Media news coverage plays a pivotal role in reporting news. It has the power to not only relay events, but also to represent events according to specific interests and circumstances, subsequently shaping audiences’ comprehension and perceptions. The continuing growth of influence of new media forces, such as the revolutionary technology of the Internet and the expansion of transnational media companies such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, has added to the power and impact of news coverage and reporting (Thompson and White 2008).
It is a well-established fact that media organizations do often not work in a vacuum, but are rather influenced by the political environment and the public. Politics affects the way in which the press works, the way in which media cover events and the way in which news reports construct perceptions of events. This is particularly noticeable during periods of tension, conflict and wars (Avraham 2003). Thus, media has become a key political instrument in volatile regions, such as in Israel, consequently leading to an increase in influencing news reports in accordance with political ideologies and objectives. Examinations of Israeli media representations of Palestinians during periods of wars and conflict substantiate this argument. At the same time, the public also influences the way media portrays its news. The nature of the news representations are often illustrated according to the expectations of the public, representing a projection of what readers interpret and understand the Palestinians (Avraham 2003).
The purpose of this study is twofold. First, the work compiled here acquires to question whether media coverage of Palestinians during periods of peace differs from news coverage during periods of war. While the majority of examinations have looked at how Israeli media represent Palestinians during conflict time, little attention has been paid to examine media representations during periods of peace. The aim of this study is to compare news reports from periods represented by less violence to Palestinian representations originating from the time of the two Intifadas and identify whether the framework of reporting alters in any considerable way during peace in comparison to war.
Second, the study aims to explore to which extent is Israeli politics influencing and is embedded in the media representations of Palestinians, disregarding the state of war and peace. The examination conducted demonstrated that Israeli media representations of the Palestinians do not alter due to war and conflict, but are more likely to be affected by the political environment and even the public. The study seeks further to better illuminate the role of politics and media as agents of control and influence, especially in treating high-profile representations as in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given that media is increasingly exported and circulated nationally and internationally, examinations of Israeli media coverage becomes especially relevant.
Israeli Media and Political Influence
Teun van Dijk indicates that media news reporting is closely linked with the actions and opinions of various political institutions and groups, such as governments and lobby groups (van Dijk 2003:359). Media is often employed by political actors as an instrument of influence to demonize opponents and commend allies and affect the degree to which the readership will perceive a situation or event. News coverage often tends therefore to reflect the attitudes and reveal the interests of political actors.
Crucially here is to understand that through the decisions about which issues to report in negative or positive tones and how to report these issues in relation to the political context, media have the power to choose particular versions of a particular situation (van Dijk 1997). Thus, media become a powerful mean by which political actors shape forms of perception, of categorization, of interpretation and of memory, which subsequently has led to the scrutinization of journalistic objectivity (Thomson and White 2008). This becomes a noteworthy circumstance for research, which is further heightened in cases of high-profile political situations, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israeli media have often been accused of exploiting their position and allowing political interests to determine the course of news representation of their opponents, such as the Palestinians. Media are a main source of information of Israeli political aims towards the Palestinians and can be regarded as a vital tool for mobilizing opinions (Maoz 2006:71). As Maoz acknowledges, Israeli media often have the tendency to frame Palestinian news reporting in negative terms by explicitly reporting for example that “Palestinians are against the Israelis” or “the steps taken by Palestinians in the conflict are necessarily bad for the Israelis” (Maoz 2006:74). These reports emphasise an anti-Israeli feeling, which is identified as a way to satisfy the Israeli governmental policies towards Palestine, as well as to gain international support and feed the public with images that the Palestinians are a threat to Israel (Avraham 2003). In some occasions this tendency has spilled over to include negative representations of other Arab nations. This was clearly observed during the administration of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who focused his political power on constructing the image of Syria as an enemy of the Western world, a discourse widely supported by Israeli media in representing Syria as a threat towards the West and its allies (Reinhart 2006:38).
