4 simple Guardian rules for journalists reporting a terrorist attack in Israel (A brief primer)

Though Harriet Sherwood is apparently out of the country for a couple of weeks, the Guardian’s report on today’s terrorist attack in central Jerusalem, by Conal Urquhart, had all the standard components of a story about violence directed at Israeli civilians.  (Rest assured, Harriet, your narrative will be fully in tact when you return.)

Here’s a primer.

Rule #1: Never use the word “terrorist” or “terrorism” as such language is inherently loaded, and influenced by one’s subjective opinion on how to define the word.

Indeed, Urquhart’s 503 word dispatch seemed at pains at times to avoid use of the word in any context.  In fact, the word typically used in its place, “militant”, isn’t even used.

Rule #2: Use passive language which may obscure the fact that an intentional act of violence was perpetrated by Palestinian terrorists against innocent Israeli civilians:

The first example can be found in the title.

“Bomb explodes near Jerusalem station.”

So, a bomb just exploded, Conal?  Was a human being even involved in this “explosion”?

Then:

“A bus has exploded opposite the central station in Jerusalem, killing one woman and injuring at least 25 people, four of them seriously.”

That’s funny, Conal,  because, from what I hear anyway, the bus didn’t just “explode”.  A bomb detonated near the vehicle after it was planted at a crowded bus stop.

Ah, sorry Conal. I was too quick to judge your work.  By the second passage, you at least suggest that humans of some sort may have been involved:

“There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which police said was caused by a bomb planted close to Jerusalem’s main conference hall and central bus terminal.”

Rule#3: Avoid, whenever possible, reaching even the most obvious (politically inconvenient) conclusions regarding such attacks:

“Jerusalem suffered dozens of suicide bombings that targeted buses and restaurants during the second Palestinian uprising, or intifada. But the attacks have halted in recent years.”

But, please tell us, Conal. Why have such attacks halted?  Have such terrorists, and the movements which they are a part of, decided that detonating themselves in Israeli markets, buses and cafes, was immoral?  Or, could it have something to do with Israel’s security barrier?  Sorry, I know. I’ll quickly banish the thought!

Rule #4: Deflect responsibility from the terrorists who everyone knows committed the act by changing the subject or blaming Israel and blurring the causality:

Indeed, by the fourth paragraph, Conal, you artfully achieved this inevitable moral pivot:

“The blast, which came amid a surge of violence along the Israel-Gaza border, shook the city.”

So, Conal, I see.  We shouldn’t be so dense as to view such attacks in a political vacuum.  The planting of the bomb, which, I would have assumed, was planned quite a while ago, needs to be seen in the context of recent “violence” along the Israel-Gaza border.  Please tell us more about this vexing and counterintuitive causality.

“The attack comes amid rising tensions between Israel and Palestinian militants.

On Tuesday at least eight people were killed and dozens injured after Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip.”

The dead included four civilians who were killed when a tank shell was fired at a Gaza City suburb. It is believed three members of the same family were killed. There were unconfirmed reports of a fifth victim.

Four people were killed when an Israeli aircraft fired at a car in another part of Gaza City. It was claimed that the passengers were Islamic Jihad militants. Within an hour a rocket was fired at the Israeli city of Ashkelon”

Oh, I see, Conal. Its becoming clearer who the perpetrator is, and one thing is for sure.  It’s certainly not Hamas or other Palestinian “militant” movements. Please provide further context.

“Tension has been rising in the area since two members of Hamas were killed in an air strike last week, after sporadic firing from Gaza into Israel.”

Yes, I see.  There was calm and tranquility but then, after Israeli acts of violence, “tension” increased.

Finally, Conal. Please assure us that clearer heads will prevail.  What is Hamas doing to calm tensions and address this rising antagonism?

Oh, I see that you don’t comment on that.  I guess information regarding the views of officials in Gaza wasn’t accessible.

Ok, then, at least tell me what the Israelis are doing in response?

“The attacks prompted a deputy to the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to call for a new offensive against Gaza to stop rocket attacks.”

Silvan Shalom, the vice-premier, told an Israeli radio station that the situation was similar to the run-up to the 2008-2009 Gaza war which led to the death of more than 1,400 Gazans.

“We may have to consider a return to that operation,” he said. “I say this despite the fact that I know such a thing would, of course, bring the region to a far more combustible situation.”

I knew it all along, Conal. I was just playing dumb.

Of course, the Israelis are eager to act in an intransigent manner, one which will result in greater tension and violence.  What other conclusion could a reasonable and sophisticated Guardian reader possibly arrive at?

Its funny though, Conal, by the end of your report I had almost forgotten that a terrorist today murdered an innocent woman and injured over 50 after planting a bomb laced with shrapnel in a crowded civilian area, in the hopes of killing and maiming as many Israeli men, women, and children as possible.

I wonder how such a simple fact nearly slipped my mind?

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