Reflections on ‘balance’ in media coverage of Israel/Palestine

“There is no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.”

The words of President Obama from November 18, oft repeated by now. One would agree with this. 

In a CBC interview on November 17, British documentary film maker Harry Fear observed: “So far, since Israel started the military operation, every one hundred minutes, Israel has killed someone on average. There has been an air strike at least, frequency-wise, every 5 minutes.”

Obama continues: “Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory.”

Why only Israel? Why should Gaza have to tolerate missiles falling on it?

Obama’s statement continues on: “If that can be accomplished without a ramping up of military activity in Gaza, that’s preferable,” he said. “It’s not just preferable for the people of Gaza. It’s also preferable for Israelis, because if Israeli troops are in Gaza, they’re much more at risk of incurring fatalities or being wounded.”

Why does Obama only explicitly state his concern for saving Israeli military lives? Why does he not explicitly state the reason for why ‘ramping up of military activity’ would also be preferable for the people of Gaza? The brunt of the death toll is, and will increase being so, on the people of Gaza. The last Israeli incursion, Cast Lead in 2008-2009, has shown this: While 1400 Gazans were killed and more than 5000 wounded (over 300 children), 13 Israelis lost their lives, nine of which were soldiers within the Gaza strip (four of these killed by friendly fire), three were civilians and one member of the Israeli security forces. Over 100 Israeli soldiers were wounded.

As of the time of writing this text, over 139 Gazan lives had been lost. 23 of these lives were children. (Since then the death toll has risen to over 160, with over 30 children killed.) Four Israeli civilians had lost their lives, as well as one soldier.

Five Israeli lives lost, 13 Israeli lives lost is too much, especially to a cause such as Israel’s: continue a ruthless grip through occupation, siege, and general humiliation of a society deprived of its most basic rights. But one would think the enormous disparities in casualties between the two sides would merit Obama’s explicit mentioning that a ‘ramping up of military activity’ would be particularly devastating for Gazan people.

In his discourse, Obama puts the entire blame on Hamas for provoking Israel with an “ever-escalating number of missiles”. What he leaves out from his statements are the provocations on the Israeli side: The killing of a mentally unfit man on November 5. The killing of a 13-year old boy playing football on November 8. The further killings of three civilians on November 10. (Imagine for second these deaths had occurred in Israel, committed by Hamas fighters: how much furor would they have created in the speech of our politicians, and in our media?) Not to mention the provocation of keeping Gazan human being locked up, one a strict and detailed calorie diet for the past 6 years.

Obama’s stance is a disgrace, and goes against everything that the Arab world had hoped from him back in November 2008, when he was elected, a few weeks before the onslaught of Cast Lead. In June 2009, in Cairo, when he gave the speech that moved the world, he cited the Quran: ‘Whoever kills an innocent it is as if he has killed all mankind’. He spoke lofty words of ‘equal administration of justice’.  How many times has all of mankind been killed with Obama’s backing?

Of course, it is understandable that Obama, caught in the web of the profound narrative of hypocrisy in which his country is so deeply embedded, sides with Israel. If he were to condemn Israel, he would be self-condemning. After all, the F16s that are dropping ton-heavy bombs on civilian areas are free gifts from his country. After all, this peace Nobel prize holding president has upped the ante on the drone wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, killing many civilians on the side. This president has a “kill list” that authorises extra-judicial assassinations.

But what is shocking is that the media in our so hailed-for-its-free-speech-and-democratic-values societies publish the dribble they do. That they so happily turn themselves into the mouthpiece of their respective administrations, and of the U.S. and Israeli administrations. This offends me, many of my friends, colleagues, and family, beyond outrage. But apparently, to many, it is not at all offensive. Instead they gobble it up like their morning gruel and are only too happy to regurgitate it in your face a few hours later. And to add insult to injury,  they turn around and tell those who publish or distribute articles from the independent press, who try to put a different perspective on the storyline, that they are one-sided, or that they “lack balance”.

There is such a great and burning desire for “balance” in Canadian society that I cannot understand that people don’t actually recognise the so apparent lack of balance that they are fed every day.

Friends of mine blame me for being one-sided. Yes, mea culpa.

The links and pieces I post on Music4Gaza are generally in support of Palestinians, and in condemnation of the blockade, the occupation, and recently the onslaught. I am not making a conscious effort to also cover the other side. My answer to everyone who finds that problematic is this: The other side is amply covered. All you have to do is go to the CBC, read the Globe and Mail, the Gazette, read the British BBC. Only when Gazan casualty numbers rise above a certain point, do they even pay attention to them (on Canadian media coverage before November 14, see this statement on rabble.ca from November 14).  Even the higher quality papers that exhibit a much fairer standard of reporting, such as the British Guardian, generally cover the conflict from the perspective of the mainstream voice, which includes, and often personifies the Israel official propaganda.

Added to the one-sided nature of the media coverage is the intrinsic one-sidedness of the situation. There is no balance of power: Israel is Goliath. Gaza is David.

My writings are but a drop of rain in the sea of one-sidedness in the mainstream media. 

The conscious “lack of balance” is in fact a desire to restore balance. A desperate attempt to restore balance. For I too am Canadian, and I hope for a time in the future when I will be able to say I am Canadian with less shame than now. I hope for a future where balance is more than a word in our world.

This text first appeared on the Canadian site rabble.ca on November 21.

About Maire Noonan

Máire Noonan is a lecturer at McGill University in Montréal, Canada. She blogs at Music4Gaza.
Posted in Activism, Israel/Palestine, Media

{ 6 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. seafoid says:

    Bad news from Israel is a good read

    link to amazon.co.uk

  2. Bumblebye says:

    “The last Israeli incursion, Cast Lead in 2008 – 2009″
    See, even this is absolutely wrong.
    Between Cast Lead and Pillar of Cloud there have been countless Israeli incursions and bombings. But they are “minor” in scale, and the Western msm fails to report them, while, under Israeli/Zionist pressure, over reporting Palestinian rocket fire. For every few kilos of rocket, Gaza seems to receive several tonnes of bombing. And for every grazed knee or shocked citizen, Israel inflicts maiming and death on the prisoners in Gaza.

  3. American says:

    There’s only ‘balance’ in the US media once in a blue moon, usually only in opinion columns or letters to the Editor ……and there’s no balance at all in US politicians, only total lies about I/P.
    It’s a black is white world in the media and the political class in the US and Canada.
    What’s the cure?….probably only some earth shattering blow up caused by all this that they can’t spin their way out of.

  4. eljay says:

    >> But what is shocking is that the media in our so hailed-for-its-free-speech-and-democratic-values societies publish the dribble they do.

    “dribble” should be “drivel”. I really didn’t want to correct you but, trust me, RoHa – like Doug Piranha – would have been far more vicious about it. ;-)

  5. eljay says:

    >> Of course, it is understandable that Obama, caught in the web of the profound narrative of hypocrisy in which his country is so deeply embedded, sides with Israel. If he were to condemn Israel, he would be self-condemning.

    The U.S. and Israel: Shared common values. Too many people take that to be a good and noble thing. The reality is very different.

  6. eGuard says:

    Anyone checking Peter Beinart these days? Phil, how did push came to shove? J-Street is a dead-end right.