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Myths & Facts
The Media

by Mitchell Bard

Press coverage of Israel is proportional to its importance in world affairs.
Media coverage of the conflict is objective.
The search for the truth drives journalists covering the Middle East.
Palestinian officials say the same thing to Western journalists and their people.
Israelis cannot deny the truth of pictures showing their abuses.
The press makes no apologies for terrorists.
The Palestinian Authority and Hamas place no restrictions on reporters.
The media carefully investigates Palestinian claims before publicizing them.
Palestinians are never told to lie to journalists.
Israel intentionally kills journalists.

MYTH

Press coverage of Israel is proportional to its importance in world affairs.

FACT

It is hard to justify the amount of news coverage given to Israel based on that nation’s  importance in world affairs or American national interests. How is it that a country the size of New Jersey routinely merits top billing over seemingly more newsworthy nations such as RussiaChina, and Great Britain?

A variety of reasons explain the disproportional attention Israel receives:

  • Jews are news. People are fascinated by the “People of the Book.”
  • It is easy to get Israelis to express opinions because, unlike Palestinians, they have no fear of retribution.
  • Israel is a Westernized country that is easy to live in. It’s safe, beautiful, offers excellent restaurants, and has great nightlife.
  • Nearly every location has historical, religious, and political significance.
  • Israel has been involved in decades-long conflicts with its neighbors that have drawn other countries into fighting or peacemaking.
  •   Israel receives the most foreign aid from the United States of any country.

One reason Americans are so knowledgeable about Israel is the extent of coverage. American news organizations usually have more correspondents in Israel than in any country except Great Britain. For example, when Matti Friedman worked in Israel for the Associated Press, the news agency had more than 40 people covering Israel and the territories. “That was more than AP had in China, Russia, or India, or in all of the 50 countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined,” he said. Those journalists need to generate copy to justify their postings and satisfy their egos. Thus, in 2013, when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict claimed 42 lives, Israel received more publicity than the Syrian civil war, in which nearly 200,000 people died. According to Friedman:

News organizations have nonetheless decided that this conflict is more important than, for example, the more than 1,600 women murdered in Pakistan last year (271 after being raped and 193 of them burned alive), the ongoing erasure of Tibet by the Chinese Communist Party, the carnage in Congo (more than 5 million dead as of 2012) or the Central African Republic, and the drug wars in Mexico (death toll between 2006 and 2012: 60,000), let alone conflicts no one has ever heard of in obscure corners of India or Thailand. They believe Israel to be the most important story on earth, or very close.1

Many reporters also suffer from plain ignorance and lack of preparation. Journalist Khaled Abu Toameh recalled one reporter who wanted to set up an interview with Yasser Arafat—only one problem—he was dead. Another was convinced there was a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital in 1948. A third wanted to interview settlers in the Gaza Strip; however, they had all left the area ten years earlier. “Journalists of this type have become quite familiar to me,” Abu Toameh relates. “They board a plane, read an article or two in the Times, and feel ready to be experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”2

MYTH

Media coverage of the conflict is objective.

FACT

When asked to comment on what many viewers regard as CNN’s bias against Israel, Reese Schonfeld, the network’s first president, explained, “When I see them [reporters] on the air, I see them being very careful about Arab sensibilities.” Schonfeld suggested the coverage is slanted because CNN doesn’t want to risk its access to the Arab world.3 Other networks engage in similar self-censorship.

During fighting in LebanonHezbollah controlled what journalists could see, film, and write. “Foreign correspondents were warned on entry to the tour [of a southern Beirut suburb],” according to a report by Marvin Kalb, “that they could not wander off on their own or ask questions of any residents. They could take pictures only of sites approved by their Hezbollah minders. Violations, they were told, would be treated harshly.” He added, “The rarest picture of all was that of a Hezbollah guerilla. It was as if the war on the Hezbollah side was being fought by ghosts.”4 Similarly, due to Hamas restrictions, the media gives the impression that Israel fights invisible threats in Gaza.

Some journalists do not hide their bias. In 2021, more than 400, including reporters from major publications such as the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, signed an open letter filled with misinformation calling for an end to “decades-long journalistic malpractice” and “obfuscating Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.” In a reversal of reality, the letter said the media “uncritically repeat Israeli military claims” when it is Hamas allegations that are parroted. The signatories said their obligation is “to get the story right,” ensuring they don’t fail the Palestinian people.5 Apparently, they don’t believe their responsibility is to the truth and the public.

Palestinians often provide the news that is sent around the world. “By my own estimate,” journalist Ehud Yaari wrote, “over 95% of the TV pictures going out on satellite every evening to the various foreign and Israeli channels are supplied by Palestinian film crews. The two principal agencies in the video news market, Associated PressTN and Reuters TV, run a whole network of Palestinian stringers, freelancers, and fixers all over the territories to provide instant footage of the events. These crews obviously identify emotionally and politically with the intifada, and, in the ‘best’ case, they simply don’t dare film anything that could embarrass the Palestinian Authority. So, the cameras are angled to show a tainted view of the Israeli army’s actions, never focus on the Palestinian gunmen, and diligently produce a very specific kind of close-up of the situation on the ground.”6

