What a difference a verb makes

Israelis: Stuff just keeps happening to them all the time! (Screenshot, VG)

It’s the kind of thing you just can’t stop noticing, once you know what to look for.

Listen, we can’t for the life of us believe journalists do this consciously. But pay attention to pieces about the Arab/Israeli conflict, and you will start noticing that while Israelis are subjugated to violence, they are also the only ones perpetrating it. Arabs, on the other hand, are surprisingly often described as victims, exclusively. It’s all about whether the journalist employs the passive or the active voice. Today’s article in VG is a prime example, authored by the Norwegian wire service NTB.

“… an Israeli bus was hit by a Palestinian rocket outside of the kibbutz Nahal Oz…” Note the expression  “was hit”. Was this missile just idling around before it tipped over from some cliff? Was it dropped on the bus by a freak accident? Did it materialize out of the blue sky?

Yes, yes, the fact that the rocket is a Palestinian one is mentioned.  But just as a property of the rocket (actually an anti-tank missile, according to the IDF). The fact that someone consciously chose to fire it is ignored.

Meanwhile, in the same piece, somewhere not too far away: “An Israeli airplane released bombs over a Hamas HQ…” Also: “Several areas in the Gaza strip were attacked by mortar shells fired from Israeli tanks.” (My emphasis.) Here, there is no doubt who is doing what.

Now really, nobody tells the journalists to do this. Yet it keeps repeating itself.  When Israelis are killed, the last thing they experience, according to western journalists, are bombs that “go off”, or rockets that “hit” them. Just try saying this out loud: “Hamas killed three Israeli civilians today”. It sounds weird, because news just isn’t presented that way, it’s usually “Three Israelis were killed today…”

Add to that the shameful moral equivalence implied by mentioning the incidents back-to-back. While the Israelis in this case were targeted as civilians, the Palestinian casualties, by virtue of being Gazan civilians, were used as human shields by Hamas and were collateral damage in the wake of a strike against a military target. Not that this should be presumed to be of any comfort to the bereaved. It should, however, make a difference when it comes to reporting.

Look for the passive voice next time you read about Israel in the news.


Update: The fact that an anti-tank missile was used is of some importance, according to Barry Rubin. “In this case, though, the attack was carried out with an advanced anti-tank rocket. In other words, a terrorist deliberately aimed at the bus and fired, hoping to kill the maximum number of children.” Read more here.