Despite appearances, and although it is very often called "free", the Israeli media is far from being so. In the hot atmosphere of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, the Israeli media seems to have been swept by the current of boiling conditions into assuming a very "patriotic" role, deeply committed and strongly recruited to the "national" cause of Israel.
This lack of free will strips this press of the basic principle of freedom of expression. The basic and most "natural" role of a free press is not to support, encourage or strengthen feelings and traditions of tribal revenge among the general public but to forge and create public opinion on the basis of the universal values of freedom and human rights. Its role is not to support the government or applaud its policies but to monitor and criticize the government on the one hand and educate the general public on the other.
I am very aware of the fact that the role of the free press is hardly applicable in the era of commercial competition, not to speak of the patriotic fervor felt in both Israel and the Occupied Territories. There is certainly a wide range of commercial and national considerations that the publishers keep in mind. They are human too. However, it seems that the Israeli press has little sense of proportion when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. Every word in the press' discourse is wrought with "patriotic" fervor, in a manner that goes beyond commercial, national or political considerations. It seems this press almost follows the "national" policy towards the Palestinians in all possible regards and often comes very close to provocation and incitement. The Israeli media is so politicized that it seems as if a higher hand or power directs it, even in the most basic orientations, vocabulary or line of thought. This power is not the government, which in Israel changes policies, parties and personalities frequently, but a kind of higher national interest that overwhelms daily policies.
The use of such overwrought vocabulary makes a Palestinian militant, or even a suspected but innocent resident, seem like a saboteur (michabel), a word incorrectly translated into English as terrorist, while Israeli occupation soldiers who destroy and kill are simply fighters. However, while this use of emphatic language might be understood given the feeling of national crisis, it cannot be excused when this language deliberately covers up facts or gives a distorted impression of the truth. Israeli press coverage of events in the occupied territories, on the rare occasions when it appears, is distorted, biased and marginalized.

Contradiction in Coverage

In total contradiction with this lack of coverage of events in the territories, (especially those which concern the occupying forces) events in which Palestinians are involved, such as the attacks in the Israeli cities, are incredibly widely covered, with enough spectacular colored pictures showing blood, tears and sufferings to drive you mad. This coverage arouses feelings of revenge, merged with paranoia and masochism.
I do not envy the Israeli who is exposed to this kind of coverage, especially in the audiovisual mass media. Hour after hour the same pictures are broadcast, the same statements and reports drive home the message. I felt so deeply depressed after watching such coverage that I finally stopped myself from doing so, limiting myself to just a few minutes of exposure to Israeli coverage of bloody attacks, to find out what is going on. If such a thing can happen to a Palestinian, who can see things from the opposite perspective, what would it do to an Israeli who hardly knows what is going on in the back yard of Israel - the Occupied Territories - and is already stuffed with "patriotic" propaganda?
Linguistic usage in Israeli press reports highlight this trend. Exaggerated use of the passive voice in reports about the Israeli army's activities against Palestinians could not be accidental. Innocent Palestinians who are killed are not only without a story, or a past, they are most likely nameless, killed in the passive voice with nobody accused of their murder. Alternatively, the killing is reported as a direct accusation of the targeted Palestinians themselves for using "human shields" - even if the Israeli attack happened to take place in an over-crowded inhabited area.
With the exception of some reporters, whom I feel an obligation to do justice to in this regard, especially Amira Hass and Gideon Levy from Haaretz, columnists such as Gideon Samet and Yoel Marcus, or writers like Meron Benvenisti, who tend to be critical and expose the Israeli reader to the greatest amount of fact finding and emotional empathy, the vast majority of reporters, columnist and writers in the Israeli press are biased, extremist and egocentric. Contrary to Haaretz, which has a small circulation, Yediot Ahronot and Ma'ariv, the two most widely-read daily newspapers, are very "patriotic" and populist in their orientation and coverage. This of course does not include opinion writers, who feel free to express their attitudes with no restrictions other than their beliefs and consciences, such as B. Michael and Yehuda Litani as prominent examples.
It is amazing to see that even very intelligent and well informed reporters such as Nahum Barnea in Yediot Ahronot, one of the best and most independent of Israel's journalists, take part in this attempt to exempt the government and its leader from "moral responsibility" for the resumption of suicide attacks after a long period of calm.
The Israeli press participates in providing the moral basis for the continuation of the vicious circle of violence, by encouraging the military mentality of the Israeli leaders and public. When the Palestinian level of attacks is lowered, the Israeli press makes a direct link between this and the military reoccupation of Palestinian cities. But when this violence returns to the forefront after a period of calm that hadn't been exploited politically, then it is, for the Israeli press, because the army is not doing enough to quash the attacks. A "more of the same policy" is recommended. Even Hamas has claimed more than once in their arguments with moderate Palestinians that the Israeli reaction to Palestinian calm was to continue with the military actions which were supposed to have created this calm. Explaining the recent revival of the suicide attacks, a reporter would attribute it to the "loosening of the closure" around the Palestinian cities - despite the fact that the closure was being tightened. Thus the Israeli press enforces the illusion that it is only possible to curtail the Palestinians by force and through military actions.

Accusations of Incitement

Incitement is an accusation frequently levied by the Israelis at the Palestinians, but even a superficial review of the Israeli mass media shows high levels of incitement. For example, there is an open discourse that touches the boundaries of criminality in everything related to President Arafat. "As long as Arafat is alive, Jews will die", is one front-page headline of Ma'ariv. If this is not incitement, then what is?
Incitement, in fact, has a reverse reaction for those who use it. Before, during and even after the American war against Iraq, the Israeli media was filled with incitement against Iraq. Under the pretext of fear of Iraqi attacks, the Israeli government and its extension, the mass media, fell into the trap they themselves prepared by adopting a confused line of action that aroused ridicule among the Israeli public itself. Any revision of the reports of that period would clearly show the absurdity of government policy and the media coverage of the alleged threat from Iraq. Ze'ev Schiff, a famous analyst and strategy expert, was recommending actions to the Americans all through the war and covering the American pretext for the war along with the Israeli pretext to encourage them to go for it. His embarrassing language could never cover the simple fact that everybody knew there was not even the slightest possibility of an Iraqi attack on Israel.
Incitement, egocentrism, biased and ill-intentioned reporting could provoke the same reverse reaction. A recent report about the retreating support for democracy among the Israeli public could certainly be attributed to this approach, adopted in the name of the "patriotic" Israeli cause. Occupation not only corrupts in the back yard but also internally. The media - journalists and the officials who direct and monitor it - should be responsible for a deep revision of this policy before it is too late and Israel finds itself totally identified with the rejected environment in the Middle East of inferior anti-democratic traditions.