An Arab reporter explained that Gaza fixers “will report what Hamas wants them to write; photographs the pictures Hamas seeks. They cannot write or film anything that will hurt Hamas’ image. But I don’t blame the fixers,” he said. “I blame the news producers sitting in London or New York assigning stories when they know the fixers’ restrictions.”7

One example of failing to vet a stringer carefully involved Fady Hanona, who worked for the New York Times until the paper was alerted to his history of anti-Semitic tweets.8 The Times also hired a former Al Jazeera and Human Rights Watch employee to produce a video that, among other distortions, suggested Israel had no evidence that Hamas was using tunnels for a command center or storing weapons. However, Al Jazeera and an Iranian news channel broadcast a video showing tunnels filled with rockets, guns, missiles, artillery shells, storage areas, and a command center.9

We were filming the beginning of the demonstration. Suddenly, a van pulled in hurriedly. Inside, there were Fatah militants. They gave their orders and even distributed Molotov cocktails. We were filming. But these images, you will never see. In a few seconds, all those youngsters surrounded us, threatened us, and then took us away to the police station. There, we identified ourselves, but we were compelled to delete the controversial pictures. The Palestinian Police calmed the situation but censored our pictures.

—Jean Pierre Martin10

Matti Friedman explained that consumers of news related to Israel need to understand that “many of the people deciding what you will read and see from here view their role not as explanatory but as political. Coverage is a weapon to be placed at the disposal of the side they like.” And most journalists prefer the Palestinian narrative.

Friedman adds:

When journalists, the people responsible for explaining the world to the world, cover the Jews’ war as more worthy of attention than any other, when they portray the Jews of Israel as the party obviously in the wrong, when they omit all possible justifications for the Jews’ actions and obscure the true face of their enemies, what they are saying to their readers—whether they intend to or not—is that Jews are the worst people on earth.11

The media also often creates a false moral equivalence between Israel, a Western liberal democracy, and terrorist organizations or the autocratic Palestinian Authority. For example, the BBC’s coverage of the 2021 fighting in Gaza failed to acknowledge that the conflict had been initiated by Hamas, which seeks Israel’s destruction, and that no Palestinians would have been in danger had the terrorists not launched hundreds of rockets into Israel.12

Israel is also held to a higher standard than other countries. Arabs and Muslims are often viewed stereotypically, and the press does not find it newsworthy when they abuse each other. Hence, the media rarely reports on the victims when the PA and Hamas violate Palestinians’ human rights. By contrast, columnist Bret Stephens notes:

The Jewish state is expected to conduct its battles with greater regard for the safety of its enemies than for that of its own people. It is expected to make diplomatic concessions that put the lives of its own citizens at serious risk. It is expected to strengthen its “democratic” character, but only if its democratic choices conform to progressive sensibilities. It is expected, when struck, to turn the other cheek.13

MYTH

The search for truth drives journalists covering Israel.

FACT

It will be no surprise to learn that journalists in the Middle East share an interest in sensationalism with their colleagues covering domestic matters. The most flagrant examples come from television reporters whose emphasis on visuals over substance encourages facile treatment of the issues. The networks can’t get newsworthy pictures from closed societies such as SyriaSaudi ArabiaIran, or Libya, so events in Israel routinely make headlines while the Arab world is ignored. For example, when NBC’s correspondent in Israel was asked why reporters turned up at Palestinian demonstrations in the West Bank they knew were being staged, he said, “We play along because we need the pictures.”14

Israel often faces the impossible situation of trying to counter images with words. “When a tank goes into Ramallah, it does not look good on TV,” explains Gideon Meir of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. “Sure, we can explain why we are there, and that’s what we do. But it’s words. We have to fight pictures with words.”15

The magnitude of the problem Israel confronts is clear from Tami Allen-Frost, deputy chairman of the Foreign Press Association and a producer for Britain’s ITN news, who observed, “the strongest picture that stays in the mind is of a tank in a city” and that “there are more incidents all together in the West Bank than there are suicide bombings. In the end, it’s quantity that stays with you.”16

One cause of misunderstanding about the Middle East, and bias in reporting, is the ignorance of journalists. Few reporters speak Hebrew or Arabic, so they have little or no access to primary sources. They frequently regurgitate stories they read in English language publications from the region rather than report independently. Media outlets often rely on stringers—local Arabs who help them find stories—whose biases are often interjected into the coverage. When reporters attempt to place events in a historical context, they often get the facts wrong and create an inaccurate or misleading impression.

The errors made by the press often Israel in an unfavorable light. For example, MSNBC aired graphics like those used in anti-Israel propaganda that suggested Israel destroyed the country of “Palestine.” One of the network’s correspondents, Martin Fletcher, said the map and analysis were “dead wrong,” The network subsequently apologized for using maps that were “not factually accurate.”17

More bizarrely, a Finnish journalist filed a factual report but lashed out against those who used it because it conflicted with her bias. Aishi Zidan reported that a rocket was launched from the backyard of the main hospital in Gaza City (which also served as the Hamas headquarters). This was one of the rare cases where a journalist documented how Hamas used Palestinians, in this case, hospital patients, as human shields. When the story was publicized, she was upset that the revelation distracted attention from Palestinian “victims of war.”18

MYTH

Palestinian officials say the same thing to Western journalists and their people.

