DSQ > Fall 2007, Volume 27, No.4
Abstract

This study seeks to understand the different ways in which Israeli media depicted Israelis killed, wounded and disabled during the first six months of the Al-Aqsa Intifada (29 September 2000 - 1 April 2001). Specifically, this paper examines how the news articles differed in content when the individual was killed versus wounded and disabled. A content analysis using terrorism search terms in Yediot Ahronot, a popular Hebrew-language newspaper in Israel, was conducted. The results illustrate a vast disparity in the number of articles written about Israelis killed versus Israelis wounded. This occurred despite the fact that for every Israeli killed, twelve more were injured during the time period of this study. Additionally, content differences existed in the news articles if individuals were killed as opposed to wounded and disabled. While this paper cannot definitively explain these differences, several possible explanations are suggested.

Keywords:

Introduction1

On September 28, 2000, then future Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, and Israeli military personnel visited the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif in Jerusalem. This event, combined with growing tensions between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, led to an escalating wave of violence in Israel that signaled the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada (also known as the Second Intifada). The Israeli media coverage during the Intifada provided graphic details of the shootings, bombings, and clashes between Israelis and Palestinians. The images of both Israeli Jews and Palestinians vigorously rallying around their dead and passionately threatening the other side came to mind while reading Susan Sontag's book, Regarding the Pain of Others. Sontag noted that stories and images of the dead "serve to quicken hatred of the foe" (2003, 10). If that is the case for stories and images of the dead, what do stories and images of the wounded and disabled do? This question is at the heart of the exploratory research detailed in this article.

Background

Since Israel's establishment in 1948, it has been in a constant state of conflict with its neighbors or with militant organizations opposed to a Jewish state of Israel. While these conflicts have led to vast numbers of casualties and injuries, they have also led to two cultural trends among Israelis and their media. First, the media — whether via television, radio or newspaper — is a major part of Israeli life. Israelis generally feel a strong need to remain current with the latest news because suicide bombings and military actions occur frequently in the country. Second, the Israeli news cycle moves quickly (Auslander and Gold, 1999). The media monitors what events are happening in Israel, as well as threats that may be looming from beyond the country's borders. This rapid media cycle further reinforces Israelis' relationship with the news.

When conflicts and bombings occur in Israel, the media provides extensive coverage of the events. This coverage portrays a country besieged and includes numerous stories and images of Israeli Jews wounded or killed. While newspapers often contain special sections devoted to the life and death of an Israeli who died in conflicts, they generally fail to run detailed stories of individuals wounded and possibly disabled in conflicts. The Israeli media has not historically reported on individuals wounded in conflicts, choosing instead to focus on the dead. This trend runs counter to the vast divide between the numbers of individuals killed versus the numbers of individuals wounded and/or disabled in military conflicts, attacks on citizens, and suicide bombings. For example, during the first two years of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, 612 Israeli civilians and military personnel died as compared to 4,509 Israelis who were wounded or disabled (IDF, 2003). Thus, the Israeli wounded to dead ratio during this time period was more than seven to one. During this same time, 1,791 Palestinians were killed and countless were injured (MEPC, 2006). A cursory glance at Hebrew-language Israeli newspapers during this time period does not reveal a similar distribution of stories on the wounded and disabled versus the individuals killed. To the best of our knowledge, research literature does not exist to explain this reporting discrepancy.

There is scarce research available on the media coverage of disability issues within Israel. Auslander and Gold's two articles comparing Israeli media coverage of people with disabilities to Canadian media coverage of people with disabilities seem to constitute the entire body of this literature (Auslander and Gold, 1999; Gold and Auslander, 1999). In these articles, Auslander and Gold document a contextual analysis they conducted utilizing approximately 200 news articles from Canada and 200 newspaper articles from Israel over a three-month period. They found that people with physical disabilities — as opposed to people with cognitive or other disabilities — often received the most news coverage, regardless of which country reported the story. The countries diverged, however, in the ways they reported on disability issues. Israeli media tended to be less progressive and sometimes utilized terminology insensitive to disability communities when discussing people with disabilities. Additionally, the Israeli media focused more on an individualized model, which locates the "problem" of the disability at the individual level, rather than a social model, which focuses on social barriers to people with disabilities.

