Why Americans Don't Understand Palestine

Why Americans Don't Understand Palestine

The media has consistently emphasized Israel's perspective on the Gaza conflict.

Again, no mention of the blockade, no reference to Israel’s denial of Palestinian access to everything from the fish off their seacoast, to the opportunity to go to universities run by their compatriots on the West Bank, to their best arable land, to the equipment that would allow them to mend their broken water system. Palestinian resistance to the occupation is presented as simple bloody-mindedness. It is less surprising that Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, whose views track more closely with Israel’s right-wing government, would take the identical line: Israel withdrew, got rockets in return.

Does not publishing this kind of narrative, again and again, constitute a kind of journalistic malpractice, an abrogation of a major newspaper’s responsibility to inform? To imply that the Palestinians have no cause to resist, when rather plainly they exist in circumstances no people on earth would tolerate, is not really different from an actual lie. Israel can lie about Gaza if it wants, as governments do. But should major U.S. newspapers do so in their editorial and opinion pages?

It is hardly as if such journalistic distortions come without cost to Americans. Faced with a vast region of critical strategic importance, American readers are being deprived of information essential to understanding what is going on. The Arab world is radicalizing rapidly, often in anti-American ways, and one stream feeding the radicalism is U.S. diplomatic and moral support for Israel’s cruel blockade of Gaza.

This is not to say that media coverage of the Israel Palestine issue has not improved. Now, perhaps for the first time, Palestinians appear on network talk programs (Chris Hayes) and major radio outlets (NPR). It is important that Yousef Munayyer can be heard telling Democracy Now radio host Amy Goodman that to claim Israel is not occupying Gaza is like saying your goldfish are not under your control if you are not actually in the tank swimming with them.

The internet also has transformed the U.S. media landscape, on no issue more than Israel-Palestine. Nevertheless, most Americans do not seek news from specialized platforms. At a time when American politicians labor under all the constraints discussed above, the media’s omission of critical contextual information violates its mission to inform and educate.

In the very recent past, Americans paid a heavy price for ignorance about the Arab world—many of its leaders having been led to believe that an Iraq invasion force would be welcomed with rose petals. There are now ample reasons to fear that they are being misled again.

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative.