conflict & communication online, Vol. 13, No. 2, 2014
ISSN 1618-0747




Wilhelm Kempf & Dov Shinar (Eds.) (2014). The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: War Coverage and Peace Journalism. Berlin: regener

The escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in summer 2014 proved once again: This long-lasting cultural conflict is marked by the deep-rooted hostility of the conflict parties towards each other and escalating human rights violations that cannot be stopped merely by signing a peace agreement (Shinar, 2014: 65). Yet, in times of conflict escalation and widespread outbreaks of violence, especially against civilian populations, even a minor peace initiative is extremely welcome. In such times, journalists face the problem of maintaining an objective, critical stance toward the behavior of all conflict parties and avoiding biased or one-sided reporting. The reporters of the Middle East conflict are additionally challenged by the problem that even justified criticism of Israeli military actions can fan the flames of existing anti-Semitic prejudices and stereotypes, thus inciting or reinforcing hostility and/or violence towards Jewish people in other parts of the world (Kempf and Shinar, 2014: 15). On the other side, latent as well as manifest anti-Semitic attitudes can also be reinforced if the media take an uncritical position towards Israeli military actions against the Palestinians (Mauer and Kempf, 2014: 187). In light of these issues, the editors and chapter authors of this volume decided to take a retrospective look at Israeli-Palestinian war coverage and peace journalism, analyze the conflict reporting in selected media sources in Israel, the USA, Canada and Germany, as well as test the impact of manipulated media constructs on different audiences’ perceptions of the conflict. Organized in five sections, this volume includes fifteen essays, research articles and experimental studies.
The first section of the volume provides a solid theoretical foundation on media war and peace discourses, with a focus on the role of media in escalating conflicts. Starting with reflections on media war coverage, Dov Shinar (chapter 1) offers a wide range of examples that support his argument that the preference for conflict is a central aspect in the media’s institutional DNA. Constrained by professional, economic and political environments that exist in both totalitarian regimes and open, democratic societies, journalists face a number of dissonant dimensions and dilemmas with far-reaching implications for conflict coverage and its further development. There were numerous cover-ups of how hired PR agencies disseminated inaccurate news reports to persuade Americans to favor military operations in Iraq. This is a vivid illustration of how media coverage can become a driving force for conflict escalation. To deconstruct war discourses and construct peace discourses, Shinar urges a paradigm shift away from explosion-like coverage towards a cumulative process-oriented reportage. In chapter 2, Wilhelm Kempf presents a discourse on peace journalism with a focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, from both theoretical and empirical perspectives. A pioneer in peace journalism studies, Kempf deals with the questions of how to redefine peace journalism, why the media should give peace journalism a chance, and how to practice peace journalism. Drawing on empirical findings, Kempf explains why and how the German public and media frame this conflict as they do, as well as how the German public comes to terms with these media frames. Finally, Shinar (chapter 3) examines the constraints on media peace discourses during various conflicts and focuses on certain paradigmatic frameworks found by media research that explain the different styles and contents of peace journalism.
The second section of the book contains four articles on the coverage of selected aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Israeli media. Dov Shinar (chapter 4) explains the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a cultural conflict and analyzes the role of media during the failed 2000 reconciliation process. He argues that Israeli media used the reporting practices of polarization and contrast of conflict events, while they also tried to raise hopes of conflict reconciliation. Consequently, they could not explain the violence that accompanied the “now defunct Oslo agreement” and put it in the context of the deep cultural aspects of the conflict. The media should have adopted and promoted the model of conflict transformation, which is more appropriate for managing cultural conflicts. Because it is less attractive for media producers and consumers than the model of conflict reconciliation, they failed to encourage public debate on peacemaking under constraining cultural conditions. In chapter 5, Lea Mandelzis explores the changing image of Yasser Arafat and the PLO from bloodthirsty terrorists and enemies who were mainly ignored in the media during the pre-Oslo period, to the representatives of the Palestinian nation and “legitimized partners for peace” during the post-Oslo period (p. 84). Based on a systematic quantitative assessment, Mandelzis explores the course of this transformation and concludes that the analyzed newspapers merely reproduced and legitimized different political