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Do You Have to Declare Your Position in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?
An appeal to not take sides in the conflict between Hamas and Israel
Düsseldorf, 23 October 2023 Filed under: Editorial
Should journalists have to declare their position and take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? This is a question I have lately been repeatedly asked by readers and have also debated with several journalist colleagues of mine. In the media coverage of the recent terrorist attack on Israel and its military response there have been unrelenting declarations of allegiance for one side or the other. This has awoken in me a desire to explain my own viewpoint on the situation. Mostly because, to be frank, I haven't seen it expressed much. To me, this question has two sides: A professional and a personal one.
Explain Your Biases, Editorialise Your Opinions
Professionally, I am of the opinion that journalists should never take sides when reporting — especially when they are reporting on something that has very high stakes, like a war, for example. Every journalist has an opinion on any number of topics, and can express it in commentary pieces and editorials, but they should always give their utmost to not have it colour their reporting. I feel that it is a good idea to be up front in sharing your opinions, so that readers can get a feel for you as a writer and know where you are coming from. Since everyone is biased in one way or another through the circumstances of the particular life they have let, you might as well tell your readers about these biases, so that they can evaluate what you are writing accordingly. This furthers trust between a journalist and their audience and I've always had good experiences in sharing my biases and opinions freely with my audience.
This can - and should - be done by employing the aforementioned editorial forms of writing, however. It should be done, if at all possible, in a context that clearly separates the author's opinions from the actual reporting. The purpose of reporting is to present the facts as the reporter sees them to the audience, so that the audience may decide how to react to the situation. It is generally not a journalist’s job to tell the audience what to think or what side to be on.
Choose the Side of Peace
My personal feeling when it comes to war — and especially the conflict in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians, which has been raging since before I was born — is that one shouldn’t be on either side. War always means immeasurable death and suffering on both sides, so there really can't be a "winning" or a "correct" side to be on.
Therefore, my personal answer to the question if you have to take sides in this conflict is no. Not only do you not have to take a side, you shouldn’t. People dying in Israel or people dying in Gaza makes no difference to me. I don't care if people were killed by terrorists or the military. What matters is that they died and that they shouldn't have. So the side to chose here is the side of peace. And maybe the side that roundly condemns all religion as the horrible destructive force that it has shown itself to be over thousands of years of human history. I am against religion. I am against xenophobic prejudice. And I am against using these stupid, unenlightened ideas to get young men and women to kill each other and to kill innocent civilians. And that is why I am against choosing sides and for choosing peace — at all costs. In Israel, in Gaza, in Ukraine and elsewhere.
A German Perspective
On a side note, there is also a third reason I am, personally, not taking sides in this. This reason is a deeply personal one and it is probably less relevant for most people. But I want to talk about it nonetheless.
This reason has to do with the fact that I am German. As a German, I feel it behoves me even more to not get involved in this conflict. Germany, in causing the Holocaust and displacing the Jewish population throughout Europe in the Second World War, has caused this whole mess in the first place. Without the Holocaust, there would be no modern State of Israel as we know it today. While I do not believe that I should be held responsible for the crimes of my forbears, I am the direct descendant of men who fought in the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS in the war. Which, together with years of studying this particular part of our history at university, makes me acutely aware of my country's role in the current geopolitical situation in the Middle East. I have thought about these issues long and hard. And the more I think about them, the more I become convinced that the modern German state should not get involved in this situation and that it would be best for Germans in general to not take any sites in this conflict, if at all possible. We have already caused enough death and destruction as it is.
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