Imagining Death – RTÉ and its coverage of Gaza

Imagining Death – RTÉ and its coverage of Gaza

The media reporting on Israel’s latest deadly attack on Gaza has been appalling. I’m not sure if it is worse than usual but it is certainly dreadful. Irish media has tended to report from the Israeli perspective more or less constantly. The news bulletins lead with Israeli government or military statements, they focus on rocket attacks from Gaza, they refer to Israeli soldiers and Hamas militants. They describe Hamas targets being hit. They rarely talk of the Palestinian people in terms of our shared humanity, they don’t have names, jobs, lives – they are numbers, and inaccurate ones at that – “around 140 Palestinians”. “….in what Israel says is a response to rockets….the Israeli military says….the Israeli cabinet today…”

Friday 23rd November on RTÉ radio 1, Pat Kenny said the number of dead Palestinians in Gaza after Israel’s murderous assault (my words) is “over a hundred”. That’s 62 “over a hundred” Pat, that’s 162 people – that’s a lot more than a hundred. That’s people, you know – human beings.

On Sunday 18th November an entire family, the Al-Dalou family was murdered by Israeli bombs, four children, five women and two men were killed. There were other atrocities that day, in two separate missile attacks, two fathers and their young sons were killed, they were distributing water and maintaining the water service.

I was in Dublin that day where we had a report from a friend just back from Gaza. Among the many harrowing things he described was the strain that the hospitals are under due to the siege. I got into my car that night, turned on the radio to hear the news and listened to Richard Crowley’s report. Having described the deaths of the family, he then went on to imagine Israeli deaths – he said “They’ll increase the aerial bombardment, they’ve done that today.  The hope is to destroy as many Hamas targets as possible before any ceasefire and the danger of course is as they do that is that the civilian casualties in Gaza will rise and we saw evidence of that today with the death of about ten members of one family including several children. Now equally civilian deaths on that scale on the Israeli side could equally collapse the talks. Remember the Israelis have been very lucky so far with very few deaths, so really what the Israelis are hoping to do is to force Hamas to keep their heads down and reduce the numbers of rockets…”

So, instead of for once focusing on the actual Palestinians killed, Crowley hypothesised about the consequences of imagined Israeli deaths. We know that in the orientalist prism that these journalists operate, Israelis have primacy over Palestinians but for imagined deaths to take precedence over real deaths is astonishing.

The RTÉ Six One News that Crowley’s report comes from gave us this analysis: “11 people thought to be civilians were killed in an Israeli airstrike on a Gaza apartment building. At least four children are reported to have been among the dead. It’s now thought that the Palestinian death toll has climbed to 65 but the Israeli president says that a supreme effort is being made to avoid civilian deaths.” Now this report was accompanied by footage of dead children being taken from the rubble of their home so either RTÉ is disputing that those children are civilians or the editor isn’t even listening to the script.

The next day, when twin babies and their parents had been killed (they had named one of the boys, Mohammed after his brother who they lost in Israel’s twenty-two day assault on Gaza in 2008/09) and in the wake of the Al Dalou family massacre, the RTÉ news website report on its front page had a picture of Israelis running ‘for cover’ in a shopping mall in Tel Aviv, this is incredible. There is obviously an element of laziness, of incompetence but there is also a clear agenda being operated here. Editorial decisions are obviously being taken to give the Israeli narrative of victimhood and to depict the Palestinians as violent and terroristic.

As well as increasing amounts of journalistic fallacy and inaccuracy, there is an utter lack of both empathy and context. Why are Palestinian voices not heard? Why are the numbers of their dead irrelevant? Why are they not at the forefront of reporting when they are the victims of overwhelming Israeli aggression?

Where is the context? Gaza is under illegal siege, the people there have nowhere to go to, they have rights as an occupied people, they don’t have an army, an airforce, there are no bomb shelters for people to go to. The people of Gaza are mostly refugees from Israel’s ethnic cleansing. Collective punishment is illegal under international law. These are not opinions, these are facts yet they are not mentioned by journalists ‘covering’ this.

It must be noted that until the ceasefire Crowley reported from Jerusalem, we are not told why he wasn’t in Gaza. Although he was able to interview Israelis there and in Tel Aviv and worry about the tourist industry, he never managed to report about the three Palestinians murdered in the West Bank by the IOF as they protested the massacre in Gaza. Conclusions. Draw them.

Among the many war crimes committed by Israel in this attack, the targeting and murder of three journalists chimes. The apartheid state has long tried to eliminate those who would expose their crimes, they allowed no journalists into Gaza in 08/09. There has been almost no mention of the murder of colleagues by the Irish media.

