A member of Israel’s border police pepper sprays journalists covering a protest near Al-Bireh in the occupied West Bank. (Photo: Fadi Arouri)
The following document contains guidance and suggested language to help journalists cover Palestine/Israel in a clear, accurate, and fair manner.
1. Best Practices
Always include Palestinian voices (and a diversity of them).
- Too often, Palestinians are left out of stories that involve them in a way that Israelis rarely are. Palestinians should be given space to voice their experiences and views in any story that involves them, directly or indirectly. It’s also important to quote a diverse spectrum of Palestinians, including human rights defenders, political analysts, and ordinary people, not just officials. In the case of the Palestinian Authority, a lack of legitimacy due in part to its failure to hold presidential elections since 2005 makes it even more important not to be overly reliant on official voices.
Always include the context of Israeli military occupation and apartheid, and when covering Gaza, the siege and blockade.
- It’s impossible to comprehend what’s happening in Palestine/Israel without understanding that Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza live under a more than 54-year-old Israeli military occupation, Palestinians in Gaza live under a nearly 15-year long siege, and that all Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories live under an apartheid system that is designed to subjugate and dispossess them. This critical context should be included in all coverage.
Cite international law and human rights organizations.
- Israel systematically violates international law every day, including through the expansion of settlements on occupied Palestinian land, destruction of Palestinian homes, and its siege and blockade of Gaza, which is collective punishment. The UN and every reputable human rights organization that have investigated have repeatedly condemned Israel’s illegal actions. These are indisputable facts, not a matter of opinion. Avoid playing “he said, she said” with coverage, saying things like “Palestinians consider X illegal, but Israel argues it’s not.
Value and humanize Palestinian lives equally to Israeli lives.
- Much as Palestinian voices are frequently left out of stories that involve them, there is often a double standard in media coverage when it comes to valuing and humanizing the lives of Israelis more than Palestinians. When Palestinians are killed by Israeli soldiers or settlers, it is often not considered worthy of coverage (even though Israel’s military and illegal settlement enterprise are subsidized by the US government), while almost any time an Israeli is killed by a Palestinian it is. Israelis who are killed are frequently humanized, with stories describing their lives and who they were, while Palestinians who are killed are usually reported as numbers, if at all.
- The number of Palestinians killed by Israelis is also frequently omitted from stories they are relevant to. When referencing casualties, cite specific numbers and state clearly which side they are on. For example, avoid saying things like, “The deadly violence last May resulted in many civilian deaths,” when casualty numbers are known and almost all of the victims are Palestinian.
Don’t call Israel a democracy when it rules over millions of Palestinians without granting them any rights.
- Only Jewish people enjoy democracy in the territories under Israeli control. Apart from a period of only about six months (1966-1967), since Israel was established in 1948 it has ruled over large numbers of Palestinians by oppressive, undemocratic military rule because they are not Jewish. Today approximately five million Palestinians live under Israeli military rule in the occupied territories, denied the most basic of human and political rights, including the right to peaceful protest and to have a say in the government that controls their lives. Inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders, nearly two million Palestinian citizens of Israel live as a permanent underclass as non-Jews in a self-declared Jewish state, discriminated against in almost every facet of life. According to the “Jewish nation-state law,” passed in 2018 as one of Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws, “The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” This is ethnocracy and apartheid, and should be described as such.
Don’t pretend the US and other western countries are neutral.
- The US, Canada, and most European countries are staunch supporters of Israel and actively enable its systematic violations of international law and oppression of Palestinians, including by providing Israel with military funding and technology, crucial diplomatic shielding at the UN and other international forums, and preferential trade deals. As a result, these countries should not be described as neutral, honest brokers, etc.
Remember that the Palestinian Authority is not an independent government/state and only (nominally) represents a minority of Palestinians.
- The Palestinian Authority, established in the 1990s under the Oslo Accords, was supposed to be an interim governing body on the way to Palestinian statehood by 1999. It has no real power and is completely beholden to Israel, administering the functions of local government to Palestinians in parts of the West Bank and Gaza under the close control of Israel’s occupying army. The PA cannot even import or export goods or access high speed internet without Israeli approval.
- The PA is only supposed to represent Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. The Palestine Liberation Organization is supposed to represent Palestinians everywhere, a majority of whom live in exile outside of Palestine/Israel, prevented from returning by Israel because they aren’t Jewish, or as second-class citizens inside Israel. Since it was established, the PA has been dominated by the Fatah party, first led by Yasser Arafat and then current PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Since the late 1960s, Fatah has also dominated the PLO, which is supposed to be an umbrella organization representing all Palestinians.
