Western countries and Israel have strong relationships on political, security, economic, and military levels. The Western nations' interest in Israel following the 1948 Palestinian Nakba is driven by its strategic geographical location, which allows major powers to gain access to the Middle East. This is accomplished by endorsing the Israeli occupation and utilizing its armed forces as a means of deterrence and as a primary frontline against regional countries.
According to a YouGov survey conducted on a sample size of between 1,000 and 2,000 individuals from the United States, researchers posed the following question: "Do you agree with the statement that Israel is an apartheid state?" The survey found that 29% of the respondents disagreed with this characterization, while 20% believed that Israel is indeed an apartheid state. The majority of those surveyed (51%) stated that they were uncertain. Regardless, their perspective on the Palestinian issue after the Nakba is heavily influenced by Western media and the narratives presented to them by the media.
In 2019, the Pew Research Center conducted an opinion poll to measure the level of Western support for the state of Israeli occupation. The survey found that while Americans tend to be more supportive of Israel compared to Europeans, there is an increasing partisan divide in the United States on this issue. In the United States, 64% of Republicans express more sympathy towards the state of Israeli occupation than towards Palestinians. Among the European countries included in the survey, Italy has the highest level of support for Israel at 48%, followed by Poland at 47%, and Hungary at 43%. On the other hand, Israel receives the least support in Spain at 20% and France at 19%.
Across all surveyed countries, there is a tendency for older adults to exhibit greater support for Israel compared to the younger generation. This inclination can be linked to the deep connection established with the initial wave of Jewish immigrants to Palestine between 1947 and 1948, which coincided with the Nakba. The profound sympathy towards this group is motivated by religious, ideological, and political factors.
Misleading Trends in Western Media’s Coverage of the Nakba
In this analysis, we aim to examine the media approach adopted by Western newspapers such as The New York Times in their coverage of the Nakba and the relationship between the Israeli occupation and the ongoing events in Palestinian territories since 1948. Additionally, we will explore the framing techniques employed by some media outlets in an attempt to influence global public opinion.
One of the key dualities that must be examined in Western media’s coverage of the Palestinian Nakba is the duplicity of antagonism and solidarity, as well as the duality of bias and ignorance. Western media often tends to ignore the Palestinian narrative in its coverage of the Palestinian issue in general and the Nakba in particular. This results in the overlooking and omission of crucial facts that should be conveyed to the public. Emerging generations of enlightened Western readership are clamoring for equitable representation of the Palestinian cause. Yet, Western newspapers seem to persist in their slant towards favoring the occupiers, often presenting Palestinians in a disparaging light.
Research conducted by Julie Schweitzer examined the viewpoints of students from universities in France and the United States regarding the press coverage of the Palestinian issue in 2011. The study found that Western audiences have become more aware of the Palestinian dilemma and have studied the history of the Nakba and the Palestinian struggle against Israeli colonialism. Consequently, young students in Western universities demand that journalists and Western correspondents provide more fair and equitable coverage of the Palestinian side.
The theory of media framing revolves around the use of language and images that have the potential to shape public opinion. Frames can be seen as a combination of words, images, and symbols that provide a particular portrayal of an event or individuals, aiming to influence the readers and audiences of news in a way desired by the news producers.
When analyzing the coverage of the Palestinian Nakba in 1948, the theory of framing can be applied through the selective use of specific images. The choice of images accompanying the news story can significantly impact how the conflict is perceived. For example, the images disseminated by Western media in 1948 depicting Jewish immigrant children in registration lines or aboard ships elicit sympathetic responses towards Israelis.
These visuals bolstered the narrative of "Holocaust survivors", casting the Jews arriving in Palestine in 1948 as persecuted individuals soliciting global compassion.
Distortion and Bias in Western Journalism During the Nakba
According to “The End of the British Mandate for Palestine, 1948: The Diary of Sir Henry Gurney,” in 1948, Israel controlled the narrative in journalists' reports by war correspondents. The Jewish Agency office was in charge of distributing press credentials, effectively obligating accredited journalists to endorse and propagate the Jewish narrative.
Media distortions in the coverage of the Palestinian Nakba included portraying the Palestinian society as primitive. According to this narrative, Israeli occupation and the British Mandate were displacing 'primitive' Palestinians in favor of a more 'civilized' populace.
A study conducted by a researcher from a London university on media coverage of the end of the British Mandate in Palestine uncovered that on the morning of May 14, 1948, The Daily Mirror, a British newspaper, ran an article titled 'Palestine – last appeal as we quit' and described Palestinians as "Primitive." The newspaper asserted that Palestine was underdeveloped and impoverished in the 1940s, with approximately 750,000 poor inhabitants suffering from diseases. On the other hand, it mentioned advancements such as new agricultural techniques, improved medical services, road and railway construction, water supply enhancements, and the eradication of malaria, regarding the experiences of European Jewish immigrants.
Based on the same study, Israelis were hesitant to allow any journalist to accompany Jewish groups, instead they relied exclusively on Jewish and American journalists for this purpose. Journalists from The New York Times were specifically chosen to join these Jewish groups and attend their leaders' press conferences.
In the meantime, The New York Times consistently promoted a biased stance in favor of the occupation following the declaration of the "State of Israel" in 1948. In an article titled "Zionists Proclaim New State of Israel; Truman Recognizes it and Hopes for Peace," the newspaper employed phrases like "the suffering of the people of the diaspora" to depict the establishment of the "State of Israel." Furthermore, their press releases emphasized the importance of providing assistance to Jewish immigrant children.
Based on Misbar’s analysis of a sample of six articles published by The New York Times in 1948, it was found that there was a notable absence of any mention of Palestinians in NYT’s coverage of the Nakba. Both Palestinian civilians and fighters were marginalized and overlooked.
Instead, the focus of the articles during that period was primarily on the establishment of a Jewish state called Israel on Palestinian land, with the aim of gathering Jewish people from around the world. Unfortunately, this emphasis came at the expense of conveying the reality of the massacres perpetrated during that time.
Moreover, it is worth examining the framing used in the coverage of the 1948 Nakba, which creates a false sense of balance between the Palestinian and Jewish sides. Despite a significant power imbalance between the two parties, the newspaper describes the events as a "war" rather than an occupation. This attempt to equate the Palestinians' limited power at the time with the strength of Zionist gangs creates a misleading narrative that potentially criminalizes Palestinians as active participants in the conflict.
In an article published in June 1948, the term "truce" was used to describe the agreement that ended the fighting at that time, as stated in a resolution by the United Nations Security Council. Despite the imbalance in power, with the Jewish forces being better equipped and more numerous than the Palestinian forces.
The newspaper immediately adopted the American-Zionist discourse in its coverage of the Nakba, emphasizing the narrative of the armed gangs, which advocated for "suppressing the hands of Palestinians and Arab rescue forces" in favor of Jewish immigrants.
On the other hand, based on the same sample, the newspaper did not cover news about the displaced Palestinian families, their names, or their testimonies. Instead, it focused on covering Jewish families and children while blaming Arabs for the global scattering of Jews, asserting their entitlement to the land.
Some Western newspapers disregarded the humanitarian crisis in Palestine following the displacement and expulsion of Palestinians from their cities and villages in 1948. They also neglected the framework of human rights when discussing the Palestinian side, unlike the coverage of the Jewish side and their suffering and escape from Nazi persecution.
The sample of articles analyzed by Misbar from The New York Times exemplifies bias toward the Israeli narrative at the expense of the Palestinian narrative.