Covering Palestine on Campus and Beyond
Art by Nour El-Solh
In February, The Tufts Daily published a breaking news story titled “Protesters disrupt Israel-Palestine discussion event, Monaco condemns protest.” In the article, the Daily reported on the protest of an event hosted by Tufts Friends of Israel and Tufts J-Street U. The Daily quoted J-Street U, describing the event as a “dialogue” between “an Israeli and a Palestinian who have the shared experience of living in the occupied West Bank.” Nowhere in the article was it mentioned that the “Israeli citizen” is an illegal settler in the occupied West Bank. The Daily lacked the diligence to do any of their own research on the Roots organization that the speakers were representing. In fact, they describe Roots as a “Palestinian-Israeli initiative” when minimal research on its website shows that much of its “Leadership on the Ground” is made up of israeli settlers. One of these “leaders” describes himself as “a passionate Zionist settler.”
The Daily has also not published any articles about the over 100 people injured and at least 10 people killed by israeli forces in deadly raids on Nablus, Palestine. The lack of context for why protesters feel the need to disrupt events that normalize israel’s continued killing of Palestinians is, simply put, bad journalism. Out of context, the demonstration seems like a disrespectful action directed at “peaceful” speakers, rather than protesters showing their opposition to the whitewashing of violent colonialism through the platforming of a settler. The article sidelined the everyday violence Palestinians face through humiliating searches at checkpoints, illegal raids on their homes, and military presence in their neighborhoods, and it framed the people who oppose occupation as a problem.
The ignorant framing of this article is part of a larger trend in the mainstream media of downplaying israel’s violent land theft. Every year near Ramadan, israeli occupation forces storm al-Aqsa mosque, a sacred site for Palestinians. The raids of al-Aqsa are covered in US and European mainstream media as “clashes,” “tensions,” or “confrontations” rather than armed israeli state forces attacking Muslim Palestinians who are praying during their holy month. A CNN article published on April 15, 2022 is titled “Jerusalem on edge as violence flares at key holy site.” Just days ago, the storming of al-Aqsa by israeli occupation forces was reported in the BBC under the headline: “Jerusalem: clashes erupt at Holy site.” These sources report israeli military forces storming al-Aqsa with the goal of enacting violence on Palestinians without explicitly naming who was perpetrating the violence in the first place. The decontextualization of these routine attacks on Palestinians works to normalize this violence as a clash between two equal parties rather than an attack on colonized people by their colonial oppressors.
Another example of decontextualized journalism took place last May when Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed by an israeli sniper as part of a larger israeli military attack on Palestinians. The New York Times initially titled an article “Shireen Abu Akleh, Trailblazing Palestinian Journalist, Dies at 51,” erasing who killed Abu Akleh—the israeli occupation forces. The title was later changed to “Trailblazing Palestinian Journalist Killed in West Bank,” but both titles demonstrate a major issue of mainstream media using passive voice to obscure the perpetrators of violence. The article went on to quote the israeli military’s Twitter account, which claimed that “Palestinian armed gunfire” might have been responsible for her death. However, many eyewitness reports clearly confirmed that it was shots fired by the israeli military that killed Abu Akleh, supported by multiple human rights organizations like B’tselem and Amnesty International. The Times mentioned claims by Al Jazeera and the Palestinian Health Ministry that Abu Akleh was murdered by the israeli military, but created a false equivalency between these claims and claims of israeli occupation forces. Representation of violence against Palestinians as if there are always two sides obscures the unequal violence of settler colonialism and equates resistance of colonized subjects with violence from a colonial power. Nearly two months later, The New York Times finally published a detailed investigation of Abu Akleh’s murder clarifying that claims by israeli occupation forces were not factually supported and there were no armed Palestinians near her when she was shot. This passive reporting and uncritical inclusion of israeli propaganda negates the agency of israeli military forces and settlers who are committing the real violence inflicted on Palestinians.
Journalists often claim the need for an arbitrary standard of “objectivity” in their reporting, but to equate an occupier and an occupied people only denies the unequal reality. Last year was the deadliest year for Palestinians since the al-Aqsa intifada in 2005, with over 230 Palestinians killed by israeli forces and settlers. The Palestinian health ministry has described the past few months as the deadliest start to a year since 2000, as over 90 Palestinians have already been killed since the start of 2023. The framing of “Israel/Palestine” as a conflict instead of a colonial occupation makes israel’s continued ethnic cleansing of Palestinians possible; it leads readers to believe neutrality is acceptable.
Furthermore, the Society of Professional Journalists, a US journalism organization, states ethical journalists should provide context and “take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.” The Tufts Daily and countless other news outlets have neglected this journalistic duty in their coverage of Palestine.
Journalists on every level, including at the university level, must take steps to stop the normalization of settler colonialism and take the side of the colonized. Last April, for instance, The Harvard Crimson’s editorial board put out a statement in support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which calls for economic action against israel. The Tufts Daily released a strong statement condemning Russia’s war crimes against Ukraine just over a month ago, applauding Western attempts to sanction the occupying nation. The same situation applies to Palestine and the Palestine solidarity movement which calls for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions of israel and israeli institutions and companies until Palestine is free. We urge all news outlets at Tufts to adopt the same condemnation of the israeli occupation of Palestine and heed the call from Palestinian civil society by endorsing BDS.
Additionally, we urge all student journalists to consider the language they use when writing about Palestine and Palestine activism on campus. The stakes are high. News media is one of the first ways people learn about the events around them. Therefore, journalists have a special responsibility in shaping the narrative surrounding acts of colonial violence. We do not live in an equal world. Therefore, journalists must consider their power and positionality in every aspect of creating a news story, from the language they use and the voices they platform to the ultimate narrative they produce. Readers and consumers of media must also be wary of any media they consume that claims to be “neutral” in the face of oppression, settler colonialism, and genocide.
We encourage anyone seeking out news on Palestine to follow these alternate sources for coverage of Palestine: Mondoweiss, the Institute for Middle East Understanding, Eye on Palestine, Electronic Intifada, +972 Magazine, Within Our Lifetime, and Al-Quds.