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Middle East War Reporting: Avoiding the Pitfalls

Illustrative: Thousands of anti-Israel demonstrators from the Midwest gather in support of Palestinians and hold a rally and march through the Loop in Chicago on Oct. 21, 2023. Photo: Alexandra Buxbaum/Sipa USA via Reuters Connect

Since Hamas’s unprecedented onslaught in Israel on Oct. 7, the Jewish state has been forced into a struggle to ensure its survival, to free hostages abducted to Gaza, and to disarm terrorists of their ability to again imperil Israelis and Palestinians alike.

At the same time, information warfare has dramatically escalated on both social media and traditional news platforms. Rumors, misinformation, and false equivalence between Israel and Hamas have fed a surge of global antisemitism and undermined international support for Israel’s obligation to defend itself.

Journalism is vital in democratic societies — and war coverage presents immense challenges. But with the stakes of reporting so high, news correspondents bear the responsibility of ensuring accuracy and comprehensiveness in reports.

Here are seven guidelines that all news outlets should adopt to avoid common pitfalls in reporting on this complex and dynamic story.

One: Question Hamas statistics. Fatality figures and other “official” claims from Gaza, including the classification of casualties as civilians, must not be accepted uncritically — and need to be relayed as unconfirmed assertions of Hamas-controlled entities. Since 2007, Hamas has ruled Gaza. Like other malign actors with an interest in manipulating public perceptions, Hamas has made obvious its unreliability as a source of unvarnished data.

Two: Authenticate photos and footage. Caution must also apply to visual material from sources affiliated or aligned with Hamas, which can be staged or misleading. The initial media misrepresentation of the Oct. 17 explosion outside Gaza’s Al-Ahli Hospital demonstrated this hazard. Similarly, reports of shortages in Gaza’s civilian needs must account for the substantial aid long channeled to the Strip, and Hamas’ seemingly unimpeded ability to finance terrorist infrastructure and missiles.

Three: Terror is terror. If attacks similar to Hamas’ — deliberate, indiscriminate carnage among civilians, for ideological reasons — were to be described as terrorism elsewhere, the same must be done when victims are Israeli. Hamas’ atrocities have mimicked or even surpassed attacks by Islamist extremists in other settings, and are undergirded by a common doctrinal framework, reflected in Hamas’ own charter and its leaders’ pronouncements.

Four: “It’s (not) the occupation, stupid.” It’s essential to explain that Hamas’ attacks cannot correctly be attributed to “Israeli occupation.” Israel withdrew completely from Gaza — including all soldiers and Jewish settlements — in 2005. Since then, Hamas has only continued to intensify attacks targeting Israeli civilians. Its attacks have led to Israel’s defensive measures. Hamas’ theology openly rejects Israel’s existence within any borders. After the Gaza withdrawal, Israel again offered Palestinians full statehood in 2000 and 2008.

Five: Numbers tell only part of a story. The legality and intentions of Israeli counter-terrorism efforts cannot be assessed by simplistically comparing Israeli and Palestinian losses. A “scoreboard” approach to warring parties has not been applied to other difficult conflicts — whether World War II, the war in Ukraine, or US operations against Al-Qaeda after 9/11. Hamas deliberately hides and fires from among Palestinian civilians, and unlike Hamas, Israel has sought to minimize civilian casualties by warning non-combatants to evacuate battle zones. International law does not grant attackers immunity through taking human shields, as doing so would only encourage that tactic.

Six: Separate politics from truth. Some perceived arbiters of justice and legitimacy, like United Nations resolutions, must also be taken with a grain of salt — and reported with full context. The UN may well censure Israel, but news consumers need to know that an automatic majority of nearly 60 Arab and Muslim states has the UN routinely condemn the Jewish state — the Middle East’s only democracy — more than all other countries combined. (Too often, other entities, from academic bodies to labor unions, simply follow suit.) It is worth also remembering that the size of street demonstrations backing one side or another may reflect demographic realities rather than the “justness” of a certain party to the conflict.

Seven: It’s not just “war in Gaza.” The conflict, and conditions of humanitarian urgency, must not be presented only through a narrow Gazan prism. Attacks on Israel and Israelis did not begin or end on Oct. 7. Some 240 innocent Israelis, and others, continue to be held hostage in Gaza in unimaginable conditions — and rockets from Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon (both Iranian proxies), continue to terrorize millions of civilians inside Israel.

It’s said that war is hell, and conflict reporting is little better.

The “fog of war” is undeniable. Although all protagonists’ emotions run high, so do the stakes of consistent professionalism in news coverage.

