10 things to remember when reporting on Palestine
While Palestinians were performing the Friday fajer (dawn) prayer in Haram Al Sharif during the holy month of Ramadan, Israeli occupation forces (militarised police) invaded Al Aqsa mosque, beating Palestinian worshippers with rubber coated bullets, tear gas and stun grenades, desecrating the mosque. Several Palestinians were brutalised, pushed to the mosque floor, handcuffed, and arrested. Hundreds of Palestinians were injured, arrested and others transported to the ER to be hospitalised as a result of the attack.
The day before, Palestinians were mourning the overwhelming number of Palestinians assassinated by Israel’s colonial and apartheid violence. Israel killed 10 Palestinians killed this week alone, and 6 in the last 3 days. Further recent attacks also included raids of the Jenin refugee camp and full closure, while the Gaza strip is bombed again and remains under siege for more than 15 years, still suffering from the consequences of last May’s 11-day war to this day.
The people of Silwad, Nablus, Hebron, Bethlehem and Jenin refugee camp are all mourning the loss of their mothers, brothers, children, friends and neighbours during Ramadan, killed at the hands of the Israeli regime, a systemic and sophisticated regime of military occupation, apartheid and supremacy that has been in place for decades.
As reporters, journalists and editors, the integrity, accuracy, and honesty of your reporting is integral in shaping people’s understanding of our reality. Accuracy and ethical reporting are not synonym of “ objectivity” or “neutrality” which are both harmful in asymmetrical conflicts, and other situations with injustice and harmful power dynamics.
Therefore, when communicating and reporting on Palestine, it is very important to:
1. Contextualise your reporting: Violence never happens in a vacuum. Israel is a settler colonial regime practicing apartheid. Specific events cannot be disconnected from Israel’s daily practices and policies that actively maintain that subjugation and domination over the Palestinian people, and has done so for over 7 decades. These practices and policies include killings and assassination, forced expulsions, ethnic cleansing, home demolitions, land grabbing, mass incarcerations, fragmentation. When reporting, use this framework and context;
2. Do not use the passive tense: The use of the passive tense to describe facts without clearly stating who the agent and perpetrator is, continuously whitewashes Israel’s assaults, responsibility and perpetuates its impunity. It also gives a misleading portrayal of events.
3. Do not dehumanise Palestinian lives: As of May, more than 50 Palestinians have been killed in 2022 at the hands of the occupation forces this year and counting. Very few of the Palestinians brutally killed by the Israeli forces have been reported on and named. Their stories have not been shared, nor have their families and close ones been given a platform. This leads to a consistent cycle where Palestinian lives are treated as mere numbers and their death, imprisonment, torture, injuries and traumas are normalized and trivialized.
4. Avoid using misleading and inaccurate terminology: The use of terms such as “clashes”, “confrontations” or “riots” between “two sides” feeds into the false narrative that this is a war or conflict between two equal parties. This erases the context of extreme asymmetry of power and creates a false equivalence far-removed from reality.
5. Stop the immediate presumption of guilt of Palestinians and taking Israeli officials’ statements at face value: Decades of media delegitimisation and criminalisation of Palestinian voices have led to a vicious cycle of media outlets treating Palestinians with suspicion and assumption of bad faith. Palestinians are almost immediately treated as potential “militants”, “anti-semetimes” or “terrorists”. A person throwing a stone is equated to a heavily armed soldier. While Palestinians are living under a reality of severe system of violence, they are regularly asked to justify their humanity and legitimacy of their struggle for liberation
6. Do not take Israeli officials’ statements at face value: While Palestinian voices are doubted, Israel’s apartheid regime is taken with credibility and reliability. This is part of the blatant racism shaping our world order, where systems of supremacy dictate the dominant narratives. Israeli authorities have a long history of whitewashing their war crimes and crimes against humanity and use bad faith and lies to cover up their practices. Don't equate the victim's voice with its oppressors.
7. Centre Palestinian voices and narratives: Any reporting or interviews on Palestine must centre Palestinian voices as they are the ones experiencing the reality and are best placed to describe it. Palestinians should not be invited only occasionally to give “testimonies” of their perceptions or feelings. Space must be given to Palestinian expertise as authoritative analysis. Palestinian voices surely should not be validated by an Israeli voice or asked to be put as opposite to their oppressor.
8. When reporting on Gaza specifically, avoid focusing on Hamas or factions, which reinforce the presumption of guilt and downplay the historic context. This reinforces the false narrative that attacks on Gaza and events are a bilateral confrontation between Israel and Hamas. Furthermore, avoid using misleading terms, such as “Hamas-controlled” Gaza. While Hamas is the political party in power, Israel still controls Gaza’s boundaries and the movement of people and goods through an ongoing land, air and sea blockade, while Egypt controls the Rafah crossing.
9. Palestinians are one people: Framing and describing the reality of Palestinians and events happening as separate and disconnected, among different cities across Gaza, Jerusalem, Lydd, Ramallah, Palestinian refugee camps etc., reinforces Israel’s policy of fragmenting Palestinians and erasing their identity and collective belonging.
10. Do not be intimated or be (self-)censored by pro-apartheid watchdogs: When reporting on Palestine is done accurately, ethically and is attuned to the overall reality of Israel’s occupation, oppression and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, pro-apartheid watchdogs will be ready to attack and smear the reporting. Journalists should resist yielding to these intimidations as they are intentional tools used to silence and discredit truthful coverage.
During the Unity Uprising in May of 2021, the world rose in solidarity with the Palestinian people, resisting the Israeli settler-colonial regime and the brutality it inflicted on us from all corners. These historic events came after decades upon decades of Palestinian resistance, advocacy, sacrifice, and hard work to gain ownership over their narrative and portrayal of their reality to the world. Media outlets still have the opportunity, and especially now more than ever, to bridge the gap and ensure that Palestine stops being an exception to accurate, fair and ethical reporting.