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International Crimes, International Headlines – Comparing MH17 and Gaza

Die-In Protest July 16 2014

Today, global audiences are reeling from the devastation of two international crimes.* One involves the downed MH17 jet, and its 299 passengers, the other the besieged residents of Gaza, of which 250+ have died under a hail of Israeli bombs and bullets.

Yet these two tragedies, both of the greatest moral gravity, have passed through two very different interpretive lenses within the media – a snap survey of headlines in the British press tells a lamentable tale of bias in the extreme.

To begin at the most progressive end of the spectrum, on The Guardian’s front page** we see the headline ‘MH17: fury at Russia as world demands answers over downed civilian jet’.  Below that is a dispatch from the US, ‘Hillary Clinton points finger at Russia and rebels’.

In our arid media terrain it is almost unimaginable that even a progressive broadsheet would lead with the title ‘Gaza: fury at Israel as world demands answers over 250 civilian deaths’, much less would we expect to see, ‘Hillary Clinton points finger at Israel and IDF’. Yet of course, were balance to be a word we treated with even the remotest respect, these should be the headlines.

The Guardian’s actual lead piece on the Gaza crisis is devoid of the moral and adversarial idiom that punctuates its MH17 coverage – all we get is, ‘Israel launches ground invasion of Gaza’.

Moving across the political spectrum to The Times, their live feed leads the coverage with the headline, ‘MH17 live: transcripts incriminate rebels’. Below the live feed is the day’s lead, ‘Slaughter as jet is shot down over Ukraine’.  When it comes to Gaza, on the other hand, we get a sanitised, ‘Israel steps up ground invasion of Gaza’. There is nothing in this headline to suggest this is either a crime, or the grave human toll exacted thus far.

Not to be outdone by its rivals, The Telegraph has formulated perhaps the most incredulous headline of the day for the Gaza crisis. Embossed on their front page is the caption: ‘Israeli soldier killed as Gaza ground invasion against Hamas begins’.

Incredibly, it is the Daily Mail who offers something resembling morally equivalent titles.

For the MH17 disaster, the lead headline reads: ‘The tragic victims of Flight MH17: First pictures of passengers who perished on plane blown out of the sky above Ukraine’. For Gaza, it is: ‘Running for their lives: Haunting images capture tragic last moments of four Plaestinian boys – seconds before an Israeli shell wiped them out on Gaza beach’.

Of course, were we to quiz the reporters and editors about the faux-neutrality employed to report on Gaza, we will in all likeliness receive the predictable justifications that have  been deployed in the past. ‘We just report the facts’, ‘I am not an international lawyer I cant say this is an international crime’, etc etc. Yet when a tragedy like the MH17 disaster occurs, the lie is revealed – here few in the press core are observing the same rules of faux-neutrality.

When innocent people are killed en masse, like in the Ukraine, journalists rightly condemn the offenders, report the evidence, and express sympathy with the victims. Except, when the victims are Palestinians, and except when the offender is the Israel state.

ISCI’s recent research on forced evictions in Israel-Palestine can be accessed here.

* This is based on preliminary accounts that flight MH17 was shot down by a surface to air missile.

**Front page here refers to the digital editions.

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