On 19th November on the news, Richard Crowley says that Israel’s “targeted assassinations can go horribly wrong”. To anyone, journalists especially, it should be obvious that bombing one of the most densely populated places on the planet can ONLY have the result of mass murder. This IS Israel – it is going horribly right. While we hear constantly about Hamas targeting civilian populations, or firing ‘indiscriminate’ rockets, we never hear this about Israel’s war crimes.

Tuesday 20th November, RTÉ finally get around to interviewing a Palestinian woman living in Ireland. Fatin Al Tamimi’s sister lives in Gaza with her family. In order to provide the dreaded B.A.L.A.N.C.E that only seems to be required when Palestinians are finally given a voice, an Israeli woman who has nephews called up into the army was on too. Fatin’s segment was also heavily edited, leaving out much of her main points.

I am focusing on RTÉ as it is the state broadcaster, by far the most influential broadcast media in Ireland and is publicly funded and supposed to have a public service remit. There are huge issues with the print media and other radio and television outlets too, they are for another day.

Tuesday 20th on the Mary Wilson presented Drivetime, she interviewed Gisela Schmidt Martin in Gaza, working for the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. Martin gave a very articulate interview which conveyed the horror the people of Gaza were being subjected to and then Mary Wilson put the Israeli side to her, she said that the Israelis would say they were responding to rockets. Not only was it unnecessary for Wilson to give the Israeli perspective, it is hardly off the airwaves, but she had just interviewed an equally articulate Israeli professor and at no point did she feel compelled to present him with the Palestinian narrative. This is constant.

Turned over to Matt Cooper on Today FM who was interviewing an Israeli whose mother had to move to another room because of rockets from Gaza. Now there are two things here: obviously I don’t want anyone afraid or threatened, but she has another room to move into and her government is the aggressor. I can bet everything I have that Matt Cooper would never interview a Palestinian with family in Gaza in such a sympathetic fashion. He would not allow them to assert, as he did this guest, that the Irish media is biased against his ‘side’ and that his government is not effective at getting the story of their victimhood across. Then I went to a vigil for Gaza.

On Friday 23rd the RTÉ news carried a report from Gaza where Crowley said this: “Yesterday evening the bodies of two more members of the Dalou family were found  in the rubble of their home bombed in error by the Israelis four days ago.”

 IN ERROR? In fucking ERROR?

The Israelis have already stated that they wanted to kill a Hamas member in that building, that they targeted it deliberately. As Palestinian life is of no consequence to the Israeli war machine, they don’t make mistake, they just kill – sometimes it’s the ‘right’ person, sometimes not – whatever. But we hear all the time from our media about Palestinian indiscriminate rocket fire, but the few times they kill people are not referred to as ‘errors’.

Photo AP/Bernat Armangue

Why are these journalists so desensitised to the Palestinian people? Why do they refuse their humanness? Why don’t they look, really look, at the facts? It’s an agenda, but is it that they have been pressured by the Israeli embassy? The government? What is it? Because it’s either incompetence or some form of extreme bias, or a lethal combination of the two.

While Hamas are demonised and depicted as unreconstructed terrorists who wish for the destruction of Israel, the truth of negotiations, of efforts to create and maintain ceasefires are ignored. Al Jabari’s role in the release of Shalit? His work on negotiating a ceasefire? Doesn’t fit the agenda, doesn’t get reported.

The filthy, racist rhetoric coming from within the Israeli far right never reaches the Irish airwaves. We don’t hear about the MKs calling for Gaza to be crushed into dust, turned into a stone age. War criminal Sharon’s son’s vile calls to flatten Gaza, to unleash a Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the people there isn’t discussed, it doesn’t fit the narrative.

There are brilliant and unbelievably brave Palestinians blogging and reporting from Gaza, even CNN manages to put them on occasionally. You will not see them in the Irish media. Why not? Our media would have us believe that the world’s fourth largest military power, a nuclear armed state backed to the hilt by the US and the EU is under attack from besieged Gaza. Pillars of propaganda.

I might never finish writing this piece, it might go on forever as the media bias accelerates. I’ll stop here, for now – but this will continue. We have to keep challenging them, insisting they report both facts and context. No ‘side’ will be required then, the truth speaks for itself – that’s why we don’t hear it on our airwaves.

To close, Friday 23rd, Richard Crowley, finally in Gaza asked a cousin of the Al Dalou family, as they pulled more of their dead from their bombed home: “Do you think you could ever forgive and make peace with the Israelis?” That was his question. In that context.

The prism? Israelis. The Palestinians? Ignored, dehumanised.

Pillars of Cloud, pillars of death, pillars of society, pillars of lies.

End the siege, free Gaza, free Palestine and BDS every minute until it happens.


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