Krakow Film Festival 2024

Citizen journalists

GAZA / Sheikh Jarrah describes how the Israeli authorities subsequently sought to silence the journalists. Here is a topical book - in connection with the murdered journalists in Gaza. The democratic function of the media is not always so democratic.

Global Media Coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: Reporting the Sheikh Jarrah Evictions
Author: Noureddine Miladi (editor)
Publisher: I.B. Tauris, UK

In May 2021, unrest was brewing in# Jerusalem. Israeli authorities sought to remove 19 Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah in the eastern part of the city, leading to protest demonstrations in several parts of the West Bank. And when Jewish radicals even encroached on the Haram al-Sharif at the Al Aqsa Mosque, Hamas in the Gaza Strip responded, followed by 11 days of Israeli bombardment that claimed 248 Palestinian lives.

Naturally, the incident received extensive international press coverage, and Noureddine Miladi, Professor of Media and Communication at Qatar University, describes how the Israeli authorities subsequently sought to silence journalists. In his essay, one of a series in the book Global Media Coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, he describes how journalist Jevara Albudiri was arrested by the authorities while covering the events in Sheikh Jarrah. Israeli journalists supported the military’s narrative and claimed that Albudiri, a Jerusalem correspondent for the Al Jazeera TV station, had attacked an Israeli soldier.

They [journalists] are targeted with rubber bullets and suffer physical and psychological harm.

Sheikh Jarrah

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) has documented Israeli persecution of journalists in several reports. They are targeted with rubber bullets and suffer physical and psychological harm. In addition, the Western media largely bow to Israeli pressure to cover the confrontations in a very specific way. Sheikh Jarrah and the subsequent escalation are textbook examples of this. The Organisation for World Peace, for example, refers to a memo from CNN in which the station instructs its journalists to refer to the Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip as «the Hamas-run Ministry of Health,» indicating that the ministry has an active role in the conflict and can thus be considered an ‘enemy.’

Two other researchers – Shadi Abu-Ayyash and Hussein Al Ahmad, who both teach at the Arab American University in Jenin, West Bank – take the story of Sheikh Jarrah one step further. They focus on social media, which in modern times has come to stand as a place where those who otherwise do not have access to established channels have the opportunity to express themselves and be opinion leaders.

These are so-called frame narratives, i.e., a narrative about a particular development or a relatively limited phenomenon in relation to the larger context. By analysing these many posts and tweets, it is possible to gain an overview of how they contribute to and influence the collective narrative. A number of themes emerge, the most important of which are the Israeli occupation and displacement policy, Palestinian resistance to apartheid, American support for Israel, and global solidarity with the Palestinians. As the conflict is thus described on social media, a new element is added: in connection with Sheikh Jarrah, Facebook, and Instagram, in particular, intervened in numerous cases and deleted posts that were found to be in violation of the companies’ guidelines. In this way, social media itself came to be seen as part of the conflict, being portrayed as allies of the Israeli occupation and American interests.

Saleh Diab
Saleh Diab

The concept of ‘mainstream’ is unclear

The strategic use of social media, which was widespread during the tragic events in Sheikh Jarrah and the Gaza Strip, has been crucial in influencing how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is presented. User participation has helped document and disseminate the personal experiences of the war, and more importantly, it helps understand things that were never documented in earlier times.

Two Indian researchers, both of whom have a history as journalists in the occupied territories, address this in a clever essay, pointing out some crucial problems for posterity’s use of this vast digital memory.

Facebook and Instagram intervened in numerous cases to delete posts that were found to be in violation of the companies’ guidelines – allies of the Israeli occupation and American interests?

It’s important to remember that people in conflict situations typically document their experiences on their mobile phones. In the heat of battle, this will reflect the individual user’s perspective, which naturally becomes both emotional and highly motivated. But in addition, when this is posted on social media and thus becomes part of the huge digital archive of the future, it will be devoid of one of today’s major challenges, namely hacking, data leaks and outright ransomware attacks.

This is relevant to what will be left behind. Traditionally, conflicts have been covered by what we call mainstream media. This primarily means television and traditional press, which remain important players, but simultaneously, the whole concept of the mainstream has become blurred. For a factor of rapidly increasing importance are the ‘citizen journalists’ who cover events with their mobile phones and on social media.

The victim owns his memories

One such journalist was Hashem al Jarosha. He owned a barbershop in Gaza City, and on 11 May 2021, he read on Facebook that an Israeli attack was coming. He rushed home to protect his family, and from there he could document how the neighbouring building with his salon on the ground floor was turned into rubble. Afterward, he took photos of the ruins and posted them on social media. In this way, he contributed to the technology-based environment and its various public interpretations, which, on the one hand, can be seen as an important democratic function.

Hashem al Jarosha’s pictures reached the world, and thousands of people heard about how he had lost his only source of income. But if it is said that the victim owns his memories, it is a consequence of the digital age that the attacker, in a way, does too. Because there is no telling what is happening out there in cyberspace, and how the collective narrative is thus a potential victim of manipulation is very much something to keep in mind when assessing modern conflict coverage.

This is true for Sheikh Jarrah and the Gaza Strip, but it is also true for other conflicts around the world. Therefore, this is an important book for understanding how the democratic function of the media is not always so democratic.

Hans Henrik Fafner
Hans Henrik Fafner
Fafner is a regular critic in Modern Times Review.

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