The Missing Journalism on Conflict and Peace–and the Middle East

EDITORIAL, 4 Jul 2022

#752 | Johan Galtung – TRANSCEND Media Service

The local culture seems to demand a short introduction in your own tongue before switching to globalized English.  I follow suit:


Jeg tror ikke man kan snakke om Midtösten, og spesielt ikke legge frem et fredsforslag slik jeg har tenkt å gjöre, uten dyp medfölelse med verdens jöder for shoa, og med palestinenserne for okkupasjon og generasjoner i leire.  Jeg har levd nær begge siden jeg begynte å sette meg inn i konflikten en natt i januar 1964 på jernbanestasjonen i Gaza og tror jeg forstår og opplever traumenes dybde.  Ordet “fred” blir problematisk, en dröm et sted mellom forræderi og oppgivelse.  En oppfordring uten like.

Translation from Norwegian (by TMS editor):

I do not think it is possible to talk about the Middle East, and especially not to present a peace proposal as I intend to do, without deep sympathy for the Jews of the world for the shoa, and with the Palestinians for occupation and generations in camps. I have lived close to both since I began to understand the conflict one night in January 1964 at the Gaza railway station and I think I understand and experience the depth of the traumas. The word “peace” becomes problematic, a dream somewhere between betrayal and abandonment. An invitation without equal.


This being the case, let me proceed with care.  So I start with two images of international affairs, or human affairs for that matter, two discourses: the security approach and the peace approach.  They compete for our attention and address the same concern with violence but are diametrically opposed:

The Security Approach is based on four components:

  1. An Evil Party, with strong capability and evil intention;
  2. A Clear and Present Danger of Violence, real or potential;
  3. Strength, to defeat or deter the evil party, in turn producing
  4. Security, which is also the best approach to “peace”.

The approach works when evil/strong parties are weakened through defeat or deterrence, and/or converted to become good.

The Peace Approach is also based on four components:

  1. A Conflict, which has not been resolved/transformed;
  2. A Danger of Violence to “settle the conflict”;
  3. Conflict Transformation, empathic‑creative‑nonviolent, producing
  4. Peace, which is the best approach to “security”.

The approach works through acceptable/sustainable outcomes.

The security approach presupposes superior strength (of whatever kind, Sun Tzu or Clausewitz), which implies inequality.

The peace approach presupposes a conflict outcome acceptable to all parties and sustainable, which implies equality.

I think you recognize them as scripts underlying thought, speech and action on the whole Middle East issue ‑ or any other conflict for that matter.  The discourses translate into journalism as two styles:






focus on conflict arena,

2 parties, 1 goal (win), war

general zero‑sum orientation


closed space, closed time;

causes and effect in arena,

who threw the first stone;

poor in context


focus only on visible effect

of violence (killed, wounded

and material damage)


making wars opaque/secret


“us‑them” journalism,

propaganda, voice, for “us”


see “them” as the problem,

focus on who prevails in war


dehumanization of “them”;

more so the worse the weapon


reactive: waiting for violence

to occur before reporting





expose “their” untruths


help “our” cover‑ups/lies





focus on “their” violence

and on “our” suffering;

on able‑bodied elite males,


give name of their evil‑doer


focus on elite peace‑makers,

being elite mouthpiece





peace = victory + cease‑fire


conceal peace‑initiative,

before victory is at hand


focus on treaty, institution

the controlled society


leaving for another war,

return if the old flares up







explore conflict formation,

x parties, y goals, z issues

general “win, win” orientation


open space, open time;

causes and outcomes anywhere,

also in history/culture;

rich in context


focus also on invisible effects

of violence (trauma and glory,

damage to structure/culture)


making conflicts transparent


giving voice to all parties;

empathy, understanding


see conflict/war as problem,

focus on conflict creativity


humanization of all sides;

more so the worse the weapons


proactive: reporting also

before violence/war occurs




expose untruths on all sides


uncover all cover‑ups





focus on violence by all sides

and on suffering all over;

also on women, aged, children,


give name to all evil‑doers


focus on people peace‑makers,

giving voice to the voiceless







highlight peace initiatives,

also to prevent more war


focus on structure, culture

the peaceful society


aftermath: resolution, re‑

construction, reconciliation


The choice of journalistic style is an implicit choice of discourse, tapping into that underlying script. And my point is, of course, that the second column is by and large missing.

In principle we have ten types of media: for reading, listening, viewing at the local, national and global level, and the internet, the only one that approaches the global level in any meaningful sense. That national media mirror national elites in or out of position is hardly surprising, leaving us with local media as the most promising for a peace discourse.  However, being local they are probably best at conflicts at the micro and meso levels, macro and mega conflicts being beyond their horizons.  So we are somewhat lost.  But that can improve.

In the Table there are four main dimensions defining the cut between the two styles of journalism.  In one the unit of discourse is the violent act, and the violent actor, and whether the latter can be prevailed upon with a victory.  In the other the unit of discourse is a conflict, meaning a focus on at least two actors.  A little bit more challenging intellectually in other words, but not much.