Israeli media companies have denied the accusations that politics enters every level of news coverage and affects the way in which media cover news. Yet, several studies conducted in a variety of contexts provide evidence of the existence of a political bias in the coverage of Palestinians by Israeli press (Avraham 2003, Liebes and Kampf 2009). Libes (1997) identifies Israeli media as being controlled by a Zionist political hegemony, which dictates how media cover the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Jakubowicz et al (1994) highlight that Israeli press constructs negative representations of the Palestinians, so that they fit the policy of the Israeli government and the interests of those in power, purposely financial organizations and the upper social classes. Rinnawi (2007) argues that Israeli media coverage of Palestinians is often framed as a security issue, ignoring social circumstances, marginalising the coverage of Palestinians and legitimizing Israeli political policies and interests.
News Coverage of Palestinians during Conflict
Particularly during periods of conflicts and wars, Israeli media affect the way in which representations of Palestinians are framed. Media coverage often takes a stand against the Palestinian “enemy” and supports the Israeli political agenda, while frequently relying on information received from official Israeli security and government sources (Wolfsfeld et al 2000, Avraham 2003:8-9). There appears to be little doubt that especially in situations of political tension and conflict, these official sources tend to legitimize the Israeli status, control, ideology, discourse and policies towards the Palestinians, known as legitimization coverage, while delegitimizing (delegitimization coverage) the actions and attitudes of the Palestinians (Rinnawi 2007:153).
Examinations of media reports during the two Intifadas substantiate this argument. The Intifadas are two Palestinian uprisings against the Israeli occupation and oppression. While the First Intifada is known for its non violent resistance movements, the Second Intifada (Al-Aqsa Intifada) included major terror attacks, taking a high toll on the Israelis (Mayer and Mourad 2008). Research indicates that during the two Intifadas, Israeli media abandoned their role as watch dogs. The principles of objectivity and plurality of voices evaporated in the hands of media and journalists did not falter to emphasize their positions as Israeli citizens and mobilize to the struggle in support of Israel (Liebes and Kampf 2009:434). By transporting the Israeli attitudes into and marginalise the Palestinians from the news coverage, media had the ability to support governmental policies, marginalise the Palestinian voice and influence public opinion (Avraham 2003:8). Consequently, Palestinians receive coverage only in negative terms (Wolfsfeld 1997), revealed in binary oppositions such as us/them, good/bad, terrorist/victim, hierarchically structured with one term being privileged over the other (Derrida 1984:8).
Us and Them
Media clearly distinguished between the Israeli “us” and the Palestinian “them” during the uprising of the Intifadas (Ro’eh and Nir 1993). The Palestinian “them” news coverage often revealed images of crime, security risk, violence and social unrest, while the Israeli “us” were depicted as victims facing escalating violence from the side of the Palestinians (Kacowicz 2005). The “them” group was demonized by illustrations, for instance by publishing images of masked individuals and crowds that raised Palestinian flags, threw rocks and stones and set fires (Liebes and Kampf 2009:439). Media reports were polarizing, where the antagonist (Palestinian) was viewed as violating the safety of Israel, while the protagonist (Israeli) conformed to this. Kacowics interprets this as a black-and-white dichotomous view of the conflict and which he argues is necessary in order to continue the negative perception of the enemy representations (Kacowics 2005:345). Nir and Ro’eh (1993) argue that the feeling of collective identity perceived in the binary categorizations of “us” against “them” reflect the tendency to refrain from attributing direct responsibility of “us” to the cause of the “them” violence and to blur the perception of Israel as responsible for any Palestinian incidents.
Victim and Terrorist
The categorization of “us” and “them” is linked to the binary depiction of victim versus terrorist, in which Israeli media exaggerated the Palestinian capability of harming Israel and ignored the asymmetry between their ability to exercise force during the Intifadas (Rinnawi 2007:161). The actions of Israel were presented as a defensive response to the actions of the Palestinians, while delegitimizing the demonstrations and riots of the Palestinians as security threats to the existence of Israel. This can be illustrated by the dramatization and overstatement of events, especially with regard to violence committed by Palestinians (Dor 2001). For instance news reports implied that injured or killed Palestinians were not innocent bystanders, but armed and dangerous. The use of force on the part of Israel was therefore legitimate and was not perceived as aggression (Rinnawi 2007:165). Interestingly, the reasons for the emergence of the Intifadas were never set in the context of a struggle conducted by a group who live under military occupation and are striving to achieve their independence. By decontextualizing, media ignored the political context of the uprisings (Liebes and Kampf 2009:439) and instead supported the official security and government discourses, which perceived Palestinians as security threats and terrorists and Israelis as victims (Kacowicz 2005:344).
