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What’s Unsaid | The media’s silencing of Palestinians

‘What we have seen in Palestine, I do consider journalistic malpractice.’

What's Unsaid podcast teaser picture with a portrait photo in black and white of Palestinian-American writer and journalist Mariam Barghouti over a radial gradient background. The color at the center is a purplish blue and the color outside is green. On the top right, a bit skewed to the right we see the title of the podcast: What’s Unsaid.

Why has so much coverage of Israel-Gaza been one-sided – largely excluding Palestinian voices – and how does this impact aid policy and the lives of Palestinian civilians? 

Palestinian-American writer and journalist Mariam Barghouti joins us from Ramallah in the West Bank. She has long pushed to highlight Palestinian perspectives in her writing and reporting, and has worked with humanitarian groups throughout the Middle East.

On this episode of What’s Unsaid, Barghouti shares her views on how dominant media narratives and aid sector practice support the dehumanisation of Palestinians and erase their voices from public discourse.

Journalists are not applying a double standard in their coverage of Israel-Gaza events compared to, for example, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Barghouti says. They are instead “taking a very explicit position of complicity”, she argues. She also points to what must change for the aid sector to rethink what she describes as a mindset of putting a “Band-Aid fix on a bullet wound”.

What’s Unsaid is the new bi-weekly podcast exploring the open secrets and uncomfortable truths that surround the world’s conflicts and disasters, hosted by The New Humanitarian’s Irwin Loy and Ali Latifi.

Guest: Mariam Barghouti, Palestinian-American writer and Journalist

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Have a question or feedback? Maybe you have ideas for What’s Unsaid topics – from your own conversations or ones you’ve overheard? Email [email protected] or have your say on Twitter using the hashtag #WhatsUnsaid

Show notes 

Transcript | The media’s silencing of Palestinians

Ali Latifi:

Today on What’s Unsaid: The media's silencing of Palestinians

 

Mariam Barghouti:

What we have seen in Palestine, I do consider journalistic malpractice because there is an active refusal to showcase Palestinian voices. 

 

Ali:

As international media covered the Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians in early October, they largely excluded context on Israel’s long and contentious history with Palestine.

 

Palestinians have been forcibly removed from their land since the 1940s and have lived under various iterations of military occupation and Israeli control. Israel has blockaded Gaza since 2007, when Hamas took power there, and most people in Gaza must rely on some sort of aid.

 

In early coverage, critiques of Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza were often interrupted by pointing to the Hamas attack. When Palestinians were mentioned, it was in largely dehumanising terms, around calls for international humanitarian assistance, or worse yet: to justify retaliatory violence against civilians. A classic case of double standards.

 

More than 2 million people in Gaza have now gone from living in a chronic humanitarian crisis to a full-on humanitarian emergency under Israeli airstrikes. Why has the coverage of this newest violence been largely one-sided, despite including more Palestinian voices? And how does this affect aid response?

 

This is What’s Unsaid. A bi-weekly podcast by The New Humanitarian where we explore open secrets and uncomfortable truths around the world’s conflicts and disasters. My name is Ali Latifi, staff editor at The New Humanitarian. 

 

In today’s episode: The media’s silencing of Palestinians. 

 

Our guest today is Mariam Barghouti, Palestinian-American writer and journalist. She joins us from the West Bank. Mariam, thanks for being here.

 

Barghouti:

Thank you for having me.

 

Latifi: 

Let's talk about the media coverage of Israel and Palestine and how it's so different from and how the way Ukraine was covered. If you remember, when the Ukraine invasion started, Russia was the occupier and was seen as this evil force. And that’s not really what’s happening with Israel and Palestine at the moment. So, is it a double standard? 

 

Barghouti:

What is happening in terms of coverage with Palestine is that journalists aren't applying a double standard, they are taking a very specific position of complicity. They have laid out their positionality very clearly, in that Palestinians being killed is a justifiable practice, because it is Israel that is committing the crimes. And so it becomes easier to illustrate Palestinians as these terrorists, whether they’re child or elderly, whether they're combatants or noncombatants. It's not even a double standard, because that would have been easier to absorb. But it is an actual complicity and an aiding and abetting of Israel in its committing of slaughter across Palestine, not just Gaza.

 

Latifi: 

Would you call this something like journalistic malpractice?