This research underscores previous work noting that media coverage traditionally reinforces negative stereotypes and focuses on individual and medical models of disability (cf. Byrd, 1997; Riley, 2005; Titchkosky, 2005; Zola, 1985). Recent research indicates that this trend is changing, however. Haller, Dorries, and Rahn (2006) noted the United States disability rights movement in the 1990s improved the language utilized in newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post. Similarly, Auslander and Gold suggest that the difference in media coverage in Israel and Canada may be due to the relative absence of disability activist movements in Israel, at least up until 1999 when the research was published.

While Auslander and Gold's work details the ways in which Israeli media covers stories about people with disabilities, they do not discuss discrepancies in the media coverage of individuals killed in conflicts versus individuals wounded and disabled in conflicts. To the best of our knowledge, research has not examined the differences between media reports on civilians who are killed versus civilians who are wounded. This issue raises concern because mass media scholars note that in reporting on the news, media outlets also define an agenda and indicate items for public concern (Cohen, 1963; Entman, 2007; Herman and Chomsky, 1988; Neuendorf, 1990). By abstraction, the media also determines what is not newsworthy. This framing method articulates a narrative through the use of particular news events and draws connections between events (Entman, 1993; Entman, 2007). In this vein, the mass media informs society and focuses members of society on incidents and issues they deem essential. Given that perspective, one may assume that the media's heavy coverage of the dead indicates a viewpoint that the dead are more important and newsworthy than the wounded or disabled.

Several conclusions can be made based on the above literature. First, many more individuals are wounded and/or disabled than killed in military conflicts, attacks on citizens, or suicide bombings in Israel. Second, in general, media coverage of disability issues typically reinforces negative stereotypes rather than progressive disability issues. Third, within Israel, disability issues generally receive poor coverage. When the Israeli media does cover disability issues, they often use less progressive language to describe people with disabilities and are more likely to utilize an individual model of disability. Finally, previous studies on the media coverage of dead versus wounded and disabled do not exist to our knowledge. These conclusions provide the basis for this study.

Research Questions

This study attempts to answer the following questions:

  1. is there a disparity between Hebrew-language Israeli media coverage of people who are killed in military conflicts or terrorist attacks versus people who are wounded and/or disabled in military conflicts or terrorist attacks?
  2. How does Hebrew-language Israeli media cover stories about Israelis wounded or disabled in military conflicts or terrorist attacks?
  3. How does the Hebrew-language Israeli media cover stories about Israelis killed in military conflicts or terrorist attacks?

Methods

Given the lack of research on this topic, this study is, by necessity, exploratory in nature. We conducted a content analysis of an Israeli newspaper, written in Hebrew, to examine coverage of people wounded versus people killed in terrorist attacks during the first six months of the Al-Aqsa Intifada. We selected Yedioth Ahronoth (hereafter Yedioth) for two reasons. First, Yedioth is Israel's most widely circulated and read newspaper. Second, previous research demonstrated Yedioth's pro-Israel bias compared to other Israeli newspapers (Korn, 2004). Media bias in the Jewish — Palestinian conflict is well documented (Kressel, 1987). The Israeli media often presents the Israeli Defense Force as defending Israeli citizens from terrorists intent on destroying the country. Arab media presents the Israelis as a brutal occupying regime committing atrocities against Palestinians. Herein lies a problem of definition, and of shifting, Rashomon-esque accounts of "truth." For the purposes of this study, we wanted a media source that would embody a populist, Israeli Jewish perspective to focus solely on Israeli dead and wounded.

To access the database for this newspaper, one of the authors searched Yedioth's electronic database in Jerusalem, Israel. Two search criteria were used to locate articles. First, we focused on the initial six months of the Al-Aqsa Intifada (September 29, 2000 — March 29, 2001). During this time, attacks spiked in response to the Intifada declaration against Israel. Second, we utilized the search phrase "terrorist attack" for the database. In the searches, we focused on Israeli citizens and military members who were involved in terrorist attacks — both Israelis living along the "green line" (the 1949 Armistice lines established after Israel's war of independence) and the territories (Gaza Strip and the West Bank). These search criteria yielded 45 articles from Yedioth. All the articles were published in Hebrew, and one of the authors is a native Hebrew speaker.