Israeli media did not acknowledge both sides of the story during the Intifadas. Palestinians were repeatedly put in a subaltern position, where their voices were not heard and their images were excised. This has been identified as the depersonalisation of the Palestinians, a process categorized by actions such as erasing the personal identity of casualties in news reports (Liebes and Kampf 2009:439) or presenting injured or attacked Palestinians in a way that emphasizes their violent nature, justifying and legitimizing the use of force against them (Rinnawi 2007:165). Liebes and Kampf comment that “on screen and in the printed press, no Palestinian voices were heard and no Palestinian faces were seen” (Liebes and Kampf 2009:439).
News reports tended to employ the active voice to describe Palestinian group violence and the passive voice to depict Israeli group violence (Ro’eh and Nir 1993). When Israeli military actions could not be explained, media tended to use the passive rather than the active voice to diminish the degree of responsibility (Rinnawi 2007:167). Furthermore, the vast majority of news reports displayed a noticeable absence of responses to the events by Palestinian representatives. It is hardly surprising that the readership received a biased version of the Intifadas and the Palestinians and was not exposed to alternative sources (Rinnawi 2007:176).
Discourse Analysis of Media Reports
In order to address the aims, this study employs discourse analysis of selected news articles from four Israeli newspapers. Discourse analysis examines structures of meaning in discourses. According to theorists, words do not have meaning in and of themselves, but they are only becoming meaningful when used in discourse (Weaver 2009:164). One of the central concepts of discourse analysis is obviously discourse. In its broad sense, discourse has been defined as a particular unit of a language and with a particular focus, which looks at the form of the language and at the function of the language (Schiffrin 1998:20-21). By examining media articles, discourse analysis illuminates the construction of meaning, which helps to understand the ways in which for example Palestinians are constituted by Israeli newspapers and how these representations construct a certain understanding about the Palestinians.
Norman Fairclough acknowledges that media news are interesting to analyse because they provide an understanding that news representations are subjective interpretations, conditioned by the political and social surrounding (Fairclough 2001:4). Media reports are thus projective, imaginaries and represent different perspectives of the same event. Media news constitute part of the resources which people deploy in relating to one another, especially when competing and dominating (Fairclough 2003:124).
For the purpose of this study, I selected four Israeli papers, Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, Arutz Sheva and Yediot Ahronoth, ranging from liberal to Zionist supporting newspapers. All four papers shared five common criteria: 1) they are well known, 2) are widely read by the Israeli elite and ordinary citizens, 3) are also published in English, 4) are issued daily and 5) are regularly reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All four papers are offering easy and convenient access to online sites, from which the articles were selected.
The Tel Aviv based Haaretz (sometimes spelt Ha’aretz) is regarded as Israel’s first and most prestigious daily (Caspi and Limor 1999). It is often described as an influential and highly respected newspaper, read mostly by Israel’s social and political elite, such as political leaders, the economic elite and intelligentsia (BBC 22.02.2002). Haaretz identifies itself as an elitist newspaper with a reputation for quality reporting. The paper has one of the most editorial and opinion-related content and therefore offers a liberal outlook on domestic and international affairs and is perhaps best known for its Op-ed page (Daily Earth 2009). With an editorial line to the left of Yedioth Ahronoth, the privately owned daily is strongly secular and moderate on security and foreign policy issues (BBC 08.05.2006).
Less critical than other newspapers, the Jerusalem Post’s readership includes Israeli politicians and an extended international audience, in the form of foreign journalists and tourists, due to its worldwide distribution and its role as a primary source of information of Middle East news. The paper has no Hebrew edition, restricting its popularity within Israel. Once regarded a left wing newspaper, the Jerusalem Post underwent a shift to the right and since 2004 the paper’s political identity has moved to a more right-of-center position. Examples of this shift include support for the August 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip and support for privatization of Israel’s religious institutions. The tougher line on issues such as security and the question of Palestinian territories has remained constant (BBC 08.05.2006) (Daily Earth 2009).
