The five “W’s” that every first year communications student can recite in his sleep – what happened, when, who was involved, why and where – evidently don’t apply when Palestinians are killed. A new study examining media coverage of the Intifada finds that in incidents when Palestinians are killed, the Israeli media relies almost exclusively on the security establishment’s official version of the story.
IDF spokespeople, usually dubbed “senior security officials,” are quoted with finality, and only rarely are their versions measured up against Palestinian’s accounts or is any independent investigation done to verify their accuracy.
Targeted killing in Gaza (Photo: Reuters)
Over 3,300 Palestinians were killed by IDF gunfire since the outbreak of the Intifada in September 2000. The Keshev Association (president - writer David Grossman, chairman – Dr. Daniel Dor of Tel Aviv University’s Communications Department) examined the reporting methods in 22 such cases in December 2005. They studied news reports on Israel's three leading television channels (1, 2 and 10) and three leading newspapers (Yedioth Ahronoth, Ma’ariv and Haaretz). Altogether, they scrutinized 135 such news reports.
Of 48 reports of Palestinians killed as result of IDF gunfire, only eight reports provided an account other than the army’s, and only once did a report give an alternate version of a targeted assassination. As a rule, the media reported twice as much on targeted assassinations – which are planned in advance and aimed at a particular person – than on Palestinian deaths in other army operations.
In some of the incidents defined as “assassinations,” the fact that Palestinians were killed was mentioned as an afterthought later in the article. For example, the headline in one television broadcast ran: "Ocean encounter in Gaza. IDF fears boat bombs.”
The fact that a Palestinian was killed in the “ocean encounter” was mentioned only later in the report when a Palestinian witness was interviewed in Arabic. “The ocean is closed from our perspective. Coast Guard ships are always chasing us and shooting at us; one chased us now and killed him on the sea,” the witness said. Thus, only one subtitled word informed the Israeli viewer of the killing.
In another case, the report ran: “In the entire region where the settlements Eli-Sinai and Dugit had been, from where Palestinians fired towards Ashkelon - the IDF told Palestinians that anyone entering the area would be shot. The IDF fired there continuously, and one Palestinian was even killed there today….This is the IDF’s response. The cannon battery fired dozens of shells towards rocket launch sites throughout the day. Palestinians reported one killed, but Ashkelon area residents aren’t impressed by this gunfire, which is aimed, they claim, at open areas.”
On December 10 IDF forces killed 2 Palestinian swimmers. The Channel 2 newscaster said: “Two Palestinians were killed by the Gaza beach by Navy gunfire, after they were suspected of attempting to smuggle weapons from Egypt. The two swam from Egyptian waters, dragging an unidentified object into Palestinian territory.
The two didn’t respond to the Navy’s calls to stop. When they fired at the swimmers, fire was aimed at them from the Palestinian beach.” In Channel 1’s parallel report, the Ashdod base commander described the incident differently: “The swimmers were dragging weapons behind them. Forces entered in order to arrest them. During the attempted arrest, the swimmers refused to stop and tried to escape. Then shots were fired at the forces from the beach. The soldiers shot at the swimmers to prevent their escape.”
So what were the swimmers dragging? Who were they? Who opened fire first? What is the source of the disparity between the two accounts? These questions were never answered or explored further.
“What am I? An Arab in Gaza?”
The reality is not so simple and one-sided, but the media, evidently, is. Not so, however, when the matter of danger to Israelis is at hand. “This event seemed like it was taken from an action movie, or at least from a targeted assassination in Gaza…But it’s not Gaza we’re talking about here, but the strip of beach between Palmahim and Ashdod and two Israeli fishermen who came to fish,” a Channel 10 reporter describes an event that almost ended in tragedy.
Later in the report, the newscaster asks the fisherman, “How did you feel? Real fear? That you were a moving target?” One of them replied: “First of all fear, humiliation. What am I? An Arab in Gaza?! What is this? I’m here next to my home, two meters from my house, and a chopper comes down on me like this? Who is this pilot? How could he have the nerve to do such a thing?” The reporter crosschecked stories, asked piercing questions, and checked how the fishermen could have entered the closed and dangerous area – all of which was missing from the reports in which Palestinians were killed.
“Over the time period examined,” the researchers said, “critical discussion on the policy of 'assassinations' was limited, and only 33 reports raised doubts as to its effectiveness, morality, legality and influence on diplomacy. When it was brought up, it was usually only hinted at or found in the margins of reports, as commentary or supplements. This goes along with headlines proclaiming 'assassinations' or Israeli demands to increase targeted killings. One must conclude that the media actively agrees with the policy and its official presentation, or at least gave up its critical duty in such matters.”
The study also criticized the word choices of news editors. “The favored phrase ‘targeted thwarting’ (sikul memukad) has positive connotations, which present the action as 'chirurgical' – harming only the intended target. This can be seen as a sort of legitimization of the act. This term is used over alternate terms with negative connotations, such as ‘assassination’ or ‘extermination.’”
The study quotes former Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon: “The annihilation of whole neighborhoods is not a targeted war. Razing dozens of acres of groves is not a targeted war. Killing one terrorist along with half a neighborhood definitely isn’t. Words create behavior patterns and behavior patterns expand the hatred and nourish terrorism. One can’t talk about a ‘targeted thwarting’ when innocent children are killed too.”
Keshev Director-General Yizhar Peer told Ynet that the most recent assassination in Gaza, in which two Islamic Jihad operatives and three adolescents were killed, reinforced the findings of the academic study. “But this time, public discussion did come up here and there, and the term ‘targeted thwarting’ wasn’t used in the reports,” Peer said.