 

Barghouti:

It is the duty of journalists to explain and showcase to the world the developments and ongoings and realities that are happening in areas that we don't have access to as average civilians. It is the role of journalists to amplify stories and to go and seek the stories. It is the duty of journalists to actually showcase the story. And what we have seen in Palestine, I do consider journalistic malpractice, because there is an active refusal to showcase Palestinian voices. I have seen journalists only speak with IDF [Israel Defence Forces] representatives, and that is the Israeli military, giving the orders of carpet bombing Gaza, giving the orders of committing extrajudicial assassinations in the West Bank, and giving orders to protect Israeli settlers illegally present in the West Bank in illegal settlements as they carry out attacks against Palestinians. This in and of itself, this amplification of these voices, and this attempt to showcase the military-led onslaught as okay, and to kind of portray a human side of, essentially, serial killers, is journalistic malpractice. And this is all coming with a blackout on Palestinian voices. It's as if Palestinians don't exist, except as dead bodies and images, or as terrorists screaming in the language that is not understood by much of the audiences that are observing this, especially in the English-speaking world and English-speaking media production. Because what it is helping is in perpetuating a continued assault and a continued slaughter, when they should be able to inform audiences of what's happening so that readers and viewers can make their own choice. This is being out of touch with reality. This is not bringing in the fact-checkers, and the people to really showcase and inform. 

 

Latifi: 

As someone who's living in Ramallah, in Palestine, you get to talk to people in Palestine, in the Occupied Territories. How do they feel about the way all of this is being portrayed in the media?

 

Barghouti:

In the past two years, you've had hundreds of Palestinians get killed. Most of them were civilians. A fifth of them were children and minors. And I didn't see a single media agency send their senior correspondents to cover that. Suddenly, because there were killings of the Israeli population, organisations and news media agencies sent their senior correspondents, hired new staff to cover all of this unravelling, and at the same time, they are still not covering Gaza proper. Not a single one has spoken about - not one of the journalists I have seen at least in mainstream media specifically and legacy media - speak about how they are unable to reach Gaza. Isn't that in and of itself telling? How they are unable to speak with people in Gaza because they're busy getting killed, or they're too busy taking care of each other, or the millions being displaced, and the hundreds still under the rubble. That in and of itself is important. And they're still not sharing that. Instead, they're pretending Palestinians don't exist. And if they can't reach a Palestinian, well, may as well just bring another Israeli voice to tell us how this is legitimate, to target mostly civilian infrastructure is legitimate. It's literally costing lives. And this is for me, again, not hypocrisy, this is taking an actual positionality, in the time where, if you want to maintain objectivity, you are supposed to show all sides to this. And they're not. They keep purporting that we have to show two sides. And at the same time, they're only showing one.

 

Latifi: 

Has the tone of the coverage changed at all over the past few weeks? Has it gotten any better? Or is it just getting worse?

 

Barghouti:

I think the tone of the coverage has gotten worse. But what I have seen in terms of getting better were journalists independently refusing to participate in this repetition, basically, of propaganda. And that's what it is, it’s state propaganda. And they're quitting jobs, or they're trying to go and cover independently. And I think that in and of its own is also very telling, that we can reshape and we can reshift the way we exchange information and the way we communicate different realities on the ground. [… ]And I think that's the change that I have seen, is more reporters, more media producers, more independent journalists just take charge and refuse to either be complicit and refuse to repeat state propaganda, which allows the continuation of a slaughter.

 

Latifi: 

I mean, you've been doing that. What kinds of things have you been reporting on that isn't being reported on in mainstream media? And do you think that all of these voices are given the power or the reach to compete with the mainstream narrative?

 

Barghouti:

I think mainstream media is going to not be as relevant in the future because of the role that it is playing — and has played continuously — in covering the Global South in general. In terms of how I've been covering, I really tried to stick to the reality on the ground. I am trying to verify information twice, three times, in terms of what's happening here in Palestine, and the entire region. But I've also been carrying out interviews on the ground with various actors, from policymakers, to citizens, to protesters, to journalists. And what I've been trying to amplify isn't just the ongoings right now, because, again, this did not start on October 7, this has been ongoing for decades. So I'm trying to bring forward what Palestinians are really thinking and feeling amidst this. In the West Bank, you have had Palestinians in their homes. The streets have been empty since October 7, because of closures and shutting down and Israel having military closed areas across the West Bank. Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are literally hiding in their homes, because they're sitting ducks. Especially after the [Israeli] Minister of National Security, [Itavar] Ben-Gvir, [announced plans to ] distributed 10,000 rifles for settlers in the West Bank, as well as what he called ‘civilian security teams’ in Palestinian towns and areas within Israel proper. Or for Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. And what I've tried to bring out of all of this as well, is that Palestinians are trying to have a discussion, not on whether they deserve to live or not. We deserve to live. Palestinians deserve to live. That is not a matter of debate right now. But what Palestinians are saying is, Why is the world so afraid of being free, of Palestinians being free? Why is the world so afraid of Palestinians saying our demand is freedom? And it's not just to have a ceasefire on Gaza right now, because we have seen what that has caused in the past. You'll have a ceasefire for what, a few months? And then Israel will bomb Gaza again. Or it will deny the entry of goods and produce into Gaza. So it's a larger conversation that's being had. And, I think media continues to have a reductionist approach into what is happening by just focusing on things like rocket fire. And I think it's important to emphasise that what is happening right now is the pursuit for freedom and liberation, and return to Palestinian lands. And everyone seems to be afraid to repeat that, even though that is the Palestinian voice that is trying to come out. And to continuously hide that and conceal that is only going to keep us in the cycle that repeats itself over and over and over again.