Centrist Yedioth Ahronoth (sometimes spelt Yedioth Aharonoth or Yediot Ahronot) is based and published in Tel Aviv and promotes itself as the nation’s newspaper, boasting the country’s largest circulation and having Israel’s most popular internet site, Ynet (Rinnawi 2007:157). The privately owned daily publishes a wide range of articles, giving space to commentators from the political right and left (BBC 08.05.2006). Alongside other Israeli media, Yedioth Ahronoth has been criticised for its supposed censorship to silence opposition that did not support the government policy and actions during the 2008-2009 Gaza War (AFP 2009). Together with Haaretz, it enjoys nearly 70 % of the newspaper readership in Israel (Avraham 2003).
Arutz Sheva (Israel National Media) is a media network identified with traditional Jewish-Zionist orientation and therefore runs a politically conservative news reporting. Compared to the other three papers, Arutz Sheva only offers online news, which are easily accessed by its wide readership. Due to its Zionist preferences, the paper has been dubbed the voice of the Israeli settlement movement (Daily Earth 2009).
The articles were followed during periods of non-violence, which yielded substantial and relevant data to examine the phenomenon of interest. These periods were used as a point of reference to guide my examination of news coverage during periods represented by peace, non major conflictual events and low key disruptions. Second, news coverage of the Middle East during these times reported a revival of new developments in an effort to restart the peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians and therefore observed a new wave of optimism towards improved relationships.
The articles chosen referred directly to Palestinian related issues and were published on the main page of the sites. I refrained from using material that appeared in subsections, such as Op-eds, due to the fact that main page articles are regarded as more important and influential. In order to keep a constant track of the news, the articles were examined at a precise time in the morning and evening. Articles that were deemed as important were kept as first page material throughout the day. The articles studied included news coverage of a variety of issues such as Abbas’ withdrawal from the candidacy of the presidential election, international criticism of the extension of settlement constructions, peace negotiations meetings, attempts to secure the release of a captured Israeli soldier and the security wall.
Each of these events offered a context in which Palestinians were portrayed as the negative Other by describing them as obstacles to the peace process, terrorists, security threats and exploiters. An examination of these articles questioned two issues. First, whether media worked independently from the influence of Israeli political ideology and second, whether media representations during periods of peace exposed the same traditional image of Palestinians as during periods of war.
Since space is limited within this article, I cannot provide a detailed analysis of all the intertextual relations of text within each perspective identified in the articles. Instead I will analyse the most explicit examples and quotations as illustrated.
One noticeable aspect of the news reporting is the stress on injury, harm and damage to Israeli citizens and objects caused by the destructive and threatening Palestinian behaviour. This was for example especially visible in relation to an article covering the story of a group of Palestinians celebrating the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and who toppled a partition of the so called security fence. Not only was this event portrayed as an act of Palestinian hooliganism, but it was also reported as an attack on the security fence, which has been constructed for the precise purpose to prevent Palestinian threats and to protect Israel. At the very basic level the readership was therefore positioned to identify the wall with security, the people behind the wall with a threat to Israel and any attacks on the wall as a security threat to Israel.
While three of the chosen newspapers did not pay major attention to the wall incident, Haaretz covered the story to a large extent. The paper linked the event to the traditional image of stone throwing Palestinian mobs, much similar to the media representations during the Intifadas. The newspaper described that “thick black smoke from a stack of tires set alight by the youths mingled with white trails of tear gas against the blue sky” (Haaretz 10.11.2009). There appeared to be little doubt in how the paper legitimized the “trails of tear gas” of the Israeli military, while delegitimizing the “stack of tires set alight” of the Palestinian protesters.
The article depicted Israel as defending itself against a security threat, which requires a concrete physical entity in order to prevent any risks. Involuntarily, the report of the security fence incident creates the image of a vile Other lurking behind the wall, especially when using words such as “suicide bombers”, “terrorism” and “violent attacks”. The article also had an end remark in which the purpose of the wall was reiterated by stating that “Israel began building its barrier of fences and walls at the height of the Palestinian uprising that began in 2000” and “the wall is a security fence against attacks on Israel” (Haaretz 10.11.2009). This is by no means a way in presenting the interests of the “us” group and unite the Israelis into a single community, sharing a common threat and agreeing on the need of building the wall. According to surveys, the majority of the Israeli population is supportive of the construction of the wall. Recent statistics from 2009 point to 84% of the population in favour for the continuation of the construction (Mayer and Mourad 2008).
