For the last two days in Aleppo, and now in Amman, Jordan, we have been watching the news and talking to people about the Israeli attacks on the Gaza strip. In the Middle East, it seems that satellite broadcasts are free – no card purchase required, so it’s relatively easy to get BBC-World, CNN-International and al-Jazeera English in any hotel with a TV. Also, televisions in most shops are tuned to various Arabic news channels, so we see the footage being shown there as well.
Seeing the difference in coverage helps to demonstrate how public opinion is manipulated by selective coverage in the media.
Western channels (BBC and CNN) call the altercation “The Gaza conflict” while al-Jazeera calls it “The War on Gaza”. The title itself provides insight into the attitudes of the audience. Here are some other examples:
- Al-Jazeera reported that Israel was first to actively violate the truce on Nov 4
- BBC reported that Hamas was first to actively violate the truce with rocket attacks on Israel
- Al-Jazeera and the Arab channels show dead bodies and images of suffering from inside Palestinian hospitals.
- Western channels report that humanitarian aid is needed, but the pictures shown are not nearly as graphic
Al-Jazeera provides summaries and updates at least every 15 minutes, BBC reports updates hourly, and CNN you need to watch quite a while before you get any news of the conflict.
A few other things struck us as we watched the different coverage:
- BBC World listed over 300 dead including 62 civilians according to U.N. and later referred to 62 dead women and children – I guess men can’t be civilians?
- CNNi and BBC World continuing with prerecorded programming – retrospectives on 2008, financial crisis talking heads and other things. Al-Jazeera had thorough coverage, including discussions between people with various viewpoints, interviews with Israeli and Egyptian spokespeople and what seemed to us fairly well reasoned analysis
- According to one of the Israel spokesmen, Hamas has isolated itself as Jihadi, moderate Arab governments are on the side of Israel. An interesting statement if true, but we don’t see how they could continue to be as Israel’s attacks continue. The protests here in Amman are growing, and we expect that’s the same everywhere.
- One U.S. commentary from CNN is that Hamas is a bunch of murderous thugs who have seized power. My recollection was the election was free and fair, with Fatah losing mainly because of endemic corruption. A bit more research turned up the Fatah-Hamas civil war of 2007, after Hamas won the election, but conflict seems to have been instigated by Fatah, with extensive support from the U.S. and Israel according to Vanity Fair. . We hesitate to link to Wikipedia for a polarized topic like this, but it does have a bunch of links to other sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_Palestinian_civil_skirmishes, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Gaza_(2007)
- A Palestinian spokesman (planning minister from Ramallah) called for immediate stop to Israeli aggression, but didn’t offer a response to BBC World question about Israel’s statement that a precondition for ceasefire is stop of Hamas rocket attacks.
- Al-Jazeera has at least two correspondents in Gaza who speak English fluently. Neither CNN nor BBC have any, and Israel has been preventing access
- So far, al-Jazeera has the best coverage, seemingly quite balanced. It would be interesting to know whether al-Jazeera Arabic would have different coverage. Despite my lack of Arabic, I’m certain that some of the other Arabic channels were much more inflammatory.
We continue to agonize over what the right answer is here. Now that we’ve arrived in Aqaba, we’re still 200 km away from Gaza City, but we can see Israel from the roof of our hotel, so the conflict feels much more real and local. We don’t think Israel’s mass destruction of the Gaza Strip is justified, but we don’t see how they could passively stand by and watch rocket attacks on their people, or re-open the borders either. Hamas has been successfully smuggling arms into the Gaza Strip despite the closed borders, and given continuing Hamas hostility to Israel, opening the borders would just allow more smuggling. That said, preventing anything except food and medical aid from going in seems like a recipe for further radicalizing the Palestinian citizens of Gaza. There are people on both sides who are talking and working towards peace, and it would be helpful to see what they’re saying right now, and support them in their work. The people of South Africa managed a peaceful transition from apartheid to a shared-state democracy after many years of oppression, so we can work, hope or pray towards a solution here as well.