Media Lens: Some Deaths Really Matter – The Disproportionate Coverage of Israeli And Palestinian Killings

2 July 2014 — Media Lens

Israeli deaths matter much more than Palestinian deaths. This has long been a distinguishing feature of Western news media reporting on the Middle East. The recent blanket coverage afforded to the brutal killing of three Israeli teenagers highlights this immutable fact.

Channel 4’s Alex Thomson offered a rare glimmer of dissent:

‘Curious to watch UK media living down to the Palestinian claim that 1 Israeli life is worth 1000 Palestinian lives.’

Major broadcasters, such as BBC News, devoted headlines and extended reports to the deaths, and included heart-rending interviews with grieving relatives in Israel. The Guardian ran live coverage of the funerals for more than nine hours. But when has this ever happened for Palestinian victims of Israeli terror?

A reader challenged the Guardian journalist leading the live coverage:

‘@Haroon_Siddique Did I somehow miss @guardian’s live-tweeting of Palestinian victims’ funerals & eulogies?’ 

Several nudges elicited the standard display of hand-washing:

‘I’m not an editor so don’t take decisions on future coverage.’

An extensive list of news stories and video reports appeared on the BBC website describing how Israel is ‘united in grief’, alongside stories titled, ‘Netanyahu: “Wide and deep chasm” between Israel and enemies’‘Thousands gather for Israeli teenagers’ funerals’,‘Grief and anger after Israel teenager deaths’, and ‘On road where teens vanished’.

These all strongly, and rightly, expressed the broadcaster’s empathy with the fact that something terrible had happened. But when has the BBC ever expressed this level of concern for the deaths of Palestinian teenagers? The question matters because consistent empathic bias has the effect of humanising Israelis for the public and dehumanising Palestinians. This is an extremely lethal form of media propaganda with real consequences for human suffering.

A Guardian editorial noted that the killings ‘had shocked [Israel] to the core’. Western leaders had also expressed solidarity – an outpouring of concern that contrasted with the reaction to Palestinian deaths, which ‘so often pass with barely a murmur’. But that was all the Guardian editors had to say.

The missing, ugly reality is that over the last 13 years, on average, one Palestinian child has been killed by Israel every 3 days. Since the outbreak of the second Intifada in September 2000, 1,523 Palestinian children have been killed by Israel’s occupation forces. Over the same time period, 129 Israeli children have been killed. Thus, the ratio of Palestinian children to Israeli children killed is more than ten to one. You would be forgiven for not having the slightest inkling of this from Western media coverage. Even in the past few days, in reporting the massive Israeli operation to find the teenagers, only the briefest of nods has been given to the ‘five Palestinians, including a number of minors, [who were] killed’ in the process.

Following the tragic discovery of the bodies of the three Israeli teenagers, corporate journalism gave headline attention to President Obama’s condemnation of ‘this senseless act of terror against innocent youth’. Significant coverage was given to the shocked reaction of prime minister David Cameron who said:

‘This was an appalling and inexcusable act of terror perpetrated against young teenagers. Britain will stand with Israel as it seeks to bring to justice those responsible.’

But when have Obama or Cameron ever condemned the killing of Palestinian youths or children by Israelis in this vehement way?

We can easily see the contrast in media treatment of Israeli and Palestinian deaths by observing the lack of coverage, and the silence of Western leaders, about two young Palestinians, Nadim Nuwara, 17, and Muhammad Abu al-Thahir, 16, who were shot dead by Israeli security forces in May. The BBC did not entirely ignore the killings. But the deaths were presented as a murky eventin which the truth was strongly disputed:

‘A human rights group has released a video it says shows two teenage Palestinians being shot dead by Israeli security forces at a protest last week.’ (Our emphasis.)

The BBC report was quick to present the Israeli viewpoint upfront:

‘But the Israeli military said the video had been edited and did not document the “violent nature” of the incident.

