Palestinian-Arab Media Frames and Stereotypes of Israeli-Jews

By Katy Steele
Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications
2014, Vol. 5 No. 1 | pg. 1/4 |


This study sought to take the pulse on the modern Israeli-Palestinian conflict by analyzing primary sources from online Palestinian news organizations. Thirty articles were selected including editorials, opinion and news analysis pieces. The author categorized them based on six prevalent topics and 18 subtopics, or frames. “Land Rights” emerged as the most prevalent topic, while “dominance,” “inhumane,” “military violence,” and “true victim,” as the top four frames. The study found that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is largely defined in terms of land and territory; violence attributed to the Israeli military generates a stereotype that many Palestinians apply to all Israeli-Jews; and stories attempted to appeal to emotion and evoke sympathy in order to legitimatize the Palestinians’ claim of true victimization.


Tension between Arabs and Jews spans centuries of historical dispute. Today, the tension continues manifested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While territorial dispute is a main source of the tension, other factors should be taken into consideration, including ethnicity, religion, nationalism and psychological implications. Regardless, on both sides of the conflict, Arabs and Israelis are taught to hate each other. This message is engrained into both Israeli and Arab society through a myriad of messages communicated through pop culture, propaganda, education and news media. News outlets play a significant role in shaping public opinion by applying media frames, which use tools such as language, style, structure and images to influence public perception. The tension between Arabs and Jews, particularly the relationship between the State of Israel and the State of Palestine, is sustained and fueled by print media content that perpetuates stereotypes using media frames that demonize and dehumanize the “Other.”

Much research has been conducted in the field of communications studies in regards to the Palestinian- Israeli conflict. Much of this research, however, has either been focused on the use of media framing in mainstream American media, or on the Israeli-Jewish perspective of Arabs. This study hopes to fill a gap in existing literature by examining primary sources from Palestinian media to assess the Palestinian-Arab perspective of Israeli-Jews.

This study focuses on major stereotypes that shape the Palestinian view of Israeli-Jews. Media frames employed in online Palestinian news content, such as editorials, opinion pieces and news analysis articles, were examined to draw connections between Arab stereotypes of Israeli-Jews in the present literature and actual stereotypes in the present conflict. The author analyzed content from three significant Palestinian news sources. She assumed that views expressed in these sources indicate the broader Arab dialogue on the Palestinian issue, and that the content examined does in fact reinforce a stereotype and mentality that demonizes and dehumanizes the Israeli-Jew as “the Other,” ultimately fueling the conflict and straining peacemaking efforts.

Literature Review

Massive amounts of literature on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict exist across a wide range of disciplines. As this study pertains to stereotypes in Israeli-Palestinian culture, the representation of the “Other,” and media framing, this review focused on these three areas that emerged repeatedly throughout the literature reviewed. An understanding of the existing stereotypes held by Palestinian-Arabs, how and why these stereotypes were formed, as well as how the media perpetuate these stereotypes, would provide background, depth and greater understanding of a deeply rooted conflict.

Stereotypes in Israeli-Palestinian culture

The stereotypes that emerge in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are a microcosm for similar stereotypes that are prevalent in the broader clash between Israeli-Jews and Arabs. While the stereotypes held by each side differ, Shipler shows how the stereotypes are ironically similar: Both sides demonize the other as grossly violent. Both Israeli-Jews and Arabs are fighting for the right to claim the role of true victim. And in order to be a victim, Shipler says, “You have to create a picture of the enemy as a huge monster.”1 These stereotypes portraying Israeli-Jews and Arabs have four roots of origin, according to Shipler: (1) the relationship of power, in which Jews hold the upper hand over the minority Arabs in Jewish occupied territories; (2) prejudices visible in classic racism worldwide; (3) traditional anti-Semitism, stemming from Christian Europe; and lastly, (4) the legacy of war and terrorism that has engraved both sides with a sense of mutual fear and contempt.2

The remainder of this section of the literature review will discuss predominant stereotypes that influence Arabs’ perception of Israeli-Jews. An understanding of these stereotypes greatly aided this research by hinting what topics had the potential to emerge as media frames because of these stereotypes.