FACT

Palestinian officials often communicate their views differently in English than in Arabic. They express their true positions to their constituents in their native language. For external consumption, however, spokespeople have learned to use moderate language that appeals to Western audiences. Since Israelis can readily translate what is said in Arabic, they are aware of the views of their enemies. English speakers, however, can easily be fooled by propaganda.

Yasser Arafat was famous for saying one thing in English to the Western media and something completely different to the Arabic press. Hence, the Bush administration insisted that he repeat in Arabic what he said in English, particularly condemnations of terrorist attacks and calls to end violence.

When Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat was asked for a reaction after the brutal murder of two Israeli teenagers, he said in English that “killing civilians is a crime, whether on the Palestinian or the Israeli side.” The comment was not reported in the Palestinian media.19

In an interview with Israeli TV, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas condemned naming a square after Dalal Mughrabi, the Palestinian who led the most lethal terror attack in Israel’s history. When speaking to Palestinians the year before, however, Abbas said, “Of course we want to name a square after her....We carried out a military action; can I then later renounce all that we have done?”20

It is more difficult for Palestinians to get away with double talk today because their Arabic remarks are translated by watchdog organizations and disseminated in English.

MYTH

Israelis cannot deny the truth of pictures showing their abuses.

FACT

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but sometimes the image and the words used to describe it are distorted and misleading. Photographers understandably seek the most dramatic pictures they can find. Those suggesting that brutal Israeli “Goliaths” are mistreating suffering Palestinian “Davids” are especially appealing, but the context is often missing.

In one classic example, the Associated Press circulated a dramatic photo of an angry baton-wielding Israeli soldier standing over a bloody young man. It appeared the soldier had just beaten the youth. The picture appeared in the New York Times and spurred international outrage because the caption said, “An Israeli policeman and a Palestinian on the Temple Mount.”21 The response would have been different if the description had said the Israeli was a policeman protecting an American Jewish student, Tuvia Grossman, who had been riding in a taxi when Palestinians stoned it. Grossman was pulled out of the cab, beaten, and stabbed. A photographer snapped the picture after Grossman broke free and fled toward the officer.

Another example of how pictures can be dramatic and misleading was a Reuters photo showing a young Palestinian arrested by Israeli police in 2001. The boy was frightened and wet his pants. The picture attracted worldwide publicity and reinforced the image of brutal Israelis abusing innocent children. In this instance, it is the context that is deceptive. A second Reuters photographer snapped another picture just before the first, showing the boy participating in a riot against Israeli soldiers. Few media outlets published this photo.

The Palestinians have also learned to stage videos and photos to spread misinformation. In one example of what Professor Richard Landis refers to as “Pallywood,” a video shows Palestinians carrying a stretcher with a corpse. The pallbearers drop the stretcher, and when it hits the ground, the “corpse” gets up and runs away.22

A BBC investigation in 2014 found that the hashtag #GazaUnderAttack was used to distribute many bogus photos claiming to show the effects of Israeli air strikes. The BBC discovered that some of the pictures dated to 2009, and others were taken in Iraq and Syria.23

MYTH

The press makes no apologies for terrorists.

FACT

Some news organizations have developed a resistance to the term “terrorist” and replaced it with euphemisms such as “militant” because they don’t want to be seen as taking sides or making judgments about the perpetrators. For example, after a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up a pizza restaurant in downtown Jerusalem, killing 15 people, the attacker was described as a “militant” (Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, NBC Nightly News). When a Palestinian woman walked into a crowded beach restaurant in Haifa and detonated a bomb that killed 21 people, including four children, the Reuters account said she had waged an “attack” in retaliation for previous Israeli army actions and that the bombing showed that Palestinian officials had failed to “rein in the militants.”[24]

After two Palestinians infiltrated the Israeli town of Itamar in the West Bank and brutally murdered a family of five, including a three-month-old infant, the Los Angeles Times described it as part of a “continuing cycle of violence.”25 After terrorists killed eight Israelis and wounded more than 30 in multiple attacks near Eilat, the New York Times referred to the perpetrators as “armed attackers” and reported that Israeli counterstrikes killed Palestinians from a “militant group.”26

In 2022, Israel arrested a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) commander and then targeted other commanders in Gaza to preempt an expected revenge attack. The Associated Press referred to the PIJ commander Israel assassinated as a “senior militant,” as did NBC and The Guardian. Following three days of fighting, the New York Times reported that a ceasefire ended the battle between Israel and a “Palestinian militant group.”27

If any group indiscriminately fired 1,100 rockets at cities in any other country, would it be labeled the same way?

Clifford May pointed out the absurdity of the coverage: “No newspaper would write, ‘Militants struck the World Trade Center yesterday,’ or say, ‘They may think of themselves as freedom fighters, and who are we to judge, we’re news people.’”28

In a memo to the New York Times foreign desk, former Jerusalem bureau chief James Bennet criticized his paper’s reluctance to use the word “terrorism.” He said, “The calculated bombing of students in a university cafeteria, or of families gathered in an ice cream parlor, cries out to be called what it is....I wanted to avoid the political meaning that comes with ‘terrorism,’ but I couldn’t pretend that the word had no usage at all in plain English.” Bennet acknowledged that not using the term was “a political act in itself.”29 Similarly, an independent inquiry into the BBC’s Middle East coverage found that “the BBC should get the language right. We think they should call terrorist acts ‘terrorism’ because that term is clear and well understood.”30

By any logic, militants engaged in warfare don’t blow up little babies.

