U.S. and World Politics

Molotov Cocktails and the Media’s Double Standard

By Yumna Patel

For the past two weeks, my social media timelines have been flooded with everything about Ukraine: news reports, friends sharing humanitarian appeals, celebrities and supermodels sharing solidarity posts, and the ordinary Twitter user sharing their opinions on the situation.

The images of people fleeing their homes with the clothes on their backs, families huddling in makeshift shelters to hide from the bombs, destroyed apartment buildings, and military jeeps patrolling the streets are all images we’ve seen before in places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and of course, Palestine.

Since I began reporting in Palestine six years ago, these are the types of images that come across my desk every single day. Whether in Gaza or the West Bank, where the Israeli occupation goes, disaster and destruction inevitably follows.

When you report on conflict, no matter where in the world, these are the types of images you have to be ready to see. And in a sense, I was “prepared” to witness the devastating images coming out of Ukraine.

What I was not prepared for—though in hindsight I should’ve known better—was the absolutely wild coverage coming out of Western media.

You’ve all seen the clips: journalists on BBC, NBC, CNN, etc. expressing their bewilderment at the fact that “civilized”, blonde-haired, blue-eyed people are experiencing the horrors of war. Newscasters talking about how utterly horrible it is that such conflict could befall Europe.

What was even more shocking than these racist, harmful, and exhausting narratives being perpetuated on mainstream news networks, was the blatant double standard when it came to reporting in Ukraine vs. Palestine.

Ordinary Ukrainian citizens were being celebrated for taking up arms to defend their country from Russian occupation. People were being urged to donate money to the Ukrainian army. Major news networks were literally live-broadcasting workshops on how to make Molotov Cocktails.

From U.S. government officials, to our biggest news broadcasters, and social media networks, Ukrainians were being applauded as heroes for going to whatever lengths to protect their land. The same exact things that Palestinians are labelled as terrorists for, imprisoned, and even killed.

Photos of a young Ahed Tamimi confronting an Israeli soldier went viral on social media last week, with people celebrating the heroic Ukrainian girl facing off against a Russian soldier. But because Ahed is actually Palestinian, not a Ukrainian girl, she is a “terrorist,” who was imprisoned for months for slapping a soldier who invaded her town and shot her cousin in the head.

When Ahed is Palestinian, she is no global hero. But when she’s Ukrainian, she’s an icon.

While outlets like CNN and the New York Times were romanticizing and encouraging the use of Molotovs against Russian forces, Israel was killing two Palestinian children for allegedly throwing Molotov cocktails towards Israeli military posts.

Yet 13-year-old Mohammad Rezq Salah and 16-year-old Yamen Khanafseh, who were born into a 70+ year occupation, and grew up between walls, checkpoints, military jeeps, and never-ending oppression, did not make the headlines.

For decades, Israel has been killing and imprisoning Palestinians with impunity. Only the “innocent victims”—mostly women and children, with a particularly sad and unjust story, will make the headlines.

But if a Palestinian kid was killed throwing a rock or a Molotov cocktail at an Israeli army jeep that was invading his hometown, he is no hero. He is in fact, treated as a terrorist, and if Israel kills him, the world doesn’t bat an eye.

Many journalists who dare to empathize with the Palestinian struggle have been called “terrorist sympathizers” simply for declaring that a child throwing a stone at a tank should not be shot and killed. We’ve been called “non-objective” for simply believing that Palestinians should be treated, and reported about, as human beings—that they should be extended the same dignity as Ukrainians.

So, to see other journalists, and frankly the world citizenry, so easily understand the concept of resistance—specifically armed resistance—to occupation, and embrace it, is…well…exhausting? Eye-opening? Frustrating? All of the above.

If only such compassion and understanding could be extended to other people under occupation around the world.

Mondoweiss, March 8, 2022