The Media Today

A tragic week in Palestine

May 14, 2021

On Wednesday, Youmna al-Sayed, a journalist in Gaza City, was reporting live from a rooftop for Al Jazeera, wearing a large bowl-shaped helmet and a bulky flak jacket with PRESS emblazoned across the front. She was right by the Al-Shorouk tower, which housed at least seven media outlets, including the Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa TV and a newspaper associated with the Palestinian National Authority—and which had just come under fire from Israel. These were “warning missiles,” Sayed said, “and right now they should be starting to bring down the entire tower.” Soon, that happened: Sayed flinched, said “Oh my God,” and ducked for cover, continuing to narrate as the camera pivoted to show twin plumes of smoke curling into the sky. “The destruction is massive,” she said. Later, she added, “Targeting such a building, which holds media offices, is a clear message by the Israeli occupation that it does not want any media to tell the truth of what is going on in the Gaza Strip.”

The Al-Shorouk tower wasn’t the first building that Israeli forces bombed this week; the day before, they’d destroyed the Al-Jawhara tower, which was home to at least thirteen media organizations, including the Qatari channel Al-Araby TV, the newspaper Felestin, and the Forum of Palestinian Journalists. The local office of Al Jazeera, in an adjacent building, also sustained damage. The International Federation of Journalists reported that the Al-Jawhara tower was evacuated and that no journalists were injured, though the Committee to Protect Journalists was unable to confirm that and noted that the BBC has reported civilian casualties. Israeli officials said they were targeting Hamas “weapons stores” and offices, including “the military wing’s public relations department.”

The Israeli military hasn’t attacked journalists just in Gaza City. A week ago, security forces fired rubber bullets at protesters in the Temple Mount Complex in Jerusalem, injuring at least five Palestinian freelancers, including Saleh Zighari, who also reported being hit with shrapnel from a stun grenade, and Atta Awisat, whom officers had also beaten with batons. Three journalists with Anadolu, a Turkish state outlet, were hit with rubber bullets; on Monday, two of them and another colleague were attacked again as they covered a raid by Israeli forces on the Al-Aqsa mosque, where at least six Palestinian journalists inhaled tear gas and another, Fatima al-Bakri, was physically assaulted by officers. (Israeli officials said they support press freedom, but not protesters documenting officers “in order to create a journalistic facade.”) A reporter named Ibrahim al-Singlawi said that he was assaulted by security forces at least four times while covering protests in Sheikh Jarrah, an occupied neighborhood whose Palestinian residents are facing forced displacement by Israeli settlers. On Wednesday, according to the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, Hazem Nasser, a photojournalist, was arrested in the West Bank. 

There have been protests in Sheikh Jarrah and elsewhere for weeks, but the situation became a major international story only on Monday: following a raid at Al-Aqsa, Hamas militants fired rockets into Israel and the Israeli government ordered air strikes on Gaza; so far, at least 119 people have been killed, 31 of them children, and hundreds more have been injured. Early this morning, Israeli ground forces fired shells into Gaza; a spokesperson said that troops also “entered” Gaza, but later claimed that was a miscommunication. Much of the top-line coverage in the United States has used fuzzy, passive language—“warlike violence erupts”; “the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, reignited”—that obscures who has done what to whom; after the Al-Aqsa raid, clashes was ubiquitous. “This is a straightforward attack by Israel on Palestinians,” Jack Mirkinson wrote, for Discourse Blog. Mehdi Hasan, a host on MSNBC and NBC’s streaming service Peacock, called the word a “journalistic shorthand” that “personally, I cannot stand.” He condemned Hamas for firing rockets, but added that “the fundamental, unavoidable reality at the heart of this conflict is that there is an asymmetry of power here. One side is the occupier. The other side is occupied.” 

“Palestine/Israel coverage in American media has always been poor,” Rowaida Abdelaziz, a reporter at HuffPost, tweeted Monday, “but it is actually insane to me how egregious it currently is.” Nevertheless, Palestinian voices have made themselves heard in the US. Mohammed El-Kurd, a writer and resident of Sheikh Jarrah, was invited onto MSNBC and CNN, where he called out the press for distorting his experience: when an anchor referred to Kurd’s possible “eviction,” he replied, “Forced ethnic displacement”; when the anchor asked if Kurd supported “violent protests” in support of his cause, he asked back, “Do you support the violent dispossession of me and my family?” (There followed an awkward silence.) The clip went viral; Kurd told Vice that this was probably because “there’s not been this kind of articulation about Empire in the media in recent years. I wanted to make the joke that it’s because I’m good TV, but it’s not. More often than not, it’s the fact that what I’m saying sounds unprecedented.”

Vice asked Kurd if he feared repercussions for being outspoken. “In addition to the media attention,” he said, “there have been hundreds of people reaching out to me, saying, ‘may God protect you, please be careful, I hope nothing bad happens to you.’ ” Then, on Wednesday, Israeli forces kicked Kurd and his family out of Sheikh Jarrah

Sign up for CJR's daily email

Below, more on Israel and Palestine:

  • “Unheard of”: The Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani and Lloyd Grove assessed the coverage of MSNBC’s Hasan and Ayman Mohyeldin, who, Tani and Grove wrote, have spent “the past several days challenging the US-media status quo by doing something practically unheard of on an American television outlet”—devoting “substantial airtime to the Palestinian point of view.” (Mohyeldin interviewed Kurd this week.) Their coverage “has prompted cheers among some within the network who have been pleased to see MSNBC elevate voices seemingly skeptical of Israeli military force,” though it has also prompted some “eye-rolling among a few of their NBC colleagues.” 
  • The regional angle: The BBC rounded up how the week’s events have been covered in Middle Eastern media. “The news remains relatively low down the running order of Syrian TV news, and in Iran it only started topping bulletins on Tuesday. In both countries—key members of the so-called ‘axis of resistance’ to Israel—domestic issues have taken priority,” the BBC reports. “Qatari Al-Jazeera’s Arabic channel, a traditional supporter of the Palestinian cause, gives the story full coverage. It is also the lead story on Saudi-funded Al Arabiya, which is pressing its guests and correspondents on claims by both sides.”
  • Bibi: This week’s events have taken place against the backdrop of another round of domestic political wrangling in Israel, where negotiations to form a new government are in flux, and the ongoing trial of Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, who stands accused of corruption, including in his dealings with media outlets. Reporters Without Borders has the latest on the trial; for more background, read Ruth Margalit in CJR.  


Other notable stories:

Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, and The Nation, among other outlets. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.