interpretation, and it therefore is highly misleading to present one interpretation as fact, when substantial opposing views do exist.

In his April 8 story entitled “Journalists Are Kept at Bay by Israeli Bullets,” Richard Boudreaux falsely implies that Anthony Shadid of the Boston Globe was shot by Israeli forces. He writes: “At least 20 journalists have come under Israeli fire since the offensive began March 29, according to the Paris-based watchdog group Reporters Without Borders. In most cases, the fire apparently is meant as warning shots, but five journalists have been wounded, including one American, Anthony Shadid of the Boston Globe.” In actuality, there is no evidence to prove that Israelis were responsible for Shadid’s injury. According to the Boston Globe on April 1, Shadid “was unable to say last night whether it [the shot that hit him] was fired by Israeli or Palestinian forces.” If Shadid did not know who shot him, than how would Boudreaux know who was responsible?

Minimizing Palestinian Terrorism

On March 29, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew herself up in a Jerusalem supermarket, killing an elderly man and a teenaged girl. Although the Times carried five news stories on the conflict on March 30, the bombing was mentioned in just one. It was reported in the 18th through 22nd paragraphs of the story “Israel Corners a Defiant Arafat,” which first covered Israeli commandos blasting into Arafat’s compound, Arafat’s defiance, Sharon blaming Arafat for the Passover massacre, Israel’s campaign to isolate Arafat, gunbattles in Ramallah, Israel’s plans for Arafat, Powell’s reactions, the Sharon-Arafat feud since 1982, and reaction in the Arab world. There was a photo of the bombing aftermath–on page 10. (See photos section for more details.)

Also, the two victims’ names, ages, gender and their activity at the time of death are not given, though it does not seem to be Times policy to uniformly leave out this basic information about victims of the conflict. For example, on March 31, when reporting on an Israeli raid into Arab Care Hospital, Wilkinson takes care to note who is occupying the hospital beds (“Arafat Appeals for Help as Israel Presses Crackdown”). She writes:

Among the patients at the hospital was Riphi Kobaari, a freelance Palestinian cameraman who said he was beaten by soldiers who had seized and destroyed his tapes after he took photos near Arafat’s compound.

Another was 14-year-old Suleiman Zaloum, who was shot in the abdomen, legs and lower chest in the early hours of the Israeli invasion. Doctors said the boy lost so much blood that he didn’t have a pulse when he reached the hospital.


On April 8, Bob Drogin reports on documents that Israel seized from Arafat’s headquarters which reveal the Palestinian leader’s support for terrorism (“U.S. Not Convinced Document is Real Arafat-Terrorism Link”). He writes: “If real, the document offers the first public evidence of direct support [for terrorism] by someone close to Arafat.” In fact, there are innumerable publically available examples of Arafat or his close associates supporting terrorism. For example, following the suicide bombing of the Dolphinarium disco in Tel Aviv, in which 21 were killed and over 100 wounded, Arafat sent a note of condolence to the bomber’s family. The note was reported June 24, 2001, on the German TV network, Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR). The translation service MEMRI made it available in English ( In addition, in a March 14 USA Today article (“Terrorist says orders come from Arafat”) by Matthew Kalman, Palestinian terrorists in the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, as well as one of Arafat’s foreign media spokesmen, confirmed that the terrorists are under the command of Arafat, and that most of them receive salaries from the Palestinian Authority.

Boudreaux’s April 8 story on IDF restrictions on the press in Palestinian areas neglects the critical point that the IDF suspects journalists of having assisted some wanted terrorists out of Arafat’s compound. In a March 31 press conference, Major General Giora Eiland of the IDF alleged that on the previous Sunday, after a group of journalists and international activists succeeded in breaking through the Israeli encirclement and entering Arafat’s compound, they allegedly attempted to smuggle out Palestinian terrorist fugitives. In his joint briefing with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Eiland reported:

The number of the people who penetrated the building was one number, but the number of the people who came out was double. So, besides or among these reporters, there were probably some people who are wanted, who are responsible for some of the very terrible and deadly suicide attacks that took place in the past few weeks.

It appears that this claim was not covered elsewhere in the paper either.

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