Undertones: Critical voices from Israel, inhibited voices from Palestine

Damage in Gaza. Image from Palestinian News & Information Agency (Wafa)/Wikimedia Commons, remixed by Global Voices. CC BY-SA 3.0

This story is part of Undertones, Global Voices’ Civic Media Observatory‘s newsletter. Subscribe to Undertones.

Welcome back to Undertones, where we study narratives from around the world. I am Melissa Vida, your newsletter editor. This week, we delve into Israel’s war on Gaza – and provide behind-the-scenes reflections about our research and difficulties of covering a war.

The Civic Media Observatory typically relies on local expertise. When we study narratives from Iran, an Iranian researcher is behind the process. When we study Zimbabwe, a Zimbabwean researcher decodes national narratives. Therefore, when we want to study the war in Palestine and Israel, we work with Palestinian and Israeli researchers respectively. They are tasked to study prominent, or subtle, narratives from their communities through media analysis. We aimed at having a double study of war and peace narratives.

In the context of war, siloes, and pain, this task was arduous. As an editorial team, we long hesitated and deliberated extensively, on how to guide the researchers, which angle to take, and what unique perspective we could provide compared to other media outlets. We had lengthy discussions with external experts. Should we focus on disinformation, peace narratives, or semantics of the war?

As the research progressed, however, tragedy struck our researcher from Gaza, now living abroad. Week after week, more of her family members were killed in airstrikes. Despite the horror, she wanted to continue the research. However, last week, after the loss of one more close friend and a prominent Gazan voice, the pain overwhelmed her, rendering her unable to function, and we grieve with her. We often work with people in vulnerable situations, but this situation is unprecedented. The emotional trauma resulting from the bloodshed is leaving Palestinian voices speechless, adding to the information blackout from Gaza. For now, we are only able to showcase the analysis from our Israeli researcher.

Asteris Masouras, one of our coordinating editors, who closely followed the war from the start, says: “Following, researching and reporting on Israel’s war on Gaza after the traumatic Hamas attack on October 7 has been collectively devastating.”

“Reports of hate-driven, horrifying military violence and the toll it takes on Gaza’s imprisoned population under a brutal siege are compounded by narratives intensifying anti-Semitism and Islamophobia globally. Human rights norms and laws face an existential challenge along with Gaza itself,” he adds. 

In terms of human lives lost, Israel’s forces have killed over 18,000 Palestinians in Gaza, since October 7, 2023, according to numbers shared by the United Nations, while the latest Israeli reports point to 15,000 deaths including 5000 from Hamas. The militant Islamist group Hamas killed more than 1200 people in Israel during their attack in October. 

According to Global Voices’ Middle Eastern and Northern Africa editor, Mariam A., the impact of the war on Gaza extends beyond the emotional and psychological trauma.

In addition to the unbearable loss of civilian lives and the complete destruction of infrastructure necessary to make Gaza livable, “the war has global economic implications, particularly for neighboring countries such as Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon,” she says. More dangerously, if it persists, there is a risk of dragging the entire region, and potentially the world, into a long-term conflict.

Critical narratives from within Israel

In early October, we published Anna’s research about the predominant narratives of the protests against Prime Minister Netanyahu, which shed light on the divide between religious and secularist movements in Israeli Jewish society. ‘Anna’ is a fictitious name for our researcher, who prefers to remain anonymous.

She returned to the Civic Media Observatory in November to study anti-Netanyahu sentiment in the context of the war on Gaza. The narrative she found and analyzed is: “Netanyahu's governments are partly responsible for the October 7 massacre.”

Netanyahu’s popularity, already low because of his unpopular judicial reform, hardline religious government, and refusal to heed demonstrators throughout 2023, has dwindled further since October.

According to the Israeli company Dialog Center, more than 75 percent of survey respondents attribute the responsibility for Hamas’ attack to Netanyahu's government, citing a lack of border security measures. Additionally, around 56 percent of respondents believe that Netanyahu should resign by the end of the war. This Facebook post is one of many going in that direction.

Israeli media has consistently reported that Netanyahu has supported Hamas’ administration by endorsing Qatari funds to finance Hamas, amounting to billions of dollars over a decade. According to The Times of Israel, “the idea was to prevent Abbas — or anyone else in the Palestinian Authority’s West Bank government — from advancing toward the establishment of a Palestinian state.” A statement from Netanyahu’s office said that the money was for humanitarian reasons, not to strengthen Hamas.

Israeli journalist Ksenia Svetlova, and other citizens, including a survivor of the October 7th massacre criticize Netanyahu’s handling of Hamas over the years.

Of those who find fault with Netanyahu, a fraction assert that “Military action alone won't solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Among these voices, there are those from the traditional left (including Hamas survivors) and former Netanyahu supporters. 

“This narrative demonstrates how Israeli society and the Israeli government can't be perceived as one uniform entity,” Anna writes. Many, but not all, openly advocate for a two-state solution. Academic and social activist Tomer Persico condemned colonialism and the expansion of Jewish settlements.

Nonetheless, voices in this camp may be few, according to recent polling. In an October survey by Tel Aviv University, predominantly Jewish respondents assessed the Israeli army's use of firepower in Gaza, with 57.5 percent deeming it “too little” while 1.8 percent see it as “excessive.” Similar findings were reported by other surveys, El País reported.

However, it is important to note that free speech may be at risk in Israel. Many of those who advocate for peace and coexistence with Palestine claim to be actively harassed, and sometimes arrested, by Israeli authorities. This includes journalists. In early December, an Israeli man set fire to a tent belonging to the families of Hamas’ hostages. Media reports indicated his support for Netanyahu, who has been heavily criticized by some of these families.

Global Voices special coverage: “Israel's war on Gaza

Global Voices’ Middle East and North Africa Editor, Mariam A., skillfully curated and edited our war coverage with both professionalism and empathy. The majority of our articles highlight the often-overlooked voices of Palestinians in Western media. We encourage you to explore our coverage: “Israel's war on Gaza.”

Global Voices’ statements about the war

  • Global Voices joined 140+ civil society organizations and activists in calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and Israel. Read the statement.
  • Global Voices stood alongside 29 human rights organizations expressing deep concerns regarding the systematic targeting of Palestinian journalists by Israeli forces in Gaza. Read the statement

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