Security fence. Apartheid wall. West Bank barrier. Which one is better?

That depends on who is talking. An Israeli would go for “security fence”, a Palestinian would say “apartheid wall”, and the more neutral, less emotional choice of words would be “West Bank barrier”. Few topics are as sensitive as the Middle East conflict, evoking intense feelings all over the world. When the media shows pictures from Gaza it is bound to cause strong reactions. The same is true if a journalist critically asks a former doctor from Gaza City why he does not think Hamas is a terror organisation. Or if he asks an Israeli ambassador how he would explain the killing of 18 Palestinian family members after claiming that Israel is avoiding civilian casualties? But during an interview, it is important to realise that critical questions are part of the interviewer’s job. They are not expressions of their own personal opinion, but a way to test the thoughts of the interviewees.

In the Middle East conflict there is no single truth. There will always be two different realities, and two different tragedies. As we have seen with the latest renewal of these eternal hostilities, this makes the job of a journalist very difficult. Reporters worldwide have repeatedly been accused for lack of objectivity, one-sided coverage, or for having backgrounds that make them unqualified to deal with the conflict.

Can a journalist with Jewish roots, for instance, give an impartial analysis of this conflict? Though on the surface this might seem like a kind of skepticism that is fairly easy to follow, we have to think really carefully before asking a question like that. Because if the answer is no, then there is a considerable problem with the world’s entire media scene. The Middle East conflict is indeed a very tense case, however there are hardly any topics where a certain background could not potentially be a problem, should the journalists bring their personal opinions to work. Their job is to present both sides of any case so the reader can make up his own mind, and we have to trust journalists to be professional. This would be regardless of whether they are simply letting both parties tell their stories, or if they are critically interviewing an Israeli or Palestinian representative. As long as they address everyone and every statement in the same way, there should be nothing to get nervous about.

Naturally, simply passing on information from the affected areas is a much less risky kind of reporting. However, we cannot deny that we need both kinds of journalists. In this particular conflict, the eggshells break quite a bit easier than in other ones, and it undoubtedly takes finesse and well-thought wordings to come about asking the right questions and display all sides, without deliberately offending anyone in the process. But these are skills that we have to assume that any journalist possesses, and thus we should not waste time worrying that they will not succeed.

All in all, no one should let his or her strong feelings about a topic such as the conflict in the Middle East question the reliability of the entire media scene. We have to believe that we live in a society where everyone acts professionally, regardless of their own beliefs and backgrounds.

In this case, as a journalist, this means always going with “West Bank barrier”.

Maria Uttenthal

Opinion: Journalism put to the test