attitudes during these periods without bringing about profound changes in traditional perceptions of the Palestinians as enemies. Changes in the political, social and media environments and their impact on the coverage of Arab citizens in Israel were examined by Anat First and Eli Abraham (chapter 6) in their quantitative and qualitative analyses of 388 newspaper items on the events surrounding Land Day in March 1976 and the Al Aksa Intifada in October 2000. Analyzing the depiction of the Israeli Arab ethnic minority during two periods in two Israeli newspapers – Yedioth Ahronoth and Haaretz –, the authors describe the significant changes that have occurred in Israeli society since 1976. Along with these changes, they track a transformation of the presentation of the “others” in Israeli media, which is becoming less clear-cut over time. Although the distinction between “us” and “them” persists in Israeli media, the positive tendency found by First and Abraham is encouraging. Would this trend continue in the 21st century? How would Israeli Arabs, the “other” in Israeli society, be represented in news reports on the different types of national conflict? Would there be a difference in the coverage of Israeli Arabs in normal times, i.e., between or after conflict events? These research questions are addressed by Anat First in chapter 7. As implied by the article’s title – “Enemies, fellow victims, or the forgotten?” –, According to First, there was a decline in the visibility of Israeli Arabs in the media since 2000, and “one can find an Arab in reality shows or even in drama …, but not in the news or on commentary shows” (p. 129).
The third section of the book is dedicated to the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in US and Canadian media. Susan Dente Ross examined the framing of the conflict in 13 months of New York Times editorials (N=34) surrounding the attacks of September 11, 2001 (chapter 8). While Ross found a variety of frames that were applied to present the conflict, she concluded that the New York Times editorials embraced US policy positions on the conflict as a distant conflict, one that does not directly threaten the USA and is still fairly unimportant, due to the decades-old American support of Israel. Not supported by this study was the assumption that following September 11 there would be more editorial commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as against terrorism. In the study by Bruno Baltonado et al. (chapter 9), the researchers examined the official discourses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in US and Canadian official and media discourses during several events in the Middle East in 2005/2006, such as presidential elections/the death of Yasser Arafat and parliamentary elections/Hamas’ rise to power. Describing the asserted fundamental cultural differences, as well as increasingly chilly relationships between the US and Canada after the terror attacks of September 11, the authors hypothesized that there would be broad national differences in their official and media discourses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Identifying a total of five media frames – Israeli benevolence, Palestinian opportunity, Palestinian failure, Palestinians as a future threat, and justification of Israeli actions – the researchers found “a strongly consistent set of discourses across three political events, in two different papers, and in the discourse of the political elites in both countries” and rejected their hypothesis (p. 159).
In the fourth section of the volume, studies by Markus Mauer and Wilhelm Kempf (chapter 10), as well as by Felix Gaisbauer (chapter 11), examine the coverage of the Second Intifada and the Gaza War in five German quality newspapers. Based on the same representative sample of 396 randomly selected news texts, the researchers tested whether the German press could be responsible for the documented tendency toward increasing anti-Semitic sentiments in the German public, which was believed to be evoked by the biased anti-Israeli reportage of the Middle East conflict in Germany. While Mauer and Kempf content-analyzed the news texts in regard to the behavior, intentions, actions and victims of the conflict parties, Gaisbauer focused specifically on the representations of the victimization and responsibility of Israel and Palestine during these two conflicts. Although the German quality press “maintained a uniform distance from both conflict parties and attempted to make clear the pluralism of both societies,” the reportage about the Israelis was more frequent and more favorable than that about the Palestinians (Mauer and Kempf, p. 186). Comparing and contrasting the identified patterns of coverage of the Israeli and Palestinian sides during these two conflicts, Mauer and Kempf propose the following explanation: If the German press was to blame for the rising latent as well as manifest anti-Semitic sentiments that were expressed in statements negatively mentioning the press such as, respectively: “One (the German press) is not allowed to say what one really thinks about the Jews,” and “International Jewry has a firm grip on the German press and dictates how it has to report,” this could be because the unfavorable reportage situation for Israel, especially during the Gaza War, was countered by favorable coverage of Israel in the German press. Complementing the findings of Mauer and Kempf, Gaisbauer reports on how the victim and perpetrator roles shifted from one conflict party to the other during these two conflicts. Thus, while Israel was portrayed as a victim during the Second Intifada and Palestine during the Gaza War, the Palestinians were clearly represented as the aggressor during both conflicts. Finding no statistically significant connections among the identified coverage frames of different newspapers during two conflicts, the researchers suggested that the German press merely reported the events simultaneously but without specific partisan publication strategies (p. 219).
