Thursday, January 08, 2009

Americans Getting Sanitized TV Coverage of the War in Gaza While the Rest of the World Watches its Full Horror

While U.S. Media Show Mostly Panoramas of Israeli Military Strikes from a Distance (Mainly Due to Israeli Ban on Western Journalists from On-the-Scene Reporting), Arab and Other Non-U.S. Media Outlets Are Flooding the Airwaves with Graphic Images of the Magnitude of Death and Destruction Wrought on Gaza Civilians

Americans following the news of the war between Israeli troops and Hamas fighters in Gaza are not receiving the full picture of the true horrors of war. U.S. television news outlets have been reluctant to broadcast often-graphic footage of the war's impact on civilians in densely-populated Gaza City that have saturated non-U.S. media, including these children who were killed Tuesday in an Israeli airstrike on a United Nations-operated school. (Photo: European Pressphoto Agency)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Thursday, January 8, 2009)
(Updated 1:45 p.m. EST Friday, January 9, 2009)



The images of two women on the front page of the December 30 edition of The Washington Post illustrates how the mainstream U.S. news media have been reporting on the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

On the left was a Palestinian mother who had lost five children. On the right was a nearly equally sized picture of an Israeli woman who was distressed by the fighting, according to the caption.

As the Palestinian woman cradled the dead body of one child, another infant son, his face blackened and disfigured with bruises, cried beside her.

The Israeli woman did not appear to be wounded in any way but also wept.



JERUSALEM -- Israeli jets and helicopters bombarded Gaza Friday and Hamas responded with a barrage of rockets on at least two Israeli cities as both sides defied a United Nations call for an immediate cease-fire.

One Israeli airstrike killed two Hamas militants and another unidentified man, while another flattened a five-story building in northern Gaza, killing at least seven people, including an infant, Hamas officials said. Israeli aircraft struck more than 30 targets before dawn, and there were constant explosions after first light.

By afternoon, 23 Palestinians had been killed, pushing the death toll to 777 in the two-week-old conflict, according to Gaza health officials who say at least half of those killed were civilians. Thirteen Israelis have also been killed.

A U.N. Security Council resolution approved Thursday night called urgently for an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. The U.S., Israel's closest ally and a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, abstained.

While the call is tantamount to a demand on the parties, Israel's troops won't be required to pull out of Gaza until there is a durable cease-fire. The resolution calls on U.N. member states to intensify efforts to provide guarantees in Gaza to sustain a lasting truce, including prevention of illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition.

In Israel's first official response to the resolution, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said the Hamas rockets fired at Israel Friday "only prove that the U.N.'s decision is not practical and will not be kept in practice by the Palestinian murder organizations."

A Hamas spokesman said the Islamic militant group "is not interested" in the cease-fire because it was not consulted and the resolution did not meet its minimum demands.

-- Associated Press


To understand the frustration often felt in the Arab world over U.S. media coverage, one only needs to imagine the same front page had the situation been reversed.

If an Israeli woman had lost five daughters in a Palestinian attack, would the Post run an equally sized photograph of a relatively unharmed Palestinian woman, who was merely distraught over Israeli missile fire?

When the front page photographs of the two women were published on December 30, over 350 Palestinians had reportedly been killed compared to just four Israelis.

What if 350 Israelis had been killed and only four Palestinians - would the newspaper have run the stories side by side as if equal in news value?

Like many major news organisations in the United States, the Post has chosen to cover the conflict from a perspective that often mirrors the U.S. government's relationship with Israel. This means prioritizing Israel's version of events while underplaying the views of Palestinian groups.

For example, the newspaper's lead December 30 article, which was published above the mothers' photographs, quoted Israeli military and civilian sources nine times before quoting a single Palestinian. The first seven paragraphs explain Israel's military strategy. The ninth paragraph describes the anxiety among Israelis, spending evenings in bomb shelters.

Ordinary Palestinians, who generally have no access to bomb shelters, do not make an appearance in the Post article until the 23rd paragraph.

To balance this top story, the Post published another article on the bottom half of the front page about the Palestinian mother and her children. But would the paper have ever considered balancing a story about a massive attack on Israelis with an in-depth lead piece on the strategy of Palestinian militants?


Major U.S. television networks have adopted the "equal time" approach, despite the reality that Palestinian casualties are far exceeding Israeli ones by a hundredfold. However, such comparisons were rare because the information reported by American correspondents -- who, along with the rest of the foreign press corps, are barred by the Israelis from reporting directly on the scene in Gaza in the first place -- often exclude the overall Palestinian death count.

