Sat, Aug 20, 2011 | By Rob Harris
Eilat Terror Attack: A most peculiar use of language
With the recent tragic events where Palestinian terrorists killed nine Israeli civilians, one cannot help but be reminded of the peculiar terminology that the mainstream media uses when reporting such events. International media outlets like Reuters, and local media outlets like the Irish Times and Irish national broadcaster RTE used strangely neutral words like “gunmen” in their respective reports.
From Reuters, syndicated by the Irish Times
Gunmen killed at least seven people and injured 30 others in attacks on vehicles in southern Israel today…
…special forces were called in and engaged the gunmen as police and military closed roads around Eilat, a popular Red Sea resort. The military said between two and four gunmen were killed….
A senior Israeli official said the gunmen, unable to cross into Israel through the heavily patrolled border with the Gaza Strip…
The politically neutral term “gunmen” was used no less than six times in the article, which was revised. Similarly RTE also made repeated use of the word:
In the first incident, gunmen opened fire a bus. Minutes later, an improvised explosive device detonated beneath a military vehicle.
It is indeed bizarre to use such a word for a highly organised and sustained assault on civilians and their infrastructure, in a region famed for such activity, where heavy weaponry was used. The mild word use is peculiar especially after Palestinian terrorist activity has been widely reported in the Sinai in recent months, up until a few days ago — Indeed the authors of these articles are aware of this fact, to quote the Reuters piece:
…a senior Israeli official said they had infiltrated from the Gaza Strip through Egypt’s Sinai desert. Israel’s military said the incident began when “terrorists shot at a bus on its way [to the city of] Eilat and then fired an anti-tank rocket at another vehicle.
It was a grave terrorist incident that took place in several locations,” defence minister Ehud Barak said in a statement. “It reflects the weakening of Egypt’s hold in the Sinai and the broadening of activities by terror elements.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel “has specific and precise information that these terrorists who targeted Israelis today came out of the Gaza Strip”.
Whilst it is correct for journalists to reserve some judgement without verification, the use of heavy weaponry aimed at civilian targets in that region could only result in one belief: a heavy suspicion of a terrorist attack. Yet the reader has to rely on the Israeli government quotes to get a sense of that view.
The RTE article goes on to state:
It was later confirmed that seven Palestinians were shot and killed in the area after the attacks.
Whilst the icons for clicking on video footage of the televised news reports carried the text:
Six One News: Multiple casualties in Israeli violence
Nine News: 20 killed in Israeli violence
The report fails to state that the “gunmen” are likely to be terrorists. It also misleadingly identifies the violence as “Israeli”, which is rather ambiguous because although the violence occurred in Israel, the source of that violence was very likely not to be Israeli. Moreover, it is remarkable that both articles failed to mention that the people attacked, injured and killed on the buses were actually Israeli civilians. There was also a notable failure to mention that children were amongst the dead on the Israeli side whist mention of the death of a Palestinian boy in Gaza was prevalent.
Unfortunately the selective use of terminology which reflects political bias is nothing new. News agencies commonly characterise Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah of Jordan and other Arab leaders as “moderate” even though they lead rather oppressive regimes where incitement to violence is accepted, whilst they refer to Avigdor Lieberman as “far-right” or an “ultra-nationalist”. Similarly Benjamin Netanyahu is often described as a “hawk”, a remarkably strong term to use for a mainstream politician.
Worse still is the failure to characterise obvious terrorism as terrorism, whilst often inferring blame on Israeli activities, which results in a clear legitimisation of Palestinian terrorism even against civilians.
This media bias has existed for a considerable time. Websites like Camera, Honest Reporting, Just Journalism and CIF Watch feature extensive examples of systematic bias going back many years.
One example of the contrasting use of language is a New York Times piece that asserted “Jewish terror is not new” by citing two relatively rare examples of killings from the mid 1990’s. The use of such strong language was peculiar in this instance. To quote Honest Reporting:
…the examples cited above were acts of violence that stand out precisely due to the unusual scenario of Jews initiating such acts. But while the NY Times refers to “Jewish terror”, the thousands of acts of violence carried out by Palestinians against Israeli civilians are carried out by “militants,” “fighters” or “gunmen” according to the newspaper. […] So, while Palestinian acts of violence against Israeli civilians are not “terror” according to the NY Times, this term is abused to describe a scenario where it loses its real meaning.
Another contrast in the selective use of terminology with regard to this story was found in the Wall Street Journal. Their treatment of the Norwegian atrocity led with the headline “Savage Terrorist Attacks”. By contrast the headline in the same publication, less than a month later, stated “Militants Kill Civilians In Israel Near Egypt”. Whilst the terrorist killings in Norway was of course on a much larger scale, the events in Israel did constitute the same type of activity, and it was only with the bravery of the bus driver, and the swift response of Israeli forces, that a far larger number of civilians weren’t killed there.
The failure for the media to mention terrorism regarding Israel takes on other forms. For example an Irish Times article from late last year about Shawan Jabarin failed to mention or allude even briefly to his well known terrorist links. He is known to be a senior member of the terrorist organisation, PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), for which he has been imprisoned several times and even denied entry into Jordan.
Like other tragic events in Israel, the reporting of the latest terrorist incident there has been filtered and toned down by a very real prejudice. This is continually revealed by the now very common double standards in which a highly moderated language is applied for one side of the conflict alone, whilst the media embraces the ever fashionable Palestinian cause with little compunction.
The moral of this story should be clear. Put bluntly, the international media values the lives of Palestinians more than Israeli’s. Palestinians have personal stories while Israeli’s are barely even civilians. The mainstream media throughout the world bears a great deal of responsibility for a subtle legitimisation of the violence of the Palestinian movement at the expense of Israeli civilians. It screens the impact of this violence, whilst every step of the way waxing lyrically about the Palestinian cause.
Rob Harris contributes articles to several websites on music, certain areas of technology, and contentious political issues (not to be confused with the popular English novelist (1957-) of the same name). He blogs at eirael.blogspot.com. He lives in Ireland