“Why does TV news look like a Netanyahu ad?” asked Chris McGreal of The Guardian on July 31, in his article on the “notoriously pro-Israel mainstream media in the U.S.”
In fact, three main dailies here from mid-July to mid-August easily gave the impression that U.S. President Barack Obama, not Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was prosecuting a war against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The U.S. State Department continues to list the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) as a terrorist organization.
To begin with some subtle examples, on July 16, a New York Times article had a headline, “Boys Drawn to Gaza Beach, and Into Center of Mideast Strife.”
Originally the headline was “Four Young Boys Killed Playing on Gaza Beach,” but the New York Times changed it after “an Internet tempest,” reported the Los Angeles Times on July 18, in “Questions of bias swirl after NBC removes, reinstates a Gaza reporter.”
Whoever kicked up the tempest, the revision tactfully shifted the blame from the Israeli gunboat to the Palestinian children playing soccer on the beach.
A July 21 Wall Street Journal headline, “Humanitarian Toll Rises as Gazans Flee,” was an inept smoke screen. What is “humanitarian toll”?
One didn’t need another Wall Sreet Journal headline, “Cease-Fire Push Intensifies as Fatalities Rise on Both Sides,” for the answer, but again “both sides” obscured what had by then become the main concern: the disproportionate number of people killed: 571 Palestinians vs. 27 Israelis, 25 of them soldiers of the invading force.
On July 22, the New York Times did feature, on the front page, death on both sides with two same-size photos. But the headline for the article alongside the photos clearly stated the Israeli position: “Israel Is Facing Difficult Choice in Gaza Conflict / World Seeks Cease-Fire / More Civilian Deaths, or Letting Enemy Live to Fight Again.”
The sympathy for Israel did not stop there. On Page 9, a large article, “Strength Is Sought At Rites In Israel,” came with two photos, the dominating one highlighting the “loved ones” of a major killed in invading the Gaza Strip, the smaller one showing the comrades of a soldier killed.
There were no comparable stories or photos for the Palestinians.
By July 28, Robert Fisk of The Independent was asking: “What if 35 Palestinians had died, and 800 Israelis?”
On July 31 the online Washington Post had four headlines related to the war on its front page, but only one, “If we die, we die together as a family,” directly dealt with Palestinian sufferings: a Gaza family that lost “11 members killed in a single strike.”
Another one, “For Hamas, hospitals, mosques and schools are also armories,” was an attempt to defend Israeli attacks, yes, on “hospitals, mosques and schools” in Gaza.
On the same day, the largest headline in the online New York Times told the reader: “Netanyahu Vows to Continue Destroying Gaza Tunnels.”
In the print edition, one front-page headline announced: “Arab Leaders, Viewing Hamas as Worse Than Israel, Stay Silent.” When did the New York Times start following “Arab leaders”?
The latter, in any case, was apparently intended to counterbalance the large photo above the headline. It showed a destroyed school with three women in black abaya standing in front of a blackboard, with the caption: “U.N. Shelter Is Hit: At least 20 people were killed when Israeli shells struck a United Nations school in the Gaza Strip.”
On Page 8, however, the perpetrator of the school destruction became hearsay: “Israeli Shells Are Said To Hit a U.N. School.”
The Wall Street Journal followed suit with a large photo, but the caption read: “U.N. Blames Israel for Deadly Attack on Shelter.” As if there was another party to blame.
Casting doubts on who did the killings and destruction in the Gaza Strip persisted. On Aug. 6, the New York Times asked on its front page: “Civilian or Not? New Fight in Tallying the Dead.”
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal dispelled any doubt about which side it was on. On Aug. 2-3, its Review section gave a two-page spread — “In Defense of Zionism” — against an oversize photo of a flag-raising ceremony in Israel, in 1948. Former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael B. Oren wrote the essay. The daily did not stop with Oren’s emotional tribute to his country. On Aug. 8, it carried an article titled: “The U.N. Handmaiden of Hamas.” The one so branded was Pierre Krahenbuhl, head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East.
Claudia Rosett, the brander, was a journalist with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Despite its name, the Washington think tank is known for not criticizing Israel.
The New York Times made its position unmistakable on Aug. 8. It carried an op-ed, “Israel’s Fair-Weather Fans.” The Jewish Journal’s political editor Shmuel Rosner wrote it to condemn “liberal Zionists” who live outside Israel.
It went on like that until Aug. 15, when the New York Times carried an article, “Israel Braces for War Crimes Inquiries on Gaza.” Was the daily finally facing up to what Israel had done? Well, no. The article did note that “more than 1,900 Palestinians were killed,” with “a majority of them believed to be civilians,” while “on the Israeli side 64 soldiers and three civilians were killed.”
The story focused, first, on Israel’s objections to William Schabas, whom the U.N. Human Rights Council had selected on July 23 to head a commission to investigate “the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.” Schabas is a Canadian professor on international criminal and human rights law.
In addition, the last third of the article was devoted to the “fact-finding teams” that the Israeli Army established to counter the potentially negative conclusions of the U.N. report.
Two days before the U.N. action, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, speaking to Christians United for Israel in Washington, had declared: “The Israeli Defense Forces should be given a Nobel Peace Prize! A Nobel Prize for fighting with unimaginable restraint.”
On July 25, the New York Times briefly quoted from Dermer’s speech in an admiring article on the ambassador with the headline: “Israel’s Outspoken Envoy Is Wise to U.S. Ways.” Indeed.
On Aug. 27, the same daily triumphantly reported: “Cease-Fire Extended, but not on Hamas’ Terms.”
After all, as Seamus Milne wrote in his Guardian column, it is “Hamas that is branded terrorist” by the U.S., “rather than the Israeli armed forces armed with the most sophisticated targeting technology in the world.”
Imagine Boston, including its coast, hemmed in by a relentlessly hostile superior power ready to attack it anytime from air, land and sea. Boston is about a third of the Gaza Strip in land area but it is the same in population density.
Jonathan Whittall, of the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), recently compared the Gaza Strip to “an open-air prison” and the Palestinians to its “prisoners in between their torture sessions.” He is right.
Hiroaki Sato is an essayist and translator in New York.