By stripping the context, American TV news viewers may have easily assumed a level playing field, rather than a case of disproportionate force.

Take the opening lines of a report filed by NBC's Martin Fletcher on December 30: "In Gaza two little girls were taking out the rubbish and killed by an Israeli rocket - while in Israel, a woman had been driving home and was killed by a Hamas rocket. No let up today on either side on the fourth day of this battle."

Omitted from the report was the overall Palestinian death toll, dropped continuously in subsequent reports filed by NBC correspondents over the next several days.

When number of deaths did appear, sometimes as a graphic at the bottom of the screen, it was identified as the number of "people killed" rather than being attributed specifically to Palestinian -- or, for that matter, Israeli -- deaths.

No wonder the overwhelmingly asymmetrical bombardment of Gaza has been framed vaguely as "rising tensions in the Middle East" by American news anchors.

With this lack of context, the power dynamic on the ground becomes unclear.

ABC news, for example, regularly introduced events in Gaza as "Mideast Violence." And Like NBC, ABC's reporters excluded the Palestinian death toll.

On New Year's Eve, when Palestinian deaths stood at almost 400, ABC News correspondent Simon McGergor-Wood began a video package by describing damage to an Israeli school by Hamas rockets.

The reporter's script can be paraphrased as follows: Israel wanted a sustainable ceasefire; Israel needed to prevent Hamas from rearming; Hamas targets were hit; Israel was sending in aid and letting the injured out; Israel was doing "everything they can to alleviate the humanitarian crisis."

And with that, McGregor-Wood signed off.


There was no parallel telling of the Palestinian perspective, and no mention of any damages to Palestinian lives, although other news agencies that day had reported five Palestinians dead.

For the ABC correspondent, it seemed the Palestinian deaths contained less news value than damage to Israeli buildings. His narration of events, meanwhile, amounted to no less than a parroting of the official Israeli line.

In fact, the Israeli government view typically went unchallenged on major U.S. networks.

Interviews with Israeli spokesmen and ambassadors were not juxtaposed with the voices of Palestinian leaders. Prominent American news anchors frequently adopted the Israeli viewpoint. In talk show discussions, instead of debating events on the ground, the pundits often reinforced each other's views.

Such an episode occurred on a December 30 broadcast of the MSNBC show, "Morning Joe," during which host Joe Scarborough repeatedly insisted that Israel should not be judged.

Israel was defending itself just as the U.S. had done throughout history. "How many people did we kill in Germany?" Scarborough posed.

The blame rested on the Palestinians, he concluded, connecting the Gaza attacks to the Camp David negotiations of 2000. "They gave the Palestinians everything they could ask for, and they walked away from the table," he said repeatedly.

Although this view was challenged once by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, who appeared briefly on the show, subsequent guests agreed incessantly with Scarborough's characterization of the Palestinians as negligent, if not criminal, in nature.

According to guest Dan Bartlett, former White House counsel in the outgoing Bush administration, the Palestinian leadership had made it "very clear" that they were uninterested in peace talks -- even as he failed to make clear which Palestinian leadership he was talking about. Was he talking about the Hamas movement in control of Gaza that Israel is waging war against or the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank of President Mahmoud Abbas?

Another guest, NBC's newly-appointed "Meet the Press" anchor David Gregory, began by noting that Abbas' predecessor, the late Yasser Arafat, "could not be trusted," according to former U.S. president, Bill Clinton.

Gregory then added that Hamas had "undercut the peace process" and actually welcomed the attacks.

"The reality is that Hamas wanted this, they didn't want the ceasefire," he said.

Bloomberg News columnist Margaret Carlson also joined the show, agreeing in principal that Hamas should be "crushed" but voicing concern over the cost of such action.

Thus the debate was not whether Israel was justified, but rather what Israel should do next. The Palestinian human tragedy received little to no attention.


Arab audiences saw a different picture altogether. Rather than mulling Israel's dilemma, the Arab news networks -- and even the English-language channel of Aljazeera, the only global TV network with correspondents reporting from inside Gaza -- captured the air assault in chilling detail from the perspective of its victims. The divide in coverage was staggering.

For U.S. networks, the Israeli bombing of Gaza has largely been limited to two-minute video packages or five-minute talk-show segments. This has usually meant a few snippets of jumbled video: explosions from a distance and a momentary glance at victims; barely enough time to remember a face, let alone a personality. Victims were rarely interviewed.

The availability of time and space, American broadcast executives might argue, were mitigating factors.

