Out of context

How Wednesday's terror attack was disseminated by the world's media outlets.

Bulldozer attack victim  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Bulldozer attack victim
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
When Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, "The medium is the message," he probably meant that the media determine not only what "news" is, but what it is supposed to mean. Newspapers, television and the Internet do not merely disseminate information; they explain its significance, provide frames of reference, create and reinforce attitudes. That's exactly what happened Wednesday when an Arab from the southeast Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Baher killed three and injured dozens in a bulldozer rampage - one that, coincidentally, culminated under the windows of major news outlets headquartered on Jaffa Road. Journalists sprang into action providing the "who, what, where, when and how" of the tragedy. Within minutes, consumers of news around the globe were in the loop. Even before all the dead had been buried, the injured hospitalized and the wreckage cleared from the streets, the media proceeded to provide "context." WHY DID Husam Taysir Dwayat do it? The hasty and erroneous answer offered by an overwhelming number of news outlets amounted to: "It's the occupation, stupid." That is the type of "context" one would expect from Al-Jazeera, which described the rampage as an "operation." Yet even the otherwise fine coverage provided by The New York Times was marred, apparently by editors, who inserted a tendentious paragraph about... bulldozers: "Caterpillar equipment has a special resonance among Palestinians. Human rights activists have lobbied the company to stop selling its heavy vehicles to the Israeli military out of concern that they have been used to demolish Palestinian homes, uproot orchards and construct Jewish settlements in occupied land." Reuters unhelpfully contrasted Israel's supposed oppression of Palestinians generally with its maltreatment of Jerusalem Arabs: "Unlike Palestinians in the blockaded Gaza Strip and in the occupied West Bank, those living in occupied east Jerusalem have free access to the Jewish west of the city and to Israel." The wire service added that it found no evidence that Dwayat was a "guerrilla." As for the Associated Press, it was almost as if the world's leading content provider sought, under the guise of uncovering a motive for the rampage, to provide justification for it: Dwayat had been fined for building his house without a permit, and a demolition order was on file. "In contrast to West Bank Palestinians," AP noted, "Arab residents of Jerusalem have full freedom to work and travel throughout Israel," begging the question of why Israelis restrict the movement of West Bankers. Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, headlined its report: "Hamas refuses to laud Jerusalem rampage." That certainly helps frame, in the minds of millions of Chinese, Hamas's Gandhi-like ethos against killing innocent civilians. London's The Daily Telegraph focused on the romantic angle. "'His heart [was] broken by a young Russian Jewish woman,' Dwayat's friend told the paper. 'She came here, she lived here in his parents' house with him, she stayed for a month… But then a radical Jewish group seized her one night and returned her to her family.'" The Guardian Web site prominently connected its straightforward coverage with a Homepage link to a column by Jerusalem-based Seth Freedman entitled "The inevitable overreaction." "There can be no excuses. Nothing; not the occupation, nor the siege of Gaza… But just because there can be no excuses, does not for a minute mean there can be no explanation…40 years of cruel and unusual punishment of the Palestinians was likely to bear such murderous fruits. It's not because we're Jews; it's because of the relentless oppressive tactics employed by successive Israeli governments…" Over at the London Times, Foreign Secretary David Miliband is quoted as urging Britons to keep the bigger picture in view: "Our first thought is for the victims and the relatives of the victims… Our second thought is obviously for the process of building a Middle East peace that's enduring." IN FACT, the prospects for peace-building are immeasurably undermined by the moral relavatism encapsulated above. The media's smug, even disingenuous, contextualization of Palestinian violence in general, and Wednesday's carnage in particular, as attributable to the "occupation" completely demoralizes those Israelis who genuinely want to see a resolution of the conflict. Any "root causes" appraisal of Arab brutality that ignores more than 60 years of Palestinian rejectionism, intransigence, self-defeating violence and denial of Jewish rights offers neither context nor candor.