Journalism that presents Palestinians as less than human makes their killing more acceptable.
23 October 2023// The New Humanitarian
In March 2022, one month into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a Syrian refugee wrote in The New Humanitarian’s pages: “I know what it feels like having to leave your home and family behind to escape war, and I want to help Ukrainians going through this now. But I also want to know why us refugees not from Europe had to freeze in the forest.”
He was referring to the special treatment Ukrainian refugees received when entering Europe, welcomed with hugs and chocolate bars rather than electric fences and attack dogs.
“I’m very sympathetic to the Ukrainian people,” he wrote. “Nobody deserves war, destruction, and exile from their homeland. But the difference in treatment just hurts so much. The blood that comes out of all people is the same colour.”
As the world’s leading news organisation specialised in covering crises around the world, The New Humanitarian sees on a daily basis stark differences in whose suffering counts: Lives from Sudan to Myanmar, from Ethiopia to Haiti, are routinely neglected.
The media plays a key role in shaping why our societies care about some crises and some victims more than others. There is no better example of this double standard than the coverage of current developments in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The choices we make – to label one side the aggressor and the other the victim; or to humanise one side and not the other – elevate and perpetuate narratives that treat certain people as more human than others.
The truth is: We are preconditioned not to see Palestinian humanity because colonialism, white supremacy, and Islamophobia are still the dominant lens through which states, institutions, people, and media in the West view the world (although geopolitical interests are, of course, also at play).
This is why, in some media coverage, Palestinians “die” while Israelis are “killed”.
Yes, Hamas, the Palestinian militant and political group that governs the Gaza Strip, is responsible for the killing of hundreds of Israeli civilians and the taking of hundreds of hostages on 7 October. But the Israeli government has also been responsible for killing thousands of Palestinian civilians since. And before 7 October, 3,803 Palestinian civilians had been killed – compared to 177 Israeli civilians – since 2008, according to the UN.So why are many Palestinians interviewed on US or British TV asked to condemn Hamas as a ticket of entry to the conversation, while Israelis aren’t asked to account for their government’s crimes?
As Husam Zomlot, head of the Palestinian Mission to the UK, responded to the BBC when asked to condemn Hamas: “How many times has Israel committed war crimes live on your own cameras? Do you start by asking them to condemn themselves? You don’t.”