On MSNBC for example, Gaza competed for air time last week with stories about the U.S. economy, such as a hike in liquor sales, or celebrity news, such as speculation over the publishing of photographs of Alaska Governor and former Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin's new grandchild.

On Arab TV, however, Gaza has been the only story. For hours on end, live images from the streets of Gaza are beamed into Arab households.

Unlike the correspondents from ABC and NBC, who -- barred from entering Gaza by the Israeli authorities -- have filed their reports exclusively from Israel, Arab crews are inside Gaza, with many correspondents native Gazans themselves.

The images they capture are often broadcast unedited, and over the last week, a grisly newsgathering routine has been established.

The cycle begins with rooftop-mounted cameras, capturing the air raids live. After moments of quiet, thunderous bombing commences and plumes of smoke rise over the skyline. Then, anguish on the streets.

Panicked civilians run for cover as ambulances careen through narrow alleys. Rescue workers hurriedly pick through the rubble, often pulling out mangled bodies. Fathers with tears of rage hold dead children up to the cameras, vowing revenge. The wounded are carried out in stretchers, gushing with blood.

Later, local journalists visit the hospitals and more gruesome images, more dead children are broadcast. Doctors wrap up the tiny bodies and carry them into overflowing morgues. The survivors speak to reporters. Their distraught voices are heard around the region; the outflow of misery and destruction is constant, even on Aljazeera's English-language international channel.


The coverage extends beyond Gaza. Unlike the U.S. networks, which are often limited to one or two correspondents in Israel, major Arab television channels maintain correspondents and bureaus throughout the region. As angry protests take place on a near daily basis, the crews are there to capture the action live.

Even in Israel, Arab reporters are employed, and Israeli politicians are regularly interviewed. But so are members of Hamas and the other Palestinian factions.

The inclusion of Palestinian voices is not unique to Arab media. On a number of international broadcasters, including BBC World and even CNN's international channel -- which is accessible by far fewer Americans than its domestic channel -- Palestinian leaders and Gazans in particular are regularly heard.

And the Palestinian death toll has been provided every day, in most broadcasts and by most correspondents on the ground. Reports are also filed from Arab capitals.

On some level, the relatively small American broadcasting output can be attributed to a general trend in downsizing foreign reporting. But had a bloodbath on this scale happened in Israel, would the U.S. networks not have sent in reinforcements?

For now, the Israeli viewpoint seems slated to continue to dominate Gaza coverage in the U.S. The latest narrative comes from the White House, which has called for a "durable" ceasefire, preventing Hamas terrorists from launching more rockets.

Naturally, the soundbites are repeated by U.S. broadcasters throughout the day and then reinforced by pundits, fearing the dangerous Hamas.

Arab and other non-U.S. channels, however, see a different outcome. Many have begun referring to Hamas, once controversial, as simply "the Palestinian resistance."

While American analysts map out Israel's strategy, Arab and other non-U.S. broadcasters are drawing their own maps, plotting the expanding range of Hamas rockets, and predicting a strengthened hand for opposition to Israel, rather than a weakened one.

# # #

Habib Battah is a freelance journalist and media analyst based in Beirut and New York.

# # #

Volume IV, Number 2
Guest Commentary Copyright 2009, Habib Battah.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyriught 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Monday, January 05, 2009

War Between Israel and Hamas Erupts at Worst Possible Time for Gaza Civilians

Unwavering Support for Israel by Bush Administration in Its Final Two Weeks in Office Is Dismissed by Much of the World, But Obama Lacks Authority to Say or Do Anything Differently Until After He's Sworn In on January 20 -- Meanwhile, the Death Toll in Gaza Soars Past the 500 Mark

Israeli armored military vehicles move towards the border with the Gaza Strip on Sunday. Heavy fighting between Israeli troops and Hamas fighters in heavily-populated Gaza City and its surrounding area stretched into a third day Monday, with the death toll rising to more than 500 -- many of them Palestinian civilians. (Photo: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Monday, January 5, 2009)
(Updated 2:o0 a.m. EST Tuesday, January 6, 2009)


Israeli forces continued their assault on the Gaza Strip early Tuesday, engaging in fierce house-to-house battles around key spots in northern towns often used to fire rockets into southern Israel, while both European and Arab officials repeated calls for an immediate ceasefire.

Despite calls Monday in Cairo by both President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and his Egyptian hosts for Hamas and Israel to end the conflict, which entered its 12th day Tuesday, leaders of both sides increased their rhetoric of violence.