‘It also questioned a claim that live ammunition had been fired at the boys.’

A few days later, the Israeli military ordered the removal of the CCTV cameras that had captured the killings. The security cameras belonged to Fakher Sayed who ran a nearby carpentry shop. And the interest in this from BBC News and the rest of the corporate media? Zero, as far as we can tell.

Every violent death is a tragedy. But the disproportionate coverage given to Israeli and Palestinian deaths is symptomatic of a deep-rooted, pro-Israel bias. Why is it so extreme? Because of the intense pressure brought to bear on the media by the powerful Israeli lobby, and by allied US-UK interests strongly favouring Israel. As one senior anonymous BBC editor once put it:

‘We wait in fear for the phone call from the Israelis.’



The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Please consider signing this petition set up at by activist Mark Nadim:

‘Highlight the 1,500 Palestinian Children Killed by Israeli ‘Defence’ Force since 2000, and Restraint and Peacemaking rather than Condoning ‘Inevitable’ Collective Death Sentence!’

Write to:

Paul Royall, editor of BBC News at Ten, and BBC News at Six
Twitter: @paulroyall

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Some Deaths Really Matter – The Disproportionate Coverage of Israeli And Palestinian Killings

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The second Media Lens book, ‘NEWSPEAK in the 21st Century’ by David Edwards and David Cromwell, was published in 2009 by Pluto Press. John Pilger writes of the book:

“Not since Orwell and Chomsky has perceived reality been so skilfully revealed in the cause of truth.” Find it in the Media Lens Bookshop

In September 2012, Zero Books published ‘Why Are We The Good Guys?’ by David Cromwell. Mark Curtis, author of ‘Web of Deceit’ and ‘Unpeople’, says:

‘This book is truly essential reading, focusing on one of the key issues, if not THE issue, of our age: how to recognise the deep, everyday brainwashing to which we are subjected, and how to escape from it. This book brilliantly exposes the extent of media disinformation, and does so in a compelling and engaging way.’


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One thought on “Media Lens: Some Deaths Really Matter – The Disproportionate Coverage of Israeli And Palestinian Killings

  1. Michael Quiñones says:

    I certainly agree with this sentiment. Lazy journalism at best. But this is not all the fault of the corporate media. The govt of Israel’s reaction to the kidnapping makes the event much easier for worldwide news outlets to report on and becomes newsworthy. The govt severely overreacts, conducts raids and arrests and upends the lives of thousands in the occupied territory over the death of one Jewish Israeli. This self-fulfills the Israeli govt’s line that Israeli Jew deaths truly matter. The govt’s policy is always to overreact with collective punishment, which is then news. Plus the Israel media machine goes into overdrive. The Palestinians don’t have a Western media machine.
    What happens when a Palestinian teen is killed? There is no big PA reaction or policy change; most often it is the usual condemnation. Palestinians and activists continue to demonstrate, as usual. Jihadis in Gaza will fire some more missiles, as usual. Of course Israeli govt and military have the ear of the English-speaking press more than Palestinian protesters or PA officials. It’s simply not as easy to report on for the int’l/Western press when a Palestinian teen is killed. Again, the Israeli govt in comparison has a big powerful lobby and press strategy to provide int’l media.
    Also, while the comparative death stats are of course horribly lopsided and very newsworthy in and of themselves, the context is a key component that is always left out when someone brings this up. How many Palestinian teens were killed during violent demonstrations? How many Israeli children were killed in terrorist attacks? There is a moral difference. There is no doubt that the Israeli govt and the Western media are complicit in oppression of a million and death of thousands of Palestinians, but this is still a complex issue and we should not give ammunition to Israeli sympathizers by pointing at numbers without context. Tell me how many Palestinian kids were killed as collateral damage in Israeli strikes which is akin to a terrorist bombing. That has the potential to be a more powerful stat. Anyway, just nitpicking. Thanks for the good work.


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