 —Tom Fiedler, Executive Editor, Miami Herald30

The media sometimes portrays the victims of terror as equivalent to the terrorists. For example, photos are sometimes shown of Israeli victims on the same page with pictures of captured terrorists, giving the impression that a Palestinian pictured in handcuffs is as much a victim as a bloodied woman being helped from the scene of a suicide bombing.

After a 2002 suicide bombing in Petah Tikva, CNN interviewed the bomber’s mother, Jihad Titi. The parents of a fifteen-month-old girl killed in the attack, Chen and Lior Keinan, were also interviewed. The interviews with the Keinans were not shown on CNN International in Israel or elsewhere until hours after the interview with Titi’s mother had been broadcast several times. CNN subsequently announced a policy change whereby it would no longer “report on statements made by suicide bombers or their families unless there seemingly is an extraordinarily compelling reason to do so.”31

Often, the problem is a misleading headline, as when a Palestinian opened fire in Jerusalem, killing one Israeli and injuring several others. CNN headlined its report, “One dead, four injured, in suspected shooting attack in Jerusalem; assailant also killed,” omitting the shooter was a Palestinian and the casualties were Israelis.32 After receiving complaints, CNN later corrected the headline to reflect the attack more accurately, “Hamas gunman kills one Israeli, injures four others, in Jerusalem attack; police shoot dead assailant.”

MYTH

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas place no restrictions on reporters. 

FACT

A case study of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) idea of freedom of the press occurred following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. An Associated Press (AP) cameraman filmed Palestinians at a rally in Nablus celebrating. He was subsequently summoned by security officials and told that the material could not be broadcast or his life could not be guaranteed. The cameraman requested that the material not be aired, and the AP never released it.33

An AP video showing a rally in the Gaza Strip where some demonstrators carried posters supporting Osama bin Laden was confiscated. It was returned after “key elements” of the tape had been erased.34

When two Israelis were lynched in Ramallah, Palestinian police tried to prevent foreign journalists from recording the incident. One Italian television crew managed to film parts of the attack, and these shocking images made headlines worldwide. Fearing retribution, a competing Italian news agency placed an advertisement in the PA’s leading newspaper explaining that it had nothing to do with filming the incident.35

If a news organization strays from the pro-Palestinian line, it comes under immediate attack. The Palestinian Journalist’s Union complained that the AP presented a false impression of the intifada that served the Israeli position and constituted a crime against the Palestinian people. The union threatened to adopt all necessary measures against Associated Press staffers as well as against Associated Press bureaus located in the PA if the agency continued to harm Palestinian interests.36

In 2002, the Palestinian journalists’ union banned journalists from photographing Palestinian children carrying weapons or taking part in activities by terrorist organizations because the pictures were hurting the Palestinians’ image. The ban came after numerous photographs were published showing children carrying weapons and dressing up like suicide bombers. Another group, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), issued a similar ban that included photographing masked men. The Foreign Press Association expressed “deep concern” over the effort to censor coverage and the threats of sanctions against journalists who disregarded the ban.37 Twenty years later, a similar ban was announced by the PJS but was reversed after criticism from Reporters Without Borders, which said it was “very odd, to say the least, for a journalists’ union to forbid journalists to do their job.38

A Palestinian AFP photographer took a photo with the caption: “An Israeli soldier escorts a Palestinian woman to safety as Palestinian youth clash with Israeli security forces in the center of the occupied West Bank town of Hebron on April 24, 2021.” Subsequently, journalist Saeed al-Tawil called on The Syndicate of Journalists, the Ministry of Information, and the Government Media Office to withdraw the photographer’s membership for taking “advantage of his image that shows the occupation with an angelic face.”39

Showing any positive aspect of Israeli behavior is taboo for Palestinian journalists, who also object to cooperation with Israeli reporters. For example, after a Palestine Liberation Organization committee hosted an Israeli press delegation, the Palestinian Press Syndicate condemned the meeting for undermining Palestinian journalists’ work on “exposing the false narrative of the occupation’s media.” It said such meetings were “a great sin that cannot be tolerated.”40

According to the 2021 State Department report on human rights, “Hamas severely restricted freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, through arrests and interrogations of journalists as well as harassment and limitations on access and movement for some journalists.” Citing Reporters Without Borders, the report said because of the rivalry between Fatah and Hamas, “journalists faced threats, interrogation, arrest without charge, intimidatory lawsuits, prosecutions, and bans on covering certain events.” In addition, “media reports indicated PA authorities arrested West Bank Palestinian journalists, social media activists, and protesters who criticized the PA or covered events that criticized the PA. The law restricts the publication of material that endangers the “‘integrity of the Palestinian state.’” The result is that “many journalists and activists to self-censor.”41

During fighting in Gaza, journalists knew that Hamas was using Shifa Hospital as its command post, and yet the media failed to report that patients were being used as human shields. Correspondents were welcome to take pictures of Palestinians killed or wounded, but they were not permitted to show terrorists carrying weapons in the hospital, the rooms where injured Hamas fighters were being treated, or the bunkers where they hid in the basement. Violations of the rules were not tolerated, and journalists dared not cross their Hamas minders. For example, the Wall Street Journal’s Nick Casey tweeted, “You have to wonder with the shelling how patients at Shifa hospital feel as Hamas uses it as a safe place to see media.” Even though he deleted the tweet, Casey was placed on a list of journalists who “lie/fabricate info for Israel.”42