Once the articles were identified, we reviewed the content of the articles focusing on the information contained in the articles (e.g., what happened?) and the tenor of the articles (e.g., how did the reporters talk about the incident?). These topics were further delineated based on whether the article detailed someone who died or someone wounded. All articles were reviewed multiple times and coded to identify trends in reporting style and content in the identified articles. Trends were confirmed if they appeared consistently in the articles. We engaged in multiple conversations regarding the identified trends until consensus was reached.

Results

Between September 29, 2000 and March 29, 2001 over 40 attacks, involving either shootings or bombs, occurred in Israel and the territories (Gaza Strip and the West Bank). Table one details the number of Israelis killed or wounded during the twelve bombings that occurred in the period of the study (MFA, 2004). Through these attacks, 240 Israelis were injured and 18 were killed. Thus, for every Israeli who died, more than 13 were wounded.

Table 1: Number of Israelis Killed or Wounded in Attacks during Study Period
Date of AttackDead* NoteWounded
2 November 2000210
20 November 200029
22 November 2000260
22 December 200003
1 January 2001060
8 February 200104
14 February 2001825
1 March 200119
4 March 2001360
Total18240

*
Number of dead does not include the attacker. Return to table

The articles describing terrorist attacks included in the analysis fall into two categories:

  1. Articles that reported on terrorist attacks and the individuals involved in them. The majority of the articles were of this type.
  2. Feature articles that either detailed in-depth personal stories of individuals involved or affected by terrorist attacks.

Articles reporting on terrorist attacks

When terrorist attacks occurred along the green line, they were typically bombings (e.g., bus bombings, bombs left in bags in public places, etc.). Meanwhile, most of the terrorist attacks in "the territories" were shootings (e.g., attacks on passing cars). When bombings occurred, the number of individuals involved, either killed or wounded, was greater than when shootings occurred.

The descriptions of the attacks, typically provided by the injured and rescue personnel, were extremely graphic and visceral. The articles provided detailed descriptions of body parts and blood, noise and screams, a state of mayhem at the attack site, etc. In addition, the articles provided information about the state of chaos in the hospitals and the efforts of families trying to find their loved ones.

One key feature of these articles involved the injury classification for wounded individuals. When injured individuals are admitted to a hospital in Israel, their level of injury is categorized according to the "Israeli Defense Force Classification of Severity of Injuries." Individuals are classified according to one of the following three categories (Ashkenazi et al., 2006):

  1. Mild — Injury not endangering life and will not lead to permanent disability.
  2. Moderate — Injury not endangering life immediately, but may do so if not handled appropriately; or, injury leading to permanent disability.
  3. Severe — Injury endangering life.

When individuals injured in attacks were discussed, they reported injury classification — mild, moderate, or severe — but rarely stated the exact injury (e.g., head wound, broken bones, etc.). Journalists often described attacks in which the majority of people injured were classified between mild to moderate and there were no persons killed as "an easy one" because there were no severe injuries or loss of life. It is important to note that individuals who arrived at the hospital in state of shock after a terrorist attack were typically classified as mildly injured. For individuals classified as moderately or severely wounded, they sustained a disabling injury.

Articles discussing individuals wounded in attacks typically addressed injuries in their current level (i.e., at the time of reporting) with almost no follow-up in later articles. In other words, there is mention of injury classification but rarely do the articles describe a disability resulting from the injury. When interviewing injured individuals, reporters focused on the individual's descriptions of the attack (e.g., what happened? what they saw or heard at the attack site? how they got help?). They did not report on the condition of the injured individuals or how they felt about their injury. In the few articles that did follow up on individuals wounded in attacks, the tone of the articles emphasized successful recovery (e.g., someone who was classified with severe wounds and was able to overcome the injury and be discharged). One article described an individual's recovery as miraculous.

