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Why do Western Media Outlets Avoid Mentioning Children When Talking About Palestinian Prisoners?

Misbar's Editorial Team Misbar's Editorial Team
29th November 2023
Why do Western Media Outlets Avoid Mentioning Children When Talking About Palestinian Prisoners?
Palestinian prisoner Ahmed Manasra (Getty)

Early on Wednesday, November 22, Hamas announced reaching an agreement on a four-day humanitarian ceasefire thanks to Qatari and Egyptian efforts. According to this agreement, there will be a cessation of hostilities from both sides and a halt to all military actions by the Israeli army in all areas of the Gaza Strip, including a cessation of its military vehicles' movement into the Gaza Strip. 

Details of the Ceasefire Agreement in Gaza 

The movement affirmed that as part of the ceasefire agreement, "hundreds of trucks carrying humanitarian, relief, medical, and fuel aid will be allowed to enter all areas of the Gaza Strip without exception, both in the north and south." It indicated that "the cessation of aviation in the south will be for the four days, and in the north, it will be for 6 hours daily from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM."

Among the agreed ceasefire conditions, which came into effect Friday morning, was the "release of 50 detainees held by the occupation forces, women and children under 19 years old, in exchange for the release of 150 Palestinian women and children from the occupation's prisons under the age of 19," according to a statement from Hamas.

Before agreeing to the ceasefire, Netanyahu stated that "the Israeli government faces a tough decision, but it is the right decision." He confirmed the gradual release of Israeli prisoners in the anticipated deal with Hamas in Gaza, highlighting that President Joe Biden helped enhance the agreement to include more prisoners. In return, Netanyahu warned that "the war continues and will continue until we achieve all our objectives."

Israeli authorities released 39 Palestinians on Friday, including 24 women and 15 children, while Hamas released 13 Israelis, including women and children, some of whom held dual citizenship. Additionally, they released ten Thais and one Filipino who had been held in Gaza since October 7.

The second wave of prisoner releases was scheduled for Saturday, but Al-Qassam Brigades announced a delay in the process without specifying a resumption date "until the occupation adheres to the agreement's provisions regarding the entry of relief trucks to the northern Gaza Strip, and due to non-compliance with the agreed-upon criteria for releasing prisoners," according to a statement released by Al-Qassam through its channel on Telegram. Meanwhile, an Israeli official told Channel 12, an Israeli private channel, that "technical reasons" caused the delay in commencing the release of the Israeli detainees in Gaza.

Dehumanization and Avoiding the Use of the Term “Children”

The Western and global media closely followed the details of the ceasefire, each seeking exclusive information to provide distinctive coverage. However, as has been the case since October 7, several prevailing Western media outlets demonstrated a degree of unprofessionalism in their coverage of the ceasefire, including withholding facts or using selective language to portray Israel in a more positive light.

One of the more striking coverages was by The Atlantic, which focused on the released Israeli hostages, emphasizing the use of the term "hostages" when referring to Palestinian prisoners. They also emphasized the latter's deserving of imprisonment, stating that Hamas and Israel agree on hostage deal: 30 children and 20 women to Israel, in exchange for five days of ceasefire and 150 Palestinians held by Israel, accused or convicted of serious crimes.

صحيفة ذا أتلانتيك تجرّم الأسرى الفلسطينيين دون دليل

The Washington Post wrote, " Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday that the planned four-day pause  the first cessation of violence in almost seven weeks — will begin at 7 a.m. local time Friday. The first group of hostages, 13 women and children, will be transferred at 4 p.m. the same day, with additional hostages released in batches for a total of 50 over the four days.”

صحيفة ذا واشنطن بوست تركز على الأطفال والنساء الإسرائيليين

The newspaper did not mention any information about those referred to as "Palestinian prisoners" until after 19 paragraphs into its report on the ceasefire. It stated, “under the agreement, Israel will release three Palestinians — women or teenagers — it now holds in its prisons in exchange for the safe return of each hostage.” The word "children" was not used throughout its report; instead, it relied on the term "teenagers," which is not a legal term and is not mentioned in international agreements.

الإذاعة الوطنية العامة تكتفي بذكر كلمة “مراهقين” عند الحديث عن الأطفال الفلسطينيين الأسرى

The American National Public Radio (NPR) did not mention that the released Palestinian prisoners were women or children; it referred to them simply as "Palestinian prisoners." Instead, it sought to show the human side of the freed Israeli hostages by saying that the hostages "were released and reunited with their families on Friday." It did not mention the families of the released Palestinian prisoners and attempted to remind of their ties to Hamas. The radio report stated, “where the Palestinians prisoners were being handed over. An enormous crowd in the heart of Ramallah gathered, chanting pro-Hamas slogans and waved the militant group's green flag.”

الإذاعة الوطنية العامة تقرن الأسرى الفلسطينيين المُفرج عنهم بحماس

The same goes for the American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Their report on the ceasefire was titled "Israeli Cabinet approves truce for hostages deal with Hamas; Palestinian prisoners also to be freed," without specifying the identities or ages of those prisoners.

