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Since September of 2015, there have been many terrorist attacks in Israel. However, the vast majority of the casualties have been Palestinian. That’s because many times, the Palestinian attackers are basically on suicide missions. They attack soldiers and police. Many of the civilians they attack carry weapons. It is not surprising that there are so many Palestinian casualties.

Yet it would be false to draw the conclusion that the lopsided number of casualties means that Israel is using disproportionate force. Israel should not be blamed for doing an effective job defending against terrorism.

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That is why context is so important. The casual reader of the news will get one impression from reading that 200 Palestinians and 40 Israelis have been killed in violence. It is quite another to understand that 200 Palestinian terrorists (or even “attackers”) have been killed.

It is not enough to say that “Israel claims most of the Palestinians were attackers.” Because when the next sentence is that this claim has been disputed,  the reader will not know whom to believe.

It may be that at the very time of an attack, the details are unclear. But in the days, weeks, and months after an attack, reporters have every means of investigating these incidents for themselves. If they find evidence that supports either side’s claims, then they should say so. If  there is eyewitness, video, and physical evidence, let the reporters say that the majority of Palestinian deaths were because Israelis defended themselves.

Because the wording of many articles leaves readers without a clear picture of what is happening. The following example is from an Associated Press article “Truck Attack Kills 4 Israeli Solders in Jerusalem.”

Since September 2015, Palestinian attackers have killed 40 Israelis and two visiting Americans in knifings, shootings and car rammings. During that time, 230 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire.

Israel says most of the Palestinians killed over the past 16 months were attackers. The Palestinians and rights groups say Israel has at times used excessive force.

On the one side, we have “Israel says” supporting the claim that most of the Palestinians were attackers. On the other side we have “Palestinians and rights groups.” Who are these “rights groups?” Where is the truth?

It would be better if the AP investigated and determined whether the Israeli claim is true and then said so.  Journalism should never be left to reporting what people say and then leaving it to the reader to guess who is telling the truth.

More Context on Jerusalem Needed

The same article has a reference to Jerusalem.

Israel claims the entire city as its capital. The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as the capital of a future state. Israel has annexed the eastern sector, home to the Old City and sensitive holy sites, and says it will never allow the city to be divided.

At least one sentence could explain to readers why Israel claims the city as its capital and why it was captured in 1967. Otherwise, the above information is biased against the Israeli perspective.

Jerusalem has been the center of the Jewish religion for thousands of years. It is the spiritual, historical, and political capital of Israel. The lack of international recognition does not alter the fact that today the Israeli government functions from the city.

It was reunified in a defensive war. This is also a fact. Israel says that the city will never be divided again because the last time it was split in two, the Jewish community was destroyed.

Both the reporting of casualties and the context of Jerusalem are elements of style that get repeated so often, readers will assume their veracity. But that is why it is so important to try and improve this “background” material that filters the way the public reads the news.

Read more at The Center for Analyzing Media Coverage of Israel.

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