We learn from a young age that context is everything – pushing a classmate out of malice is not the same as pushing him to defend your little sister. Still, somewhere in recent years we have stopped asking for context, satisfied with the limited snippets of information we encounter during our busy days.
Over the past month, Israel has faced an onslaught of terrorist attacks, ranging from the stabbing of civilians to a shooting rampage at a central bus station. So far in 2015, there have been 1,818 terrorist attacks by Palestinians, 91 by Israeli-Arabs and 20 by Jews. The majority of these have taken place in the recent wave of violence, which has been called the Third Intifada. Between the stone throwings, petrol bomb attacks, shootings and stabbings, many have been killed and over 320 wounded. Israelis in many neighborhoods have been afraid to leave their homes as violence continues to plague the region.
This grim picture is made grimmer through the way mainstream media has reported on the situation. Major news outlets like the BBC and The New York Times have continuously printed headlines such as “Palestinian shot dead after Jerusalem attack kills two.” Such statements make the circumstances of the incident entirely unclear and fail to convey that the Palestinian casualty, in this case, was a terrorist who perpetrated a deadly stabbing and shooting attack, as opposed to the victim of one. In another case of this, a similar article failed to mention the terrorist attack that led to the causality until the third paragraph. Overall, the failure to explain who is carrying out attacks, why security measures are being implemented and other crucial questions has been far too consistent in media reports.
The same problem exists on social media, where multimedia is frequently shared with misinformation and lack of context. Several weeks ago, a video gained enormous popularity depicting a severely injured Palestinian boy lying in the street as an Israeli man shouted profanity at him and demanded that he die. The graphic audiovisual elicited a strong emotional reaction from outraged viewers. However, the description of the video failed to mention the fact that with his cousin, this boy had stabbed two Israelis moments ago — one a young boy who was stabbed in the neck 13 times. Despite claims that the young terrorist, Ahmad Manasra, died in the street, he was released from an Israeli hospital shortly after, having received medical care. His victims sustained far more serious injuries.
As millions of people try to comprehend current events, the importance of asking for context is more crucial than ever. More than a criticism of today’s journalistic ethics, this is a call to action. Do not rely on numbers alone to tell a story. Look at trends, explore personal narratives and, above all, demand to see the bigger picture. Because in conflicts, be it with a classmate on the playground or between two nations, context always matters.
-Allie Glushanok is a third-year business administration and interactive media dual major and vice president of communications of Huskies for Israel at Northeastern.
Photo Courtesy Kaila Fleisig