Media Propaganda & the Palestinian Civil War

Hamas’ recent takeover of the Gaza Strip has been described as many things: an escalation of Palestinian civil war, a threat to Israel‘s existence, and a major setback for Palestinian statehood.  The last of these descriptions, prevalent throughout the American mainstream press, has dramatic consequences for those seriously interested in the peaceful co-existence of both Palestinian and Israeli states.

The American mainstream press has long prided itself in one-sided demonizations of the Palestinian leadership, perhaps most notoriously for blaming the late Yasser Arafat for monkey-wrenching the 2000 Camp David “Peace” proposal.  However, with the popular election of Hamas in 2006, American reporters and editors have found a new whipping boy that can effectively be blamed for holding up Israeli-Palestinian peace. 


The recent violence in Gaza demonstrates this point rather well, as Western media coverage was rife with allegations that Hamas gunmen dragged several Fatah officers into the street and executed them, some in front of their families.  Although Hamas officials denied the executions, the incendiary allegations have served as a rallying cry for anti-Hamas political leaders, pundits, and analysts in the U.S., Israel, and elsewhere.  As the New York Times reports, Israeli political officials are beginning to wonder whether “Hamas’ show of strength in Gaza would make it more likely that the Israeli military would intervene there this summer to cut back Hamas’ political power.” 


American media coverage has been unequivocal in the placing of blame squarely at the feet of Hamas for hampering possibilities of Palestinian statehood in the foreseeable future.  The New York Times reported that Palestinian President Mahmoud “Abbas faces the collapse of Fatah power in Gaza and a putative Palestinian state divided into a West Bank run by Fatah and a Gaza run by Hamas.”  The Washington Post claimed: “the territorial cornerstones of a future Palestinian state have been reduced to strongholds of each faction.”  Regional coverage has hardly fared better.  The Chicago Sun Times commented that Abbas’ firing of Hamas leader and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh left Palestinians “struggling to adjust to a new political reality that has crushed their long-standing hopes for their own state.”  Perhaps the most critical that any corporate media outlet has come to blaming the U.S. or Israel for the failure of a two-state solution was seen in the Chicago Tribune, where Ali Jarbawi, a professor of Political Science at Bir Zeit University was cited arguing that the U.S. has “failed to empower Abbas politically through genuine progress toward a negotiated two-state solution, leaving him domestically weakened.”  Substantive condemnations of Israel and the U.S. for denying Palestinian statehood and engaging in terrorism against the Palestinian people have predictably been out of bounds, as only Hamas’ acts of terror are deemed to be a salient issue.


While it is difficult to argue with American journalists who argue that the escalating rift between Hamas and Fatah poses a serious danger to peace in Palestine, the one-sided blame placed upon Hamas for the failure of peace represents more a propaganda strategy than a legitimate reporting of the reality on the ground.  What is systematically omitted from media coverage are the many attempts by Israeli leaders to exclude any viable two state solution, not to mention the vehement efforts of those same leaders to foment a civil war between Hamas and Fatah.


For only a few of the most recent examples of such efforts, one need look only to the wall being constructed by Israel, which cuts deep into Palestinian territory, unofficially annexing as much as 10% of Palestinian lands by some estimates.  The International Court of Justice condemned the wall as an egregious violation of international law and the Geneva Conventions, although one would hardly know this by reading American media coverage.  It is difficult to argue that the wall is intended primarily for security purposes (rather than a land grab), considering that the wall could have provided the same level of security if it was built on the Israeli side of the 1967 green line border, rather than the Palestinian side.  One can also look to the myth of the “generous” offer at Camp David in 2000.  The American press has long been known by Progressive Americans to have played a major role in misrepresenting the offer, which prohibited the establishment of a Palestinian army, refused to offer any concessions on the status of occupied Jerusalem, left a Palestinian “state” with no control over its borders, airspace, or water supply, and failed to dismantle the major settlements or settlement infrastructure within the West Bank (see “The Myth of the Generous Offer,” by Ackerman for more details on US media complicity).


More recently than Camp David, one can also look to “Operation Defensive Shield,” a 2002 Israeli military operation undertaken in the West Bank, the main goal of which was to systematically destroy the Palestinian governing structure, so as to pave the way for a renewed military occupation.  And then, of course, there are the explicit demands of Israeli leaders themselves, codified in the 2003 Road Map, that Abbas engage in armed conflict against Hamas.  The second phase of the Road Map directed the Palestinian leadership to undertake “the complete dismantling of terrorist organizations,” including Hamas and Islamic Jihad – a prescription that the late progressive critic Tanya Reinhart condemned as a recipe for civil war (see The Road Map to Nowhere: Israel/Palestine Since 2003).


The reporting of the inconvenient facts above might very well shed more light upon the underlying reasons for the emergence of civil war in Palestine.  However, to do so would be a serious challenge to the longstanding American practice of uncritical support for Israel, regardless of its violent provocations and illegal military occupation, which has now entered its 4th decade.  And while condemnations of Hamas for attacks against civilians should be well taken by anyone opposed to terrorism and violence, the media’s one-sided pre-occupation with such terror to the neglect of the far more deadly terror of the Israeli military (directed against Palestinian militants and civilians) remains the major obstacle to a real peace in the Middle East.




Anthony DiMaggio has taught Middle East Politics and American Government at Illinois State University.  He is the author of Mass Media, Mass Propaganda: Understanding American News in the “War on Terror” (forthcoming from Lexington Books, Fall 2007).

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