Reporting War in the Midst of Peace
There are two events that have occurred during my time in Jerusalem that have had a profound impact on my impression of the security situation in the city, and moreover, that have influenced my perception of Israeli and international media.
The first occurred a little over a month ago, when an East Jerusalemite stabbed three Jews with a screwdriver in the Old City. The second happened two days ago, when a lorry ran into a group of young soldiers who had just disembarked from a bus, killing four.
In both instances, the stories were plastered over Israeli media and managed to make their way internationally, eliciting multiple concerned text and Facebook messages from worried friends and family back in Canada and elsewhere. Nevertheless, these two events, while traumatizing and concerning, were exceptions to my time in Jerusalem. In the three months that I have lived in Jerusalem, it is not often that I felt unsafe. Admittedly, I may have never grown accustomed to armed soldiers and security personnel dressed in civilian clothes milling about, or heightened security in virtually ever building or institution of importance — but day-to-day, I went about my life as I would anywhere else in the world.
I am no stranger to the culture of fear around Israel-Palestine, having encountered many questions prior to arriving regarding my safety, or the precariousness of the ‘situation’ in Israel-Palestine. I assured each and every one of those individuals who questioned why I would put myself in harm’s way, that Israel-Palestine is not in as dangerous as we are taught to believe. And everyday since my arrival, when I have entered my home safely at the end of the day, I confirm this statement to be true.
Yet, where does this culture of fear and danger originate? I believe it is easily recognized that Israel-Palestine is one of the most sensationalized and continuous news stories of the twenty-first century. In my lifetime, I have only seen Israel-Palestine in Canadian news for one of two reasons: firstly, if both parties are involved in peace talks, and secondly, if there is an uptake in violence or a terrorist attack. And now, having lived in Jerusalem for three months, both Arab and Jewish (or Israeli) media tends to focus again on violence, on terrorism, and on victims of one side or the other.
In Israel, Palestine, and Jerusalem, journalism is in a constant state of war. Articles pit one side against another. Footage vilifies the ‘terrorists’ and mourns the ‘victims’ and ‘martyrs.’ Journalists use language of polarization, demonizing one side for the victory of the other. Yet sadly, this phenomenon is not new in the region, nor is it exclusive to Israel-Palestine. Media elsewhere in the Arab word, in Europe, and in North America has the same tendency to report on Israel-Palestine as though it were in a constant state of war. It is no wonder that so many people are afraid to come to the region, or that they fear for the safety of their loved ones while here.
The reality of the media situation surrounding Israel-Palestine locally and internationally seriously contradicts many of the norms of media ethics. Tehranian provides a detailed table of the locus and norms of global media ethics, wherein we see individual norms such a truth and objectivity, minimizing harm, and respecting human diversity — values that are increasingly difficult to come by in coverage of Israel-Palestine (Tehranian 70). On the international level, global media, by normative standards, should include free and balanced flows of information, another difficult-to-come-by standard in a media culture of sensationalization and polarization (Tehranian 70).
Perhaps a touch idyllically, I wonder what would happen if news agencies started reported stories of peace instead of stories of war. Or if in the midst of tragedy, they found the moments of humanity, the people who saved the day, and reported on them instead. I am not so foolish so as to think this would bring peace to Israel-Palestine, but it might be a welcome change to the culture of fear and insecurity that the media puts forth both in Israel-Palestine and abroad.
As Tehranian states, the media has critical responsibilities, one of which is “the professional duties to inform [and] educate… the public at the highest possible quality” (Tehranian 72). There is a need for the global media to return to this type of coverage of Israel-Palestine. If there is any hope to break the culture of fear and the image of Israel-Palestine as a never-ending war, the media must be involved in providing a more balanced narrative that focusses on human triumphs instead of human losses.