An internal CNN memo was leaked on 19 May. The email, addressed to the CNN superdesk, outlined the need for reporters to refer to Gaza’s Ministry of Health as the Hamas-run Ministry of Health when reporting on casualty numbers. This word choice sanitized CNN’s coverage of the conflict, implying that the Ministry of Health in Palestine is a part of an “opposing side” or “threat” to Israel.
This subtle change in language to alter how the ongoing occupation is perceived isn’t unique to CNN. When western media covers the occupation, headlines are often vague, using less direct and descriptive terms when describing acts of violence or war crimes. The Israeli military has been bombing Gaza since 11 May, using targeted airstrikes to attack and dismantle areas they believe to be occupied by Hamas representatives or bases. The airstrikes followed an escalation of ongoing state violence, where Israeli police attacked gathered Palestinian worshipers at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem during the last days of Ramadan. Hamas, the Palestinian resistance whose aims since formation have been to liberate Palestine from Israeli occupation, is often separate from them, despite winning the legislative election and being labelled Israel’s opposition.
Under the guise of objectivity, U.S. media outlets’ choice to support its national ally Israel is reflected in the language they use to describe the occupation in debates and articles. CNN, Fox News and The New York Times headlines covering the occupation omitted “state-sponsored forced displacement,” in place of “evictions,” even though they imply legal authority. The Israeli occupation has no legitimate jurisdiction over Palestinian areas under international law, and using this word downplays the greater issues at play with these displacements and alters the way their audience views the ongoing occupation. The same media companies described Israeli police attacks on Palestinian Muslim worshippers in Holy temples as “clashes” or “protests.” This choice not only erases the extent of the violence, but also implies that the Israeli police and Palestinians were on equal standing.
The ongoing airstrikes between Israel and Palestine are now recognized as a decade long Israeli occupation and system of apartheid. Yet, Western media’s continued use of the word “conflict” perpetrates the idea that the occupier and occupied are equals, possessing same amount of weapons, resources, and international support at their disposal. Hamas is an Islamic resistance movement with a social service wing, whose military branch is fighting against the technologically advanced Israeli military. Israel is the only country in the region with nuclear capabilities, and the current airstrikes have left Palestine with 10 times as many casualties as them. The power Israel has as an occupying state over Palestine, the state it occupies, is obscured by this vaguer vocabulary. There is an undeniable power imbalance at play, and this is crucial to understanding the possibilities of resolution. Pressure for international support and the language the media is currently using does not reflect or inform those unaware of this imbalance.
There is one imbalance at play in western media coverage of the events: the passivity of the language used when recounting ongoing airstrikes. In The New York Times article, “As Gaza War Escalates, New Front Opens in Israeli Cities,” Palestinians aren’t described as being killed by Israeli bombs; instead, they die. Reuters states that “[M]ore than 67 Palestinians, including 16 children, have died.” When the narrative switches to cover the damage in Israel, however, they are “killed.” This is evident in another article by The New York Times: “The rockets fired by Hamas and its Islamist ally, Islamic Jihad, killed at least six Israeli civilians,”
In the headline of a Reuters article, the destruction of a Gaza residential building has not resulted from Israeli airstrikes- it was not “destroyed.” Instead, it collapsed after the strikes ended. Most media coverage of the war often presents the current events unfolding, without the seven decades of context that preceded it. Israeli police attacks on worshipers are not random clashes with protestors, but part of a long-existing Israeli strategy to dismantle and discourage Palestinian mass gatherings. While the media cite their information, they can still alter the accuracy of their statements, with misinformation unfortunately prevalent in a lot of Western outlets.
Allegations have arisen throughout the ongoing airstrikes of the Israeli military purposefully spreading false information, in order to deceive Western media outlets and the Palestinian population. There has also been a rise of misleading videos or images taken out of context and reworked to support a specific side. Arieh Kovler, a political analyst and independent researcher in Jerusalem, described the distribution of misleading content or re-uploaded videos as “being shared right now because people are desperate to share information about the unfolding situation. What makes it more confusing is that it is a mix of false claims and genuine stuff, which is being attributed to the wrong place or wrong time.”
Examples of these videos include a 28-second video posted by a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, supposedly showing Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip launching a rocket at Israel from densely populated civilian areas. This video, however, was not from Gaza but Syria or Libya in 2018. Another video showing Jewish civilians tearing their clothing as a sign of devotion was distributed and circulated as evidence they were faking their own injuries.
All coverage and context must return to the occupation, which is the originator of ongoing violence. The use of passive language and lack of fact-checking results in Western mainstream media amplifying an Israeli strategy to discuss a false “ground invasion,” to drive Hamas fighters into tunnels that were a planned target for airstrikes. The coverage of the events as a “debate” with two opposing sides, posing as an equal threat to one another, damages the chances of international populations putting pressure on their governments, and calling for an international commitment to their laws. Calls need to be made for western news outlets to use more accurate information amid the ongoing occupation, and stop sanitizing their language to alter the way the war is represented and interpreted.