On the other hand, when individuals were killed in the attacks, the articles provided more detailed information about the individual. For example, an article might have reported on the attack in general, stating the number of individuals killed and wounded. For the individuals killed, there would typically be a follow-up article detailing the funeral and/or Shiva (the Jewish mourning period of the dead). This follow-up article typically included detailed information about the person's life, the kind of person they were, and brief interviews with family members/friends. Many of the articles reporting on individuals killed included photographs of these individuals. Furthermore, articles always included the names of the dead, but rarely included the names of the wounded and disabled. Thus, the lives of the dead were often contextualized while the lives of the wounded were not discussed.

Differences also emerged based on the status of the individual affected. Specifically, if a child or soldier was involved, the articles spent more time on that individual. Stories involving families also received extra attention. For example, the articles might mention if there were a few members of the same family killed or injured. Additionally, the article might discuss whether members of the family were injured in past attacks.

Feature articles

There were three feature articles in the 45 articles reviewed. One article focused on a girl who was a past survivor of an attack. After her mother was killed in an attack, the girl lived with her father and the article discussed how the family recovered from the loss. The second article featured a family where three of their children were injured in the same attack, all losing limbs as a result. The third article discussed the implications of "emotional injuries" or "shock" resulting from terrorist attacks.

The first two feature articles both utilized themes of bravery, overcoming, and continuing with "normal" life in spite of the "bereavement." The emotional strength was particularly highlighted as the father noted in the first article "…you have to keep on living. We always live in the shadow of the incident, but we are also looking ahead." In the second article the family reported declining psychological support for the children wounded in the attack, stating that these services are not needed because the children were able to get over the trauma by themselves (although later in the article, they discussed the children's nightmares and behavior, possibly pointing to some form of emotional distress).

Through this exploratory study, three themes began to emerge. First, there was a difference between how the media reported on individuals killed in military conflicts and terrorist attacks in Israel and how they reported on individuals who were wounded. Individuals who died received more coverage. Second, deaths and funerals received more coverage than injuries and the physical recovery of individuals wounded and disabled, despite the significantly larger number of injuries to deaths. Third, there is a difference in how the media reported on the wounded based on who was wounded and the severity of injury based on the IDF classification system. For example, wounded soldiers received more media coverage than civilians. Also, wounded children and families received more coverage than individuals.

Discussion and Summary

This study's purpose involved documenting a disparity in news coverage of Israelis who were killed versus Israelis who were wounded. As already stated, the findings indicate that there is a difference. While a vast number of Israelis are wounded compared to the number killed, the articles in Yedioth focused much more on the individuals who were killed. What this study cannot explain fully is why these differences exist. However, based on the literature, a few possibilities may be suggested. First, the most immediate possibility is that the Israeli media is not unlike the media in other countries in terms of how it covers violent events. Perhaps the "if it bleeds it leads" maxim is shared globally among news media. If this possibility is the reality, there are interesting questions that remain unanswered about why the media coverage would focus more on death than injury and disability.

Second, there may be little follow-up on the injuries of the wounded due to the rapid media cycle in Israel. Indeed, as more attacks occur in a given time period, the media has limited ability to maintain coverage of attacks that occurred in the past. At the same time, the dead can be reported on more rapidly given the immediacy of death and the Jewish custom of burying the dead as soon as possible, which is usually within 24 hours. Thus, the story about someone who dies requires less time to document than the story about someone who is wounded and could take years to recover.

Third, Auslander and Gold's research may provide an explanation for the disparity. From their perspective, the Israeli media may not cover the wounded equally because of its tendency to provide scant coverage of disability issues. As detailed already, their findings suggested that the Israeli media utilized less progressive language when discussing people with disabilities and worked with a more individual model of disability. Additionally, they noted that the limited disability activist movements in Israel might be an important reason for the poor coverage of disability issues. If people with disabilities are more isolated from the public domain in Israel, then there might be less incentive to detail the disabling injuries people sustain in the attacks.

