Otherwise Occupied

And in Other Holocaust-related News ...

A Palestinian student has found that Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post give more space to stories about Jewish victims of the past than to Israeli aggression today.

In what way are The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz English Edition similar? Both devote lots of space to prominently placed articles on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. But they don’t devote much space to settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.

That’s the conclusion of a Palestinian student at Bir Zeit University, who, in an assignment for a communications seminar, examined the print editions of both newspapers between October 20 and November 20 last year. (Full disclosure: The student, Adla Nazer, interviewed me while she was working on her research.)

During the 30 days of her survey, settlers committed 32 attacks of various types against Palestinians, according to data from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. But according to Nazer, Haaretz English Edition published only five items on the issue, while The Jerusalem Post published just one – and even that was on the mildest type of attack: spray-painting graffiti (in Jerusalem), not a physical attack, arson, or the destruction of olive trees, for example.

Haaretz’s five stories included three news items, two of them on the front page, one column (that surveyed several previous settler attacks) and one feature (about an attack that preceded the period Nazer surveyed).

Nazer found that even though Haaretz didn’t provide much coverage of attacks as they happened, it highlighted the information in other ways via placement, photographs or the terms used to describe the violence.

Haaretz doesn't come out too bad, but still, during the same period the paper ran 21 items on events “that the newspaper described as anti-Semitic,” Nazer says.

These events had a connection to the Holocaust or Nazism, or involved events from the world wars.

There were nine news stories, five opinion pieces, four features and three items in the “This Day in Jewish History” section.

The Jerusalem Post, meanwhile, ran 29 items during this period on the same topics – 17 news items, including five in one day, 11 opinion pieces and one feature.

“More than they focus on issues relating to the conflict in which Israel appears as the aggressor – for example, settler violence, administrative detention, settlement expansion, home demolitions and the like – the two newspapers speaking to the world focus on issues relating to history, like the Holocaust, or to security, like the negotiations with Iran,” Nazer wrote.

“Basically, the two newspapers address the big cause of defending world Jewry and Zionism, and seek to influence public opinion to fight discrimination against Jews … and to always make the Jew appear to be the victim while blurring his role as an aggressor, despite all the settlers’ violent actions and terror.”

Guilty feelings

Nazer’s choice of coverage of settler attacks as a benchmark for Israeli journalistic professionalism shows the extent to which Palestinians are preoccupied by these attacks.

In our conversation, I tried to assuage my own guilt with the following explanations:

* There are more stories on these attacks on the English website than in the print edition. More people read the website than the print edition.

* There are weeks when more space is devoted to this issue.

* The media and its consumers like “new” news. And unfortunately, when such events happen daily – hundreds of events that define the Jew as the opposite of a victim – they tend to sound stale and repetitive.

* Haaretz can’t document the entire chronicle of the axis of evil.

* To report accurately, one must have reliable sources and methods of data collection. That’s difficult because unfortunately Palestinian news agencies and spokespeople aren’t precise. The victims themselves aren’t always available by phone, and even when they are, the degree of accuracy possible in a phone call when everyone is still upset isn’t high enough.

One solution to the last three problems is to aggregate a few events; taken together, they’re more likely to make an impression on the collective consciousness. But how good a solution is that?

For example, I have in my files a 719-word report by activists from the Arab-Jewish group Ta’ayush that describes in succinct language the almost routine settler attacks in the south Hebron Hills (and the army’s involvement in them), from January 5 to January 20 this year.

Journalists should handle this report as follows.

* Speak to every victim. This includes shepherds prevented from reaching their wells by outpost settlers with the help of soldiers. It also includes farmers and shepherds whose lands were invaded by settlers but the police and soldiers arrested them – the Palestinians, including women – and held them for several hours without charges being filed.

Also, speak to Israeli and international activists who were stoned by young Israeli pogromists; international activists who were detained for nine hours. Finally, speak to Palestinian schoolchildren who had stones thrown at them by settlers, and landowners whose plots were appropriated by settlers who put up lampposts or planted trees there. And so on and so on, ad nauseum.

* Send queries to the Israel Defense Forces, the Civil Administration in the West Bank, and the Israel Police about every incident. Then wait up to four days for responses.

* Pare down the thousands of words to 500 to 800 words that the reader can bear.

By the time those words reach anyone, they’ll be totally stale, and the real news, the important news and commentaries, will have long overshadowed the events in question.

Olivier Fitoussi