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Book review: Cycles of violence, US media and Palestine

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

In a brilliant new book, Pens and Swords: How the American Mainstream Media Report the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Marda Dunsky analyzes the politics, culture and theory of coverage of the conflict in the United States.

Dunsky, a former Arab affairs reporter for The Jerusalem Post and editor at the national/foreign desk of The Chicago Tribune, examines a wide array of news reports from television and print media, focusing on the recent history of the conflict from the Camp David peace talks in the summer of 2000 to the April 2004 meeting between then US President George W. Bush and then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The time frame was chosen because it allows an opportunity to examine what could be a typical pattern in the conflict -- beginning with intensive negotiations between the parties, followed by an escalation of violence, and then initial efforts to renew diplomacy.

Pens and Swords
argues that "mainstream reporting of the conflict itself rarely goes
much beyond superficial details of failed diplomatic initiatives and intercommunal violence in the field -- leaving the American public without important contextual information about why the conflict remains so intractable."

Dunsky presents a detailed content analysis of media reports in order to demonstrate "how, time and again, the media bypass important contextual aspects of organic issues, such as the US role in the peace process, the Palestinian refugee question, and Israeli settlements."

The study is driven by the central conviction "that if Americans had a fuller contextual understanding of the key issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict via the mainstream media, they would be better equipped to challenge US Mideast policy."

Dunsky begins the analysis by examining the contradiction of the US often being portrayed as an "honest broker" in much of the reporting with the regular updates on shuttle diplomacy missions and negotiations aimed at crisis management, while in practical terms US foreign policy itself is overwhelmingly tilted toward Israel.

US has provided more than 100 billion dollars in military and foreign aid to Israel since 1949 -- and significant diplomatic cover at the United Nations, vetoing 31 UN Security Council Resolutions critical of Israel between 1970 and 2006. However, Dunsky contends that the mainstream coverage does not account for the extent of the US bias nor does it examine how the US bias affects the trajectory of the conflict over time.

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