Finally, the symbolic connection between the Jewish body and Israeli nationalism may provide an explanation. In Mary Douglas's discussion of ancient Jews' focus on the body, she noted the long history of Jewish oppression and wrote: "The threatened boundaries of their body politic would be well mirrored in their care for the integrity, unity, and purity of the physical body" (1966, 164). Thus, as the national body's borders become threatened, there is an increased scrutiny of the physical body. The symbolic pairing of the physical body of the Jews with the national body of Israel does not begin with Mary Douglas. Max Nordau, who was a co-founder of the World Zionist Organization, famously noted in 1898 that Zionism, the movement for a Jewish homeland, was Judaism with muscles and this image of the muscular Jew was to replace the meek Jew (Weiss, 2002). Indeed, since the foundation of Israel, Israelis have sought to replace the image of the weak Jew, barely surviving in the ghettos of the Diaspora, with images of strong Jews thriving in Zion (Raz, 2004; Vital, 1975). In this sense, the image of a strong Jewish body became a symbol for a strong Jewish state. Oz Almog (2000) described the budding Jewish state as an idealistic euphoria where Israeli-born Jews — Sabras — were taught to be proud of their heritage and become conquerors.

Assuming a connection between the Jewish body and the Israeli nation, the question becomes: how does injury to the physical body affect the national body? Israelis who sacrifice their bodies and die on the battlefield become part of the "living dead" memorialized in the Israeli national consciousness (Yosef, 2005). This reverence seems to extend to Israelis who are disabled due to violence. Israelis typically view people who become disabled while defending the nation with great respect (Kravetz, Katz, and Albez, 1994; Shurka and Katz, 1982). At the same time, however, Israelis view people with disabilities with sympathy, pity, and other negative perspectives (Bizchut, 2005; Roffe, Almagor, and Jaffe, 1980; Shurka and Katz, 1982). These differing attitudes toward people with disabilities are not incompatible, but suggest a relative perspective depending on what the observing Israeli perceives the cause of the disability to be. This notion that the cause of a disability impacts the perception of the individual with a disability has also been suggested in research on American inner city minorities with a disability (Ostrander, 2007).

Taken in concert — the body as symbolic of the nation and Israelis' pitying perspective of people with disabilities — the possibility emerges that Israelis not only view individuals who are wounded and disabled as people to be pitied, but also view them as a negative reflection on the state. From this viewpoint, individuals who are wounded and disabled fall outside the nationalist ideal of a strong Jew. The wounded and disabled Jew indicates a battered state. These wounded Israelis are nameless in the press and may not become part of the national consciousness in the same way that dead Israelis are. In this sense, the media may provide less attention to these individuals than individuals who died in a terrorist attack given the impact the wounded might have on the national consciousness.

We cautiously suggest these conclusions due to this study's limitations, which should be addressed in future research. First, a wider sample of articles and media outlets ought to be examined. While this article demonstrates a disparity in media coverage of dead versus wounded, it is narrow in its focus on one source, despite the source's large readership. Second, this study focused on a disparity in one country rather than examining possible reporting similarities in other countries. For example, this study cannot claim that Israel is unique in the ways that its media reports on the dead and wounded. Media in other countries might also report more extensively on individuals killed than individuals wounded in military conflict. If that is correct, then there is a need for wider studies to understand why that disparity exists across national boundaries. Despite these limitations, this study's implications are important. Through the skewed depiction of individuals wounded to individuals killed, the public receives a false "cost" of war. This depiction deprives the public of significant aspects and results of military conflict.

Ultimately, this study raises more questions than provides answers on this topic. Future research continuing this investigatory arc should consider the following suggestions. First, a broader qualitative study should examine journalists' perspectives. A project interviewing journalists who report on military attacks could open different explanatory avenues. For example, why do journalists report more on the dead than the wounded? Is there an assumption that people are more interested in death because of its finality? Do editors routinely cut sections on the wounded and disabled? Second, future research should examine whether this reporting discrepancy is broader than one source and one country. For example, the current situation and instability in Iraq yield hundreds of dead and wounded Iraqis. How do the local media report on those events? Third, research that examines how citizens react to these media accounts would also be useful. How do they feel about stories of the wounded versus stories about the dead? Given the tendency of articles to report more about the dead than the wounded, how do citizens think about the wounded? Does the fact that the wounded or disabled are military or civilian matter in the media coverage? While these questions remain unanswered at present, addressing them may provide a more realistic perspective about the cost of war.

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Endnotes

  1. The authors would like to thank the reviewers who provided important comments and suggestions as we worked through this article.
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