Ben White: Media Distortion by Omission

By Ben White
Special to

In the second such incident since the 2006 war, two rockets fired from within Lebanon struck Israel Monday night. The news understandably made headlines in Israel, and was featured as a major story by all the major Western news outlets such as CNN and the BBC, coming just before President Bush starts his Middle East tour.

However, completely unreported, or at best featured as a small afterthought, was the fact that Lebanese-Israeli border tensions had been already raised Monday by the Israeli abduction of a Lebanese shepherd.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Siniora condemned the snatch as an act of “aggression” as well as “a clear violation of Lebanese sovereignty and an unacceptable provocation”. Lebanese authorities contradicted Israel’s claim that the shepherd had crossed over into Israeli territory, with a source telling AFP that Israeli soldiers first made an incursion before they found the shepherd herding his goats.

The man was later released on Tuesday, but this selective reporting recalls the events of the summer of 2006. Then, a Hezbollah raid that resulted in the killing and capture of Israeli soldiers sparked a large-scale bombing campaign and invasion by the Israeli military, with retaliatory Hezbollah strikes on northern Israel.

The Hezbollah raid, widely presented as the unprovoked spark for the conflict, was decontextualised from Israel’s regular violations of Lebanese sovereignty in the form of flyovers and cross-border raids. For example, a mere five months before the war, Israeli troops crossed over into Lebanon and shot dead a teenager shepherd. Typically, the U.N.’s Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was forced to refute initial Israeli claims that the boy had been shot after he had crossed the border.

At the same time as Israel was clashing with Hezbollah in the north, the IDF was also inflicting heavy casualties on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, an operation that began after Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured in a raid by Palestinian fighters on June 26. Again, this incident – deemed serious enough by Israel to justify attacks that killed hundreds and destroyed vital civilian infrastructure – took place two days after Israeli soldiers invaded the Gaza Strip and detained two Palestinians. This ‘cross-border raid’, however, was not so newsworthy.

In the case of the Palestinians, perhaps it is the routine nature of Israeli abductions that means they go so poorly reported. Indeed, a recent study by an Israeli human rights group estimated that 150,000 Palestinians have been prosecuted in military courts since 1990 (that’s an average of 700 a month for 18 years).

But there is something more important happening here. This kind of distortion by omission helps create the discourse that distinguishes between justified Israeli violence and the illegitimate violence of an irrational ‘enemy’ with whom you can not negotiate, only destroy. To borrow a phrase from the Bush administration, it also sets the stage for the next time that Israel deems it a strategic opportunity to ‘create its own reality’, at the expense of Arab lives and regional stability.

-Ben White is a freelance journalist specializing in Palestine/Israel. His website is at and he can be contacted directly at

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