 

Latifi: 

We've seen that some of the biggest media outlets in the world have had to apologise or correct information that was false. 

 

Audio clip, BBC, Oct 2023:

Earlier on BBC news, we reported on some of the pro-Palestinian demonstrations at the weekend. We spoke about several demonstrations across Britain, during which people voiced their backing for Hamas. We accept that this was poorly phrased and was a misleading description of pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

 

Latifi: 

Do you think that these corrections, do they help fight these double standards? Or do they somehow shift the existing narrative in a way? Is it useful?

 

Barghouti:

I don't know if it's useful or not useful to continuously bring out these corrections on the mainstream media. I do know it is an obligation and a duty. Otherwise, it’s just allowing the repetition of misinformation until it becomes seen as truth and fact in the future. But what I also see is, that is an exhaustion of energies, that is an exhaustion of labourers that can be better invested elsewhere, especially reporters and journalists. You know, really trying to cover on the ground especially in light of the lack of coverage on the ground.

 

Latifi: 

A lot of times, we see that these sorts of common double standards, dehumanisation, all of these kinds of things in the media have to do with nations with a history of colonisation, occupation, and oppression. What do you think of that? And how do you think Palestine falls into that?

 

Barghouti:

I think it's really important to not separate between these legacy media, mainstream media, and English-speaking media from the history in which they were birthed. Historically we have seen, for example, French colonialism, American imperialism, in terms of going to other places around the world and extracting and exploiting natural resources for their own good. As well as the different colonialisms from Europe to the entire Global South, were very much entwined with information, and with media production and knowledge production. And that is important because they have to continuously maintain this image, that we are the saviours of the world. That we are better than the world. And we are, again, bringing in civilisation. And when you see [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s speeches, [former Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor] Lieberman’s speeches, or the chief of defence in Israel, his speeches, you see it's this repetition: We are the children of light, we are bringing civilisation to the savages, to these angry Arabs. And it's this repetition of historical, colonial narrative. And, again, it can't be divorced from the reality on the ground. If there was to ever be a shift in media production for the Global North – and again, this is for the Global North – anyone that's in struggle, or in the region, would know about the reality. But I don't think people in the United States, for example, or in Europe, understand that they're funding these wars. That they are responsible for these wars. That they are repeating this narrative of supremacy. Especially the mainstream media, is not covering how American police is repressing protesters. How German police is throwing tear gas and beating protesters. How French police is beating and arresting and tear gassing protesters. And this is again, entwined with this colonial idea that we are the children of light. We are the civilisation, and we're against savages. So it's very much entwined, and it's very much not exceptional or exclusive to Palestine. And I think, again, it's part of a wider reality. So Palestine is offering an opportunity to really expose and showcase these dualities, and the supremacy.

 

Latifi: 

We’ve also seen a lot of people turning to social media - so they’ve been using Facebook, they’ve been using Instagram, Twitter, Youtube - to tell the Palestinian side of the story. But we’ve also seen a lot of people say that they’ve either had their posts taken down, or they faced some kind of a backlash. And you’re really active on social media as well. Have you come across these kinds of things? Have you faced threats, have you faced some kind of backlash? 