After the war, a Hamas spokesperson admitted that some journalists were under surveillance and that those who filmed missile launch locations were forced to stop or face deportation from Gaza. “Hamas security personnel would give journalists ‘some time to change their message’ and ‘one way or another’ they would be forced to change their reporting.”43

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedom documented 123 violations of freedom of the press by Palestinian officials in 2021. The most “blatant attacks” were the arrest and detention of journalists covering protests over the killing of political activist Nizar Banat after his arrest by Palestinian security services. These attacks included beating a group of female journalists.44

The PA has also blocked access to news websites, blogs, and Facebook pages that are critical of the PA, Abbas, and other officials.45

“Freedom of the media exists only when journalists direct their criticism against Israel,” journalist Khaled Abu Toameh observed. “The Palestinian journalists know that at the end of the day, they need to go back to their family in the West Bank and Gaza without having to worry about masked men knocking on their doors at night.”46

MYTH

The media investigates Palestinian claims before publicizing them.

FACT

Palestinians have learned they can disseminate almost any information critical of Israel to the media, and it will be published or broadcast somewhere. Once it is picked up by one media outlet, others inevitably repeat it. Quickly, misinformation takes on the appearance of fact, and while Israel can present evidence to correct the inaccuracies, the damage is already done. Once an image or impression is in someone’s mind, it is difficult, if not impossible, to erase it, and politicians often react based on the initial report.

A typical case involved a Palestinian boy stabbed in a village near a Jewish settlement. The media repeated Palestinian claims that settlers attacked the boy who had actually been killed in a brawl between rival Palestinian clans.47 On another occasion, IDF tank fire allegedly killed a ten-year-old Palestinian girl, but she died of wounds from Palestinians shooting in the air to celebrate the return of Muslim worshipers from Mecca.48

During Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, the eleven-month-old son of a BBC journalist was allegedly killed by Israeli shrapnel. Later, a UN investigation found that the shrapnel was from a Palestinian rocket.49

Palestinians also know they can grossly exaggerate statistics, and the media will repeat the fabricated data until it becomes widely accepted as accurate. This occurred, for example, during the Lebanon War when Yasser Arafat’s brother claimed that Israel’s operations had left 600,000 Lebanese homeless. The number was contrived, but it was repeated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and widely publicized. By the time the ICRC repudiated the figure, it was too late to change the impression that Israel’s military operation to defend itself from terrorist attacks on its northern border had created an unconscionable refugee problem.50

The Palestinians were caught lying again when Saeb Erekat told CNN that at least 500 people were massacred in Jenin and 1,600, including women and children, were missing. Erekat produced no evidence for his claim, and a Palestinian review committee later reported a death toll of 56, of whom 34 were combatants. No women or children were reported missing.51

More outrageous than the repetition of Erekat’s lie is that media outlets continued to treat him as a legitimate spokesperson, giving him repeated access to disseminate misinformation.

During conflicts in Gaza, the Hamas-run Ministry of Health provided the media with a steady stream of misinformation about casualties that immediately translated into headlines and stories critical of Israel. This New York Times headline was typical, “More Than 30 Dead in Gaza and Israel as Fighting Quickly Escalates,” with the story reporting that “at least 35 Palestinians, including ten children, were killed according to health officials.”52 It does not say these officials were associated with Hamas.

The press also reported bogus casualty figures during Operation Cast Lead. Hamas claimed more than 1,000 civilians were killed. Israel’s conclusion that 709 of the dead were terrorists was largely ignored. Later, however, Hamas interior minister Fathi Hammad admitted Hamas lost more than 600 men. He also acknowledged in an Arabic broadcast that women, children, and the elderly “formed human shields….to challenge the Zionist bombing machine.”53

Another story about civilian casualties was accompanied by a photo that was also typical of Palestinian propaganda. Taken by a freelance Palestinian photographer, it shows a boy in front of the ruins of his house in Gaza City. In the foreground is a pink crib that is in pristine condition despite the home being reduced to rubble.54 The Times and other media outlets used many such pictures, which were staged to make it look as though Israel had intentionally killed children.

Inside Gaza, press controlled by Hamas is heavy-handed. There are few press freedoms inside Gaza, and Hamas controls who reports from there and where they can go. While pictures of wounded children being brought to hospitals are clearly encouraged, we rarely see images of Hamas fighters or their rockets being fired into Israel.