The final section of the volume presents four experimental studies that examine recipients’ reactions to manipulated news articles related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In these studies, the researchers worked with the concept of framing, which allowed formulating specific narratives with various cognitive and emotional dimensions, and tested how readers comprehend and react to different frames. Samuel Peleg and Eitan Alimi (chapter 12) and Wilhelm Kempf (chapter 13) reported their findings on the pre-tests they conducted with Israeli and German students respectively as part of a forthcoming cross-cultural analysis of media influence on recipients’ perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Peleg and Alimi examined frames that favor or disfavor the possibility of an independent Palestinian state and confirmed that recipients exposed to structured framed texts recalled the texts better, were more assertive and had a clearer understanding during the comprehension test than readers exposed to unstructured texts without a specific frame. In regard to the influence of the differently framed texts on readers’ perceptions of the possibility of creating a Palestinian state, the researchers found some, although weak, evidence. This finding was attributed to the fact that the existence of a Palestinian state is a critical issue in the minds of many Israelis, which makes it difficult to change prior opinions with only one round of reading framed texts. Replicating this study without modifying its design and instruments, Kempf focused on the questions of whether Palestinian territorial continuity threatens Israel and whether or not the essence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is religious. Focusing specifically on the influence of media frames on readers’ perceptions, and taking into account their mental models, Kempf found inter alia, that “participants’ a priori mental models [if they have formed any mental models of the conflict at all] prove to be more powerful predictors of how participants change their assessments than inter-subject variables such as their political orientation, personal views, relevance attribution and knowledge of the conflict.” (p. 264) “In contrast to the Israeli study by Peleg and Alimi (chapter 12), the present study failed to demonstrate any effect of text framing, however.” (p. 264) Discussing the complex and multifaceted findings of the two pre-tests, the researchers formulated a number of further hypotheses that are yet to be empirically tested.
Building on earlier studies, Wilhelm Kempf and Stephanie Thiel conducted an experimental study with German participants on “the cognitive processing of the representation, condem­nation and/or justification of Israeli and Palestinian violence in the media” (p. 268). In this study, 394 participants aged from 13 to 89 years were asked to fill out questionnaires before and after reading one of six differently framed articles, as well as to write an essay summarizing their own views on the events reported in the respective articles. In chapter 14, the researchers reported their findings on the interaction of media frames and individual frames (mental models) on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and in chapter 15 on how supporters and critics of Israeli policy process escalation- and de-escalation-oriented media frames. Providing considerable empirical evidence that “neither news selection nor framing have uniform effects on public opinion,” the authors explained how recipients respond to different frames depending “on their prior knowledge of the conflict, on their positioning to the conflict, and on their sensitivity to the ambivalence of war and peace” (pp. 286-287).

Presenting state-of-the art research on media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this book is a must-read for everyone who wants to understand how war and peace media coverage functions, what implications it has for the development of this long-lasting conflict, and how media coverage interacts with and influences the perception of the conflict by different media recipients. Presenting insightful and methodologically comprehensive contributions, this volume suggests a wealth of fascinating possibilities for future research in the field of war and peace reportage.


Irina Volf




About the author: Irina Volf  earned the title of Dr. rer. Soc in Psychology at the University of Konstanz in Germany. Her areas of specialization include quantitative and qualitative methods of media content analysis, conflict research, political Islam and the prevention of right-wing extremism.


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