For the sake of an informed public and policymakers alike, reports on the Middle East must consistently convey the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

David J. Michaels is Director of U.N. and Intercommunal Affairs at B’nai B’rith International

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Protester Sets Self on Fire Outside Israeli Consulate in Atlanta

Illustrative. Anti-Israel protesters demonstrate outside AIPAC President Michael Tuchin’s vacation home in Los Angeles, Nov. 23, 2023. Photo: Screenshot

i24 NewsA protester was in critical condition on Friday after setting themself on fire outside the Israeli consulate in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. authorities said. A security guard who tried to intervene was also wounded.

A Palestinian flag found at the scene was part of the protest, Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said at a news conference. He added that investigators did not believe there was any connection to terrorism and none of the consular staff was ever in danger.

JUST IN: A pro-Palestine protester is in critical condition after they set themselves on fire in “political protest” outside of the Israeli Consulate office in Atlanta.

The protester was reportedly draped in a Palestine flag.

The protester has severe burns and unfortunately, a…

— Collin Rugg (@CollinRugg) December 1, 2023

“We do not see any threat here,” he said. “We believe it was an act of extreme political protest that occurred.” Everyone inside the consulate building was said to be safe.

Anat Sultan-Dadon, Consul General of Israel to the southeastern U.S., said: “We are saddened to learn of the self-immolation at the entrance to the office building. It is tragic to see the hate and incitement toward Israel expressed in such a horrific way.”

“The sanctity of life is our highest value. Our prayers are with the security officer who was injured while trying to prevent this tragic act. We are grateful to the city of Atlanta’s law enforcement and first responders for all they do to ensure safety.”

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Released Israeli Hostages Call for Captives to Be Freed

Relatives and supporters of hostages kidnapped on the deadly October 7 attack by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, rally for their release, after a temporary truce between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas ended when the terrorist group broke it, in Tel Aviv, Israel, December 2, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Israeli hostages released in the past week by Hamas in Gaza called on Saturday for the immediate release of fellow captives left behind, a day after a temporary truce that had allowed scores to come home broke down.

Tens of thousands gathered at a rally in Tel Aviv outside Israel‘s defense headquarters, where they cheered Yelena Trupanov, 50, standing on a stage just two days after being freed.

“I came to thank you because without you I wouldn’t be here. Now we must bring back my (son) Sasha, and everyone. Now.”

Similar pleas from other released hostages were shown on video.

A seven-day truce, during which Hamas had released more than 100 hostages, collapsed on Friday after Hamas breached the ceasefire.

Israel said on Saturday it had recalled a Mossad intelligence agency team from Qatar, host of indirect negotiations with Hamas, accusing the Palestinian faction of reneging on a deal that would have freed all children and women held hostage.

More than 240 people – Israelis and foreign nationals – were abducted to Gaza on Oct 7. by Hamas terrorists who burst through the border with Israel and killed 1,200 people.

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IDF Foils Stabbing Attack Near Nablus in West Bank, Eliminates Terrorist

Illustrative. Palestinian attacker near Nablus hurls stones towards Israeli troops during clashes at a riot in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, May 5, 2017. Photo: Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.

i24 NewsThe Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported thwarting a stabbing attack on Saturday afternoon against reserve Battalion 7037 at the X junction near Nablus in the West Bank.

According to the IDF spokesperson, the event unfolded when the forces at the roadblock became suspicious of an individual approaching the barricade.

During the questioning process, the suspect suddenly drew a knife and advanced towards the IDF personnel.

ניסיון פיגוע דקירה אירע לפני זמן קצר לעבר כוח צה”ל במילואים מגדוד 7037 שפעל בחסם בצומת האיקס סמוך לעיר שכם שבמרחב חטיבת שומרון.

הכוח חשד במחבל שהגיע לחסם והחל לתחקר אותו, המחבל שלף סכין והחל להתקדם לעבר הכוח.
הלוחמים חתרו למגע והגיבו בירי לעבר המחבל שחוסל. אין נפגעים לכוחותינו.

— דובר צה״ל דניאל הגרי – Daniel Hagari (@IDFSpokesperson) December 2, 2023

The soldiers, faced with the threat, engaged in contact procedures and ultimately responded by opening fire on the assailant. The spokesperson confirmed that the attacker was neutralized due to the IDF’s action.

It was also noted that there were no casualties among the IDF forces involved in the incident. According to the spokesperson, the situation at the X junction has stabilized, and IDF continues to maintain vigilance in the area to prevent further attacks.

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