- Increasingly, the PA is seen by Palestinians as a subcontractor for Israel’s occupying army, quashing political dissent and protest against Israel’s settlement enterprise, siege and bombing of Gaza, and denial of Palestinian freedom generally. Abbas, who has become more authoritarian over the years, has ruled the PA by presidential decree since his initial four-year term expired in 2009, indefinitely delaying further elections ever since, and the PA’s parliament has not convened in years. Consequently, the PA is not representative of Palestinians in the occupied territories. At the same time, the PLO under Abbas has become a shell of its former self and has failed to renew or rejuvenate its leadership in decades. Due to these factors and resulting questions of legitimacy, it’s even more important to listen to Palestinian civil society, to always include context about Israeli occupation/apartheid and the PA’s role in that system, and to not just focus on Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Don’t compartmentalize what is happening in Israel and the occupied territories.
- Israel controls the entirety of the area and the lives of all the people who live there. It systematically discriminates against and dispossesses Palestinians living under occupation as well as those who are citizens of Israel. Only Jewish Israelis enjoy the full rights and privileges of Israeli citizenship while Palestinians live in various states of subjugation. All of Palestine/Israel should be treated as a single entity under Israeli control.
2. Correct Names & Terminology / Language to Avoid
The correct description of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, is “occupied Palestinian territories,” “Palestinian territories occupied by Israel,” “occupied West Bank,” etc. Avoid terms like “disputed lands,” “Israeli-controlled lands,” “land Palestinians claim,” “contested neighborhood/land,” etc.
- Terms such as “disputed” or “contested” confuse matters and reinforce Israel’s claims, which have been repeatedly rejected by the international community, that these lands are not in fact occupied under international law, and therefore the Geneva Conventions do not apply and Israel’s settlement enterprise is not illegal.
- As noted by the International Court of Justice in its 2004 advisory opinion declaring Israel’s West Bank wall and settlement enterprise illegal, “In the 1967 armed conflict, Israeli forces occupied all the territories [West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza] which had constituted Palestine under British Mandate… All these territories (including East Jerusalem) remain occupied territories and Israel has continued to have the status of occupying Power.”
The correct description of Israeli colonies built on occupied Palestinian land is “Jewish/Israeli settlement” or “colony.” Avoid referring to settlements as “communities,” “neighborhoods,” etc.
- Settlements are racially segregated colonies built on stolen Palestinian land in flagrant violation of international law and longstanding US policy. Often, Palestinians are forcibly displaced from their homes and land to make way for them. They are major obstacles to peace and make the lives of millions of Palestinians miserable. Many settlers are heavily armed, violent extremists who routinely assault Palestinians and destroy their property, often under the protection of Israeli soldiers. Referring to these colonies as “Jewish communities” or “neighborhoods” does not accurately convey what they are, what their purpose is, or the destructive impact they have.
Be specific when describing people who are hurt or killed during protests against Israel’s occupation, settlements, siege of Gaza, etc. Don’t say Palestinians are killed or injured in “clashes.”
- What’s really happening is Palestinians are protesting for their freedom and rights against heavily armed Israeli soldiers and police who violently suppress them. Terms like “clashes” obscure this reality rather than clarifying it and should be avoided.
Don’t use passive language to describe Israeli violence against Palestinians.
- Avoid saying Palestinians “died,” “lost their lives,” etc. when they are killed by Israelis. This obfuscates the reality of the violence that Palestinians endure on a daily basis and Israel’s responsibility for inflicting it upon them.
The correct default description of Palestinians who are also Israeli citizens is “Palestinian citizen of Israel.”
- Palestinian citizens of Israel are Palestinians and their descendants who survived the expulsion of some 750,000 Palestinians during Israel’s establishment as a Jewish state in 1948. They face widespread systematic discrimination in almost every facet of life because they are not Jewish, making them second-class citizens in their own homeland. The terms “Israeli Arabs” and “Arab-Israelis” are used by Israel as part of an effort to separate Palestinians in Israel from Palestinians in the occupied territories and elsewhere, and to erase their historic connection to the land pre-dating Israel’s establishment. Increasingly, Palestinians in Israel consider the term to be derogatory, as in effect it denies their very identity as Palestinians.
- Some Palestinian citizens of Israel do publicly identify themselves as Arab Israelis out of concern for the potential repercussions of identifying as Palestinian and/or an attempt to assimilate in a country and society that is deeply racist against them. This notwithstanding, unless they identify themselves otherwise, the correct description is Palestinian citizen of Israel.
In the occupied territories (West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza), Palestinian names for places should be used as the default rather than Israeli ones when they differ.
- Just as Israeli names are used to describe places inside Israel’s internationally recognized pre-1967 borders that also have Palestinian names (e.g. the Negev desert versus the Naqab desert), Palestinian names should take precedence in the occupied territories, which according to international law are Palestinian lands under Israeli military occupation. For example, in East Jerusalem the “Noble Sanctuary (or Haram al-Sharif)” should be used as the primary name, not the “Temple Mount.”