Necropower: The Occupation of Palestine by Israel and Western Media
28 December 2023
Intifada rising, composite; Image credit: Philosophy World Democracy.
The analysis of the media coverage of the massacres in Gaza, and the Palestinian lands in general, conducted by the Israeli military and Zionist terror groups show that the suffering of the Palestinians are displaced through placing doubt on the credibility of their speeches, testimonies, and their very mass deaths. The delayed attestation of the actual facts, such as the deliberate bombing of hospitals in Gaza by Israel, only enabled the total destruction of the health care system in Gaza. Gopal probes the western racism and the logic that follows from it which determines censorship or worse, the obliteration of the facts of mass murder, through the concept of “necropolitics”.
On December 2nd, the Jerusalem Post (once the Palestine Post) posted a correction on X, formerly Twitter. “Over the weekend, we shared an article based on faulty sourcing. The article in question did not meet our editorial standards and was thus removed,“ it said, with no mention or link the story in question.
If X’s metrics are to be believed, the retraction had only a fraction of the original. The claim the article made, and which was shared, liked, commented on vociferously was so abhorrent as to be absurd. It stated that a grieving man holding the corpse of a Palestinian baby killed by the Israeli military was not a real infant but a doll, procured from Chinese factories. This claim, despite a lack of evidence, logic or reason, made it far as Sky News.
But this isn’t new for the Post. It was their claim, of 40 decapitated babies on whose shoulders the weight Israel’s an annihilatory invasion of Gaza gained traction, a claim even US President Joe Biden repeated more than once. (1) The correction, that presents the information as simply ‘shared’ or the source as faulty acts to exonerate the Post, they were simply incorrect, barring the fact the story was written and presented as ground reportage from their staff writer and not simple hasbara.
Simply put, this is necroviolence. (2) The dehumanising of Palestinians by Zionists isn’t new. The core tenet of Zionism is Israelis are the "chosen people" and ipso facto, the Palestinians are not. This principle allows the justification of uprooting (3) and denying the rights of the Palestinians. Israelis are chosen so their right supersedes that of Palestinians (a belief shared by 82% of white evangelical Christians).
And it is precisely this foundation that informs the treatment of Palestinians, anti-zionists and even centrists. Necropolitics (4) is a global expression of sovereignty in which the world is divided into those who are disposable and those who are not, those whose lives matter and those whose don’t; Judith Butler would call “those whose lives are ungrievable…a life worth noting, a life worth valuing and preserving, a life that qualifies for recognition”.
In this context, it is not surprising that the humanity of Jews has to go hand-in-hand with the dehumanisation of those coded as Muslims or Arabs. (5) Consequently we see no real or sustained international outrage over actions that would be considered war crimes should any other nation engage in them. These include demolition of the houses of family members of individuals accused of violence against Israelis, imprisonment of children for extended periods without explaining charges against them, use of excessive and sometimes deadly force and extrajudicial executions of Palestinians by Israeli forces.
And so it comes as little surprise that the State has made this its mandate. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can openly refer to Palestinians as the ‘children of darkness’, his cabinet loudly proclaim, “there are no innocents in Palestine” or “Palestinians are human animals”.
Eretz Nehederet (A Wonderful Country) is Israel’s most watched comedy television show, and frequently presents anti-zionist talking points as clueless or anti-semitic while getting a smattering of queerphobic, islamophobic and transphobic jabs in. One of the show’s sketches mocked the death toll in Gaza, referring to it as a ‘BBC ratings bonanza’ - this is is despite, the IDF, Hamas, and the US State Department all agreeing the death toll is correct if not understated. Such is the power of hasbara that this yet remains a US talking point, and so grief is made public, visible so that even this may not be taken away. (6)
On December 12, CNN’s Washington Lead Anchor Jake Tapper tweeted from his personal account, “Great News! Palestinian poet Mosab Abu Toha and his family have been able to leave Gaza!” On the day of some of the worst shelling (so far) the poet and New Yorker contributor Abu Toha had been misidentified as an Hamas activist, stripped naked and tortured. His release came as great relief from the snatches of dispatch that made it out as reflected in Tapper’s tweet. That same day, Tapper deleted the tweet and posted a new one, “Palestinian poet and writer Mosab Abu Toha and his family have been able to leave Gaza”- an ungrievable life, not one worth valuing or preserving clearly. The death of the much-loved poet Refaat Alareer was described by the BBC as “Palestinians mourn controversial writer killed in air strike,” (7) erasing identity, grief, and cause. This was updated later with Alareer’s name amidst much backlash, but with the damning addendum, "While an interviewee who made comments on the Warsaw Ghetto was robustly challenged on air, we agree his comments were offensive and we don't intend to use him again.” Unmournable.
Most of the Western media follow a few unstated rules for reporting on the events in Gaza. (8) Boundaries are defined about what can be reported. Criticism of Israeli action is permitted, but couched in disclaimers of Israel’s right to defend itself but condemnation of Hamas is vital and unequivocal. What preceded the attack of October 7th is irrelevant. Few outlets have bothered to ask how over two million people came to be packed into a tiny strip or discuss the 16-year blockade that has turned the territory into what is widely acknowledged as an open-air prison.(Much of the Indian media follows a similar script, but with a vitriol unique to its Islamophobia and kinship for an Ethno-State).
The reporting on Israel and Gaza tells us more about the journalists themselves and the edifices they come from, than about the events in the region.
