In unprecedented numbers, people around the world are standing in support of Palestine. Thousands in cities across America, Germany, and the U.K. are taking to the streets to protest Israel’s displacement of Palestinians. This is a stark contrast from decades of rampant Western pro-Israel or neutral sentiments. So who do we have to thank for finally waking the world up to realities of ongoing settler colonialism? Well, it’s not Western journalism.
It’s young people with cell phones.
“If you really want to know the differences of what’s going on, go to Snap Map and see for yourself,” reads a viral TikTok via the automated voice of Siri. The video, posted by @obeysyed, follows a screen recording from the user, who swipes through Snaps of people in Tel Aviv—they’re brunching, lounging on the beach, and basking in the sounds of birds chirping merrily—and then he clicks on Gaza. The rubble of decimated buildings haunts the cheerful bold blue lettering of the geotag sticker. The sounds of ambulances blare through the streets. Footage of buildings smoking from air strikes fill the feed.
Since the TikTok dropped, Siri’s been reporting live from the streets of Israel and Palestine in what is now a TikTok trend: users open their Snap Map to see what’s happening for themselves. But people wouldn’t have needed to turn to Snapchat for “the truth” if the coverage of the violence against Palestinians from America’s top-selling newspapers—ones like The New York Times or The Washington Post—were reporting accurately, fairly, and truthfully.
For years, the West has harmfully misrepresented the forceful displacement of Palestinatians. The proof is in the language: instead of calling the apartheid what it is, Western media has swept these atrocities under vague umbrealla terms like “conflict,” “clashes,” or, as Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it, “real-estate dispute.” In doing so, the West mitigates years of Palestinian struggle, concealing settler colonalism under a guise of landlord and renter disagreements.
Headlines, especially from world-regarded newspapers, further paint the power imbalance between the countries inaccurately. The NYT recently published an article titled “More Than 30 Dead In Gaza and Israel as Fighting Quickly Escalates,” suggesting that deaths have been split at least somewhat evenly between the two. Yet, as the article goes on to describe, Palestine had actually seen 35 deaths compared to Israel’s five. Another article by The NYT, “Evictions In Jerusalem Become Focus Of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” blatantly disregards the historical context of settler colonialism in both its headline and body of work. Misreporting headlines can range from disguising genocide, like The Washington Post’s “How a Jerusalem Neighborhood Reignited The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” to not-so-subtly painting colonizers in a self-defensive light, like the NBC News headline “Weary Israelis endure more Hamas rocket barrage.” The latter is particularly misleading, as the headline fails to account for Israel’s iron dome missile defense, air-strike warning system, and bomb shelter-equipped buildings. While the article later mentions these, it does not speak to how Palestine remains drastically unequipped to handle attacks in comparison.
Journalists who write in support of Palestine—or at the very least, use fair and accurate terms to depict fights against imperialism—do so at the risk of their career. Emily Wilder, a 22-year-old reporter, was recently terminated by The Associated Press (AP) after conservatives embarked on a smear campaign, dramatizing her old pro-Palestine tweets to paint her as anti-Semitic. Rather than standing in support of their staffer, AP fired her, citing a vague violation of social media guidelines as justification, and thus coming under criticism for not protecting their journalist. Wilder is only the latest writer to be shut down for speaking up for Palestinian rights; Norman Finkelstein was denied tenure and blacklisted after publishing books about Palestine, Marc L. Hill was fired from CNN in 2018 after criticizing Israel, and Cornel West was denied tenure from Harvard for his pro-Palestine advocacy.
Clearly, loyalty to writers and scholars is a foreign concept to academic and media institutions. The same cannot be said of Twitter, though. Mohammed El-Kurd, for instance, is a young Palestinian whose tweets about Israel garnered him international attention and cable TV appearances this year. When a video of him being arrested by Israeli forces circulated the internet, his 167,000 followers panicked. Later, after updating his following that he was alive, El-Kurd told Democracy Now, “Thank God for social media, because it appears to me that the world is finally waking up to the fact that Israel is an apartheid state and it treats Palestinians with such dehumanization. It treats Palestinians the way colonizers treat the colonized.”
Snapchat Map aside, the rise of Palestinian reporting in some ways owes its dues to Instagram and TikTok. Grassroots and nonprofit social media accounts are debunking the myths that the U.S. media has so aggressively tried to propagate by calling out faulty reporting and sharing testimonials from Palestinians. One post from the Instagram @arabicwords_0 corrects language used to talk about Israel-Palestine: “Israel’s right to self-defense” becomes “state-sanctioned terrorism”; “tensions” turn into “ethnic cleansing.” Many accounts also highlight Western media bias by creating posts that fix their headlines. Jewish Voice for Peace shared a graphic of a NYT headline that reads “Israelis and Palestinians Clash Around Jerusalem’s Old City,” changing it to “Israelis Go on Armed Anti-Palestinian Rampage.”
Social media activism does what U.S. journalism can’t—or won’t—do. And these internet advocates have the freedom to do so because they are unbeholden to the Western political media complex. Considering the American government has a vested monetary interest in the success of Israel’s plans for ethnic cleansing, it is no coincidence that its press is similarly tied up in constructing a narrative defending Israel. As much as we may like to think that we live in a country where the First Amendment protects our newsrooms from pushing political propaganda, this slew of misreporting proves this to be another myth we foolishly believe.
If online activism turned the tide toward Palestine, then it also laidbare journalism’s orientalizing project. Gone are the days when the press acted as a watchdog against the government. Now, young people with cell phones are holding these governments and newsrooms accountable—but they shouldn’t have to. The growing need to fact-check the press begs the question: just how far has Western journalism become entrenched in the pockets of corporate interests? When news sites fall prey to the whims of the government, are we okay with social media being the only vanguard against unethical and harmful reporting?
By Kelly Pau
Photo by Nahwand Jaff