Stereotypes of Jews

In the Arab world, Shipler notes that stereotypes of Israeli-Jewish violence are often based on real events associated with the Israeli army; in turn, Arabs tend to use the Israeli army as a representation for all Jews. The government in East Jerusalem meticulously monitors Arabic-language newspapers and magazines for any hint of anti-Israeli rhetoric, but beyond the Israeli government’s reach, vehement rhetoric is prolific. It is strongest in areas outside of Israeli jurisdiction; it varies in the attitudes of Arabs living under Israeli occupation; and it is weakest among Israeli-Arabs who are citizens of the State of Israel and often work for Jewish employers.3

Loaded language in Arab media often demonizes Israeli-Jews, not just in news stories, but also in schoolbooks. Palestinian textbooks, which rarely refer to Israelis as “Israelis,” romanticize Palestine and cast the Jewish state as a land of “Zionists,” an ugly term that implies aggression and strips the Jewish people, rhetorically at least, of any legitimate claim to the land.4 The stereotypical view of the Zionist is one of exaggerated aggression, a classic example being the fear of Zionist expansion from “the Nile to the Euphrates,” made infamous in a declaration by Nasser in 1959. These stereotypes are often reinforced in Arab textbooks, which “glorify violence against the Zionist enemy.5

One study concluded that the majority of news content in Palestine is related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It attributed the inclination to the conflict’s colossal impact on Palestinians’ everyday lives and to the constant stream of material the conflict offers to reporters. Palestinian media, Daraghmeh says, reflect an array of political opinions and interests, but they often border on extremism, giving exaggerated reports or repeating fundamentalist beliefs. He observes challenges facing Palestinian journalists: primarily, intense fear to report critically about Palestinian violence in a society that largely believes violence is a justified force. Lastly, he notes that media from each side focus largely on the number of dead the other side has caused them, leading the conflict to spiral downward from a political or territorial war into a war fueled by quasi-personal revenge.6

Seidel agrees that while conflict of religious interests may be a factor at play, he argues that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is much more a secular conflict over territory.7 Another prevailing stereotype is to view Israeli-Jews as alien immigrants, outsiders and trespassers.8 In addition, Jews are often regarded as cold and inhospitable in contrast to traditional Arabs, which adds to tensions that are heightened by language differences and cultural ignorance. Although the trespasser viewpoint disregards Jews’ ancient ties to the Middle East, it draws on contempt for European Jews who are viewed as instruments of Westernization that contaminate Arab purity. Palestinian textbooks and newspapers became fond of the colonizer frame: “How could anyone regard them as rightful residents of the Middle East?” quipped Muham-mad Milhem, mayor of a West Bank village.9 Arab stereotypes of Israeli-Jews do draw on religious contention, which deplores contamination to the House of Islam: “Israel is the cancer, the malignant wound, in the body of Arabism, for which there is no cure but eradication,” declared a 1963 Cairo Radio report.10

There continues to be significant doubt that the Arab world will ever be able to recognize and tolerate Israel as an independent state. In a discussion at the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, several reasons were cited including religious obligation to uphold the House of Islam, opposition to democracy, enmity toward the West, Arabic honor culture, and a view of Israelis as invasive aliens, foreigners and colonizers. These viewpoints do not represent the entire Arab world, but may help shed light on how Arab media frame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.11

Lastly, it should be noted that Israeli-Jews have their own stereotypes of Arabs. The most pervasive stereotype is the Arab as a cruel, violent figure of immense strength and subhuman nature.12 Researchers also conclude that the Israeli press is immensely biased. According to Ala Qeimari, the Israeli press is intent on promoting a higher national cause rather than assuming the principal functions of a free press. He found that stories from Jewish news often lacked adequate coverage of the occupied territories, emphasized acts of violence committed by Palestinians, and generated a public sentiment among Israeli citizens of paranoia, revenge and masochism.13 Of course, on both sides, it should be noted that these stereotypes are not universal, but they are present. Shipler elaborates that:

[T]hey are prevalent enough to infiltrate many levels of discourse, from the mundane conversation to the carefully constructed political analysis, from the graffiti on lavatory walls to the highest-ranking general’s testimony before a Knesset committee. Phrases, epithets, images flicker through the daily lives of Israeli-Jews like stray bullets that whistle and whine and wound.14

Stereotypes and the Creation of “the Other”

Because personal contact between Israeli-Jews and Arabs virtually disappeared when Israel became a state in 1948, the importance of media images is heightened in discussions about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.15 One researcher argued “this kind of research is significant especially in Israel, since the Israeli media is almost the sole information source from which the Israeli population learns about … Arab groups.”16 Often times, media images generate massive stereotypes that are perpetuated by public discourse and groupthink, forming a conceptualization of the “Other” that is based on media images, and not necessarily on reality.