On October 17 Al-Ahli Hospital was fired upon. For weeks, western media discourse debated the origins of the artillery. A misfired Hamas rocket was the popular theory, until Israel admitted it had fired on the hospital, and proceeded to level every other medical care facility in the region. The New York Times’ changed headlines— first to “Israeli attack”, then to “attack on the hospital in Gaza”, and finally to “explosion at the hospital in Gaza”—reflect the linguistic gymnastics of passive voice to fix agency, blame and source to point outside the collective conscience. Not to be outdone, the Washington Post described the monstrous discovery of the decayed and mauled bodies of four infants in a Palestinian hospital due to IDF firing as “Four fragile lives found ended”. (9) CNN described the IDF shooting of a civilian as “Video shows man in military fatigues shooting mentally disabled Palestinian in West Bank” (emphasis mine).
This is not new, it has been going on for a long time. In a 2011 study conducted by the Glasgow Media Group on the news broadcasts of the BBC, (10) the differences in the language used by journalists for Israelis and Palestinians was documented. The study found that the BBC used terms such as “atrocity”, “brutal murder”, “mass murder”, “brutal cold-blooded murder”, “lynching” and “massacre” to describe the deaths of Israelis, and that the word “terrorist” was often associated with Palestinians. Any attempt to humanize Palestinians or the Palestinian cause is considered anathema as it would inevitably result recognising the Palestinian plight, or in granting Palestinians full and equal rights, both of which Israel in its current political makeup absolutely refuses to do.
In that same vein, Palestinian journalists referred to as “sources” or “social media influencers” despite their stories researched and backed by evidence (11) (often live despite frequent media blockades and infrequent power supply) and have held up to scrutiny in the last two months far better than western media houses. More than 70 journalists have been killed in attacks described as precise (this number has been updated with every draft of this essay).
Israel’s army admitted that an “immense and complex quantity” (12) of what it calls “friendly fire” incidents took place on 7 October. Citing new data released by the Israeli military, Yoav Zitun wrote: “Casualties fell as a result of friendly fire on October 7, but the IDF believes that … it would not be morally sound to investigate” them. The state exempts itself. The Ynet article also reported that “at least” one fifth of the Israeli army deaths in Gaza since the ground invasion began were also due to “friendly fire” incidents.
“Nothing happens by accident,” a source told the Israeli-based +972 Magazine. “When a 3-year-old girl is killed in a home in Gaza, it’s because someone in the army decided it wasn’t a big deal for her to be killed — that it was a price worth paying in order to hit [another] target. We are not Hamas. These are not random rockets. Everything is intentional. We know exactly how much collateral damage there is in every home.”
These revelations alone should be enough to call for a ceasefire and investigation. Yet the discourse du jour centres itself around questions of allowing anti-zionist protests in American universities or if “from the river to the sea” is a call for the extermination of the state of Israel.
What explains this discordance in reporting? Perhaps along with the natural bias towards a nation which shares much of Western civilisational values is the shadow of the Holocaust. Over the past few decades, Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment have been further fuelled by the US-led “war on terror”, which Israel has used to frame its own conflict with the Palestinians. Journalists, activists, academics have lost their jobs, been doxxed, attacked and even threatened with deportation for airing anti-zionist views. The only recently passed House Resolution 894 states that the official view of the US Congress is that “anti-Zionism is antisemitism.” This is inane, dangerous and a terrifying precedent.
Add to this the editorial myopia that results from mass media firings or sidelining of journalists who are not white or Muslim in 2020. Journalist objectivity has always been a muddy concept, informed by culture, deference to power and the milieu in which we live; a discretionary measure of what to publish, voices to amplify.
The huge demonstrations in support of Palestinians that are happening in Europe and North America contrast widely with the media. If there is a way forward, it is only by confronting cultural-blindspots, deeply retrospecting on the criticisms around journalistic reporting and framing and a degree of self awareness that has been lacking thus far.
1. Despite the lack of evidence, the allegations were reported by The Independent, CNN, Fox News and the New York Post.
2. In November, Avi Mayer, the editor also published an article expelling those who don't support Israel from the Jewish community altogether.
4. Even Mbembe’s original 2003 work on necropolitics makes mention of Palestine,“ Late-modern colonial occupation differs in many ways from early-modern occupation, particularly in its combining of the disciplinary, the biopolitical, and the necropolitical. The most accomplished form of necropower is the contemporary colonial occupation of Palestine”; Achille Mbembe and Libby Meintjes, "Necropolitics," Public Culture, 15.1 (2003), p. 11-40.
5. This is just pure biopower.
6. Hasbara is a public diplomacy technique which links information warfare with the strategic objectives of the Israeli state. Public diplomacy is to be conceived whereby a positive image of Israel is cultivated on the world stage.
7. The controversy in question? He likened the Oct 7 attack to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, a comparison which has also been made by renowned scholar Dr Norman Finkelstein.
8. Kaushik Jayaram has compiled an excellent list of these rules in “Making Sense of the Western Media Bias in the Reporting on Gaza,” The India Forum, 4 December 2023, https://www.theindiaforum.in/politics/making-sense-western-media-bias-reporting-gaza.
9. A gold standard in semantic diffusement would be the 2014 New York Times headline, “Missile at Beachside Gaza Cafe Finds Patrons Poised for World Cup” to describe the obliteration of a cafe in Gaza airing football.
10. And yet the producers of Eretz Nehederet would argue that even this is too favourable.
11. Israel admits the Gaza Health Ministry number of causalities are "fairly accurate" & "more civilians have been killed than Hamas operatives" This is after 60 days of mainstream media relentlessly sowing doubt about these figures.
12. The key declaration was buried in the penultimate paragraph of an article by Yoav Zitun, the military correspondent of Israeli outlet Ynet; Zitun, “One-fifth of troop fatalities in Gaza due to friendly fire or accidents, IDF reports,” 12 December 2023, https://www.ynetnews.com/article/rkjqoobip.