I am heartbroken, as both a Palestinian – the daughter of refugees, whose family is from Safad, Akka, Haifa and Nazarath in historic Palestine – and as a former Australian newsroom journalist, to see the media fail to act with integrity and honesty and to uphold the truth.
I’ve been watching the events unfold, feeling helpless – a helplessness compounded by the poor, biased media coverage from mainstream, commercial Australian media outlets, including those I worked at. This past fortnight, we have all been watching the dispossession of Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah, and when finally the news was reported, after the silence, it was referred to as ‘clashes’. That’s the word used by our media to describe the forced evictions of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem, by illegal Israeli settlers and Israeli forces: “clashes”.
“Clashes” “conflict” “complicated” — using any of those c words to describe the ethnic cleansing and land theft of Palestine makes you a cunt— Jennine #SaveSheikhJarrah (@jennineak) May 13, 2021
The mainstream media would have you believe that stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets that killed and injured peaceful Muslim worshippers – during the holy month of Ramadan – in Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque were “clashes”. That the current bombardment and airstrikes by the Israel Defence Force on the civilian Palestinian population in Gaza – which have killed over 200 people, including 60 children – are “clashes” and “tensions”. That Israeli settlers murdering Palestinians on the streets protesting for their right to remain are “clashes”. That it’s complicated, complicated, complicated. Of course, any unbeknownst viewer would think it was complicated when reporters offer you a description that defies logic, and commentary that doesn’t match footage. Of course it will all seem “complicated”, because it just doesn’t make any sense.
But the situation in Palestine is not “complicated”. I swear to god, it’s not. Yet there are few struggles, certainly within the English-speaking world, that are more greatly misunderstood. There is a false equivalency perpetuated by media outlets, framing the non-consensual relationship between occupier and occupied as an equal war or conflict.
And I’m not alone in thinking it; more than 20,000 people have signed an open letter to the ABC to do better on its reporting of the conflict. Almost 700 media workers, journalists, writers and commentators from Australia have signed this open letter asking editors and publishers to make space for Palestinian voices when it comes to coverage.
This is an ongoing Nakba, a continuation of the Catastrophe of 1948. I watched a video last week where Israeli mobs tried breaking into a Palestinian home in Haifa – where my maternal grandmother’s family is from – while the terrified family fought back, pushing to close the front door on them, as the children hid and screamed. It was as if I was watching what happened to my grandparents and great-grandparents 73 years ago, when Zionist militias including Stern Gang, Irgun and Haganah massacred and ethnically cleansed Palestinian towns and cities. Many Palestinians, like my family, were exiled or fled to safety as refugees in neighbouring countries, expecting to return. Keeping the titles to their land. Keeping their keys. But they were never allowed back.
There is a disproportionate fixation on Palestinian resistance to Israeli crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution, and it is largely fuelled by racist, orientalist tropes of Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslims (it’s all the same to some) as barbaric, and people who hate life and their children. Our legitimate struggles against daily terror are meaningless to many. It’s hard to sympathise with the backward Arab when they’re up against the enlightened European settler-colonial project and a so-called ‘democracy’.
There is also something insidious and deeply rotten taking place inside Australian newsrooms. There is a culture of fear and capitulation when it comes to covering the facts on the ground in Palestine. Pro-Israel lobby groups in Australia are organised and routinely lobby editors and journalists to remain silent on the Palestine question.
I have experienced intimidation and threats for simply existing as a Palestinian in a newsroom by pro-Israel lobbyists. From the age of 22, lobbyists were meeting with my editors and making complaints to discuss the issue of… me. Solid stories I covered or if I dared to retweet the news in Palestine on my personal account upset them, and were met with gross, weaponised charges of anti-Semitism. This followed me throughout my journalistic career, and then I decided the agony, the fear, the tiptoeing just wasn’t worth it anymore. I suppose they won. They wore down a young Palestinian woman.
It is not antisemitic to believe that what Israel is doing to Palestinians is wrong. It is not antisemitic to believe that Palestinians have a right to safety, self-determination, clean water, free movement, their homes. It is not antisemitic to care about Palestine.— Dženana Vucic (@dzenanabanana) May 13, 2021
This harassment has been well-documented, and even explored in the books of former ABC Middle East correspondents, like Sophie McNeill’s We Can’t Say We Didn’t Know and John Lyon’s Balcony Over Jerusalem.
In the past week, dozens of journalists have confidentially come forward with similar experiences. They’re told not to cover stories because it’s too “complicated”. They’re implicitly threatened by management to steer away, following onslaughts of complaints by many of these groups. They’ve had stories heavily edited to read more favourably to Israel across all news outlets. They’re terrified because of the onslaught of complaints and harassment they get from lobbyists.
So, where do we go from here? What do we do with this knowledge? Will Australian news outlets continue to capitulate? Will they continue to report IDF press releases as news? And dehumanise Palestinians, erase our history and agency, and mislead the public with their language?
There’s been a growing push from within Australian newsrooms to change their approach on Palestine to ensure fairness and accuracy, instead of churning out the usual pro-Israel talking points and absurd euphemisms. It’s just up to management to listen. It’s management who are scared shitless of the phone calls they’ll receive. So they tiptoe. And their tiptoeing is killing people. It is stopping my family of refugees from ever returning.
But the tide is turning, and people aren’t afraid to utter the word Palestine anymore, when they once feared that it would destroy their careers by the wrath of those who want to silence us. For Palestinians like me, we’ve never had the choice to ignore it.
Jennine Khalik is a former newsroom journalist with more than eight years experience, who has worked for News Corp Australia, the ABC and Crikey. You can follow her on Twitter here.