 

Barghouti:

So In 2021, when I was covering protests here during the ‘Uprising of Unity and Hope’ — and I was covering repression by the Palestinian police, as well as the Israeli army and settlers — and I had my posts removed in real-time as I was trying to Tweet in real-time or to post on my different social media accounts. And I remember, also, I was terrified. I was terrified that it was being deleted in that moment. I was being censored in that moment. Because I'm on the street being shot at, so I'm like, Okay, I can just die right now, and no one's going to hear anything. No one's going to know anything. And if I'm dead, I can't even try and confront the narrative that's going to be built on me. So I have faced that. Right now, my entire social media platforms, I don't even check messages. I don't really check mentions, because they're all genocidal statements. And likewise, in 2021, it was maybe even harsher where I was receiving voice note death threats from Israeli settlers within the area, saying your death is going to come. And this is all terrifying. Because, at least in Palestine, I know that settlers do not receive accountability. So if they do kill, or if they do harm, there's going to be zero reprimand. You've had Israeli settlers burn an entire family alive in Nablus in 2015. You've had Israeli settlers in Jerusalem in 2014, take a child, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, and start saying we're gonna go barbecue him. So they kidnapped him and literally burned the boy alive [Editorial: Settlers were found guilty in these two cases]. And these are the realities we're dealing with. And then you see social media platforms, like Meta, decided to censor Palestinians. And that means erasing what we're saying. Is that not also erasure and part of ethnic cleansing to deny the existence and the reality of someone? At the same time, all the genocidal statements are still there, towards me. All the incitement against Palestinians is still there.

 

Latifi: 

Politically we’ve seen these world leaders express their undying support for Israel. 

 

Audio clips, October 2023:

“The United States stands with Israel, we will not ever fail to have their back.”

“Europe stands with Israel”

“The United Kingdom stands with Israel against this terrorism, today, tomorrow, and always.”

 

Latifi: 

At the same time, we've seen people all over the world stage massive protests in support of Palestinians and the Palestinian cause that counter those statements of support for Israel. Do you notice this global support for Palestinians and do you feel it’s growing?

 

Barghouti:

Yeah, the support is growing. And every time Israel attacks Palestinians, it seems to only continue growing even more. And that is, I think, a showcasing that no matter what, no matter what, people aren't stupid. And even if you try to conceal information from them, when we're seeing massive repression, we know in our gut when there is an army taking on a civilian population and civil society as if they're another army when in fact they're trying to erase them off the map to build more settlements. And I've only seen that grow and it's honestly been inspiring because I understand what that requires. It requires you to go against everything you're being taught. It requires a sort of dissonance with yourself. It's gonna require a lot of sacrifice from friends to family that is still unable to reconcile that “Hey, actually what Israel is trying to tell us about this, it's not fact.”

 

Latifi: 

Do you think there was a specific moment or certain events that started this pushback?

 

Barghouti:

We have been seeing struggles and protests across the world against tyrants against abusive regimes. So people understand struggle globally. And we need to recognise that. Palestine is not in a fight on its own. The reason Israel is able to continue is because it is dealing with other foreign powers in developing tactics of repression, in developing new warfare, in developing, quote unquote, riot dispersal methods, which they export and exchange with each other. So globally, the majority of populations, we're not blind to each other. Sure, we might hesitate in how to mobilise, how to move forward, how to demand from representatives to actually represent and not carry out their own interests. But in terms of support and understanding struggle, I think globally, more and more we're starting to see the parallels, the similarities, and how everything really is entangled.

 

Latifi: 

And is this having a consequence for the people of Palestine? Is it impacting them in a positive way, in any way?

 

Barghouti:

It's not going to have any impact on us right now. Right now, in Palestine, we're facing a slaughter, closures, and we're in direct confrontation with [the] Israeli military and settlers. So, in Palestine, our focus really is on survival right now, that we're unable to measure what's happening around the world in here. But it definitely keeps morale, it allows us to keep saying no, our lives do carry value within the world, we are still within the world, because Israel has tried to isolate. And I think in the end, the mobilisation around the world is not for Palestine, and it should not just be seen for Palestine, it is for the world. The impact we will see will only be in the future. I think it's going to build a lot of bondship and new solidarity movements, and a new idea of global collective, global unity. But right now, it's just really difficult to measure. We are at a very, very important moment in history. I genuinely believe that. And its impact will only be seen later. And it's on everyone right now to just take a breath, absorb, and really start making decisions for themselves. Because if we're going to rely on what policymakers and representatives are going to keep pushing forward, they're really focused on how many more weapons they can bring in. I mean, Israel has bombed Gaza to the point that it's the size of I think, what a fifth of a nuke bomb.

 

Latifi: 

These bombings, they've escalated the chronic humanitarian crisis and turned it into an emergency. As someone who's worked with aid agencies in the Middle East, how do these kinds of you know these kinds of media narratives that we've been talking about, how do they shape ideas of who is in need in a place? And how does it influence decisions about emergency response to people who are in need?

