Which deaths matter?
Study shows Chronicle downplays Palestinian fatalities

THE SAN FRANCISCO Chronicle is 20 times more likely to report on the deaths of Israeli children killed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than it is to cover Palestinian children's deaths, a new study shows.

If Americans Knew, a fledgling Berkeley outfit dedicated to disseminating underreported information on Israel and the occupied territories, analyzed the Chronicle's coverage of the region during the first months of the current intifada – a time period the study's researchers chose "because of its significance in forming the context within which all subsequent reporting on the conflict is viewed."

Four Israelis under the age of 18 died as a result of clashes that took place from Sept. 29, 2000, the first day of the uprising, through March 31, 2001, according to the report, the preliminary results of which were released May 21 to both the Chronicle and the Bay Guardian. During that period, it found, the Chronicle reported on those incidences in a headline or a first paragraph five times. The deaths of Palestinian minors received such attention only six times, although 93 were killed in that same time frame.

If Americans Knew based its calculations on figures from Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, which keeps detailed statistics on deaths resulting from the conflict (see www.btselem.org). B'Tselem and If Americans Knew deem their figures on Palestinian deaths conservative, since they don't include those who died as a result of their inability to access medical care due to Israeli-imposed road closures and curfews.

Among the study's other findings: Israeli deaths made headlines and/or first paragraphs in the Chronicle 72 times, while Palestinian deaths got similar placement 129 times – although a total of 65 Israelis and 343 Palestinians died as a result of the conflict during the six months the study covered.

The Chronicle reported the total death toll from the conflict only 12 times in 251 news articles on the conflict – and not once did it give a breakdown of total Israeli versus total Palestinian deaths. Yet, "during this period, Palestinians were being killed at a rate approximately 5.3 times greater than Israelis," reads the preliminary report.

If Americans Knew founder and executive director Alison Weir spent a month in the West Bank and Gaza in February and March of 2001 before founding If Americans Knew.

Weir explained that the organization chose quantitative standards for the study specifically because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so subjective and politically loaded.

"I come [to the issue] with no ethnic, regional, or emotional ties to one side or the other," she said. "If the numbers were equally skewed in the other direction, I'd be equally upset."

Chronicle foreign editor Mark Abel said the paper's staffers hadn't had time to fully review the report and prepare a response.

Camille T. Taiara

May 28, 2003