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Since Hamas’s unprecedented onslaught in Israel on Oct. 7, the Jewish state has been forced into a struggle to ensure its survival, to free hostages abducted to Gaza, and to disarm terrorists of their ability to again imperil Israelis and Palestinians alike.

At the same time, information warfare has dramatically escalated on both social media and traditional news platforms. Rumors, misinformation, and false equivalence between Israel and Hamas have fed a surge of global antisemitism and undermined international support for Israel’s obligation to defend itself.

Journalism is vital in democratic societies — and war coverage presents immense challenges. But with the stakes of reporting so high, news correspondents bear the responsibility of ensuring accuracy and comprehensiveness in reports.

Here are seven guidelines that all news outlets should adopt to avoid common pitfalls in reporting on this complex and dynamic story.

One: Question Hamas statistics. Fatality figures and other “official” claims from Gaza, including the classification of casualties as civilians, must not be accepted uncritically — and need to be relayed as unconfirmed assertions of Hamas-controlled entities. Since 2007, Hamas has ruled Gaza. Like other malign actors with an interest in manipulating public perceptions, Hamas has made obvious its unreliability as a source of unvarnished data.

Two: Authenticate photos and footage. Caution must also apply to visual material from sources affiliated or aligned with Hamas, which can be staged or misleading. The initial media misrepresentation of the Oct. 17 explosion outside Gaza’s Al-Ahli Hospital demonstrated this hazard. Similarly, reports of shortages in Gaza’s civilian needs must account for the substantial aid long channeled to the Strip, and Hamas’ seemingly unimpeded ability to finance terrorist infrastructure and missiles.

Three: Terror is terror. If attacks similar to Hamas’ — deliberate, indiscriminate carnage among civilians, for ideological reasons — were to be described as terrorism elsewhere, the same must be done when victims are Israeli. Hamas’ atrocities have mimicked or even surpassed attacks by Islamist extremists in other settings, and are undergirded by a common doctrinal framework, reflected in Hamas’ own charter and its leaders’ pronouncements.

Four: “It’s (not) the occupation, stupid.” It’s essential to explain that Hamas’ attacks cannot correctly be attributed to “Israeli occupation.” Israel withdrew completely from Gaza — including all soldiers and Jewish settlements — in 2005. Since then, Hamas has only continued to intensify attacks targeting Israeli civilians. Its attacks have led to Israel’s defensive measures. Hamas’ theology openly rejects Israel’s existence within any borders. After the Gaza withdrawal, Israel again offered Palestinians full statehood in 2000 and 2008.

Five: Numbers tell only part of a story. The legality and intentions of Israeli counter-terrorism efforts cannot be assessed by simplistically comparing Israeli and Palestinian losses. A “scoreboard” approach to warring parties has not been applied to other difficult conflicts — whether World War II, the war in Ukraine, or US operations against Al-Qaeda after 9/11. Hamas deliberately hides and fires from among Palestinian civilians, and unlike Hamas, Israel has sought to minimize civilian casualties by warning non-combatants to evacuate battle zones. International law does not grant attackers immunity through taking human shields, as doing so would only encourage that tactic.

Six: Separate politics from truth. Some perceived arbiters of justice and legitimacy, like United Nations resolutions, must also be taken with a grain of salt — and reported with full context. The UN may well censure Israel, but news consumers need to know that an automatic majority of nearly 60 Arab and Muslim states has the UN routinely condemn the Jewish state — the Middle East’s only democracy — more than all other countries combined. (Too often, other entities, from academic bodies to labor unions, simply follow suit.) It is worth also remembering that the size of street demonstrations backing one side or another may reflect demographic realities rather than the “justness” of a certain party to the conflict.

Seven: It’s not just “war in Gaza.” The conflict, and conditions of humanitarian urgency, must not be presented only through a narrow Gazan prism. Attacks on Israel and Israelis did not begin or end on Oct. 7. Some 240 innocent Israelis, and others, continue to be held hostage in Gaza in unimaginable conditions — and rockets from Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon (both Iranian proxies), continue to terrorize millions of civilians inside Israel.

It’s said that war is hell, and conflict reporting is little better.

The “fog of war” is undeniable. Although all protagonists’ emotions run high, so do the stakes of consistent professionalism in news coverage.

For the sake of an informed public and policymakers alike, reports on the Middle East must consistently convey the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

David J. Michaels is Director of U.N. and Intercommunal Affairs at B’nai B’rith International

Source of original article: David J. Michaels / Opinion – (
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