 

Barghouti: 

Gaza has been in a state of emergency for decades. Palestine has been in a state of emergency for decades. Our entire legal system is based on being in a state of emergency. Same thing with Israel, mind you, they still don't even have a constitution. The fact that humanitarian aid agencies treat Palestine in specific, Gaza also in specific, as a stable state that just suffered some natural disaster and you just need to give them some food so they can recover, has only exacerbated the situation. It put a Band-aid fix on a bullet wound. Without realising that more bullets are coming. Like, even if that Band-aid works here, the rest of the body is bleeding. And it completely negated the political element. Palestinians don't want flour. They don't want coffee and tea, which is usually never enough. What they need is for these agencies to say is give the Palestinians enough so that they can pursue self-determination. So that they feel safe enough to say we want to be free. So that they can gather together and have conversations about imagining what it means to be free. What new political organisation looks like. What Palestinian new culture is going to look like, for liberation and after liberation. But instead, they have kept them alive enough to say that Palestinians aren't dying, but also weak enough to not really be able to live or pursue life. So humanitarian aid agencies have been complicit in the state of affairs on Palestinians, by exactly keeping them in this purgatory state. While at the same time saying, look at us, we're helping the world. They're also colonial in essence, it's the Global North. Humanitarian aid agencies are mostly from Europe and the United States. And they're trying to alleviate some, I think, colonial guilt treating Palestinians as well as other areas as welfare states. And again, it's not even being done right. It's just shifting a form of colonialism into another manifestation.

 

Latifi: 

Do you think this double standard impacts aid agencies in the sense that they themselves might be victims of skewed narratives? And so that affects how they actually help the people?

 

Barghouti:

Humanitarian agencies have their own dissemination of information and writing style. And I have seen many of it. It continuously, again, tries to be reductionist about the Palestinian reality. And at the same time, I've seen them deny the Palestinian voices in them. So the reports spread out within humanitarian agencies, they share, the clusters share them with each other, they don't really only look at media. They create their own type of information. They're not victims. No, they have crafted the lexicon and the language that is intentionally ambiguous enough to not showcase the travesty of the situation and to allow themselves to continue receiving funding so that they can think that they're helping alleviate Palestinians from the economic crisis that they're under. But not a single time do they address the root of the economic crisis. They're afraid of funding being cut from them. It's on them to fight that battle, not acquiesce and become Band-aid fixes. 

 

Latifi: 

This leads to a point that was made in our recent ‘Decolonize How? column, where our colleague, Patrick Gathara, he discussed the use of the word humanitarian by politicians and the media and how it creates this false narrative around moral obfuscation. And he said in terms of coverage of Palestine and Israel, he asked this question of ‘does describing the situation in Gaza, resulting from the current Israeli bombardment, as a humanitarian crisis obscure the lived reality of much of the last two decades there?’ How do you feel about the use of the term humanitarian, when people talk about the situation for Palestinians?

 

Barghouti:

It's a crisis of justice. It is a political crisis. It's not a humanitarian crisis. Palestinians, if there was no occupation, have enough resources and enough skill to really not be starved. We are occupied, we're having our water taken from us, and our food taken from us. So our problem is not a humanitarian crisis, again, as if a natural disaster hit us. It is, in essence, a political crisis. It is a crisis of justice. And I think framing it as a humanitarian crisis, again, shows you the limited scope of these international agencies that are coming here as if to help alleviate Palestinians from this humanitarian crisis. They're coming with preconceived notions of a reality that applies not in Palestine. And again, tried to project it, and plaster it on Palestine, but it's inapplicable.

 

Latifi: 

Thank you Mariam for taking the time to join us and talk to us at you know, this very trying and difficult time.

 

Barghouti:

My pleasure. Thank you so much. 

 

Latifi: 

Mariam Barghouti is an Palestinian-American writer and journalist based in Ramallah. See our shownotes to find links to her work online. Do visit TheNewHumanitarian dot org for ongoing reporting on the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the wider region. 

 

What are people afraid to talk about in today’s crises? What needs to be discussed openly? Let us know: send us an email: [email protected]. Subscribe to The New Humanitarian on your podcast app for more episodes of What’s Unsaid – our new podcast about open secrets and uncomfortable truths. With new episodes every other week. Hosted by Irwin Loy, and me. 

 

This episode is produced and edited by Marthe van der Wolf, sound engineering by Mark Nieto, with original music by Whitney Patterson. And hosted by me, Ali Latifi.

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