Israel dismissed European proposals to have international observers in the Gaza Strip after any ceasefire, insisting instead that what is needed is equipment and teams to help search out and destroy the tunnels, which Hamas could use to rearm. And the Israelis continued barring foreign reporters from entering the battle zone, prompting bitter protests from the International Federation of Journalists.

Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts to to end the conflict were stymied over the weekend by the Bush administration's steadfast support for Israel and its insistence that any cease-fire resolution by the United Nations Security Council declare that Hamas is a terrorist organisation that seized power in Gaza from the legitimate Palestinian Authority and that Hamas must halt its rocket attacks on Israel.

Libya and other Arab members of the 15-nation Security Council, as well as Russia, branded the Bush administration's stance "totally unacceptable." With the U.S. and Russia both having veto power, the council finds itself deadlocked on the Gaza crisis.

Caught in the middle are Gaza's civilian residents, trapped by Egypt's refusal to allow them to flee the violence. The death toll from the conflict rose past the 500 mark Monday -- with civilians making up a large percentage of the casualties. More than 2,500 have been wounded.

Also caught in the middle is President-elect Barack Obama. Two weeks before his inauguration, he lacks the authority to either speak out publicly on the conflict or take any decisive actions until after he formally takes office on January 20.


Israeli forces moved into the outskirts of Gaza City early Monday as families fled or remained hidden after a second night of combat after Israeli troops and tanks moved into the Gaza Strip on Saturday. At least a dozen Palestinian civilians were killed, Aljazeera reported on its English-language network Monday, citing medical sources.

No updates of the death toll were available Tuesday.

At least 100 of the more than 500 killed in the first 11 days since the Israelis began their assault on Hamas were civilians, the Associated Press quoted United Nations officials as saying. More than 80 deaths were reported just since the ground offensive began Saturday night. Among the dead was a family of seven at Shati refugee camp, who were killed by Israeli naval shelling off the coast of Gaza.

Israel began its assault on Hamas fighters in Gaza on December 27 with aerial bombing in retaliation for Hamas launching a barrage of rockets into Israel after announcing an end to an 18-month cease-fire in November.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Parliament Monday that Gaza City was partially surrounded. "We have hit Hamas hard, but we have not yet reached all the goals that we have set for ourselves and the operation continues," he said. "We are doing everything that a state must do to protect its citizens. We want that the [Hamas rocket] attacks against our citizens and our soldiers stop."

The Israeli government says there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, noting that it has continued to allow supplies into the territory. Under pressure over the mounting toll on Gaza civilians, Israel agreed to let food and fuel into Gaza, but about 200 trucks were stuck at the border. The Israeli military said no one turned up to receive the supplies.

Gisha, an Israeli human rights group, said Israeli airstrikes have left Gaza's water and sewage system on the verge of collapse. About one-third of the 1.4 million residents are cut off from the water supply and 75 percent of Gaza is currently without electricity, Gisha said -- including Shifa Hospital, the territory's largest. It and other hospitals have been forced to operate with backup generators.

Other humanitarian aid groups said the Israeli offensive had aggravated a humanitarian crisis for the Gaza population, who have no electricity, no water and now face dire food shortages.


Palestinian medics said Monday that at least 34 civilians and 10 Hamas fighters have been killed since the ground invasion but these numbers cannot be considered reliable, according to the rescue services, because of lack of access to the battlefield. They say more than 500 have died since the attacks started on Dec 27, with over 2,000 wounded.

Israeli military and political officials have defied a direct order by the Israeli Supreme Court and have barred both Israeli and foreign journalists to enter the besieged coastal strip, making it almost impossible to independently confirm the nature of the ground offensive.

Aljazeera and the Associated Press are the only global media outlets with journalists on the scene, relying on their Palestinian reporters, photographers and cameramen based in Gaza. But even the Qatar-based Aljazeera, with its Arabic-language regional and English-language international channels, has had trouble maintaining telephone and satellite links with its contacts inside Gaza.

The restrictions have drawn fierce protests by the International Federation of Journalists, which regards the Israeli ban as a dangerous violation of press freedom that adds to "ignorance, uncertainty and fear" in the region.

"The Israeli ban on foreign news media from Gaza since December 27 raises concerns that there is a systematic attempt to prevent scrutiny of actions by the Israeli military," said Aidan White, IFJ general secretary. "The eyes of the world are on Gaza, but Israel is trying to censor the news by keeping the media at bay."


As demonstrators around the world took to the streets to protest the Israeli incursion, international efforts to end the conflict stalled over the weekend and again on Monday after the Bush administration insisted that any U.N. cease-fire resolution require Hamas to stop its rocket attacks on Israel.