Those actors are usually available for interviews; in fact, they would love to explain their view of the conflict.  And that is precisely what conflict and peace journalism would focus on, their bread and butter:

 ‑ “What, in your view, is the conflict underlying this act of violence?”

 ‑ “What, in your view, might be a possible way of solving that conflict?”

Journalists, include these two questions in your standard repertory and we are in peace journalism.  Later on we might ask for the same level of expertise as for, say, health and finance.  As en editor of Toronto Star once put it: All you ask is, give peace a page!  The point is not that journalists should advocate anything; all they should do is to make peace more visible, like life signs in a coma patient. Whereas the first journalism style would focus on who wins, and see any tendency to understand the other side as an effort to justify their violence.

The table speaks for itself and extensive commentary will soon be available in Reporting Conflict: An Introduction to Peace Journalism, by Jake Lynch, Annabel McGoldrick and myself.  Concretely, here are five ways of doing peace journalism, five “peace angles”:

  1. Look at peace in general. How about devoting more journalism to reporting peace? How about reporting the remarkable peace among so many nations in Toronto and Sydney? Among Nordic, European, ASEAN states? How about generating some optimism?  Too radical?
  2. Look at peace in the midst of violence. Even during extreme violence in Yugoslavia and the Middle East some peace could be found and could be created; zones, archipelagoes. Explore them.
  3. Look backward: Peace in the past. “But the situation was peaceful before, wasn’t it?  What went wrong, and what could have been done at he time? Or was something wrong all the time?”  These are standard mediator questions and yield good insights. Could be added to the journalist repertory, for all parties.
  4. Look forward: Peace in the future. Again an example of a standard mediator question:  “How does the Korea/Yugoslavia/Gulf region/Iraq etc. look that you would like to live in?”  Elicit proposals, and, of course, watch out for proposals that have already been articulated, and do deep journalistic probing.
  5. Look sideward: Peace elsewhere. All conflicts are unique, and all share something with other conflicts, like patients and diseases.  Switzerland is often mentioned.  How about checking    such analogies? Could what is somewhere become feasible elsewhere?

As conflict is a part of the human condition, and violence may be the outcome anywhere in the world when the parties see no way out, the place to start is everywhere and “everywhen”.  Don’t wait for violence to occur, be ahead of the violence.

A peace proposal may be peace in statu nascendi.  Here is one:

Israel/Palestine/Middle East ‑ A Transcend Perspective

For Israel and Palestine there is no security at the end of this road of violence; only increased violence and insecurity.

Israel is now in the most dangerous period of its history: increasingly militarist, fighting unwinnable wars, increasingly isolated and with ever more enemies, exposed to violence, non‑ violence and boycott from within and without with the USA sooner or later making support conditional on concessions. The basic change in South Africa, from inside and outside, comes to mind:

  • Israel’s moral capital is rapidly depreciating, is probably negative in most countries, slowly also changing in the USA;
  • Israel suffers from a de facto military coup, offering the electorate a choice of generals with limited agendas;
  • Israeli violence and intransigence mobilize resistance and struggle in the Arab and Muslims worlds, if not in the sense of inter‑state warfare then in the postmodern sense of terrorism against Israeli state terrorism.  Highly motivated volunteers willing to enter this struggle are in unlimited supply;
  • Sooner or later this will include the 18% Israeli Arabs;
  • Sooner or later this may lead to massive nonviolent struggle, like 100,000 Arab women in black marching on Israel;
  • Economic boycott of Israeli may come, like for South Africa initiated by NGOs and followed by local authorities and, like South Africa, maybe more important morally than economically;
  • Again like for South Africa, US policy may change:
    • economically Israel is becoming a liability, given trade/oil problems with Arab countries no longer willing to see the USA as a third party; with imminent boycotts and pressure to disinvest;
    • militarily Israel may commit the USA to a highly ambiguous war, and bases are available elsewhere (Turkey, Kosova, Macedonia);
    • politically Israel is a liability in the UN; the EU, and NATO allies, may not legitimize violent intervention. USA may prefer a reasonable agreement to supporting a loser (the Shah, Marcos). Could this peace package be more attractive to reasonable people?
  1.  Palestine is recognized as a state following UNSC 194, 242, 338; with June 4 1967 borders with small land exchanges;
  2.  East Jerusalem becomes the capital of Palestine;
  3.  A Middle East Community with Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria as full members, with water, arms, trade regimes based on multilateral consensus; and an Organization for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East with a broader base;
  4.  The Community is supported by the EU, Nordic Community and ASEAN financially and for institution‑building expertise;
  5.  Egypt and Jordan lease additional land to Palestine;
  6.  Israel and Palestine become federations with 2 Israeli cantons in Palestine and 2 Palestinian cantons in Israel;
  7.  The two neighbor capitals become a city confederation, also host to major regional, UN and ecumenical institutions;
  8.  The right of return also to Israel is accepted in principle, numbers to be negotiated within the canton formula;
  9.  Israel and Palestine have joint and equitable economic ventures, joint peace education and joint border patrolling;
  10.  Massive stationing of UN monitoring forces.
  11.  Sooner or later a Truth and Reconciliation process. Mediating this should not be a country, or a group of countries (EU should be a model more than mediator); but persons generally respected, and a Helsinki‑style conference for the Middle East.

