The Israeli – Palestinian conflict (The Arab – Israeli conflict) consists of military clashes along with firm tensions between Arab countries and Israel which escalated during especially the second half of the 20th century. Most recently, Hamas launched an attack against Israel on Saturday (Oct. 7, 2023). Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) has been in power in the Gaza Strip since 2007.
Unlike the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Hamas does not recognize Israel’s statehood but accepts a Palestinian state on 1967 borders. The attacks of Hamas that started on Saturday triggered a bloody bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip coinciding with the Supernova music festival. This paper aims to address how CNN covered the most recent Arab-Israeli conflict that started on Saturday to understand the discourse used in the Western media.
The Background of the Conflict
The religious cause of the Arab–Israeli conflict refers to the beliefs with regard to the “Promised Land” expressing an idea that is related to the restored homeland for the Jewish people and the concepts of salvation (Beinin and Hajjar 2014). In addition to that, the rise of Zionism (a political movement aiming the creation of a country for Jewish people which now supports Israel) and Arab nationalism played a key role in the outbreak of military tensions between Israeli forces and Arab forces, notably in 1948–49, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, 2006 and 2008.
The first phase of Arab-Israeli conflict dates back to years between 1948 and 1949. In 1947 the United Nations voted to partition the British mandate of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. In 1948, the establishment of the State of Israel was declared. The UN resolution sparked a conflict between Jewish and Arab groups at that time.
The second stage of Arab-Israeli conflict is known as the Suez Crisis that happened in 1956. The third stage of the conflict which occurred in 1967 is known as the Six Day War. Both wars ended with Israeli victory. After some other violent conflicts in 1973 and 1982, another critical tension known as the Second Lebanon War broke out in 2006 between Hezbollah and Israeli military and ended with Hezbollah victory.
In 2008 Gaza War known as Operation Cast Lead broke out. This conflict was a three-weeks-long armed clash between Palestinian paramilitary groups and the Israel forces. Moreover, notable military clashes occurred in 2012, 2014 and 2021. In 2012, Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense which was an eight-day campaign in the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip. Following that, in 2014 and 2021 clashes broke out where both sides claim victory. Israel has managed to make its existence accepted as a state on former Palestine territories after all these military clashes.
October 7 Attacks
Last Saturday on October 7, 2023 Hamas launched an unexpected assault using thousands of rockets breaking through the Gaza–Israel border and forcing entry into nearby settlements in Israel. Hamas called it “Operation al-Aqsa Storm”. Israel started to bomb Gaza right after Hamas’ attacks and claimed that the bombardment of the Gaza Strip is one of the largest on the besieged territory while Hamas threatens to execute one Israeli captive for every further unannounced Israeli attack on civilians in Gaza.
According to a source, “Hamas used an unprecedented intelligence tactic to mislead Israel over the last months, by giving a public impression that it was not willing to go into a fight or confrontation with Israel while preparing for this massive operation”. In the following day, Israel formally declared war on Hamas as a response to Operation al-Aqsa Storm in the middle of harsh criticism toward Israeli government due to the security flaw by Israeli opposition.
The Recent Attacks in the Eyes of CNN
The Cable News Network (CNN) was founded in 1980. CNN is a multinational news channel and website headquartered in the United States. The CNN umbrella includes cable and satellite television networks, radio networks, the CNN Digital Network, which is the top network of news websites in the United States, and CNN Newsource, the world’s most extensively syndicated news service having a considerable amount of impact on events, policies and peoples all over the world.
As noted above, this paper is an attempt to address how CNN covered the most recent Arab-Israeli conflict that started on October 7, 2023. This paper covers the attack in the first three days that are October 7, 8 and 9. It can be said that one of the most remarkable rhetorical features of CNN discourse on the Arab-Israeli conflict is related to the labels attributed to the disputed parties. CNN uses the term “Israeli forces” while using the term “Hamas militants” to refer to fighting actors. Besides that, some articles published by CNN labels Hamas as a terrorist group.
The news report titled “A ‘Pearl Harbor’ moment: Why didn’t Israel’s sophisticated border security stop Saturday’s attack” (published on Oct. 7 and updated on Oct. 8) labels Hamas as “terrorists” saying “… any weapons fired from inside Gaza into Israel and stopping terrorists from trying to cross the border from air or underground using tunnels.”
In a news story titled “Hamas has launched an unprecedented attack against Israel. Here’s what to know” (published on Oct.7 and updated on Oct.8), CNN journalists write that Hamas does not recognize Israel as a state and says that Hamas as a “group, like most Palestinian factions and political parties, insists that Israel is an occupying power and that it is trying to liberate the Palestinian territories. It considers Israel an illegitimate state.”
In an opinion article titled “The 9/11 attack wasn’t an intelligence failure. The Hamas attack may be” (published on Oct. 9) Columnist Peter Bergen writes about a comparison between 9/11 terror attacks and the recent Hamas attacks saying “…there are certainly parallels. In both cases, terrorist organizations killed large numbers of civilians in attacks that seemed to come out of the blue, shocking the two nations. Hamas’s attacks are also being ascribed to an intelligence failure, just as 9/11 was. But this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the 9/11 attacks, which were not so much an intelligence failure as a policy failure.”
As seen above, the representation of the Arab-Israeli conflict in Western media as seen in CNN coverage can be regarded as “biased coverage”. Following Professor Richard Falk, it can be said that most of the time the media coverage of the conflict has been based on a pro-Israeli discourse. The use of loaded language reveals this biased coverage.
Loaded language implies more than literal meanings. It is used to trigger a strong emotional response. For example, the usage of the terms such as “disputed territories” versus “occupied territories” about the different approaches on the legal status of West Bank and Gaza Strip show this fact. To put it in a nutshell, it can be said that CNN’s portrayal of the conflict is mainly based on a loaded language in favor of Israel.
Al Jazeera, (Oct. 8 2023). What is Hamas? A simple guide to the armed Palestinian group, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/10/8/what-is-the-group-hamas-a-simple-guide-tothe-palestinian-group
Al Jazeera, (Oct. 9 2023). Israel-Hamas war live news: Israeli bombing rocks Gaza through the night, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/liveblog/2023/10/9/israel-hamas-war-live-news-israel-orders-complete-siege-of-gaza-strip
Beinin, J., & Hajjar, L. (2014). Palestine, Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Middle East Research and Information Project.
Jacobin Mag. (2019). We Are Reading Thinly Disguised Propaganda, Interview with Richard Falk, https://jacobinmag.com/2019/11/richard-falk-israel-palestine-gaza-netanyahu-abu-al-ata
Reuters, Analysis by Nakhoul S. and J. Saul (Oct. 9 2023). How Hamas duped Israel as it planned devastating attack https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/how-israel-was-duped-hamas-planned-devastating-assault-2023-10-08/