By Kay Moussaed

On October 7th, I woke up to a phone call: a journalist friend asking me to check the news immediately. “Hamas has managed to find its way and breach through the Iron Wall that cost Israel 1.1 billion dollars and three years to create. The images are surreal”, he said. 

“This is the end for Hamas,” I responded.

Many Palestinians and pro-Palestinian Arabs, including those who have always opposed Hamas’ ideology, found hope in the images of the destruction of the Iron Wall. This was not because the death of Israeli civilians is justified. Rather, the act of destruction also implied the possibility for liberation, an end to an apartheid system and decades-long Palestinian suffering. It offered the Palestinians hope that they would be returning to their homeland. What was thought of as an impossible dream suddenly materialized, even if for less than one day. 

Israeli independence in 1948 represented the Nakba (Catastrophe) to the Palestinians. For them, the creation of Israel meant their extermination and expulsion from their land and homes. This process endures until today:  most of the Palestinians residing in Gaza or their descendants are refugees coming from the 1948 territories (now Israel) or from the settlements built on occupied Palestinian territories after 1967. 

However, the Hamas attacks on October 7th resulted in 1400 killed in Israel and a hostage crisis. This event prompted an Israeli response that has led to a war on Gaza. Their own attacks since early October have resulted in the killing of more than 7000 Palestinians as of writing, of whom around 3000 are children and infants. Western responses were clear and prompt: unconditional support to Israel and condemnation of Hamas’ atrocities while ignoring Palestinian suffering and the lengthy historical context of the occupation.

With few exceptions, most Western media outlets mirrored the position of their governments, showing how, when it comes to core foreign policy issues, Western media is fully embedded in and reflective of Western power structures. In a role reversal a protestor confronted CNN reporter Clarissa Ward, calling her a “puppet” and “mouth piece” for the US government.

After the October 7th attacks, Western media intended to silence Palestinians, reducing their appearances as guests on news and TV shows in comparison to 2018-2022. It also tended to host three types of guests/speakers, each of them for a different reason: Israeli and Pro-Israel guests, Palestinian and pro-Palestinian Arab guests, and pro-Palestinian Jews. Regardless of the guests’ background, questions about historical context were absent or extremely rare. The only thing that mattered was the immediate present. However, on October 8th, CNN broadcaster Christiane Amanpour interrupted her guest, Head of the Palestinian Mission to the U.K. Husam Zomlot, while he attempted to provide historical context about the conflict. “Now what? I want to know what happens now?” she said. A similar question was asked by Piers Morgan to Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef when he appeared on his show Uncensored. 

The suppression of context is equally important to vehement condemnation of Hamas’ attack. The echoes of condemnation to the October 7th attacks were heard across Western media. Nonetheless, the same voices shy away when it has to do with war crimes committed by Israel against Palestinians. This is not only because it contradicts the foreign policies of the governments these media outlets represent, but because Palestinians have already been dehumanized as extremists or terrorists. 

For this reason, Israeli or pro-Israeli voices hosted by these media outlets are already the de facto victims. Meanwhile, Palestinians and pro-Palestinian guests are subjected to a litmus test that allegedly demonstrates their humanity—condemnation of Hamas—but are not given the opportunity to fully discuss their rights or their suffering. The only option for them to be taken seriously is to condemn, otherwise they will be implicitly justifying terrorism or potentially marking themselves as terrorists in the public eye. 

This methodology performed by Western media puts the pro-Palestinian guest into defensive mode, shifting the conversation from its context and transforming it into a shallow debate that reconfirms the victimization of Israel instead of highlighting its aggression. Palestinian-American academic Edward Said highlighted this dilemma in the introduction to his book, The Question of Palestine. Palestinians are given poisoned options of either condemning or endorsing violence, whereby they either deny their history or are believed to justify terrorism.

Speaking out in support of Palestinians has its costs regardless of the background of the speaker. For example, conventional wisdom would have it that Jewish voices speaking in support of Palestinian rights may have a wider latitude to explain historical context. In an interview with Australian ABC News, Australian-German investigative journalist Antony Loewenstein, who has covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for several years, was attempting to provide such context. He compared “the Hamas kidnapping of Israeli hostages to the fact that Israel has in its jails Palestinian administrative detainees, who are imprisoned without being informed of the reason and without any trial,” citing prisoners who are usually human rights activists, lawyers, and artists. However, as soon as Loewenstein began explaining the context behind Palestinian prisoners, one of the presenters commented by saying, “But they are terrorists.” Loewenstein has discussed the price paid by people like him. As stated in his piece in The Sydney Morning Herald, “Being Jewish and critical of Israel can make you an outcast. I should know.”

Western media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the war on Gaza can be characterized as biased, misleading, applying double standards, and marginalizing Palestinian voices. This association of Palestinian peoples with terrorism seeks to justify Israel’s war tactics from a Western perspective. It also creates a social environment lacking nuance, where criticism of Israel becomes publicly synonymous with justifying terrorism.

Article or Event Link
Oct 28, 2023
Public Policy


Public Policy

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