The Israeli government wants to ban Al Jazeera as a “spokesperson for Hamas.” This is a mistake, even if the Qatari television network does not report objectively.

Al-Jazeera Jerusalem office

Al-Jazeera Jerusalem office 2017 Photo: Mahmoud Ibrahem/Picture Alliance

A television showing Al Jazeera is a fixture in many cafes and restaurants in the Arab part of Jerusalem's Old City. On Thursday, at the hair salon near Damascus Gate, images of the World Central Kitchen Aid convoy bombed by Israel appeared in quick succession, followed by shots of children emaciated to the bone and corpses wrapped in bloody blankets, victims of an Israeli attack. air attack.

The Israeli government wants this to end soon. Last week, the Israeli parliament passed a law restricting international media that threatens “national security.” The stated objective of the measure: Al Jazeera. “There will be no freedom of expression for Hamas spokesmen in Israel,” Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi said after the vote.

According to its own data, the Qatari station is one of the largest in the Arab world, with around 430 million viewers. Unlike most international media, it has a dense network of correspondents in the Gaza Strip. Reporters report unfilteredly on the horrors of war and repeatedly become targets themselves. Among the approximately one hundred journalists killed since the start of the war was the son of Al Jazeera's Gaza bureau chief, Hamza al-Dahdouh, who was killed in an airstrike in January.

It is clear that Al Jazeera does not aspire to neutrality: “Al-Aqsa Flood” is the title of the section on the Gaza war on the Arabic website, which is named after Hamas for its bloody attack on southern Israel on October 7. 2023, in which attackers killed about 1,200 people and kidnapped about 250.

“Dangerous precedent”

Banning the channel is still the wrong approach. On the one hand, it is unlikely to be implemented, estimates Tehilla Shwartz-Altshuler of the Israel Institute for Democracy IDI: “The law is a symbolic policy that is aimed primarily at Prime Minister Netanyahu's electorate.”

Anyone who wants to watch Al Jazeera content can probably easily bypass any ban. However, it could harm press freedom. The Israel Foreign Press Association warns of a “dangerous precedent” that could later affect other broadcasters.

On the other hand, focusing on Al Jazeera ignores the fact that the Israeli press also has blind spots when reporting on the war. The dominant perspective is that of soldiers acting against Hamas fighters, families of hostages, or relatives of fallen Israeli soldiers.

“Israelis don't see the images of the Gaza Strip that most of the world sees,” said Raviv Drucker, one of Israel's best-known investigative journalists and host of the private broadcaster Kanal 13, in an interview with the british newspaper. guardian. “People don't want to see” misconduct by Israeli soldiers in Gaza or the occupied West Bank. Drucker is committed to informing more about the Palestinian civilian population.

I have never seen a video of the atrocities.

This could perhaps change something about shocking polls like the IDI in February. Two-thirds of Israeli Jews surveyed were against humanitarian aid to Gaza at a time when international organizations had long warned of impending famine. There is an independent Israeli press, especially the daily Haaretz, who harshly criticizes his own government or the actions of the army. But they only reach a fraction of society.

Things are not looking better on the Palestinian side: according to a survey by the Palestinian PSR institute in collaboration with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, 70 percent in the West Bank and Gaza Strip support the Hamas attack of October 7. But the same survey also reveals that four out of five Palestinians have never seen a video of Israeli atrocities and massacres. These were barely broadcast on Al Jazeera.

What endangers Israel's security is not the free press, even if it reports as biased as Al Jazeera. The information bubbles in which many Palestinians and Israelis have settled are dangerous. And what is dangerous is the lack of understanding among many Israelis in the face of growing criticism around the world of the army's actions in Gaza.

“Because they themselves don't see the big picture, many don't understand why the world sees Palestinian suffering and seems to have forgotten Israel's,” says Shwartz-Altshuler. Banning Al Jazeera won't change that. However, a good report that listens to everyone involved is.