Israel’s political, legal and military authorities have therefore full support from a large number of the population in pursuing their actions. The Israeli media are not alone in bearing responsibility for the representation of the importance of the security wall and the demonization of the Palestinians as a factor contributing to the security risk of Israel. Media have been highly influenced by the political agenda. For example, Israel’s Foreign Ministry has always maintained the necessity of the security fence, drawing clear links between the wall construction, Palestinians, terrorism and the saving of life of the Israeli nation (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2010). Another example is the Disengagement Plan for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from 2004, which highlights the function of the wall as a “security fence”(Knesset 2009) against Palestinian violence. Leading political figures such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have on a repetitive basis emphasised that the separation fence is “a critical component of Israel’s security” (Haaretz 22.07.2009).
According to official statements, Israel has throughout the peace negotiations process expressed its willingness to make far reaching compromises in order to reach a feasible and durable peace agreement with the Palestinians. However, Israel perceives the Palestinian leadership as an obstacle to reaching a peace agreement (Carter 2006). Two events covered in the four papers can be used as examples to substantiate the above. The first event in which President Mahmood Abbas confirmed his withdrawal from the candidacy of the presidential election in 2010 was represented as an act of Palestinian unwillingness and incapability of reaching a peace agreement. The second event, which praised the devotion of Israel to reach peace, was illustrated by the meeting between President Shimon Peres and President Hosni Mubarak.
The confirmation of Abbas’ withdrawal from the candidacy was depicted as an inconsiderate decision and a threat to the peace process and to the peace of the region. For instance, the Jerusalem Post voiced concerns that possibly the January 2010 election would lead to Hamas’ victory (The Jerusalem Post 17.11.2009), indirectly blaming Abbas for future obstacles to the peace process. Hamas is known for its policy of not recognising Israel and therefore any negotiations between the two parties would not be feasible, while Abbas’ party has been able to collaborate with the Israeli leadership. Defence Minister Ehud Barak was quoted emphasising that “the efforts to commence negotiations and reach a peace deal were essential to Israel’s safety and the future of the entire area would not be hampered” (The Jerusalem Post 17.11.2009). This kind of comment indicates the efforts and willingness of Israel to achieve peace for the benefit of the whole region and the reluctance of Palestine, portraying them as peace preventers. The paper however avoided to emphasise that Abbas’ main reason for his resignation was his dissatisfaction with Israel’s continuing settlement constructions and land acquisition, as Arutz Sheva for example reported in early November 2009 (Arutz Sheva 05.11.2009).
While employing a negative tone when reporting about Abbas’ decision, the papers devoted a large number of articles to the visit of Peres to Mubarak to further discuss the peace negotiations. Ynet quoted Peres in making promises about not building new settlements the moment the negotiations were launched and evacuating illegal outposts (Ynet 22.11.2009). Ynet praised the Israelis and Peres for their commitment and enthusiasm to peace. Words such as “ensure the safety of both sides”, “end the protracted conflict”, “Israel strives for coexistence with the Palestinians”, “peace can be achieved” and “we do not want the Palestinians’ suffering to continue” only emphasised the good intentions of Israel.
Haaretz accentuated the Israeli government’s desire “to do everything necessary to ensure an end to the conflict” and Peres’ pledge for halting settlement construction and confiscation of land once peace talks to the Palestinians were renewed (Haaretz 22.11.2009). The Jerusalem Post stressed that “Israel is making efforts” to restart the peace process, leaving the next move in the hands of the Palestinians (The Jerusalem Post 22.11.209). Arutz Sheva underlined an Israeli “us” group identity, which showed consideration to the Palestinians and Muslims when stressing that “we respect Muslims and we do not intend to build in the Temple Mount” (Arutz Sheva 22.11.2009), an issue which has put pressure on the peace process. However, excluding the Palestinian accounts on the matter and focusing on their absence gives the Israelis the chance to emphasise their compliance to meet demands from Palestine, while accentuating the Palestinians’ role as peace preventers.
