The Israeli media’s storm coverage is a constant reminder of the reality in the occupied territories: two peoples sharing the same land – but only one is worth talking about.
If you’ve been paying attention to the Israeli media over the past few days, you may have noticed its superb coverage of the damage caused by the recent storm. Newspapers, nightly news broadcasts and radio stations haven’t missed a beat – from roads being shut down due to ice, to the thousands of homes currently without electricity to students who are forced to stay home from school. Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Haifa, Gush Etzion, Yitzhar. The media has it covered. That is, unless you are a Palestinian in the occupied territories.
This isn’t the first time the coverage looks like this. During last year’s harsh storm, every media outlet reported on the storm’s effect on West Bank settlements. Everyone talked about the outposts that were stuck without electricity, and how the army helped save the residents there. No one asked what was happening in the nearby villages, which were also stuck with no electricity and are under the rule of the same army. No one thought that they, too, might need help.
This storm is no different. Not a single media outlet has reported on the fate of the Ka’abna family, who lived in a tent in the Jordan Valley until New Year’s Day, when the army came destroyed their tent in its attempts to ethnically cleanse the Valley. Today they are entirely homeless, living in freezing temperatures under nylons and stitched pieces of cloth donated by friends and the Red Cross. And that’s just one example.
The focus on the storm is an excellent example that reflects how the media perpetuates Israeli society’s split consciousness vis-a-vis the occupation. As opposed to other stories in the West Bank, the storm is not seen as “security issue,” but rather one related to citizenship, blue ID cards and elections that only Jews in the West Bank can participate in. This is one storm: the same clouds, the same rain, the same snow falling on the same ground, the same electricity lines, the same floods in the same low areas. And yet the media separates the populations that share this land on the basis of ethnicity and nationality.
I cannot forget how even the left-leaning Haaretz, which dedicated a short article on page three to the effects of the storm on Palestinians (to its credit, Haaretz’s article was the only one in the entire Israeli media to do so), did so by describing it as entirely separate from the damage caused to settlers. “The storm also caused much damage to the West Bank,” it read. You know, in addition to the damage caused to the settlements. Which are where, exactly?
The media coverage is the mirror image of the reality of legal separation in the occupied territories. One territory, two different legal regimes, two kinds of people: citizens and subjects. As Local Call editor Yael Marom always says, the media copies the legal separation using the same tools that differentiate between domestic and international news: people in one territory will have their lives, work, struggles, political parties and storms covered as domestic news that will be seen as part of the Israeli story. Meanwhile there are those other people whose reality will be covered as international news, who make it into Israel’s news cycle either as enemies or minor characters. Or as one the higher-ups from Channel 2 once told me: Arabs bring down ratings, so we don’t report on what is happening there, even if “there” is just down the road from Channel 2’s studios.
Every introductory course on the history of mass media includes a lesson on the media’s role in establishing an imagined community in Israel. It was through Israel’s first newspapers that readers truly grasped the borders of their country, and subsequently the demarcation of who belongs. There is a distinction that implies that traffic caused by an accident, a mayor who is suspected of criminal activities, teachers who are on strike or a flood are relevant to us whether they occur in Kiryat Shmona, Haifa, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Eilat, Ariel or Jerusalem – is a distinction that serves to teach us who we are.
The fact that those same stories will not make headlines if they take place in Rahat or Nazareth – and let’s not even get started on East Jerusalem, Nablus, Yatta or Gaza – teaches us who they are. And let’s not even get started on the snowstorm in Damascus. Has anyone heard about it at all? Do regional stories about the weather interest us as? Do we live on a different continent?
Every time the media is accused of having a left-wing bias, or whenever the left accuses the media of perpetuating the occupation, it is worth remembering these stormy days – days when the entire media looks at the occupied territories and sees only one group of people.
This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.
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