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Deconstructing the Associated Press coverage on Land Day

Reading the Washington Post online this morning I came across two articles from the Associated Press written about Land Day. The coverage struck me as particularly biased towards Israel, especially for a news agency that has the global reputation of merely reporting the news with the bare minimum of opinion or slant. I have personally met some high-ranking members of the AP staff in Jerusalem and I am well aware of their partisanship. My colleague Roi Maor already penned a piece about the Associated Press’ horrible coverage of the Mahmoud Abbas speech to the UN in September, but I thought it would be useful to analyze their treatment of the Land Day protests to show that such bias is not a one-off.


Here is an AP piece on Land Day, carried, among others, by the Washington Post. Let’s start with the headline.

Israeli security on high alert, as Arabs and Palestinians protest against Jewish State.

Umm, excuse me? First of all, Land Day is not a protest against the Jewish State. It is a commemoration of the 1976 demonstration by Palestinian citizens of Israel against massive expropriations targeting Arab-owned land for Jewish settlement purposes. The protest left six Palestinians dead and hundreds injured. Today’s Land Day demonstrations, which occur throughout the whole of the country occur to protest the continuation of this policy by the Israeli government.

Secondly, the entire framing of the news forces the reader to associate Palestinian demonstrations with a security threat to Israeli citizens, which it clearly is not. I don’t remember any Israelis getting killed during Land Day demonstrations, but I do remember quite a few victims from among Palestinians and other Arabs. Now, it is possible that this headline was written by the Washington Post: The Associated Press usually gives a title that the publishing outlet is free to change at their leisure, I believe. I am not sure which is the case in this instance. But even if it was from the Post, I am not surprised they would choose such a title given the article’s content.

Moving on to the body of the text.

Israeli security forces in riot gear prepared Friday for Palestinian and Arab demonstrations, deploying at traditional flashpoints and along Israel’s frontiers and confining West Bank Palestinians to their territory.

This first sentence frames the entire article. “Israeli soldiers in riot gear.” The demonstrations are labeled indirectly as riots from the outset, justifying the use of riot control measures against them.

Palestinians threw rocks and Israeli troops responded with stun grenades. No casualties were reported. Elsewhere things were calm.
Palestinians were banned from entering from the West Bank except for medical emergencies, and police barred Palestinian men under 40 from visiting a volatile Jerusalem holy site. Military deployments along Israel’s borders were reinforced to repulse any attempts to breach Israel’s borders as demonstrators did twice last year, touching off deadly clashes with Israeli troops.

So, Palestinians initiated, Israeli responded, but not lethally. Palestinians were also banned from Jerusalem (their territory according to international law) except for medical emergencies. It is great that they made sure to add that last part so the whole world can know how benevolent the Israeli army is by its willingness to treat those it injures at its finest medical facilities.

Then the military terminology: “Military deployments;” “reinforced;” “repulse;” “attempts to breach.” As if the Palestinian-Arab demonstrations are a military operation against the ‘Jewish State.’

It goes on to describe Israeli military deployments, all to thwart the singing and dancing Arabs from their deadly assault, coordinated from their (historical) military fort:

In southern Lebanon, more than 3,000 Lebanese and Palestinians gathered outside the Crusader-built Beaufort castle 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the Israeli border, waving Palestinian flags, singing Palestinian national songs and performing the traditional dabke dance. Security forces kept them from moving any closer to the border.

The rest of the article is almost comical. No context at all is given to Land Day. It is basically Palestinians gather peaceably, Israelis respond in security-fashion to prevent the possibility of it turning violent.

Only one quote is given,  from a 70-year-old Palestinian refugee from Lebanon who talks about liberating the land from Israel.

The second article I alluded to in the opening was a short piece quoting Israeli politician Danny Danon referring to the Land Day protests as “political terrorism.” There were a few more articles from AP Jerusalem on Land Day, but I didn’t read them all. A small excerpt from one reporting a death in Gaza is also revealing.

Security forces in riot gear deployed in high numbers along the frontiers of Israel and the Palestinian territories in anticipation of a repeat of last year’s violence, in which at least 38 people died near the borders with Lebanon and Syria.

Security forces are deployed in anticipation of a repeat of last year’s violence… which they perpetrated. Hmm. interesting.

So, all in all, a great display of coverage by the Associated Press! Bravo!

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    1. Omar, you missed one – the reference to last year’s demonstrations “touching off deadly clashes with Israeli troops” – it sounds like there were dead on both sides, when all the dead were Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Thanks Larry, there was too much to go in to so I tried to incorporate it under the rest being ‘comical,’ but that’s another good observation.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Aziz Abu Sarah

      I avoid reading AP because of their unprofessional reporting on Palestinian issues. Last year they did a story about Christian Palestinians inability to reach holy sites because of the checkpoints. However they managed to spin the story and blame Muslims.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Andrew

      The AP’s reporting on Jerusalem is particularly biased. To read their news stories, one would never that Palestinians and Arabs have centuries of history that ties them to the city.