  CNN’s Anderson Cooper55

The media regurgitated casualty totals produced by Hamas during fighting in May 2021. The Health Ministry claimed 248 civilians died. It did not identify any victims as terrorists or distinguish between civilians killed in Israeli airstrikes and those who died from the nearly 700 rockets that misfired or landed inside Gaza.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said 128 civilians were killed.56 An Israeli study found that at least 111 casualties belonged to terrorist organizations.57 Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar admitted that 80 of the dead were terrorists.58

Defense for Children International – Palestine reported one case where “a homemade rocket fired by a Palestinian armed group fell short and killed eight Palestinians, including two children.”59 According to one postwar estimate, as many as 91 Palestinians were killed by Hamas rockets.60

While statements by Palestinian officials, such as those regarding casualties, are readily accepted, those by Israelis are routinely reported skeptically. For example, the account of the bombing of a building in Gaza in the Times referred to the IDF as frequently accusing Hamas of using civilians as shields as if there was no objective proof of their doing so.61

In 2021, CNN provided new guidance to its staff: “We need to be transparent about the fact the Ministry of Health in Gaza is run by Hamas. Consequently, when we cite latest casualty numbers…we need to include the fact it is Hamas-run.”62 The memo was apparently leaked to Al Jazeera, but the policy was either never adopted or quickly dropped because CNN resumed quoting ministry figures without reference to Hamas.63

Professor Eytan Gilboa concluded:

The distorted and misleading coverage of the Gaza conflict contributed to the hasty calls made by political leaders, UN officials, and NGOs to prosecute Israel for war crimes. It also contributed to the mass hate demonstrations in Europe and to the sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents...The Western media betrayed their audiences who deserve receiving accurate information on Gaza. They should be held accountable for their skewed coverage, but it is doubtful whether they have the courage to heed the advice they so often offer to governments—to investigate their professional and ethical failures and put their house in order.”64

MYTH

Palestinians are never told to lie to journalists.

FACT

Hamas spokespeople are articulate and well-prepared to present their case to the media. They have also prepped the civilian population for responding to media inquiries. The interior ministry published guidelines instructing the civilian population on how to contribute to the Hamas propaganda campaign. For example:

Anyone killed or martyred is to be called a civilian from Gaza or Palestine before we talk about his status in jihad or his military rank. Don’t forget to always add “innocent civilian” or “innocent citizen” in your description of those killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza.
Begin [your reports of] news of resistance actions with the phrase “In response to the cruel Israeli attack,” and conclude with the phrase, “This many people have been martyred since Israel launched its aggression against Gaza.” Be sure to always perpetuate the principle of “the role of the occupation is attack, and we in Palestine are fulfilling [the role of] the reaction.”
Avoid publishing pictures of rockets fired into Israel from [Gaza] city centers. This [would] provide a pretext for attacking residential areas in the Gaza Strip. Do not publish or share photos or video clips showing rocket launching sites or the movement of resistance [forces] in Gaza.
When speaking to the West, you must use political, rational, and persuasive discourse, and avoid emotional discourse aimed at begging for sympathy. There are elements with a conscience in the world; you must maintain contact with them and activate them for the benefit of Palestine. Their role is to shame the occupation and expose its violations.
Avoid entering into a political argument with a Westerner aimed at convincing him that the Holocaust is a lie and deceit; instead, equate it with Israel’s crimes against Palestinian civilians.
Do not publish photos of military commanders. Do not mention their names in public, and do not praise their achievements in conversations with foreign friends!65

Thanks to such instructions, journalists cannot trust interviews with civilians they meet on the street, though many report what they are told. Polish reporter Wojciech said after covering fighting in Gaza, “I couldn’t meet anyone who spoke something other than official propaganda. But some Palestinians, when they were sure my microphone was turned off, told me that they have had enough, but they are afraid. No one would dare to say publicly that Hamas is creating a hell inside Gaza.”66

MYTH

Israel intentionally kills journalists

FACT

The Palestinian Authority (PA) and some other critics of Israel accuse the government of intentionally targeting journalists. One such specious claim was made after the IDF bombed a building in Gaza that housed the headquarters of the Associated Press and other news organizations during Operation Guardian of the Walls. The journalists knew the risks of operating in a war zone and would have had to be blind not to be aware of the Hamas presence in the building, which was targeted because it contained Hamas intelligence assets. No harm came to any journalists because Israel warned them of the attack – not something the IDF would do if it wanted to kill them – and they were all safely evacuated.

One allegation followed the shooting of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian American correspondent for Al Jazeera. Before the cause of her death was investigated, Israel was immediately accused of killing her.

Following a series of attacks by residents of Jenin and its surrounding villages that killed 11 people, Israel launched an operation in the city, a well-known nest of terrorists, to prevent further attacks. Though Palestinian security forces are responsible for keeping the peace in the area, none were on the scene to prevent an outbreak of violence. Abu Akleh, a Palestinian journalist for Al Jazeera, chose to report from a conflict area, voluntarily putting herself in danger.

Despite knowing that terrorists were in the area where Abu Akleh was shot, CNN and others convicted Israel without a murder weapon, an autopsy, or the bullet that killed her.67

The PA turned a bullet over to American officials. The U.S. Security Coordinator (USSC) said it could not reach a definitive conclusion regarding the bullet’s origin. Nevertheless, the USSC concluded “that gunfire from IDF positions was likely responsible for the death of Abu Akleh” but “found no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during an IDF-led military operation against factions of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”68

On September 5, 2022, Israeli military investigators concluded that it was “not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire which hit and killed Ms. Abu Akleh.” The report acknowledged that “there is a high possibility that Ms. Abu Akleh was accidentally hit by IDF gunfire fired toward suspects identified as armed Palestinian gunmen during an exchange of fire.”