The papers also left room for criticising Mubarak, who showed support for Palestine. Arutz Sheva considered Mubarak’s comments during his meeting with Peres as “sharp words for Israel” and used words such as “complaints”, “accusing”, “blaming” and “criticising” to describe Mubarak’s attitude towards Israeli actions and policies. Arutz Sheva attempted to insert longer quotes of Mubarak’s statements in which he was portrayed as criticising the efforts of Israel, instead of showing appreciation. One example is the criticism directed towards Netanyahu administration which according to Mubarak does not want “to negotiate on interim borders for the Palestinian state” while “ruling out [Jerusalem] from the final status negotiations” (Arutz Sheva 22.11.2009). Similar, the Jerusalem Post reported that Mubarak was blaming Israel for its “plans to “Judaize” Jerusalem, its excavations around al-Aksa Mosque and the confrontations with Palestinians were placing “new obstacles in the path to peace” (The Jerusalem Post 22.11.2009). The Jerusalem Post stressed that Mubarak called on Israel to exhibit awareness “of the regional situation … [and] the dangers of losing the opportunity for peace” (The Jerusalem Post 22.11.2009). As illustrated in the above examples, the papers are implicitly viewing Mubarak’s involvement as a supporter of Palestine and an obstacle to the peace process by criticizing Israel.
In the same vein, the sensitive issue of Jerusalem seems to be a trendy news topic. Jerusalem and its settlements have been controversial key points in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations since Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 war and annexed it to its territory without the Palestinian and international community recognizing that move (Chapman 2004). The Jerusalem Post’s report on Mubarak’ warning to Peres “that Israel would anger all Muslims if it does not resolve Jerusalem’s disputed status, emphasizing that the future of Jerusalem is an issue for the entire Islamic world” and that “we want an end to settlement in occupied lands, including east Jerusalem” (The Jerusalem Post 22.11.2009) puts an explicit stress on the increase of further obstacles if Jerusalem becomes subject to the peace negotiations. Arutz Sheva reported on Mubarak’s demand on the importance of “Eastern Jerusalem as part of a future Palestinian Authority state”. The paper further stressed that Mubarak “insisted” that “”Jerusalem is not only a Palestinian problem but it is an issue that concerns all Muslims around the world. If we don’t find a solution to Jerusalem … Israel will make enemies of all Muslims around the world” (Arutz Sheva 22.11.2009).
Ynet expressed the same concerns about Jerusalem, quoting Prime Minister Salam Fayyad that “the goal is to finish the interim state that started 16 years ago, we want a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital” with Jordan as the eastern border of the new Palestinian state. Further Ynet reported Fayyad’s warning to Israel of “enough wasting time. Your talks about partial and temporary solutions are not in line with our aspirations” (Ynet 22.11.2009). Knowing its role and importance, any inclusion of Jerusalem in the peace negotiation will mean further delay to the peace negotiations, but the papers clearly indicate that it is Palestine and its supporters that are making this claim and not the Israelis.
Another major theme in the news coverage was identified by the Palestinian exploitation of misunderstandings, such as in the case of the housing building in the Jerusalem area of Gilo. In 2009 Israel announced the construction of 900 apartments in Gilo in east Jerusalem, insisting that east Jerusalem is part of Israel and rejecting efforts to restrict building there. Palestinians consider the Jewish neighbourhood of Gilo as settlements and refuse to accept further housing construction in the area. The decision to expand the settlement area on occupied land in Gilo has raised a chorus of Palestinian demands insisting that Israel should stop settlement activity in the disputed part of the city (MacAskill 2009). As a response, the Israeli Gilo residents “expressed anger over the … sentiments”, making them feel ”as if nothing was off the table; that at this rate, there’s going to be nothing left of the Land of Israel” (The Jerusalem Post 19.11.2009).
In all four newspapers, three aspects were revealed in connection to the Gilo event. First, Israeli media argued that the building development has been blown out of proportion internationally, a reaction that Palestinians were using to their benefit. For example, Ynet described Chancellor Angela Merkel’s criticism of the settlement plans for Gilo as “a sharper tone” towards the Israelis. Merkel was quoted saying that “settlement building in east Jerusalem is a major stumbling block on the road towards sustainable progress in the Middle East peace process” (Ynet 23.11.2009). Israel rejected this claim as a “misunderstanding” of being an obstacle to the peace process and emphasised that the building was only a response to the “natural growth of settler families”. Ynet reiterated that the global community as well as the Palestinian leadership accentuated the Gilo settlements in a negative tone, in order to reduce the objectivity of the project. The Jerusalem Post highlighted that “US President Barack Obama’s continued misreading and misunderstanding of the Israeli public is somewhat baffling … evident again in … the US objection to the … approval of a plan to build some 900 new units in Gilo …” (The Jerusalem Post 19.11.2009). The Jerusalem Post also stressed that the settlement construction had “been taken out of proportion” and Palestinians should instead focus less on settlements building and international reactions and more on Netahyanu’s economic development plans (The Jerusalem Post 19.11.2009).