      Reply to Comment
    5. sh

      It sounds like AP reported what was broadcast on Israel national radio and TV. I heard exactly the same on the radio at breakfast time on Friday. I seem to remember they also announced that there was a “seger” – closure – in “Judea and Samaria”.
      Your account reminded me of what I’ve seen at peaceful demonstrations in East Jerusalem. Phalanxes of menacing, armed uniforms, sometimes on horseback and on occasion pulling down face-masks, facing a bunch of people chanting peace slogans, not a few of them middle-aged. It looks like something out of Monty Python.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Bill Pearlman

      I’m sorry the Jewish body count wasn’t up to a high enough level for you guys. Maybe next year

      Reply to Comment
    7. Jennifer Killen

      This type of reporting can be called “genre fraud” as it hides editorial comment in what purports to be news reporting. I particularly dislike the use of “what they say” here: “The Land Day rallies are an annual event marked by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who protest what they say are discriminatory Israeli land policies.”
      So Israel has no discriminatory land policies?

      Reply to Comment
    8. sh

      Yeah, all our spoken reporting is like that, Jennifer, and much of the written stuff too. Doesn’t do much for the brain.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Rodrigo

      I believe that it might be fair to characterize the demonstrations sponsored by Iran and Hezbollah on the borders to be against the Jewish state, rather than against land confiscations, which you can argue was the point of demonstrations within Israel. Notice the reporting is both about the GMOJ and the Land Day protests within Israel and the territories.

      Riot gear is what the army was wearing. That is just what the gear is called. It is not prejudicial. You are reaching here.

      When talking about the security forces preventing 3,000 people on Beaufort from marching on the border the article is not referring to Israeli security forces. It is talking about Lebanese security forces, unlike what you suggest in your article. I would expect you to correct this since it is a lie or misrepresentation at the moment.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Jack

      Wow you are giving Iran and Hezbollah way too much credit. The notion that palestinians must be initiated to protest against colonialism, settlement, state terrorism, blockade is not just a disrespect for the people living under occupation, its to demonize the people who protests while claiming that this is some shia ploy. You like netanyahu always blame others for Israel’s failed politics.

      Reply to Comment
    11. jose

      Way back on March 31, 1977, the Dutch newspaper Trouw published an interview with Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member Zahir Muhsein. Here’s what he said:

      The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct “Palestinian people” to oppose Zionism.

      Reply to Comment
    12. aristeides

      Jose – that was then. Some Arabs were still on the failed Arab Unity kick. Nationalism won out over unity a long time ago.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Leen

      The original quote was this
      ‘Between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese there are no differences. We are all part of ONE people, the Arab nation. Look, I have family members with Palestinian, Lebanese, Jordanian and Syrian citizenship. We are ONE people. Just for political reasons we carefully underwrite our Palestinian identity. Because it is of national interest for the Arabs to advocate the existence of Palestinians to balance Zionism. Yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity exists only for tactical reasons. The establishment of a Palestinian state is a new tool to continue the fight against Israel and for Arab unity.
      A separate Palestinian entity needs to fight for the national interest in the then remaining occupied territories. The Jordanian government cannot speak for Palestinians in Israel, Lebanon or Syria. Jordan is a state with specific borders. It cannot lay claim on – for instance – Haifa or Jaffa, while I AM entitled to Haifa, Jaffa, Jerusalem en Beersheba. Jordan can only speak for Jordanians and the Palestinians in Jordan. The Palestinian state would be entitled to represent all Palestinians in the Arab world en elsewhere. Once we have accomplished all of our rights in all of Palestine, we shouldn’t postpone the unification of Jordan and Palestine for one second.’

      He never said that the Palestinian people didn’t exist but he is underlying the ethnicity as a more important factor in the grand theme of things. He said there needs to be a Palestinian entity/national resistance to counter balance Zionism. He is speaking in ideological terms, but on factual terms, no he never claimed Palestinian people don’t exist.

      He was an pan-Arabist. It sounds exactly something Nasser would say, it doesn’t mean that the Egyptian people nor Palestinian people did not exist. But he was speaking ideological political terms. Please next time contextualize or atleast post the correct quote.

      Reply to Comment
    14. sh

      Interesting that at the time he said it, even single Arab countries didn’t appear to be one people. The Lebanese civil war, which fractured into countless splinters all at each others’ throats, was into its second year out of fifteen.

      Reply to Comment
    15. palestinian

      “protest against(the)Jewish State” trying to lead the reader …oh poor Jews ,those violent Arabs ….

      Reply to Comment

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