(RNS) — Turn on your television, scroll through your feed on Instagram or Twitter — now X. Tune into MSNBC, ABC, Fox News, the BBC, CNN, any mainstream media outlet or platform. Ask yourself: How is the “conflict” in the Middle East being presented? Would you come away knowing that the United Nations classifies the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory as unlawful under international law, “due to its permanence” and “the Israeli Government’s de-facto annexation policies”?
Over the past decade, we’ve observed a slight — yet noticeable — shift in the mainstream media’s coverage of the Israeli occupation. That shift was marked by an occasional quasi-humanization of the Palestinians as a stateless people victimized by historical events and the last remaining imperial project of the 20th century.
That shift is noticeable in the current coverage, for instance, in Fareed Zakaria’s recent interview with Mustafa Barghouti on CNN, in which Barghouti appropriately redirected the conversation to focus on the Israeli occupiers.
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But we also watched CNN’s Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward and her team take shelter from rockets in a ditch near the Israel-Gaza border. Ward and her team were eventually transported to safety, but not before the Western audience saw a white American journalist fleeing from Palestinian terror. Do journalists taking cover from Israeli terror receive the same empathetic coverage?
Well, no. Take Shireen Abu Akleh, the Palestinian American Al Jazeera journalist who for decades provided robust coverage of the conflict. Last year, Abu Akleh was killed while covering Israeli raids on Jenin in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli sniper who shot Abu Akleh has yet to face justice. To this day, the U.S. government defends its Israeli allies from accountability for the murder of an American journalist — or any journalist: Over the past two decades, Israeli forces are accused of killing 26 journalists, including at least six this week.
Right now, Gaza is being decimated. As of Wednesday (Oct. 11), more than 1,100 Palestinians have been killed, including more than 300 Palestinian women and children, consistent with Israel’s record of about a quarter of its victims being women and children.
Between January 2008 and September 2023, according to the U.N., a total of 308 Israelis were killed by Palestinian groups. Of those, 131 were members of the Israel Defense Forces and 177 were civilians (90 of whom were settlers on Palestinian land), including 25 children. In that same time frame, the U.N. reports 6,407 Palestinians killed by the IDF, about 21 times the number of Israeli casualties.
Of those, over 2,000 were women and children. The Western audience has grown accustomed to this casualty imbalance, which usually includes, on top of the loss of life, the destruction of whatever Gazan infrastructure remains from the previous Israeli bombing campaign. Yet Palestinian casualties almost never warrant any type of lip service from any mainstream politicians or outlets.
This time, the death toll looks drastically different. According to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, as of Tuesday, more than 1,000 Israelis have been killed, including hundreds of IDF soldiers and police officers, as well as dozens of women and children. In a week, Israel has witnessed three times the casualty count of the previous 15 years combined.
This shift in lives lost has exposed the insincerity of the Western mainstream media. For decades, media coverage of Israeli atrocities in Gaza and Palestine has omitted the gut-wrenching and agonizing images of Palestinian suffering. Those who cared had to watch international media and firsthand accounts on social media to find dead Palestinian children pulled out of rubble, women killed en masse and civilians found dead in their apartment buildings.
When The Associated Press office in Gaza was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in May of 2021, no one was held accountable. If a Palestinian group were responsible for this egregious act, how would Western media respond?
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The story of the Palestinian catastrophe of displacement is muffled. It is not enough that the vast majority of major human rights organizations have defined Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory as illegal occupation against international law. It is not enough that Amnesty International released a 280-page report in 2022 defining “Israel’s intent to create and maintain a system of oppression and domination over Palestinians” as apartheid. It’s not enough that the vast majority of U.N. member states stand in support of Palestine against a stubborn and oppressive Security Council.
As the lights go out in Gaza and the people are butchered in the dark, ask yourself why you’re not seeing interviews with Palestinian parents and children living in the most miserable place on earth about their dreams repeatedly turning to nightmares. Ask yourself why you’re not seeing the stories of the multiple journalists who were murdered while trying to amplify the voices of the unheard.
Ask yourself why the president of the United States couldn’t even muster a word of concern for innocent Palestinian lives as his administration continues to fuel the cruelest occupation on earth.