How Israeli teen murders are portrayed in Arabic and Hebrew media

Hebrew and Arabic news outlets differ sharply in their reporting on the three-week kidnapping and Israel’s response. The differences reflect the distrust that exists between the two sides.

Ammar Awad/Reuters
People look at the family home of an alleged abductor after a blast on the top floor in the West Bank City of Hebron, July 1. Troops set off explosions in the family homes of the alleged abductors, blowing open a doorway in one, an army spokeswoman said, while television footage showed the other on fire after the blast.

While thousands of Israelis attended the joint funeral Tuesday of three kidnapped teenagers whose bodies were found in the West Bank, the Israeli Defense Forces launched airstrikes in the Gaza Strip and clashed with Palestinians in the West Bank, killing a 16-year-old boy.

Not surprisingly, Hebrew and Arabic news outlets differ sharply in their reporting on the three-week kidnapping and Israel’s response. The differences reflect the distrust that exists – and highlight the distance needed before sustained peaceful coexistence can be reached.

For Israelis, this tragic event has been portrayed as the kind of terrorist acts the Israeli public should expect from a Fatah-led Palestinian government that includes Hamas. It has been a rallying cry for a military response.

"I know that you will find the murderers, and they will be punished. Israel will act with a firm hand until terror is uprooted," said President Shimon Peres, a once-dovish elder statesman, in his eulogy Tuesday.

For some Palestinians, the kidnapping has been painted as an Israeli plot hatched to undermine the newfound unity government. According to Buzzfeed, the Israeli government was well aware that the boys were dead days before the bodies were found.

In a police phone call from one of the boys — released Tuesday — a gunshot was heard in the background. “We have been operating, for some time now, with evidence that these boys were killed,” an unnamed Israeli officer told Buzfeed. “It is with a heavy heart that we realized we were looking for bodies.”

Israeli networks have displayed wall-to-wall coverage, including images of the three boys’ mothers embracing, addressing the United Nations, and missed families. While television channels broadcast a nation in mourning – from thousands who descended upon today’s funeral to teenagers swaying with candles in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square – few news reports pay attention to the side effects of IDF operations in the Palestinian West Bank.

Hebron – a city of 160,000 Palestinians – has remained under closure for weeks, with thousands of Palestinians unable to work or travel. A former Palestinian minister of economy, Mazen Sinokrot, estimated the financial damage at $10 million daily, according to i24news, a cable news channel. News of the city’s situation has made the back pages of Israel’s newspapers.

Features on the three boys and their families have been printed numerous times, and a revolving door of retired generals and military analysts appear on Israeli television. But few Palestinians have spoken to Israeli television about the disruption to their regular life.

Israel’s most-circulated tabloid, Israel Hayom, has labeled the IDF as “our soldiers” in the news pages. Its editorial section offers column space to an array of right-leaning op-ed columnists, many demanding harsh retribution. Yediot Ahronoth, the mainstream centrist daily, published numerous calls for Israel to crush Hamas, the Islamist movement recognized as a terrorist organization by the United States but which recently joined the pro-Western, Fatah-led Palestinian government.

According to +972 Magazine journalist Mairav Zonszein, the Israeli media has covered the kidnapping to the expense of reporting on the underlying situation in the West Bank.

“Providing this context may be taboo at a time when the entire country is focused on the fate of three kidnapped Israeli teens, but it is part and parcel of the story here,” Zonszein wrote.

Since news broke of the kidnapping, the IDF has detained hundreds of Palestinians in the Hebron area, many unconnected to the kidnapping but members of Hamas.

Some in Hamas view the kidnapping as a pretext for the IDF to undermine Hamas. According to Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, Israel has used the plight of the kidnapped teenagers “to escalate the situation against our people and our resistance, and Hamas in particular,” BBC Monitoring reported.

Until Tuesday’s funeral, some Palestinians expressed skepticism on whether the kidnapping even occurred.

Mahmoud al-Aloul, a senior Fatah member, voiced speculation about the kidnapping on Facebook. “Let’s think well of the growing possibility that all what’s happening is a play that wasn’t produced well and that no one was kidnapped in the first place,” wrote al-Aloul.

On Western media outlets, Israeli figures flooded the airwaves. Within minutes of having announced that the boys’ bodies were found, former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren and current ambassador Ron Dermer appeared on CNN. Today’s funeral was broadcast for much of the day as one of the lead stories.

A number of Palestinian media outlets have faced obstacles in reporting work. Reporters without Borders, a journalism advocacy group, issued a report last week detailing the limitations that Palestinian journalists face.

“In recent years, many Palestinian media organizations have endured military raids, seizures and other repressive actions by the Israeli army,” stated the report.

Last week, the IDF raided a Palestinian cultural publication based in Ramallah, This Week in Palestine, according to Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper. The IDF said that it raided the journal because "incitement materials linked to Hamas were being printed at this place."

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