- The Washington Times
Monday, July 21, 2014

“Morgues Overflowing,” “Displaced Palestinians Speak of Ordeal,” “Deaths as Israeli Tanks Shell Gaza Hospital.”

The headlines in the Arab and Muslim world all shout a message of sympathy for the Palestinians and name Israel as the aggressor despite the range of opinions throughout the Arab world about America, Israel’s principal ally, and about the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

“The Egyptians don’t like Hamas, the Saudis and UAE don’t like Hamas, but everyone in Egypt and the Middle East sympathizes with Palestine,” said Shibley Telhami, an expert on Middle Eastern Media with the Brookings Institute.

Several media sources referred to Palestinian casualties as “martyrs.”

In a top story on Arab news source Al-Monitor titled “No escape for civilians in Gaza,” reporters referred to casualties, saying, “The number of children killed stands, at the time of writing, at 53 from a total number of 237 martyrs and more than 1,700 injured since Israel launched its war on July 8.”

Mr. Telhami explained that despite inter-Arab political differences, the staggering death toll has led to a public outcry in the Arab media.

“When there are casualties of this sort, it’s very hard for them to go against the public sentiment, which is pro-Palestinian. Almost everyone treats Palestinian casualties as martyrs and calls Israel the aggressor, even though they don’t like Hamas at all,” he said.

Egypt’s role in the latest round of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is largely in question as the country was the first Arab state to recognize and make peace with Israel. Egypt historically has suppressed Hamas and helped mediate cease-fires between Hamas and Israel.

Headlines suggest that while Egypt debates whether to push negotiations with Hamas, Iran could step forward to help the terrorist group.

Ahram reports that Egypt might be more flexible in cease-fire negotiations, while Iran’s top news outlet, Fars News, touted as its top story that an Iranian parliamentary delegation would be visiting Gaza to study recent developments in the region and the “Zionist crimes committed against the Palestinian people.”

The Iranian news source continued to denounce Israeli aggression, referring to support for the “defenseless” people in Gaza.

According to Mr. Telhami, until Israel began ground operations in Gaza four days ago, the latest conflict has been underreported compared to the coverage of Israel-Gaza wars in 2008, 2009 and 2012.

“That’s true of all stations, including Al-Jazeera. In large part, because Arabs have a lot of things going on, Iraq, Syria [and] even Egypt had a lot of attacks on soldiers. All of that seemed to distract from the Gaza war, but then, once the Gaza ground war started, it’s fascinating how it suddenly galvanized the media,” he said.

The focus in Israeli media is on the increase in casualties since the ground operations began. On Monday the top stories on the websites of both Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post reported the deaths of seven Israel Defense Forces killed in the conflict. Both media outlets focused on identifying and profiling the IDF casualties and seemed to bury Gaza’s death toll in lower-billed stories.

Many people in Israel are turning to Al-Jazeera for the latest news, but Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for the government to ban the Qatar-based news source, saying, “Qatar has turned into a global problem. Al-Jazeera is a central pillar of the propaganda apparatus of Hamas,” International Business Times reported.

But according to Mr. Telhami, the Israeli government has been censoring casualties, delaying Israeli media from identifying the soldiers for several hours while Al-Jazeera manages to report such information sooner.

“If I really want to get a sense of how the war is going, the first place for me to go is to see what Al-Jazeera is saying,” Mr. Telhami said.

A spokeswoman for Al-Jazeera was unavailable for an interview but told The Washington Times, “We’re telling all sides of the situation from both Israel and Gaza, and viewer response has been strong.”

Many Arab news sources reported on President Obama’s statements on the situation Monday, when he said he had “serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian casualties” and called for the United Nations to step in.

But Mr. Obama’s “serious concerns” will not be enough to help the situation as many media reports condemned America’s inaction.

“Almost all the media, including the ones that tend to be friendly to the U.S., have been critical of the American role — in large part critical of the U.S. not taking action to stop it,” Mr. Telhami said. “Particularly after yesterday, when the scale of civilian casualties in Gaza became clear.”

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