Israeli war on Gaza: US media 'otherises' Palestinians

Nevine Khalil, Sunday 12 Nov 2023

Rummana Hussain, an editorial board member and columnist at The Chicago Sun-Times, describes how the US media coverage of the Israeli war on Gaza has "otherised" Palestinians.

Civilians and rescuers look for survivors amid the rubble of a destroyed building following an Israeli bombardment in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on November 12, 2023. AFP


In the second discussion of a six-part series about the war on Gaza, Interfaith Action of Southwest Michigan ( invited Rummana Hussain to talk about media coverage of the war and what the newsroom has looked like for the past month.

“At first, there was a deafening silence about the victims on the Palestinian side,” Hussain, a Muslim American journalist, told her audience on 9 November.

“We have been ‘otherised’ for a very very long time,” she said.

“We don’t get the same treatment as other victims. This has been a really big frustration,” Hussain added.

She noted that although it is a lot better than 15-20 years ago, coverage in the media remains lopsided. Hussain explained that after the Al-Aqsa operation in Israel, there were many stories in her newspaper about how the local Jewish community was feeling, but not much about Palestinians.

Although Chicago likely has the largest population of Palestinians outside of Palestine, “we barely saw any stories talking to Palestinian Americans about how they are feeling, and how they are dealing with their losses,” she said.

The newspaper is more focused on local issues in Chicago and how the community is impacted by events overseas. Hussain wants to hear more Palestinian voices because of their large presence in the area. “I don’t think we’re doing a sufficient job,” she said.

Hussain recounted that she and two colleagues, one of Lebanese and the other of Palestinian descent, talked to the newsroom bosses urging them that there needs to be coverage of the Palestinians.

“Palestinians are not given the same voice,” she said, “but we are talking to our management and pointing out things that are either unfair or skewed. We have had robust conversations.”

Hussain and her colleagues succeeded in having a story published about a Palestinian family that lost over 30 members in the Israeli bombardment, changed captions that painted pro-Palestinian rallies as pro-Hamas protests, and invited more Palestinians to write op-eds.

“I want to keep the conversation going and productive,” she said, adding that now some reporters are asking her to look over their copy before it goes to print.

“It’s a lot of extra work and exhausting to make sure that the Palestinian voices don’t get lost,” Hussain said. “People should already know that Palestinians are Americans too, that Muslims are Americans too, and that they are affected by what happened.”

Another disparity, according to Hussain, is how victims are portrayed. “Victims who aren’t Muslim or Palestinian are humanised, but Palestinians are just faceless people who don’t have lives,” she said. “We also need to double-check sources, whether officials or otherwise.”

The Interfaith Action audience was also shown a short video clip of solemn media they are unlikely to come across in US mainstream media, including a clip of Dr. Tanya Haj-Hassan, pediatric intensive care doctor with Doctors Without Borders, describing the “avalanche of human suffering” in Gaza.

Dr. Haj-Hassan also told of a new acronym that is unique to the Gaza Strip: WCNSF (Wounded Child No Surviving Family) which was coined during the ongoing war on Gaza.

Larry Feldman, one of the co-moderators of the Interfaith Action series, disagreed that the coverage in the media is biased against Palestinians. “The only thing I have been hearing for many weeks now is about civilian Palestinians being killed in Gaza,” said Feldman. “What’s happening in Gaza is terrible, but how quickly the media stopped talking about 7 October. Israel was attacked and is still being attacked. Terrible things are happening to both Palestinians and Israelis, and we need to be cognizant of that.”

Hussain concluded: “What is happening in the Middle East is devastating and discussions need to be had, and this is not something that is going away any time soon.”

The virtual series, held every Thursday, is open for anyone to join from anywhere in the world. The next discussion is on 16 November, titled “The right to live: displacement, settlements and right of return,” and will be led by Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation of Middle East Peace.

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