The IDF’s Military Advocate General’s Office said it did not intend to pursue criminal charges against any soldiers after the review found “no suspicion that a bullet was fired deliberately at anyone identified as a civilian and in particular at anyone identified as a journalist.”69

Palestinians and other detractors were not satisfied; the only possible conclusion in their minds was the one they had preconceived.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that Abu Akleh worked in the region for more than 20 years without harm. Other foreign journalists in Israel faced no danger from the government. “Al Jazeera, a network run by an Islamist state that is openly hostile to Israel, has permanent staff in Israel who are protected by the state the network slanders on a regular basis,” Lapid noted.70

Israel has one of the world's highest numbers of foreign journalists per capita. Many are openly hostile toward Israel; nevertheless, they are not banned from covering the news in Israel or the disputed territories. If Israel wanted to silence reporters who write negative things about the country, dozens would be routinely killed, but that does not happen.


1 Matti Friedman, “An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth,” Tablet, (August 26, 2014).

2 Khaled Abu Toameh, “Palestinians: Western Media’s Ignorance and Bias,” Gatestone Institute, (January 21, 2016).

3 New York Jewish Week, (August 31, 2001).

4 Mitchell Bard, “Israel’s Other Enemy in Lebanon War—the Media,” Jweekly.com, (April 27, 2007).

5 “An open letter on U.S. media coverage of Palestine,” Medium, (June 9, 2021).

6 Jerusalem Report, (May 7, 1991).

7 Lenny Ben-David, “The Media in the 2021 Gaza War: The New York Times’ Journalistic Malpractice,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, (July 7, 2021).

8 Toby Dershowitz, “Hamas Tells Media to Lie: What Should the Media Tell its Readers?,” National Interest, (September 4, 2022).

9 Lenny Ben-David, “The Media in the 2021 Gaza War: The New York Times’ Journalistic Malpractice,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, (July 7, 2021).

10 Report filed by Jean Pierre Martin on October 5, 2000, a day after his Belgian television team from RTL-TV1 was filming in the area of Ramallah.

11 Friedman.

12 Richard Kemp, “BBC: Leading the World Against Israel,” Gatestone Institute, (August 15, 2021).

13 Bret Stephens, “Zionism Remains a Freedom Struggle,” Sapir, (Spring 2022).

14 Near East Report, (August 5, 1991).

15 Jerusalem Report, (April 22, 2002).

16 Ibid.

17 Adam Kredo, “MSNBC Admits Anti-Israel Graphics Were ‘Wrong,’” Washington Free Beacon, (October 18, 2015); Raoul Wootliff, “MSNBC Apologizes for ‘Completely Wrong’ Maps of Israel,” Times of Israel, (October 20, 2015).

18 Sharona Schwartz, “‘Don’t Use Me’: Reporter Admits Seeing Rocket Fired from Gaza Hospital, then Blasts Pro-Israel Media for Quoting Her,” The Blaze, (August 3, 2014).

19 Yoav Appel, “Two Israeli Teen-Agers Killed,” Washington Post, (May 10, 2001).

20 Al-Hayat al-Jadida, (January 17, 2010), cited in Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik, “Abbas’s Duplicity about His Support for Honoring Terrorist Dalal Mughrabi,” Palestinian Media Watch, (May 27, 2011).

21 “Mideast Violence Continues to Rage,” New York Times, (September 30, 2000).

22 Richard Landis, “Pallywood, ‘According to Palestinian Sources...’” The 2nd Draft.

23 “#BBCtrending: Are #GazaUnderAttack Images Accurate?” BBC, (July 8, 2014).

24 Tom Fiedler, “Handle with Care: Words like ‘Conflict,’ ‘Terrorist,’” Miami Herald, (January 4, 2004).

25 Editorial Staff, “A Fatal Israeli-Palestinian Flaw,” Los Angeles Times, (March 14, 2011).

26 Isabel Kershner and David D. Kirkpatrick, “Attacks Near Israeli Resort Heighten Tensions with Egypt and Gaza,” New York Times, (August 18, 2011).

27 Jack Wolfsohn, “Israel Is the Bad Guy in the Eyes of the Media, Once Again,” National Review, (August 9, 2022); Isabel Kershner, “A Cease-Fire Holds After a 3-Day Gaza Conflict: Key Takeaways,” New York Times, (August 8, 2022).

28 Howard Kurtz, “Commentators Are Quick to Beat Their Pens into Swords,” Washington Post, (September 13, 2001).

29 Daniel Okrent, “The War of the Words: A Dispatch from the Front Lines,” New York Times, (March 6, 2005).

30 Tom Fiedler, “Handle with Care: Words like ‘Conflict,’ ‘Terrorist,’” Miami Herald, (January 4, 2004).

31 Jim Rutenberg, “CNN Executive Issues Apology for Coverage,” New York Times, (June 25, 2002).

32 Amir Tal, Abeer Salman, and Mike Schwartz, “One dead, four injured, in suspected shooting attack in Jerusalem,” CNN, (November 21, 2021); “Hamas gunman kills one Israeli, injures four others, in Jerusalem attack; police shoot dead assailant,” CNN, (updated November 21, 2021).

33 Jonah Goldberg, “Censorship, So Far,” National Review, (September 17, 2001).

34 “Palestinian Authority Censors, Returns Videotape,” Associated Press, (September 17, 2001).

