Monday, August 11, 2014
Gaza: the foggy view of propaganda through the media lens
On Saturday night the television news headlines carried two strangely incompatible stories.
First, there was footage of a mighty force bombing terrorists who were threatening innocent civilians; then they showed video of people protesting against another mighty force, also bombing terrorists threatening innocent civilians.
With tens of thousands of women and children dying under attack from ISIS in Northern Iraq, you’d think there’d be plenty of reason to hit the streets. I'd understand if there were petitioners outside every Arab embassy demanding action to curb the terrorists that are causing such turbulence and carnage. But the slogan-chanters marching through London with their Socialist Worker-supplied banners, the well-spoken students with brand new black and white Arafat scarves, the righteous politicians demanding sanctions and retribution, didn't mention the plight of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis; they were targeting the democratic state of Israel.
The success of the Palestinian terrorist organisation Hamas in securing the sympathy of ordinary people in the West is scarcely surprising. News organisations working in Gaza are forbidden upon pain of death to show any of the thousands of rockets being launched against Israeli villages and homes, or to interview or even film the fighters based inside and underneath Gaza's hospitals and schools, mosques and private homes. That must be why we haven't seen a frame of this on any of our news broadcasts (unless the BBC and Sky have been supressing the footage, or are too incompetent to obtain it, both of which are unthinkable).
As a result, the only images on our screens for the past month have been blood in the streets, blasted houses and crying children. Which is not to say that the violence has not been intolerable, appalling, upsetting. Or even that the Israeli response to the terrorist attacks hasn’t at times been excessive and possibly even indiscriminate. But our view from Gaza has undoubtedly been one-sided.
The fact that the casualty list supplied by the Palestinian authorities doesn’t differentiate between civilians and Hamas fighters hasn’t helped us see through the fog of propaganda (though the fact that the majority of deaths have been male should offer a clue). Nevertheless, because the bloodshed has been on one side, the balancing view has been only stern, smartly-dressed Israeli spokesmen accusing Hamas of responsibility for the deaths because it uses the people and children of Gaza as human shields. Which may be true, but because our news organisations have been unable to prove it with pictures, somehow it hasn’t struck home.
Consequently, even though they could never hope to win militarily, Hamas has been scoring points in the propaganda war, and as a result thousands of well-meaning but largely uninformed people have been trudging around London in solidarity with a biased view of a situation that few understand. They've been reciting the mantra of Gaza being like a concentration camp, without any comprehension of the political events that brought it to that position, let alone an inkling of how to untangle the mess as long as Gaza continues to offer itself as a launchpad for terrorists.
However, there's a more sinister consequence: in the last couple of weeks across the UK we've begun to see a disturbing emergence of anti-semitism. Of course, racists don’t become racists because of the violence in Gaza, the poison will have been flowing below the surface all the time, but the dormant cesspit of anti-Jewish hatred is being stirred up by the revulsion that television viewers feel when they see the footage. As a result, a nasty political war is threatening to turn into a toxic religious one.
I can understand passionate demonstrations outside the Israeli Embassy against Netanyahu's policies, against what many see as the Israeli military's sometimes disproportionately violent actions - that's the right of anyone in a democracy. But now synagogues have been attacked, and ordinary, innocent British people who happen to be Jewish have been verbally and physically abused. And yet this dispute in Gaza is nothing to do with Jews in Britain, any more than the IRA bombs in Northern Ireland were caused by good Catholic families in Tunbridge Wells.
Last weekend we had lunch with two friends; their children are good friends with Izzy. The husband is a leading creative in London’s advertising industry – you would all know and love his work. He is intelligent, funny, and British. He isn’t remotely religious or Zionist, his mother is Roman Catholic, but he and his wife happen to be Jewish. They arrived home from our lunch to find a swastika carved into their front door. Another Jewish friend was verbally abused while queuing in the checkout in our local Tesco Express. This is Hampstead, England, not Warsaw in 1939.
During the last month’s horrific violence, neither side appears to have achieved anything, yet neither side can win. Nor, it appears, can either side afford to stop. Despite the deaths, despite the destruction of some of the rockets and part of Hamas’s vast underground war-rooms (built with the resources and concrete earmarked for reconstruction and relief after the last conflict), Hamas continues to attack Israel’s villages, so Israel fires back, and the agony of Gaza continues.
And yet, with every death in Gaza, Israel becomes less secure in its support from ordinary people in the West. Meanwhile the Arab world just looks on, incapable of tackling the extremists within its own borders, let alone dealing with the evil of Hamas. As a result, this futile war between two ultimately impotent forces is now affecting us all.