In her book “Women and Jihad”, Rachel Avraham, Jerusalem Online news editor and political analyst, brings the reader into the dark world of Palestinian female suicide bombers. She examines in detail the history of eight such terrorists, and she describes how their attacks were covered in the Israeli media, the Arab media, and the American media.
As a summary of her observations on the three types of media, Avraham writes, “The main difference between Arabic language media coverage of Second Intifada Palestinian female suicide bombings and that of American media is that often the Arabic language media coverage would overtly justify and glorify the actions of the suicide bomber, while American media coverage would more often rationalize the hardships that prompted the Palestinian female suicide bomber to blow herself up while refraining from condoning suicide bombings. The Israeli media by contrast was less likely than the American media to note the motivating factors behind the suicide bombing yet was still more likely to mention the factors prompting the female suicide bombers than it would had the suicide bomber been a male.”
With this analysis, Avraham reminds us that the media is an essential component of terrorism since terrorism’s objective is to terrorize enough people to force the political change that it desires. From this point of view, it does not matter whether the reporting is sympathetic to the terrorists or not. It only matters how many people are terrorized.
A secondary and even more perverse effect of media reporting on terrorism is that it can change public opinion in favor of the terrorists’ cause when it portrays the terrorists as victims or even heroes. For example, Avraham writes that CNN anchorman Aaron Brown claimed that terrorists Darine Abu Aisha and Wafa Idris were “something akin at least to feminist heroes in the Arab world”!
Manipulating the media is particularly easy for terrorists when the terrorists are women because, as Avraham writes, female suicide bombers “receive more media attention than male suicide bombers and the grievances of terrorists are more likely to receive a hearing in the media if the suicide bomber is a woman.” Avraham also writes that “Western societies’ stereotypes’ about the traditional role of women works to the advantage of Palestinian suicide bombers and their dispatchers, who are able to utilize the ‘shock factors’ associated with the use of female suicide bombers”.
When it reports on terrorism, and particularly when it takes a terrorist-friendly approach, the media makes the conflict more likely to continue. The media essentially acts as an accomplice of terrorists. As Avraham writes, “By providing justifications for the actions of Palestinian female suicide bombers, the media provides a platform for elements within Palestinian society that support violence rather than those who support peaceful coexistence in the Holy Land.”
Avraham quotes Tom Brokaw of NBC who defends the media by saying that, “Terrorism often does have political roots and we have to deal with those political roots. It is not always, although it appears that way, a mindless act of sheer terrorism for the sake of terrorism. There is generally some political context as well and I think we have to work harder at putting it into some kind of political context, however strong or weak that context may be.”
However, by providing a context to terrorist acts, the media is implying that the context matters. As soon as we start discussing the circumstances that led to a terrorist act, we are going down the slippery slope of justifying it. Terrorism is never justifiable, no matter the terrorists’ grievances and no matter the gender of the terrorist.
Not only should terrorism weigh on the conscience of those journalists, but also should the fact that Palestinians are still today stateless; terrorism has not won the Palestinians a state, and it never will. The media is partly responsible for that.
Avraham suggests a solution to this problem when she writes, “Incitement to hatred, violence and terrorism should not be protected under the guise of freedom of the press. Journalists who engage in incitement should have their press cards taken away from them and should not be free to operate in Israel. News companies that routinely incite should also not be permitted to operate in Israel.” However, as a free and democratic society, Israel is unlikely to take such measures.
Despite its far superior training and equipment, Israel fights terrorists with a hand tied behind its back while terrorists use the vilest tactics imaginable and yet still receive sympathy for their cause. There is nothing fair about this fight, yet all that Israel can do is to contain the problem at best it can, until terrorism takes on new methods and new faces, and the cycle begins again.
The media will continue to play the game of terrorists, and naïve people will continue to be caught in that game. Sensible people of good will can only do one thing, and that’s to continue to support a democracy’s right to defend itself against terrorism. The Egyptian government can use all the repressive and undemocratic methods that it wishes, just like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and every country of that region, but not Israel. Israel is unique, and it is unique not only in the Middle East and not only in modern times. No country has ever sustained so much terrorism for so long while being a democracy and remaining a democracy.
Avraham’s book is important because it exposes the reality of the anti-Israel terrorism, with its exploitation of women, its disregard for human life, and its utter depravity. It is also important because it exposes the media’s role as enabler of that depravity. Most of all, Avraham’s book is a reminder of the horrendous conditions despite which Israel continues to uphold the highest standards of freedom and democracy.