Second, while the criticism about Gilo was been reported, a range of other articles scrutinized the issue of illegal Palestinian constructions without permits on Israeli territory. Arutz Sheva reported on “serious legal violations in the contraction of the Majdal Shams community at the foot of Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights” and regarded the Palestinian activities around Mount Hermon a “contempt for Israeli law and those charged with enforcing the law” (Arutz Sheva 22.11.2009). Reports looked at activities such as that the local nature was being destructed and irreversible damage to natural ecosystems was being caused, Israeli law was not considered, rapid pace of construction was noticed and heavy machinery were used. Arutz Sheva also reported on other illegal Palestinian outposts, which had raised a motion to be razed. The paper reported that these kind of illegalities “are just one detail in “a sad general picture of conscious and intentional non-enforcement against illegal construction by Palestinians in all of the ‘C’ areas in Judea and Samaria”. C areas are areas under Israeli administrative and security control, as defined by the Oslo accords” (Arutz Sheva 17.11.2009). The news reports about illegal Palestinian constructions have a tendency to demonstrate irresponsibility and arrogance from the Palestinian part, which lessens the criticism against Gilo constructions.
Third, while examining the sources that informed the Israelis about Palestinian reactions to the situation, these appeared to be ambiguous and never disclosed exact names or details about the sources. The sources from were rather ambiguous in comparison to their usual style of referencing, where details were provided. A common practice was for example to use imprecise sources to explain where the information had been taken from, such as “a Palestinian familiar with the talks”, “a senior Hamas official”, “a newspaper identified with Hamas” and “officials close to the talks” (Ynet 20.11.2009, Ynet 19.11.2009).
The articles were also inflicted with threatening references to the Gilo situation such as when Abbas stated that “his people may adopt a new type of struggle against the occupation” (Ynet 20.11.2009). Haaretz reported on how Fatah had made a strategic decision to declare a third Intifada against Israel due to the constructions, but emphasised that it was not to be an armed struggle, but based on peaceful demonstrations near the settlements. The paper warned that these pacific actions could win international sympathy for the Palestinians and cause embarrassment for the Israeli government. However the title of Haaretz’s article on this matter“Fatah officials warn of third Palestinian intifada” was well chosen to provoke negative reactions, connected to memories from previous Intifadas. Haaretz also illustrated the article with an image showing masked men standing before a wire and throwing stones (Haaretz 20.11.2009).
Perhaps the most negative image of the Palestinians emerged when progress in the negotiation talks about the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit surfaced. Shalit was kidnapped in 2006 by Hamas members. The incident has since triggered a range of negotiations for his release. All four papers were either directly or indirectly referring to Palestinians as terrorists and criminals within this particular context, which, acknowledging Israeli history, must provoke a strong reaction. News reporting presented Palestinians in a manner that emphasized their role as aggressors, as a threat to the Israeli society and as terrorists. This representation was fuelled in part by the political and public belief that Palestinians not only disrupt order, but also represent opposition to Israel’s existence (Wolfsfeld 1997).
Arutz Sheva showed the most inclination in using the word terrorist in different variations. Almost every paragraph in articles related to the Shalit release included references to “jailed terrorists”, “Hamas terrorist”, “terrorists”, “Hamas murderers”, “allied terrorists” and “the security of the country”. The attack when Shalit was captured was also described as a “terrorist attack” and the Palestinian negotiators involved in the Shalit case were referred to as wanting “to destroy Israel” (Arutz Sheva 22.11.2009). Arutz Sheva was also critical about the secrecy of the Israeli government about the Shalit release, arguing for the need of a public debate and criticising the censorship which was imposed on journalists, leaving “the Israeli public and the press with the information that comes on from Hamas and from Arab media” (Arutz Sheva 23.11.2009). While referring to the Shalit release as a “serious dilemma”, the Jerusalem Post commented on the threat and unreasonable orders that Hamas was exposing Israel to, by demanding the release of ”hundreds of prisoners with a track record of terrorism … in exchange for Schalit” (The Jerusalem Post 23.11.09).
