Misleading news narratives drive false perceptions of Palestinian terror threat and IDF motive for Jenin operation

Exposure to a single narrative leads to biases and incomplete conclusions that fail to capture the full picture.

Israeli soldiers in Jenin as part of a counter-terrorism operation, July 3, 2023. Credit: Israel Defense Forces.
Israeli soldiers in Jenin as part of a counter-terrorism operation, July 3, 2023. Credit: Israel Defense Forces.

The Israeli Defense Forces recently led a major two-day counter-terrorism operation. Jenin has long been a hotbed of hate and an epicenter of terrorism. The Israeli military found hidden weapons factories and massive amounts of weapons and ammunition. Twelve Palestinians—all suspected terrorists—and one Israeli soldier died.

Palestinians refer to Jenin as “the martyrs’ capital.” Terrorist groups have sent dozens of suicide bombers and other attackers from the city to murder Israelis. Now, Iran is helping Jenin-based terrorists produce missiles to kill more Israelis. Important background information like this is often omitted by international news organizations, creating narratives that mislead audiences.

Three competing terrorist factions vie for regional control and influence over Jenin’s 40,000 residents. The Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas is gradually losing control to Iranian-backed groups: Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, also active in Syria and Gaza. Both groups incite local youth and fill the P.A.’s void with funds, military training and propaganda. These terrorist organizations compete for power and boast about their number of attacks against Israelis. Dozens of terrorist attacks in recent years were launched from Jenin.

The PIJ chief recently met with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Palestinian terrorist leader stated that Khamenei “reaffirmed his desire to advance arming the West Bank” and declared Iranian “security-military assistance as the most important thing.” Abbas’s Fatah party described Hamas as a mercenary group serving the agenda of Iran.

Former Israeli prime minister and current opposition leader Yair Lapid supported the operation, calling it a “justified action against terrorist infrastructures and the attempts to build missile production systems in Jenin with Iranian assistance.” Just a week before the IDF’s operation, terrorists launched two rockets from the Jenin area towards Israeli towns.

The IDF continued its customary preemptive warnings to Palestinian civilians, texting residents before the Jenin operation: “The security forces are working in your area against the armed men. Stay home! Keep your family safe.” Palestinians also reported that terrorists received text messages urging them to lay down their arms and turn themselves in.

Palestinian terrorists are known to abuse civilian and sacred locations for their perverse use, including mosques, hospitals and schools. In Jenin, terrorists used a local mosque as a hideout and secret weapons cache—more evidence of the desecration of Muslim holy sites. An IDF spokesman called out the “cynical exploitation of innocent civilians by Palestinian terrorist groups. Places of worship should never be used as a front for terrorist activity.”

Many media organizations exhibited bias in their reporting, ranging from simple mistakes to outright falsehoods and misinformation. A BBC anchor asked former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett if “Israeli forces are happy to kill children?” The BBC issued an apology. Media monitors HonestReporting and CAMERA identified many instances of media inaccuracies and bias.

The New York Times ran a headline labeling terrorism an “armed struggle,” the AP referred to a terrorist as a “political activist” and The Washington Post termed the counter-terror op an “invasion.” During the same time as the Jenin fighting, a terrorist deliberately rammed his car into pedestrians at a Tel Aviv bus stop. CNN described the terrorist as a “car driver.” Malicious lies were spread on social media, including that the IDF struck a Jenin theater and a mosque.

Three teens identified as “children” by the United Nations—and the subject of the BBC question—are seen in photos brandishing assault rifles and wearing military-style vests. The three child soldiers were affiliated with three different terrorist organizations. Recently, young children visited a Hamas weapons expo in Gaza. A girl interviewed on TV stated: “I am very happy to be near the weapons that will annihilate Israel.”

Points to consider:

  1. Omission bias creates an inaccurate picture of actual events.

In today’s information-saturated world, media outlets face constraints on time, space and resources, leading to selective reporting or oversimplification of complex issues. International news media devote primetime coverage to major deadly terrorist assaults against Israelis and large-scale IDF counter-terror operations, relegating to an obscure section of the newspaper or even entirely omitting a Palestinian stabbing of an Israeli or an IDF arrest of a terrorist. This simple lack of news coverage creates a misperception of threats to Israelis. Many Americans may believe that Israel’s operation in Jenin was unnecessary, but only if they were unaware of its terror infrastructure and of being a haven for launching mass casualty attacks.

  1. Jenin was previously used as a blood libel against Israel.

Israel had to defend itself against malicious lies about a previous counter-terrorism operation against the “hornet’s nest of terrorists” in 2002. The majority of the 53 Palestinians killed in 11 days of fighting were terrorists; 23 IDF soldiers lost their lives. Senior Palestinian leaders falsely claimed that Israel “massacred” hundreds of Palestinian civilians in a “genocide” and buried them in mass graves. The U.N. special coordinator for peace described a “stench of death,” believing Palestinian official death toll claims. Reporters from Western media outlets, including the Associated Press, CBS News and The New York Times, also reiterated the claim of the “stench of death” and the “stench of decay,” as they published unverified narratives shared by Palestinians. By the time the true number of fatalities was determined, the reputational damage against Israel was complete.

  1. Palestinian terrorists operate and attack from within civilian neighborhoods.

Israel employed highly precise strikes aimed at avoiding civilian casualties. The IDF adheres to international humanitarian law, abiding by the key principles of distinction, necessity, proportionality and humanity. Conversely, Iranian-backed Palestinian terrorists purposefully embed their infrastructure within civilian population centers next to schools, mosques and homes. Thousands of Palestinians fled and returned to find large-scale damage. A former British colonel and commander in Afghanistan affirms that Israel has “the world’s most moral army.”

  1. American influencers, including U.S. representatives, perpetuate false narratives.

Some of the most damaging falsehoods are spread by celebrities and politicians. A Lebanese-American social-media star with 28 million Instagram followers shared with her fans on TikTok the venomous claim that Israeli soldiers are “taught to aim at children.” Multiple U.S. legislators peddled fabricated claims: Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) referred to Israel’s counter-terror operation as a “massacre”; Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) repeated the claim that the IDF killed children rather than teen terrorists; and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) shared that the IDF blocked ambulances. On the other hand, Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) noted the “surgical” precision of Israel’s “self-defense” operation, and Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) unequivocally affirmed that “Israel must defend its citizens, Jewish, Muslim and Christian, against terrorist cells in Jenin.”

  1. A range of viewpoints leads to more accurate conclusions.

Exposure to a single narrative leads to biases and incomplete conclusions that fail to capture the full picture. News reports are seldom complete or comprehensive. While false narratives persist, there is a great deal of fairly correct and well-balanced coverage across the media spectrum. Reading or watching multiple viewpoints from diverse news sources allows for a more nuanced understanding of the complexities involved and to reach a more accurate conclusion.

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