September 28 marked the 20th anniversary of the start of the Second Intifada (also known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada); a period of violent struggle between Israeli occupation forces and Palestinian resistance fighters that would last until early 2005, leaving thousands killed and injured, and hardening hearts and minds on both sides of the Green Line.
But the international media’s reporting of the Al-Aqsa Intifada today remains the same as it was two decades ago. With the contours and realities of the conflict blurred into the background, and Israeli fears and suffering accentuated and brought to the fore, while the Palestinians are left as bit actors in their own struggle for liberation from a brutal and illegal military occupation that’s now in its 54th year.
The contours and realities of the conflict blurred into the background, and Israeli fears and suffering accentuated and brought to the fore, while the Palestinians are left as bit actors in their own struggle for liberation.
When you ask Americans or Europeans what they know about the Second Intifada, they predictably mention Hamas, suicide bombings, and the bombing of busses, bars, and nightclubs. The more astute observers of the conflict, however, might comment on how the violence killed the “peace process” or forever changed the political map for both Israel and Palestinians.
While all of the above is true and there’s no doubting that a wave of Hamas suicide bombings pushed Israeli politics further rightwards, it parrots a pro-Israel narrative and obfuscates the violence the Palestinian people endure daily.
In “Bad News From Israel,” Mike Berry and Greg Philo tested the levels of knowledge British, German, and American respondents had about the background of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They found that only a small percentage were able to answer basic questions, such as “Who is the occupier?” and “Are Israelis or Palestinians the colonists?”
My guess is that were you to ask your everyday US citizen what percentage of the nearly 6,000 civilians killed during the Intifada were Israeli, most would estimate somewhere in the range of 70 to 90 percent. In actuality, Palestinians represented more than 80 percent of total casualties, among them were over 1,200 children, 270 women, and dozens of medical personnel, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.
Defense for Children International estimates more than 10,000 Palestinian children were injured by Israeli forces during the 2000 to 2005 period, while Amnesty International concluded that 80 percent of Palestinians killed during the first month of the Intifada posed no threat to Israeli soldiers.
Amnesty International concluded that 80 percent of Palestinians killed during the first month of the Intifada posed no threat to Israeli soldiers.
Israeli soldiers fired indiscriminately into crowds of Palestinian protesters, carried out waves of political assassinations, and rolled tanks and flew helicopters into civilian neighborhoods, leaving innocent men, women, and children dead in their wake.
Lost also in mainstream post-Intifada discourse is the fact that the number of illegal Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank had doubled to 400,000 in the seven-year period between the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 and the start of the Intifada in 2000.
Rather than report the reality of the conflict, one in which the Palestinians were resisting an unlawful Israeli military occupation then as they are today, the international news media has consistently framed Palestinians as the perpetrators and Israelis as the victims.
In their discursive analysis of the Western media’s reporting of the Intifada, social scientists Annelore Deprez and Karin Raeymaeckers found a measurable pro-Israel bias.
“While the Israelis and their actions are principally described in positive terms, Palestinians are very often labelled negatively,” write the authors in “Media, War and Conflict” (2011). “For instance, Palestinian actions are mostly related to terrorism, while Israeli lethal actions are described as necessary measures to protect the country against hostile attacks by the Palestinians.”
“The same applies to the portrayal of victims. Palestinians are ‘killed’ or ‘lose their lives (rather neutral words), Israelis are ‘murdered’ or ‘lynched.’”
This false narrative has undermined global solidarity for the Palestinian liberation cause.
This false narrative has undermined global solidarity for the Palestinian liberation cause, which is of course exactly what Israel wants. Many have been seduced by the misdirecting claim that Israel has a right to defend itself from Palestinian resistance, a throwaway slogan that subtly and deliberately infers the Israeli military occupation is a peaceful action.
It has also distorted the way in which Palestinians view the “peace process,” while global audiences parrot Israel’s demands for an end to violence as a precondition to negotiations.
“For Israelis, the peace process is a negotiation,” observes Alan Dowty in “Impact of the Aqsa Intifada on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” “In this negotiation, each side trades off assets that it considers less valuable for more valued concessions from the other side, arriving at a balanced agreement that is better for both than the point of departure – though the relative advantage gained inevitably reflects the bargaining leverage of the parties.”
From a Palestinian perspective, there’s nothing to negotiate. They seek not a tit-for-tat land swap agreement or compromised brokering, but rather a return of their territories and sovereign rights. Concessions and negotiations “ignore the fact that the Palestinians are the victims of Israeli aggression and that the land Israelis are offering to ‘give up’ is Palestinian land occupied by military force,” as stated by former Palestinian leaders.
Concessions and negotiations “ignore the fact that the Palestinians are the victims of Israeli aggression and that the land Israelis are offering to ‘give up’ is Palestinian land occupied by military force.”
Moreover, mainstream post-Intifada discourse tends to ignore the fact that international law, specifically United Nations Resolution 37/43, grants the Palestinians, and all other peoples who seek self-determination from under “colonial and foreign domination,” the right to use whatever means necessary, including armed struggle, to resist Israel’s occupation.
The US has outed itself as a dishonest broker for peace in the conflict under the Trump administration, and pretty much all of the Arab Gulf regimes have outed their close relationship with the Israeli government, leaving Palestinian aspirations for an independent state in tatters. The international news media will do well to redress the way it has reported the conflict during the past 20 years, because peace for the Palestinians depends on it.