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated across Europe, including British protesters who, in an act reminiscent of the Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at President Bush in Baghdad -- tossed shoes at the tall iron gates outside No. 10 Downing Street in London, the official residence of Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Thousands more joined demonstrations in Indonesia and Australia. Angry protests continued for a second day in Turkey, where about 5,000 demonstrators shouted "killer Israel!" outside the UN mission and the Israeli Embassy in downtown Ankara.

Some 750 people, carrying Turkish and Israeli flags, also marched on the Israeli Consulate in the business district of Levent in Istanbul’s European side under the watchful eye of riot police.

Israel dismissed European proposals to have international observers in the Gaza Strip after any ceasefire, insisting instead that what is needed is equipment and teams to help search out and destroy the tunnels, which Hamas could use to rearm.

The U.S. State Department said Monday the Bush administration is pressing for a ceasefire that would address the issue of the tunnels, halting Hamas rocket fire from Gaza and reopening border crossing points with Israel.

As Egyptian officials demanded that Hamas implement a unilateral ceasefire of the rocket attacks, the militant group said yesterday it would send a delegation to Cairo to discuss diplomatic initiatives. It would be the first effort by the group in the last 10 days to openly talk to outside mediators.


But if the increasingly belelicose war of words between Israel and Hamas is any indication, the diplomatic efforts to reach a cease-fire may be an exercise in futility.

“Hamas has so far sustained a very heavy blow from us, but we have yet to achieve our objective and therefore the operation continues,” said Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He said the protection of southern Israeli towns from Hamas rocket attacks remains Israel's ultimate goal and that the Jewish state would not halt its operations until that goal was achieved.

In response, Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas official, said the Hamas military wing was headed for “victory” against Israeli forces.

“The Zionists have legitimized the killing of their children by killing our children," Zahar said in a grainy video broadcast on Hamas TV. “They have legitimized the killing of their people all over the world by killing our people! Crush your enemy!”

A text message sent Monday by Hamas's military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, said "the Zionists started approaching the trap which our fighters prepared for them." Both Hamas and its militant ally, Islamic Jihad, also vowed Tuesday to launch a new wave of suicide bombing attacks in Israel's major cities of Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem in retaliation for the Israeli offensive in Gaza.


While the war between Israel and Hamas reverberates from Gaza City to southern Israel and to Arab capitals, the fallout will also be felt among the Israeli public amid a hotly-contested election campaign.

The fighting already is affecting Israeli public opinion ahead of next month's parliamentary election. Before the offensive began, opinion polls showed opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud Party leading. But now, the hawks are losing ground and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, leader of the center-left Labor Party, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, leader of the governing center-right Kadima Party are gaining.

"Israel often starts wars looking very good, and the end is often less clear," Asher Arian, a political science professor at Haifa University, was quoted as saying by "The only thing that is clear is that every campaign will try to spin the outcome to their advantage."

So far the Israeli operation in Gaza is receiving broad public support among Israelis -- a political boon for the Kadima Party. Livni would succeed Ohlmert as prime minister if her party wins; Ohlmert resigned as party leader in September in the face of a corruption scandal but remains prime minister pending the outcome of the February 10 elections.

The government has learned important lessons from the 2006 Lebanon war and executed this operation with more precision and caution that its fight with Hezbollah, said Avraham Ben Tzvi, an international relations commentator for Israel Radio.

But, he cautions, "One missile unfortunately can change the whole picture.... We're not even at halftime." Indeed, both Barak and Livni remain politically vulnerable because, as partners in the present Kadima-Labor coalition government, they couldn't stop Hamas' rocket fire over the three years since Israel unilaterally withdrew from the coastal enclave.

In the war in Lebanon two years ago, electoral politics were seen as one of the primary factors in the heated rhetoric leading to the war -- much the same way it is adding to calls today for the complete toppling of Hamas.


Most observers acknowledge that the United States is really the only country with the leverage to put pressure on Israel to halt its offensive -- and that it won't happen until after President Bush, who firmly supports Israel, leaves office in two weeks.

With Bush firmly supporting Israel's offensive -- and the U.S. blocking all attempts for a cease-fire without a demand for Hamas to stop its rocket attacks while Bush remains in office -- all eyes are turning to his successor to send a signal of a change in U.S. Middle East policy.

Lacking authority to say or do anything to affect the outcome of the crisis, President-elect Barack Obama is maintaining a careful public silence until after his inauguration on January 20.

# # #

Volume IV, Number 1
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.

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