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Observer downplays aggressive profile of Hizbollah

This is a cross post from Just Journalism

On Sunday, The Observer published two articles that touched upon the relationship between Israel and Lebanon, with specific reference to the 2006 war. In a news report on the rearmament of Hizbollah, Peter Beaumont and Mitchell Prothero portrayed the organisation as an essentially defensive force, while a feature in the travel supplement by Carole Cadwalladr frequently mentioned Israeli aggression, without mentioning the provocation of rocket attacks on northern Israeli towns.

Hezbollah rearms to fight off Israel‘, written following the seizure of a ship smuggling weapons that Israel claimed were intended for the group, downplayed Hizbollah’s aggression while framing their actions in terms of a possible future Israeli attack. Stating that Hizbollah was strengthening positions in south Lebanon ‘amid fears of a renewed assault’, the group was described as having been ‘busy reinforcing fixed defence positions’ and ‘preparing a new strategy to defend villages [in the south of Lebanon]’.

Hizbollah was preparing to defend itself in this way because it feared, according to the first paragraph, that ‘Netanyahu’s government will attack Lebanon again prior to any assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities’. It was only halfway through the article that any explanation was given for why Israel might choose to do so: they ‘have long assumed that any military action against Iran’s nuclear programme would draw a muscular response from its close allies’. The use of  the euphemistic phrase ‘muscular response’ to describe rocket attacks against Israeli civilians was echoed later in the paragraph, when the article stated that such a  response would ‘disrupt life in northern Israel’, further downplaying Israel’s fears about the neighbouring group.

This understating of the role played by rocket attacks was reflected in ‘Beirut: it’s hip, it’s hot, it’s as flashy as ever. And it’s back‘.  The cover story on the Lebanese capital in The Observer’s travel supplement stated that Beirut ‘would be [the Elizabeth Taylor of the Mediterranean] if you replaced the words “alcohol” with “Israel” and ” a string of unsuitable marriages” with “fifteen years of civil war”‘.

This decontextualised characterisation of Israel as a wholly destructive force was strengthened by Nehme Abouzeid, publisher of Time Out Beirut, who was quoted as saying that Israel’s attacks on Lebanon in 2006 ‘just came out of nowhere’, as well as Cadwallar herself, who described Israel as ‘subject[ing] the country to a month-long bombardment’, without explaining why. The only vague reference in the article to Hizbollah’s aggression towards Israel in 2006 was a mention of an effigy of Hassan Nasrallah ‘waving his machine gun in the direction of Israel’.

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