Both Arutz Sheva and the Jerusalem Post published articles exposing opinions about negotiating with Hamas for the Shalit release. The main observation raised was for Netanyahu not to compromise his own principles and sign the release of Palestinian prisoners for Shalit’s release. According to Arutz Sheva, releasing of prisoners was “a humiliating deal that not only makes you a laughing stock but also places on your shoulders the responsibility for the next wave of terror that is liable to be even worse than the previous one” (Arutz Sheva 22.11.2009). The Jerusalem Post followed the same narrative, using references to “encouragement to terror” and “not to take responsibility for the possible deaths of hundreds or thousands of Israelis” (The Jerusalem Post 23.11.2009), if the government would sign any agreement.
Haaretz on the other hand did not include a single link to terrorism in the articles related to the Shalit release. Instead of terrorists, Haaretz used words such as “abductors” or “Hamas murderers” and describing the many sacrifices Israel has done for the Shalit release. The paper discussed Israel as being prepared to release prisoners as demanded by Hamas and employed the image of Israel as the victim of unreasonable demands. Haaretz blamed Hamas in blocking an agreement because of “Israel’s refusal to accede to Hamas’ demand to release some of the most heinous Hamas murderers”. Haaretz also created a sense of an Israeli “us” group identity by making references to “we bring the soldier home” and “our obligation is” (Haaretz 22.11.2009).
The above study explored whether Israeli media representations of Palestinians differ from the way they are being portrayed during periods of war to peace periods. As mentioned, media representations constitute part of the resources which journalists deploy in relating to different actors. A media examination of Israeli newspapers reports during the Intifadas concluded that media lost its objectivity, its plurality of voices and its purpose, by being influenced and affected by political discourses. As it was noted, this is more noticeable during periods of tension, conflict and war. Palestinians often receive coverage in negative terms, revealed in binary oppositions such as us/them, good/bad, terrorist/victim. Israeli media have often been accused of allowing political interests to determine the course of news representation of their opponents, such as the Palestinians, an accusation the media have denied.
What has been suggested in this study is that examinations of reports from periods of conflict such as the Intifadas do not differ to the media reports during the peaceful periods examined. Conversely, the study noticed strong similarities between the reports during the two periods. For example, the connection between Palestinians and terrorism was used heavily during the Intifadas, not only in written form, but also through visual forms, such as images and televised media invariably used their channels to infiltrate distorted pictures of the Palestinian “enemy”. This was also identified in articles written during the examined periods, when less violent events were described, but the connection to terrorism was present.
Media reports raised many bridges between the Intifada representations and the non-violent periods. One of them focused on the Palestinians as unwilling to reach a peace agreement such as when portraying the withdrawal of Abbas from the candidacy of the presidential election as an act of Palestinian incapability of reaching peace and comparing it to the Peres visit to Mubarak to further discuss peace negotiations and making promises about not building new settlements. Another major theme in the news coverage was identified by the alleged Palestinian exploitation of misunderstandings, such as in the case of the housing building in the Jerusalem area of Gilo. Supporters of Palestinian causes, whether Arab states or non Middle Eastern actors, were also criticised for misunderstanding Israel. One noticeable aspect was also the stress on injury, harm and damage to Israeli citizens and objects caused by the Palestinians. This was especially visible when covering the story of a group of Palestinians celebrating the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and who toppled a partition of the so called security fence.
The study conducted demonstrated that Israeli media representations of the Palestinians do not alter due to war and peace, but are more likely to be affected by the political environment. The reports created persistent image of the Palestinians as a permanent terror threat and security risk to Israel’s survival and safety, while the Israelis were reported as being peace advocators, fair and just, fighting against the Palestinian threat. Much of these reports incorporated similar statements, which can be identified in current discourses made by the Israeli political leadership, official documents and even the everyday stereotypical image of what Palestinians mean to Israel. The media reports examined acknowledged distinctive discursive practices, which sought to confirm the image of a threatening Palestine, by exposing the Palestinians as a risk for security and safety, as peace preventers, absent, exploiters and terrorists.