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News From Palestina!
Artist: Elfo (Italy)
Dimensions: 14” x 20”
Publisher: Comitato Bir Zeit, L’Alfabeto Urbano/CUEN

In this graphic, a man has raised his hand to his ear to better hear the sounds heading in his direction. The sounds arrive in the form of blood splatters, and the man says, “Ah! News from Palestina!” The type treatment in the text box — italics and exclamation point — is pure irony as they would still work perfectly if the words were actually proclaiming good news, instead of bad.

The graphic sums up the cynical attitude shared by many people today: the only news that comes from the Middle East is about violence and, conversely, if the news is about violence, it must be from the Middle East. It is a powerful, but subtle, comment on the effect that fifty years of Palestinian-Israeli warfare has had on the ability of ordinary citizens to process news from that region.

Irrespective of one’s political preferences almost everyone agrees that the press has had an enormous effect on public perceptions of the Middle East. Ironically, almost no one is happy with the result, be it from an Israeli, Palestinian, Arab, European, American or any other news source.


In 2003 Carl Schrag, the former editor of the Jerusalem Post, was invited by the Global Horizons Distinguished Lecture Series to present his lecture “Understanding Media Coverage in the Middle East” to American university students. In order to demonstrate how different newspapers will often cover the same story differently, Schrag conducted the following exercise: focusing on a current story from the Middle East that was covered by three major American newspapers — the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune — Schrag had the audience read the story’s headline and the opening four paragraphs from each of the three newspapers. The banners had been removed so the audience did not know which version of the story originated from which newspaper.

"It's true that each newspaper had all of the details somewhere in the article, but we all know that headlines and the opening three or four paragraphs create the impression on the casual reader," Schrag said. His point was that Americans had to learn how to read newspapers because emphasis, tone, word choice, references and placement are important elements in any story’s impact.

Schrag said that in order to get a complete view of current events, readers should take advantage of the Internet, as well as both domestic and international news sources and read from a variety of sources.

"If you confine yourself to one source of information, you're just not going to get the whole story," Schrag said in summation.

Schrag’s comments about the complexity of decoding U.S. media coverage of the Middle East helps to explain some of the intellectual bafflement many mainstream Americans experience over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Unfortunately, most Americans get most of what they know about the Middle East from the media, as opposed to the educational system. This shallowness is a national disgrace. When combined in with the media’s habit of writing gratuitously complex stories about the Middle East in other than plain English, it amounts to a public disservice of monumental proportions.

Elfo’s poster is from a series of seventeen prints, all by different illustrators, produced by the Rome-based organization, L’Alfabeto Urbano (Urban Literacy) in solidarity with Bir Zeit University in Palestine. The roster of Italian artists who contributed to this solidarity portfolio reads like a who’s who of Italy’s graphic counterculture. Portfolios such as these are generally done as limited-edition series and either sold or auctioned off to raise funds for medicine, schoolbooks, art supplies, or some other humanitarian goal.

© 2003 Liberation Graphics. All Rights Reserved.

Questions for A New
Democratic Discussion

1) Is it actually possible to write a “balanced” or “evenhanded” article or story about a violent person or event? Where does the notion of journalistic balance come from? Has it always been a hallmark of journalism’s coverage of the Middle East?

2) Has any American newspaper or media company ever made an effort to compare and contrast the political cultures of Israel and the U.S? Would such a comparison/contrast be useful in terms of educating Americans about the similarities and disparities between the two countries?

3) What are the differences between U.S. and European media coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? What are the key differences in public perception of the conflict in the U.S. and in Europe?

4) What is the ideal role of media in educating and informing citizens about events in the Middle East? How does it differ from, or complement, academic and educational efforts to teach contemporary Middle East history?



Please send us your questions and comments (English only please!)