Thrill of Colonial Violence, Stereotypes, Make Up October Press on Palestine
November 25 2022
blog Series: 

Editor's Note: This article is part of the Press on Palestine series, an initiative by Palestine Square. It includes selections from October 2022. Press on Palestine highlights bias in mainstream American reporting on Palestinian and Arab-Israeli affairs. 

1. The Wall Street, October 13, 2022
Israeli Police, Palestinians Clash in Jerusalem as Unrest Spreads by Dov Leiber, Aaron Boxerman, Fatima AbdulKarim

Pro-Israeli voices get to make up the news as they go along. The headline instantly frames the settler raids in Jerusalem in an “us vs. them” narrative. The police, of course, are the authority, and the violence simply sprung out of nothing. At no point in the article is there a single mention of the siege of Nablus in the West Bank, which sparked Palestinian protests and self-defense across other cities. 

Interestingly, “Palestinians who threw stones, firecrackers and Molotov cocktails” are framed as troublemakers. But for the past year, The Wall Street Journal has lavished praise on the ‘ordinary citizens’ of Ukraine who are rightfully using things like molotov cocktails to resist a Russian invasion. While WSJ reporters individualize and humanize Ukrainian resistors — ‘civilians, including a pizzeria owner’ is a description that has been used — the popular resistance of Palestinian youth against a 74-year-long militarized Occupation is “violent rioting” by “militants.” 


2. The New York Times, October 25, 2022 
Deadly Israeli Raid Targets New Palestinian Militia by Isabel Kershner 

In her article, The New York Times’ Isabel Kershner asserts the age-old myth that Israeli violence is always a justifiable response to Palestinian resistance against the Occupation. Kershner frames the two-week-long Israeli siege of the city of Nablus as a necessity for Israeli security, in contrast to Palestinians “burning tires and hurling rocks at the forces.” She plays up a stereotype used by media to delegitimize Palestinian direct action, further perpetuating an image of Palestinians as violent aggressors. 

The entire article relies on this narrative. Israel — a nuclear power — and Palestine are on equal playing fields. Israeli violence against Palestinians is always self-defense. Each Palestinian casualty mentioned is immediately followed by a statement about  an explosive devise allegedly planted by Palestinian "militia" (with, of course, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) as the source of information). Not once is the reader led to question the very presence of the illegal settlement, or the violence of land theft and expulsion of Palestinian inhabitants.  Palestinian deaths are abstracted as numbers — names are avoided at all costs. 

One of the sinister assertions is Kershner’s claim that young Palestinians are equally as frustrated with the Palestinian Authority as they are with the Israeli Occupation. Firstly, while the PA’s leadership is authoritarian, corrupt, pro-Israeli lobbyists typically invoke this argument when they want to find a boogeyman… even though they are well-aware that the Israeli authorities wield the power of life and death in Occupied Palestine, and routinely jail and kill low-level members of the PA, including innocent family members. 

Secondly, co-opting the frustration of young people to push forth the idea that the state of Israel and the Palestinian Authority are two equally bad actors — who are equally responsible for Palestinian suffering under Israeli occupation — is the most manipulative of storytelling. NYT does this to obscure the true culprit of the pain, grief, and rage felt by young Palestinians: the Israeli government and its military. 

Kershner references escalating Israeli settler violence against Palestinians as a “confrontation” during the olive harvest. She erases the settler destruction of olive orchards through theft and poisining, harassment of Palestinian farmers, and the recent lynching of Jewish activist, Hagar Geffen, which happend five days before the article was published. 

Kershner — who has deep ties to the apartheid regime (her son and husband both served in the Occupation Forces, the latter has advised Israel's communication strategy) — pushes a false narrative that is often repeated in mainstream outlets: Israel is a blameless victim attempting to defend itself from Palestinian aggressors. 

By highlighting examples of escalating violence from Palestinians, and equating it as a “both sides” issue, without ever contextualizing the attacks and deaths mentioned, Kershner gets away with hiding who actually must be held accountable for this suffering — the Israeli Occupation Forces and the deranged settlers they protect.


3. The Washington Post, October 25, 2022
Israeli raid on Nablus kills 5, destroys bomb lab in escalating violence by Steve Hendrix 

The Washington Post deploys frightening language in a headline that doesn’t mention “Palestinians” or “Palestine.” 

Readers — who are immediately exposed to Israelis being portrayed as law enforcement officials busting into some sort of illegal site — get to see the words “bomb lab.” Because, when covering the Middle East, why not put bombs front and center? 

Most of the quotes in this piece — which is written by Steve Hendrix, a former travel and style reporter who doesn’t speak Arabic — are unchallenged statements by the Israeli Occupation Forces. 

Notice how only quotes are unchallenged statements by the Israeli Occupation Forces. This is an incredibly lazy method of reporting… not to mention one that sets the Israeli apartheid state up as the authoritative voice. 

There is no context about the resistance of Palestinian youth  against illegal settler incursions and increasingly dire living conditions imposed by the Occupation. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are brought up — even though they have nothing to do with the youth in Nablus standing up in defense of their homes — for the simple purpose of deploying scary language to Western readers who have been watching too much Fauda.

For Hendrix, the resistance of Palestinians can only be terrorism — another lazy deference to Hollywood stereotypes, or, perhaps more sinisterly, a purely racist take. He doesn’t note that Nablus has been besieged for over three weeks, with residents not being able to receive the food, water or electricity that they pay inflated prices for. He hasn’t bothered to look up the fact that the IOF presence in the West Bank is illegal under international law. 

When The Washington Post allows a reporter to write that “at least five were killed in the fighting,” who exactly are the five? What exactly is this “fighting?” Israeli forces — who are illegally roaming free — raided a building at night, firing wildly. Two of the five people they assassinated are not even members of any form of organized group. All of those killed are indigenous to the land. But, of course, when the “violence” and its victims are unclarified and unnamed, it’s harder for readers to recognize that this is life under siege. The thrill of colonial violence — the thrill of bomb threats, terrorists — is distant, and, more importantly (for the sake of generating clicks) entertaining. 

About The Author: 

Laura Albast is a Palestinian-American journalist, editor, and media analyst. Her publications and appearances include The Washington PostThe New Arab, Arab American NewsDoha News, Al Jazeera, TRT World, KPFA and other outlets. She holds degrees from the American University of Beirut and Boston University and is currently the Senior Editor of Digital Strategy and Communications at the Institute for Palestine Studies-USA in Washington, DC — she is the managing editor of Palestine Square.

Sarah O'Neal A writer, organizer, and poet from Oakland, CA.


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