“Liquidation Sale” - Israeli Media Coverage of Events in which Palestinians were Killed by Israeli Security Forces
The violent reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict exacts a very heavy blood toll from both sides. Since the beginning of the second Intifada in September 2000, more than 3,300 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces. In the same period more than 1,000 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians.
The way the killings are covered affects media consumers’ ability to understand the complexity of the conflict, to interpret its varied contexts and to weigh the factors that contribute to its escalation. The conflict and the current circle of violence cannot be understood without knowing basic facts about reality on both sides. Israeli citizens are exposed to broad and intensive coverage of events in which Israelis are killed by Palestinians. One of the main questions that we seek to investigate here is whether Israeli media consumers receive basic information on killings of Palestinians by Israeli security forces.
The research presented in this report investigates media coverage of such events in December 2005, during which time, according to the major media outlets in Israel, 22 Palestinians were killed. In the framework of this study, we examined the daily editions of the three major newspapers, Ha’aretz, Yedioth Ahronoth and Ma’ariv, and the evening television newscasts on Channels 1, 2 and 10. Within these editions and broadcasts, we studied all items concerning events in which Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces as well as items that dealt with the subject more generally (for example, items that discussed the “liquidations” policy or dealt with the responses of both sides to these events). A total of 135 items were examined.
2 What is a “Liquidation”?
In this report, we define a report of a “liquidation” as one that describes a situation where a premeditated killing has taken place. This definition is based on a widespread understanding of the term. This meaning is also hinted at in the alternative formulation coined by the IDF to describe such events: “targeted prevention”. In other words, according to security forces, an act of “liquidation” is meant to thwart a combat action; meaning, it is an intentional act that is planned in advance.
A document submitted to the High Court of Justice in February 2003 by Shai Nitzan, deputy state prosecutor, clarifies that “liquidations” are intentional and pre-planned: “International law on the rules of warfare distinguishes between two categories of people: combatants and civilians. While combatants are legitimate targets for attack, intentional attacks on civilians are completely forbidden” (our emphasis).
In an article entitled TRAGIC DILEMMA, published in Ha’aretz on February 29, 2004, Asa Kasher, one of the authors of the IDF code of ethics, makes clear that the term “liquidations” refers to preventative actions that target “a person engaged in practical preparations for carrying out an attack in Israel,” –thus, not during combat. Another article by Kasher, written jointly with Gen. Amos Yadlin (currently head of military intelligence and at the time of the article’s publication commander of IDF colleges) underscores the basic meaning of an act of “liquidation”: “A person is defined as a ticking bomb not only when an explosives belt is strapped onto him and he makes his way to an Israeli site. But rather, also at earlier stages of the actual process – when the person provides his comrades with the means for carrying out the attack, when he arranges the means of equipment and transportation, when he plans the attack, and so on”.
The definition of the term “liquidation” that was put forward at the beginning of this section is based on both military and legal sources. In fact, with few exceptions, this definition is consistent with the way that the term is used in media coverage, which reinforces its validity.
“Liquidations” can thus be understood to be events that occur under a clear set of circumstances – attacks on Palestinian activists that are preparing or carrying out hostile acts against Israel. By contrast, when a Palestinian is killed under different circumstances by Israeli security forces the situation is more ambiguous and complex. For the sake of convenience, we shall call instances of such deaths “non-liquidation” events. This report examines patterns of Israeli media coverage of all events in which Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces during the period of investigation. The report also inquires whether “liquidation” events were covered differently from “non-liquidation” events. It asks: What was the scope of the coverage? Were the circumstances that led to the killing of Palestinians investigated? What questions were asked and who provided the responses? The following pages seek to provide answers to these questions.