Home Analysis Western Media and the Danger of Dehumanizing Language in Palestine

Western Media and the Danger of Dehumanizing Language in Palestine

Western Media and the Danger of Dehumanizing Language in Palestine

Why media outlets use different words to cover the Middle East situation?   

By Messaoud Romdhani

Do you remember the famous phrase used by George Orwell in his phenomenal novel Animal Farm, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than other”? That quote has become famous as it emphasizes the disillusionment we often experience with values and principles, i.e. discrepancy between an ideology that preaches “equality” between all human beings and the bitter reality where power, propaganda and self-interest are the rule. Well, here is a striking example: the way most of the western media have lately dealt with the recent events in Palestine shows that journalism ethics such as transparency, objectivity and fairness when reporting issues are often dangerously compromised. Most of them have, shamelessly, exhibited bias when covering the conflict.

Ours killed or theirs died!

Back in 2018, the New York Times wrote: “Dozens of Palestinians have died as the US prepares to open its Jerusalem Embassy.” How did they die? Who killed them? Well, it’s a euphemism that the news consumer has to come to term with. That’s why an angry commentator responded, setting the record straight: “Dozens of Palestinians are shot to death by Israeli soldiers … Do your damn job correctly and report the truth!”

October 2023, the same story again. And reputable old media house, such as the BBC, could not help falling into the same trap. Just have a look at these two pieces of information, from the British broadcaster whose mission is said to “provide accurate and impartial news”, to get the difference between killed and died.

Conscious or unconscious bias? It is rather conscious and it causes offense that “goes so deep in our lives

“More than 500 people have died in Gaza after Israel launched massive retaliatory air strikes.”

“More than 700 people have been killed in Israel since Hamas launched its attacks on Saturday.”

Language has never been innocent, and as one expert noticed it is important that the news consumer should be attentive and understand “why media outlets use different words to cover the same kind of topics.” Conscious or unconscious bias? It is rather conscious and it causes offense that “goes so deep in our lives,” says a Palestinian commentator.

Another way of bias is to repeat the same question to every high-ranking Palestinian official: “Do you condemn Hamas attack?” Just a way to shove him/her up against the wall. In an interview on Channel 4, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK not only ducked the question, but also asked Ms. Newman, the interviewer, why she had not asked the same question to the Israeli politician interviewed immediately before him about the killing of a whole family mentioned in the Channel’s report in Gaza.

As Professor Mustapha Bayoumi wrote in the Guardian, oppressed people are killed twice “first by bullet or bomb, and next by the language used to describe their deaths.”

Forgetful remembrance?

Forgetful remembrance is famous book in which Guy Beiner examines, through studying one episode of the Irish history, what might happen when societies attempt to forget some disturbing events. Is that what some media are trying to do? Blurring the memory? Inculcating in people’s minds that the conflict just starts with the Hamas” unprovoked” attack? The main idea is to insinuate that the attack of Hamas came out of the blue, removing all other historical factors: the colonization that suffocate Palestinians in Gaza, making of it an open air prison, depriving its population of basic necessities, imposing a blockade which constitutes a form of collective punishment to about a two-million population in total violation of the international humanitarian law…

Stephen Wallet, a columnist in Foreign Policy and Robert Belfer, a political science professor, wrote: “yes it (the attack led by Hamas) was unprovoked in the narrow legal sense …but surely it was provoked in the common sense of the term,” because it was a response to “the conditions that Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere have faced for decades.”

British journalist Harry Fear accuses most western media of exhibiting bias in its coverage of the conflict, “a bias that is mostly based on Israeli narrative.”

“the framing of the conflict in this latest round of fighting usually completely silences the context of 16 years of strangulation and siege, an ongoing war on Gaza, complete denial of Palestinians, human rights, civil rights, political economic rights, really that dignity as humans at all, largely based on an ideology of racial supremacy and domination.”

Dehumanisation of Palestinians

The image that most mainstream media tried to convey, mainly after the attack of Hamas, is that Palestinians are violent, cruel and capable of the most barbaric and atrocious acts. And “it is something intrinsic in their very nature and culture,” as explained by Palestinian American writer, Ra’fat Al-Dajani, when criticizing western media, adding that the implication is that: “the only way to interact with them is through the use of force”. And to support this allegation, the story of beheaded babies and children was invented.

One day after giving the information, while on air, about babies and toddlers who were found with their heads decapitated during Hamas attacks in the Kibbutz, Sara Sidner, reporter and correspondent of CNN apologized: “Yesterday the Israeli Prime Minister’s office said that it had confirmed Hamas beheaded babies and children while we are live on air. The Israeli government now says it CANNOT confirm babies were beheaded. I needed to be more careful and I am sorry.”

But isn’t the rectification a bit too late? The law of propaganda as it is “taught” by Joseph Goebbels says: “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.” And the lie was repeated to dozens of millions of news consumers. Despite the rectification by the Israeli government, the misinformation continued to spread through many news outlets and social platforms.

Killing Hamas fighters won’t solve seventy-five years of injustice. The children will carry the torch, just as they did themselves from their parents. Unleashing deadly violence on millions of Gazans only accentuates the spiral of revenge. A real vicious circle. A just and lasting peace cannot be established in the current conditions, when Israel is waging a merciless war against an entire population, when the extreme right-wing government is pursuing an apartheid policy and continuing its colonization in defiance of international law.

Unfortunately, the dehumanizing language used by some western media –and political leaders- goes in the opposite direction. And so does the lack of empathy for Palestinians.


Messaoud Romdhani is a Tunisian human rights activist, former President of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights
Courtesy: Alternatives International (Posted on October 19, 2023)


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