50 years of Israeli occupation in 100,000 US headlines

50 years of Israeli occupation in 100,000 US headlines
Comment: Decades of anaemic US reporting has sanitised Israel's actions, and erased the legitimate concerns of Palestinians, write Usaid Siddiqui and Owais Zaheer.
6 min read
'This complex, contentious reality is hardly reflected in the US mainstream press' [Anadolu]
The Israeli occupation of Palestine is now in its 52nd year. Over this time, the occupation has become increasingly entrenched. Israel's expansion of settlements in the West Bank and its colonisation of Palestinian land has all but eliminated the prospect of achieving a two-state solution.

Israel's closest ally, the United States, and the chief arbiter between the two sides, has certainly not helped. In fact, it has enabled Israeli aggression towards the Palestinians.

Before leaving office, former US President Barack Obama pledged record levels of military aid to the Israelis, worth 
near $38 billion over a 10-year period.

More recently, President Donald Trump, in May 2018 
officially moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, and in doing so endorsed Israel's long held claim over the holy city. East Jerusalem is internationally recognised as a disputed city and remains the aspirational capital of a future Palestinian state.

Unfortunately, this complex, contentious reality is hardly reflected in the US mainstream press; arguably the world's most influential media landscape.

Any reasonably objective assessment of the conflict would critically view the impact of occupying forces, and the cost extracted from those whose are occupied.

Instead, what we observe is the promotion of Israeli narratives, while the viewpoints of the Palestinian people are consistently obfuscated.

Our study noted an 85 percent decline in the use of the word 'occupation' in headlines involving Israel

Our latest research at 416 Labs, entitled "50 years of Occupation" quantitatively, and unequivocally affirms this perception.

The study was conducted using Natural Language Processing techniques and measured the sentiment and language across approximately 100,000 headlines in five US print newspapers.

Our findings demonstrate that not only does the US mainstream media portray the Palestinians more negatively, but that it systematically erases the very aspects of the conflict that are essential to understanding the 50 plus year occupation.

We noted that, regardless of where an outlet lies on the political spectrum, left, right or centre, the conflict is often framed in a manner that would lead ordinary readers to conclude that the woes of the Palestinians are of their own making; absent of any fault of the Israeli state. The following headline in The New York Times, during one of the Great Return March protests in Gaza, illustrates this point well:

"At Least 28 Palestinians Die in Protests as U.S. Prepares to Open Jerusalem Embassy"

In fact, the protests, that have been held every Friday since March 2018 against Israel's decade long blockade, have been consistently peaceful, despite Israeli snipers killing more than 200 people in 39 weeks, and maiming countless more.

Yet this headline could easily lead one to believe that the violence and the killing was something the Palestinians brought upon themselves, not the dozens (if not more) Israeli soldiers shooting from the other side of the fence.

As Palestinian American author and activist Yousef Munnayer puts it:

"The media coverage of this [Palestinian-Israeli] issue…is covered in a fairly unfair and biased way. It has created this perception that the Israelis are somehow the underdogs and the Palestinians are somehow the aggressors, when really the entire world recognises that Israel, in fact, occupies Palestine - not the other way around."

The framing of these headlines, the choice of words, and the omission of key phrases matters.

Over a 50-year time period, the view obtained from these newspapers is notable for how Palestinian concerns have been steadily relegated to oblivion. Meanwhile, the narrow frame of Israel's security concerns, its preoccupation with Hamas for instance, or terrorism, dominate the headline discourse.

It systematically erases the very aspects of the conflict that are essential to understanding the 50 plus year occupation

In fact, Israeli sources appear to be quoted up to 250 percent more than Palestinian ones. This level of sympathy for an aggressor state has few parallels in the modern world and would be inconceivable in any other context.

The Israeli colonial project in the occupied territories has benefitted from and been bolstered by the fact that it is deemed controversial to even describe its presence in Palestinian lands as an occupation.

In fact, our study noted an 85 percent decline in the use of the word occupation in headlines involving Israel, indicative of how Israel's presence is sanitised for popular consumption.

Mentions of Palestinian refugees, another issue germane to the conflict, have declined by a staggering 93 percent, despite the existence of vast Palestinian refugee populations across the Middle East.

It is no wonder that recent moves by Israel and the United States to halt funding for these refugees, and their campaign to eliminate their protected status have met with a muted response: Decades of anaemic US reporting has laid the foundation for lubricating the success of such policies.  

Perhaps the most telling feature uncovered by our data is what we describe as the "Oslo Effect": That net coverage of the conflict has, in fact, decreased since the Oslo Accords were signed under US sponsorship in 1993.

Although the reality of the occupation has become starker, with roads and walls literally segregating Palestinians into increasingly smaller and disconnected islands among a sea of Israeli military forces; US media coverage seems to have lost interest.

Instead, an unrealistic, endless, interminable peace "process" has supplanted critical coverage of the conflict. It appears that, rather than call the occupation an occupation, it is more important to reflect US policy consensus; a position that is advantageous to Israel, and convenient for the US but detrimental to the existence of the Palestinian people.

Palestinian concerns have been steadily relegated to oblivion

In an era where fake news, influence operations and social media have begun to dilute the meaning of truth and fact; and where consumers of news find it increasingly difficult to uncover objective reporting; our study demonstrates that, at least for the Palestinians, the denial of the cruel reality of their predicament has long predated such phenomenon.

Serving the consensus of foreign policy elites and their "allies" has only had disastrous consequences for the stability of the Middle East. These organisations owe it to their readership to do better. It is no longer good enough to ignore the crimes of allies because it is convenient.

Usaid Siddiqui is a researcher at 416LABS and a freelance writer. He has written for Mic, Alternet, Al Jazeera America and Mondoweiss on current affairs.

Follow him on Twitter: @UsaidMuneeb16

Owais Zaheer is a freelance data researcher who has previously written for a variety of publications including The Friday Times, Muftah and the Daily Times. He is a researcher at 416LABS. 

Follow him on Twitter: @EastofAden

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.