35 Judy Lash Balint, “Media Frightened into Self-Censorship,” WordNet Daily, (March 5, 2001).

36 Al-Hayat al-Jadidah, (November 2, 2001).

37 Jerusalem Post, (August 26, 2002).

38 “Palestinian journalists union admits error concerning ban on photos of armed children,” Reporters Without Borders, (August 27, 2022)

39 “In the first picture, the origin of the news, and in the second picture, Zionist incitement against journalist Saeed Al-Taweel, who published the news,” Fifth News (2021).

40 “‘Normalisation’ meeting with Israeli journalists in Ramallah condemned by Palestinian Press Syndicate,” The New Arab, (August 5, 2021).

41 “2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” U.S. Department of State, (April 12, 2022).

42 “Top Secret Hamas Command Bunker in Gaza Revealed,” Tablet, (July 29, 2014).

43 Ariel Ben Solomon, “Hamas Spokesperson: We Deported Foreign Journalists for Filming Missile Launches,” Jerusalem Post, (August 15, 2014); Elhanan Miller, “Hamas Provides New Info on Moves to Squeeze Foreign Media,” Jerusalem Post, (August 17, 2014).

44 Shireen AL-Khatib, “The Annual Report 2021,” Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedom, (March 10, 2022).

45 Khaled Abu Toameh, “‘A Black Day for Palestinian Journalism,’” Gatestone Institute, (February 5, 2015).

46 Khaled Abu Toameh, “Islamic State Joins Hamas, PA in Threatening Palestinian Journalists,” Gatestone Institute, (February 5, 2015).

47 Arnon Regular, “Palestinian Boy Likely Stabbed to Death in West Bank Clan Feud,” Haaretz, (July 20, 2005).

48 Margot Dudkevitch, “PA Arrests Suspect in Girl’s Murder,” Jerusalem Post, (February 1, 2005).

49 Raphael Ahren, “UN Clears Israel of Charge It Killed Baby in Gaza,” Times of Israel, (March 10, 2013).

50 “Toll of Lebanon Dead and Injured Still Uncertain in Chaos of War,” New York Times, (July 14, 1982).

51 John Podhoretz, “Why TV News Loves A Liar,” New York Post, (April 17, 2002).

52 Patrick Kingsley and Isabel Kershner, “More Than 30 Dead in Gaza and Israel as Fighting Quickly Escalates,” New York Times, (May 11, 2021).

53 “Hamas MP Fathi Hammad: We Used Women and Children as Human Shields,” Al-Aqsa TV, cited in Dispatch #1710, MEMRI, (February 29, 2008).

54 Declan Walsh, “When Fighting Erupts Between Israel and Hamas, the Question of War Crimes Follows,” New York Times, (May 16, 2021).

55 Anderson Cooper, “Covering the Gaza Crisis,” CNN, (January 6, 2009); see also, Eytan Gilboa, “Hamas Cheerleaders: Professional Failures of the Western Media in Gaza,” The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, (August 13, 2014).

56 Response to the escalation in the oPt,” Situation Report No. 1, OCHA, (May 21-27, 2021).

57 “Another Gazan boy, who according to the New York Times list died in Operation Guardian of the Walls, was found to be an operative in Hamas’ military-terrorist wing. The Times’ list also included the names of eight children who were killed by terrorist organization rocket misfire,” Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, (June 8, 2021).

58 Fares Akram, “Hamas leader says 80 fighters killed in war with Israel,” AP, (May 26, 2021).

59 “Nine children killed in Gaza Strip as violence escalates,” Defense for Children International – Palestine, (May 11, 2021).

60 Alex Safian, “How Many Palestinians Were Killed by Hamas Rockets in May? An Estimate,” BESA, (June 27, 2021).

61 “Hamas admits using civilians as human shields,” allarabnews, (June 9, 2021).

62 “Memo from Andrew Carey and Calvin Sims to CNN Superdesk (TBS),” (May 17, 2021) posted @Dena Takruri, (May 28, 2021).

63 See, for example, Hadas Gold, “Why Hamas stayed out of the latest Gaza conflict,” CNN, (August 8, 2022).

64 Eytan Gilboa, “Hamas Cheerleaders: Professional Failures of the Western Media in Gaza,” The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, (August 13, 2014).

65 “Hamas Interior Ministry to Social Media Activists: Always Call the Dead ‘Innocent Civilians’; Don’t Post Photos of Rockets Being Fired from Civilian Population Centers,” MEMRI, (July 17, 2014).

66 Wojciech Cegielski, “I Saw Hamas’ Cruel and Selfish Game in Gaza,” Haaretz, (August 25, 2015).

67 Zeena Saifi, Eliza Mackintosh, Celine Alkhaldi, Kareem Khadder, Katie Polglase, Gianluca Mezzofiore and Abeer Salman, “‘They were shooting directly at the journalists’: New evidence suggests Shireen Abu Akleh was killed in targeted attack by Israeli forces,” CNN, (May 26, 2022).

68 Ned Price, “On the Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh,” U.S. Department of State, (July 4, 2022).

69 Hadas Gold and Abeer Salman, “Israeli military admits Shireen Abu Akleh likely killed by Israeli fire, but won't charge soldiers,”CNN, (September 6, 2022).

70 Yair Lapid, “Israel Never Targets Journalists,” Wall Street Journal, (June 9, 2022).