The concept of representation interests researchers, particularly those in the fields of culture and mass communication. Representation is a way that meaning and messages about the world are produced and exchanged to create an “imagined community,”17 which shapes the concept of class, ethnicity, race and nationality, often in an “us” and “them” context.18 Representation formulates not only identities of the self, but stereotypes of the “Other,” which “reduce people to a few, simple, essential characteristics, which are represented as fixed by nature.”19 Often, stereotyping is intensified when there are glaring inequalities of power.20 Intertwined in both the Israeli and the Palestinian narrative is the claim of being “the true victim.” This position is considered so compelling because the true victim is believed to have the right to be “righteously vengeful.”21 This makes it impossible to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict separated from the reality of the Holocaust.

In 1947, with sympathies fresh to the Jewish cause, the United Nations approved a partition of the Mandate of Palestine into two separate states: one Jewish and one Arab. The Israelis therefore coined 1948 as the War of Independence, while the Arabs called it al-Nakba, the disaster. Through the lens of Arabs’ traditional honor-shame culture, Israel’s gains are understood as a massive Arab loss—a loss conceded to a nation that Arabs had viewed as the weakest of all minorities for more than a century.22 Losing to an unworthy opponent causes great humiliation in an honor-shame culture and is the primary reason, Landes argues, that the Arab world refuses to acknowledge the existence of Israel. In short, “the war continues, the defeat goes unregistered, and the hope of restoring ‘face’ for the Arab world, continues to prevail.”23

Melanie Suchet addresses the role of the internal psyche on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She refers to the idea of “otherness” as anything that is not the same and is thus terrifying.24 Suchet, a Jewish therapist, working with Arat, an Arab patient, uses the scenario as a microcosm for the macro conflict of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She analyzes the ways that history imparts itself on personal identity, carrying with it the effect from what psychoanalysts call “traumatic memory.” This occurs when trauma experienced within a people group lingers in survivors and is unconsciously transmitted to following generations. She surmises that this impacts both Holocaust and al-Nabka survivors. In theory, a survival instinct and a fear of annihilation, stayed with the Jews after the Holocaust. The effect was so strong it is thought to have affected many of Israel’s decisions in what Suchet calls a “transfer of the Holocaust situation on to the Middle East reality.”25 Thus, the Zionist movement carried with it a dream to reinvent Jewish identity, to be cast in the opposite role of victims: the role of the powerful.

Those claiming citizenship in Israel had particularly intimate scars from the Holocaust: about one-third of Israelis at the end of 1949 were Holocaust survivors. For Palestinians, the victimization began with the partition of the Palestinian Mandate, which forced 711,000 Palestinian Arabs to flee their homes.26 Hence in the historical narrative of the Palestinians, Israelis were not victims to sympathize with, but the cause of great suffering. Lindholm-Schulz argues that the overarching trauma of the Palestinian “diasporisation” is the crucial commonality that links Palestinians together as they try to regain control over their own historical narrative.27

Pre-1948 Palestine, in fact, has been effectually erased with remarks such as Golda Meir’s infamous declaration in 1967 that “there is no such thing as a Palestinian.”28 Beverly Butler, quoting scholar Edward Said, asserts that it is precisely this urgent need to reclaim the past that drives the Palestinian cause.29 While both survivors of the Holocaust and displaced Palestinians have claims to exile status, it is, Said noted, “the Zionist identification with the ‘proverbial people of exile’ that has dominated archival discourse.”30 In the Israeli historical narrative the Nakba is the Palestinians’ problem: “part of ‘their’ story, a result of their own errors, missed opportunities and weakness.”31 Discounting the historical narrative of the “Other” encourages a focus on self and exacerbates the separation between the two cultures.

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