Violence in Israel—how bad is it, really?

Oct 28, 2015 | Israeli Politics, Jerusalem

“This is the worst situation Israel has faced in decades,” said a worried and angry friend, repeating an assessment he’d heard. That was a few hours after I arrived in Baltimore straight from the “front” in Israel, where Palestinians have attacked dozens of Israelis, mostly in knife attacks, over the past several weeks.

His grim view is a reflection of the agony inflicted on supporters of Israel in North America with their perception of tendentious and one-sided media coverage of the Palestinian attacks.

NYT JpostWestern reporting of the violence has tended toward treating the murderers and Israel’s response to their attacks as morally equal, playing up the suffering of the Palestinians and all but ignoring the Jewish victims. Local Israeli news coverage, on the other hand, concentrates on the targets of the Palestinian terrorists.


Here’s a typical contrast: On the same day, a front page headline in the international edition of the New York Times read, “Sense of despair in East Jerusalem,” where Palestinians live, while the Jerusalem Post led with “Rash of Palestinian stabbing attempts continues over weekend.

Los Angeles Times

It’s an extension of the decades-long identification of the West and its media with any side that appears to be the underdog—in this case, the Palestinians. So anything that doesn’t fit into that box doesn’t get into the paper or on the air. It’s not even intentional at this point—it’s automatic. The Los Angeles Times somehow came up with this headline: “Four Palestinian teens are killed in Israeli violence.”

photo spread

A photo spread on CNN’s website, with 16 pictures—all except one showing grieving or wounded Palestinians, while the only one clearly of a Jew showed him menacing a Palestinian woman.

So no wonder that Jews over here in America seem to feel as threatened as Jews in Israel. In Israel, it’s not justified, at least not yet. It could develop into something more dangerous and, to some extent, that depends on how Israel responds. At this point it remains largely a matter of individual attacks by young Palestinians, spurred on by incitement from their leaders—including Israeli Arab leaders—as well as the wave of Islamic extremism washing over the region and decades of Palestinians blaming Israel for everything that’s wrong with their lives.

Let’s be clear. This is far from the worst wave of violence Israel has had to deal with, even in this century. It’s not a “third intifada.” It’s not a threat to the existence of the Jewish state. It’s not a reason for people to cancel trips to Israel, and it’s not a reason for Israelis to stay off the streets or stop riding buses. Though some Israelis are showing that level of fear, most are just stepping up their vigilance while going about their regular daily lives—the right response under the circumstances.

Perspective—since 1987, there have been two bloody Palestinian “intifada” uprisings, a Gulf war that involved Israel, a war in Lebanon and two in Gaza. Thousands of rockets fell in Israel.

Let’s examine the “third intifada” image. References to the past are the standard human way of dealing with troubling events of the present. That said, a wave of stabbing attacks amounts to much, much less than the two Palestinian uprisings.

As a radio correspondent, I was on the scene of the Palestinian atrocities of those two uprisings. I walked through the rubble of blown-up restaurants. I picked my way through the smoking skeletons of Jerusalem buses hit by suicide bombers. Thousands died in those two conflicts.

As of now, about a dozen Israelis and two dozen Palestinians have been killed in a wave of violence that has centered mostly on Jerusalem. A few days before flying to the US, I was on an Israeli TV news program talking about media coverage, and the two anchors did what I have done so often that my wife covers her ears—they compared the death toll from the terrorist attacks to the death toll on Israel’s highways during the same period. At that time, it was terrorists: 12; highways: 19.

And, here in Baltimore, 213 people were murdered in the first eight months of 2015. Perspective.

So while one can ask why the media coverage of Israeli-Palestinian violence is so one-sided, one can also ask why there’s much coverage at all.

Indeed, much of the criticism is over the lack of reporting about Israelis who have been attacked. It does appear that there is less coverage of this wave of violence than there has been in the past. That is easily explainable by the fact that there is a much larger and more important story developing in the Mideast—Syria, with its millions of refugees, hundreds of thousands of dead and active Russian involvement—not to mention that there’s a Presidential campaign underway in the US, soaking up much media attention.

That leaves less room in the media for the usual out-of-proportion obsession with Israel and the Palestinians.

And, considering the record of Western media when dealing with the Israel-Palestinian issue over the past two decades, that’s probably a good thing.

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