More than 10 years ago, media watchdog groups noticed a consistent pattern in Middle East reporting.
When Palestinians attacked Israelis, headlines expressed their actions in the passive voice, as in, "Bomb explosion leaves 5 Israelis dead." Yes, a bomb just decided to explode and kill some people. How it got there and who detonated it, nobody knows.
When the Israeli army attacked Palestinians, the headlines read very differently, with Israel portrayed as the clear aggressor, as in, "Israeli army kills 5 Palestinians." Those evil, murderous Israelis are at it again!
This clear double standard was carefully documented in headlines in the LA Times in 2002-2003 and BBC News in 2001.
Examples like these from the LA Times could easily be multiplied:
- November 11, 2002: "Israeli Soldiers Kill Senior Members of Islamic Jihad"
- November 11, 2002: "Gun Attack Kills 5 Israelis at Kibbutz"
- January 19, 2003: "Israeli Soldiers Kill Two Palestinians"
- January 18, 2003: "Gunman, Israeli Settler Die in Raid"
BBC News followed the same pattern. For example:
- May 7, 2001: "Israeli Attack Kills Baby Girl"
- March 26, 2001: "Israeli Baby Killed by Gun Fire"
- April 11, 2001: "Israeli Tanks Attack Refugee Camp"
- March 28, 2001: "Bomb Stokes Mid-East Tension"
Now, with the tragic murders of four teenage boys, three Israelis and one Palestinian, the media's double standard has become apparent again.
When news got out about the kidnapping of the three Jewish boys, some of Israel's Islamic enemies accused them of fabricating the news as a pretense for attacks on the Palestinians, but that is no surprise, nor is that indicative of the world media as a whole.
But when Israel announced that they had identified Hamas operatives as the perpetrators of the crime (at that point, Israel had not confirmed that the boys were killed, only that they were kidnapped), some media outlets were surprisingly tentative in their reporting, as if to say, "Do we know for sure that Hamas is behind this, or is this just what Israel is saying?"
Then, when the boys' bodies were found and the nation mourned in agony, when the mother of one of the alleged kidnappers had stated that, although she was not sure if her son was involved, if he had been, she would be proud of him until judgment day – at that raw and traumatic moment for Israel, a headline in The Wall Street Journal read: "Israel Vows 'Hamas Will Pay' for the Alleged Murder of Teens."
The "alleged" murder? As Times of Israel blogger Sheryl Elias wrote, "I was utterly perplexed. Before 2 p.m. yesterday [June 30th], I heard the news of the brutal death of these boys. What did The Wall Street Journal mean when it used the term 'alleged murder' the following day?"
As Elias asked in her voicemail to the WSJ's newsroom, ". . . what was 'alleged' about murder of three boys who had been shot in a car, transferred to a second car so that the first vehicle could be burned, and bound and partially buried in an open field?"
It was with shock and concern that a Jewish leader had shown me the headline in the print version of the WSJ, but by the time I got online to document the story, the headline had been changed, now reading, "Israel Vows 'Hamas Will Pay' for Deaths of Teens."
This, of course, removes the offense (but why change "murder" to "deaths"?), yet it neither excuses nor minimizes the initial, ugly headline, one that only poured salt into the open, Jewish wounds.
In stark contrast to the media's coverage of the kidnapping and murder of the Jewish teenagers (Was there a real kidnapping? Did Hamas really do it? Were the boys definitely killed?), the media was quick to play judge and jury when a Palestinian boy was kidnapped and then found dead the next day.
A July 3rd headline in England's The Independent declared, "Israel murdered teenagers: Body of abducted Palestinian teen found in Jerusalem in 'suspected revenge killing'."
How extraordinary. At present, we do not know for sure who is responsible for the heinous crime, yet not only are Jewish settlers blamed for it, but the nation as a whole is blamed for it: "ISRAEL murdered teenagers."
And not only is the whole nation blamed for killing one Palestinian teenager but Israel is blamed for killing multiple Palestinian teenagers, even though only one was kidnapped and killed. (This headline is so absurd that I actually wonder if a careless and malicious editor borrowed another headline that spoke of "Israel's murdered teenagers" – the three boys – and then adapted it for this article, failing to change the plural to singular.)
Within hours, that headline was changed as well, now reading, "Palestinians clash with Israeli troops amid claims teenager was murdered by Jewish right-wing extremists in 'revenge killing'." But the apparent bias cannot be changed so easily. (For allegations of the BBC's biased coverage of some of these recent events, see here and here on the BBC Watch website.)
Of course, I concur with PA President Mahmoud Abbas that Palestinian blood is as precious as Jewish blood and that the perpetrators, once found, must be prosecuted to the full. And if Jewish extremists were involved in this atrocity, there will be corporate shame and anguish, not celebration. (Tragically, there is often Palestinian celebration when Jewish blood is shed.)
I only wish that the media would also recognize that the blood of Jews is as precious as the blood of Palestinians and that coldblooded aggression by either side should be equally condemned.