Ohad Zemet

Here’s why the truth about Palestine is silenced

The ‘fixers’ on whom journalists rely know that their lives depend on not angering Hamas


Journalists react during Israeli aerial bombardment in Gaza City on August 6, 2022. - Israel hit Gaza with air strikes and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group retaliated with a barrage of rocket fire, in the territory's worst escalation of violence since a war last year. Israel has said it was forced to launch a "pre-emptive" operation against Islamic Jihad, insisting the group was planning an imminent attack following days of tensions along the Gaza border. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP) (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images)

August 19, 2022 09:46

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is always on the news, with British media outlets reporting extensively on Israel’s actions. I’ve explained before why journalists love reporting from Israel, based on my experience as a diplomat in Jerusalem, Cairo and London. One of the explanations is that covering Israel is free from risk. Israel is an open society, and there are no repercussions for those who criticise it. I have met many journalists in other countries in the Middle East. They have to operate in accordance with the government position or suffer severe consequences.

In contrast to the situation in Israel, it is the complete opposite case for Palestinians. This is one of the reasons that the news has an inherent bias. You might be unaware of it — and maybe some people want you to be.

There are different governing entities in control in Gaza and Ramallah. However, there is a commonality in all areas of Palestinian control, whether under the terrorist organisation, Hamas, or the Palestinian Authority: free speech does not exist. Journalists, officials, teachers, doctors, academics, farmers, all are forced to give the same narrative.

In Israel, as in other Western countries, criticism of the government and its policies is an inherent part of its robust democratic society. But a Palestinian who dared to speak against their leadership would be threatened, jailed, or tortured. This is the sad reality for millions of Palestinians living under a totalitarian regime or the control of terror organisations.

This greatly affects the quality of news that British readers and viewers get from their media regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All outlets rely on local journalists, or “fixers”, to obtain facts, pictures and first-hand accounts. Palestinian fixers know perfectly well that they must not provide any information that could potentially harm the Palestinian narrative.

Last week, AP bravely reported an official order issued by Hamas for “sweeping new restrictions on journalists”, following the killing of Palestinian children by a failed Islamic Jihad rocket in Jabaliya. This order was then “cancelled” when Hamas felt it would be a public relations disaster. But no fixer in Gaza was fooled. They all know what is permitted and what is forbidden. New restrictions were not needed. No one reported the incident, even after the order was cancelled. Many days later — and only when Gaza was no longer headline news — this important story about journalism being under threat was reported by only one media outlet here in the UK.

I have spoken to many British journalists to understand why a misfire by a terror organisaion which killed Palestinian children, and an order to lie about it, is not a story for them. The vast majority tried to avoid the conversation altogether, yet a few honest ones offered me the following explanation: their fixers in Gaza would face dangerous consequences if they reported these facts. Having met many journalists across the Middle East, I know they are right in their assessment. I can understand their fear of putting a colleague in danger of losing his livelihood or even his life. Just this week, we saw that Iranian threats against those they want to silence are not empty. We also know that Iran is sponsoring the terror organisations controlling Gaza.

Hamas achieved its goal: the Islamic Jihad rocket killing Palestinians and the order to lie about it and blame Israel for something it did not do was not a story for British media. British readers who are not exposed to AP or Israeli media outlets know nothing about this worrying backdrop of how their news is being made, or about the terror of the Islamic Jihad and Hamas, or indeed the system of intimidation and violent silencing of journalists.

The British media is rightly renowned as a global leader. It is professional, robust and diverse.
However, this blindspot over coverage of the Palestinian violence is not only denying people from knowing the truth but it also contributes to blocking any path forward to improving the lives of Israelis and Palestinians and bringing this conflict to an end.

Ohad Zemet is the spokesman for Israel’s embassy to the UK

August 19, 2022 09:46

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