The Palestinian Media Coverage of Sharon's Illness and his Departure from Political Life
The Media Monitoring Unit at “Miftah” hereby issues its fifth report with the aim of providing both Palestinian and Israeli researchers with a document for comparison between the Israeli media coverage of the illness and demise of late President Yasser Arafat, which has been implemented by the Center for the Protection of Democracy in Israel “Keshev,” and the Palestinian media coverage of the illness of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his loss of consciousness and consequently the end of his role in the political arena.
MIFTAH hopes that this report will contribute to raising the professional standards of the Palestinian media through manifesting the latter’s weaknesses and shortcomings, and at the same time be an incentive for better understanding between the Palestinian and Israeli sides in a manner geared towards ending Israeli occupation and reaching a just and lasting peace.
The News of Sharon’s Illness
On 4 January 2006, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was admitted to hospital due to an acute brain stroke and severe brain hemorrhage, one day prior to a scheduled catheterization to his heart, after a minor heart attack on 18 December 2005.
This news surprised everybody, and attracted broad interest at all levels. Meanwhile, the Palestinian media was preoccupied with two main topics:
First: the Palestinian Legislative Elections
Dates had been previously set for 25 January 2006, and consequently the campaigning had already started on 3 January 2006, and lasted until 23 January 2006. That was an extremely important period for the Palestinian media because of the severe competition between electoral blocs, the participation of Hamas after it had boycotted the 1996 elections, as well as commercial purposes due to the wide advertising spaces that came at the expense of local, regional and international news.
Second: Changes in the Political Map of Israel
The Palestinian media was interested in following up the new political map in Israel, since Sharon had announced his withdrawal from the Likud and the establishment of Kadema, which attracted prominent figures from different Israeli parties and security apparatus, in addition to academics, thus becoming the largest Israeli party according to Israeli opinion polls. The Palestinian people were specifically interested in the political project which this party had been established for implementing, and in which Israel would demarcate its final borders at the expense of the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967, using the Separation Wall as its borders, after annexing major settlement blocs and Al-Aghwar (Jordan Valley) areas, on the pretext of the absence of a Palestinian negotiating partner. Sharon’s illness came amidst this political and media scene, thus shifting the focus from the media coverage of his illness to the future of Kadema and the political project it represents.
It can also be said that given the well established traditions of peaceful succession of government in Israel, Sharon’s illness and his entering into a coma at a later stage, would not have triggered the same kind of questions that accompanied the demise of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, especially if we take into consideration the differences between the Palestinian and Israeli institutions of governance, and the systematic and legal process of government succession in Israel.
Nevertheless, the Palestinian media has expressed a great deal of interest in Sharon’s illness in its beginning and before he entered into a coma that he never awoke from. The nature of this coverage was in general factual, objective and in favor of conveying the reality of his health conditions, and avoid of the incitement that had been monitored in the Israeli media in the wake of the illness and demise of President Arafat. But the newspapers also pointed out Sharon’s historical hostility towards the Palestinians in specific and the Arabs in general, and the Palestinian and Arab perception of him and the prevailing concept in the Palestinian and Arab minds that Sharon is a “murderer, bloodthirsty and war criminal”.