There is some work behind this one, from 1964 on, hundreds of dialogues high and low and backward, forward, sideward.  Your commentaries and mine would easily fill not only this conference but a semester.

So let me simplify.  As I do not expect Israeli media to line up for interviews let me interview myself, following a little 12 point guide.  I do this to make a point or two:

There is nothing sacred about a peace perspective.  It should be made readable, audible, visible.

But it should also be exposed to deep, penetrating, even grilling interviews by journalists well prepared to do so ‑ and whoever puts forward a peace proposal would do well to be at least equally prepared.

So, here we go:

[1] What was the method behind the plan?  Dialogue with the parties, and in that case with all the parties?  Some trial negotiation?  Analogy with other conflicts?  Intuition?

     The method was dialogue, searching, always questioning, probing.  But in that dialogue there was often an opening question I have found very useful: “What does the Middle East in which you would like to live look like?”  Politicians might be surprised to know how many come up with ideas of a Middle East community.

[2] To what extent is the plan acceptable to all parties? If not, what can be done about it?

     The typical answer when I ask politicians high up in countries concerned is positive, accepting, and then the obvious “but time is not ripe”.  The question is how to make it ripe.

[3] To what extent is the plan, if realized, self‑sustainable? If not, what can be done about it?

     I would claim it is self‑sustainable.  A Middle East community with common market features would generate enough income to sustain itself and not be propped up by outside powers of diasporas.

[4] Is the plan based on autonomous action by the parties, or does it depend on outsiders? What can make it autonomous?

     At the present stage some outside support is indispensable.  The European Union could call a conference and present its own expertise, seconded by the Nordic and ASEAN communities.  The UN, with its Security Council‑‑the name already taps into the first discourse‑‑is unfortunately not an adequate venue.  But the conference could start more like a seminar on regional integration for Middle East participants.  Maybe the younger generation?

[5] Is the plan only an outcome plan, or only a process plan about who shall do what, how, when and where, or both?

     At present this is only an outcome plan.  Dialogues now take place to identify possible processes.  In a parliamentary democracy like Israel a majority that can carry a process would be needed.

[6] To what extent is the plan based on what only elites can do, what only people can do, or on what both can do?

     Very much on both.  The Nordic and general European experience is that a rich underbrush of NGOs across borders is very helpful; the ASEAN experience is that it can be generated by governmental processes without being directed.  There is much to build on in the Middle East. The experience of the Ottoman empire may also be drawn upon; it had elements of being a family of nations.

[7] Does the plan foresee an ongoing conflict resolution process, or is the idea a single‑shot agreement?

     A key question of any peace plan. A community would have a rolling agenda handling conflicts as they arise.  The European Community has two agendas as it is both territorial, a community of states presided over by the Council, and functional, a community of functions or directorates presided over by the Commission.

[8] Is peace/conflict transformation education for people, for elites or for both, built into the plan?

     That has to be done.  The plan sees Two States Solution as too asymmetric, Israel being too strong, or Palestine too weak.  There has to be a setting to even out those differences, like the EC/EU for the relation between Germany and Luxembourg.  Much new thinking was needed in Europe, the same will be the case in the Middle East.

[9] If there has been violence, to what extent does the plan contain elements of reconciliation?

     That has to be done, along the lines of the German textbook approach and the South African Truth and Reconciliation, not along the Anglo‑American line of highly divisive tribunals.

[10] If there has been violence, to what extent does the plan contain elements of rehabilitation/reconstruction?

     So far not. Joint work would be an approach to reconciliation.

[11] If the plan doesn’t work, is the plan reversible?

     Definitely.  A state may leave a community, and may rejoin.

[12] Even if the plan should work for this conflict, does it create new conflicts or problems?  Is it really a good deal?

     A major problem would be a Middle East Community strong enough to threaten its neighbors.  Not very likely any time soon! But even if Arab Unity has a troubled history there is also that movement in which the five Arab states might also like to participate.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of TRANSCEND International and rector of TRANSCEND Peace University. He was awarded among others the 1987 Right Livelihood Award, known as the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize. Galtung has mediated in over 150 conflicts in more than 150 countries, and written more than 170 books on peace and related issues, 96 as the sole author. More than 40 have been translated to other languages, including 50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives published by TRANSCEND University Press. His book, Transcend and Transform, was translated to 25 languages. He has published more than 1700 articles and book chapters and over 500 Editorials for TRANSCEND Media Service. More information about Prof. Galtung and all of his publications can be found at

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 4 Jul 2022.

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