خدمة البث العامة تكتفي بذكر “السجناء الفلسطينيين” ولا تذكر أعدادهم أو هوياتهم

In its report, the channel mentioned the number of Israeli hostages included in the deal, totaling 50 out of 240 hostages, described as "women, children, and elderly individuals with critical health conditions" in five different instances. However, the report did not provide any information regarding the number or ages of the Palestinian prisoners involved in the deal, despite this information being conveyed by the Associated Press, which detailed their numbers and that they included women and children in its report.

On its part, NBC also referred to them as "Palestinian prisoners." While detailing some Israeli captives including their ages and other humanizing aspects, NBC mentioned that the released Palestinians were criminals. In their report, they listed individuals such as Doron Katz Asher, 34 years old, along with her two young daughters Raz, 4, and Aviva, 2, as well as Amelia Aloni, aged 6, with her mother Danielle, 45. Ohad Mandar Zakari, who spent his ninth birthday in captivity, was also included alongside his mother Kiren, 54, and his grandmother Ruth, 78. Several other elderly individuals were also on the list. In contrast, Israel released 39 Palestinians held for various alleged crimes.

The New York Times reported in its comprehensive coverage of the ceasefire details that "an agreement was reached to cease hostilities for at least four days. During that period, the exchange of at least 50 women and children – of about 240 individuals Israeli officials say were abducted on October 7 – was expected in return for 150 Palestinian women and minors imprisoned in Israeli jails." The newspaper did not mention the total number of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, which exceeds 6,000 as it did with the Israeli hostages. Instead, it used the term "minors" to describe the Palestinian prisoners instead of "children," which is also not a legal term and is not mentioned in international agreements.

ABC television channel, The Telegraph newspaper, and the BBC British channel did the same thing, using the description "women and children" when mentioning the Israeli hostages, contrasting it with the use of "women and teenagers" when referring to the Palestinian prisoners.

Why Do Media Outlets Try to Avoid Mentioning the Word "Children"?

According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Israel in 1990, a child is defined as "every human being under the age of eighteen." As per the prisoner exchange agreement, Israel will release female prisoners and prisoners under the age of 18, i.e., children according to the international definition. So why do some media outlets avoid using the term "children" to describe Palestinian prisoners, denying them their rights as children under international law, while using it to describe Israeli prisoners?

إسرائيل وقعت على معاهدة حقوق الطفل عام 1990 - الأمم المتحدة

These attempts come in the context of seeking to absolve Israel from its violations of signed agreements and international humanitarian law. Israeli authorities arrested approximately 882 Palestinian children during 2022 and another 880 this year, according to the Palestinian Information Center, detaining them in facilities such as "Megiddo," "Ofer," and "Damoun." Additionally, there are children in detention and investigation centers, as well as minors from Jerusalem held in special social centers because they are under 14 years old. This information is based on reports from the Prisoners Affairs Commission, the Palestinian Prisoners' Club, Al-Dameer Foundation for Prisoners' Care and Human Rights, and the Wadi Hilweh Information Center - Jerusalem.

According to these reports and the accounts of these children's families and those who were previously detained and released, they face the same harshness of torture, unfair trials, and inhumane treatment that adults endure. This treatment violates their fundamental rights and threatens their futures, contravening the rules of international law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
What the Israeli authorities are doing constitutes a violation of the rights of child prisoners and contravenes international law, especially Article 16 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that "no child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honor or reputation." It also stipulates that "the child has the right to protection from such interference or attacks."

The occupation does not take into account the age of children during their trials and does not establish special courts for them. Moreover, the Israeli occupation sets the age of a child below 16 years old, according to the Israeli judicial system relying on Military Order "132," which defines the age of a child as under 16. This is a direct violation of Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which defines a child as "every human being below the age of eighteen."

Israeli occupation authorities deprive child prisoners of the most basic rights granted to them by international treaties. These rights include the right not to be subject to arbitrary arrest, the right to know the reason for arrest, the right to access legal counsel, the family's right to know the reason and place of the child's detention, the right to appear before a judge, the right to challenge and appeal charges, the right to communicate with the outside world, and the right to humane treatment preserving the dignity of the detained child.

Therefore, mentioning the term "children" by the media when discussing Israeli hostages only, and omitting it when referring to Palestinian prisoners, or using other terms like "minors" and "teenagers," implies framing them within a context that removes the notion of "childhood" from them and reinforces it for the Israeli hostages. This diminishes the empathy toward them, suggesting that they are not "children" like the Israeli prisoners.

Additionally, affirming by some media outlets that "Palestinian prisoners" are detained due to criminal charges without discussing that the majority of them are held without any judicial verdicts is a disregard for international reports concerning children's rights. Also, employing references to "Hamas" and "armed groups" in the same contexts discussing them may justify Israeli arrests of Palestinian children, portraying them as convicted criminals undeserving of sympathy.

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