“We’re not making demands on Al Jazeera to change their programming or to censor,” the unidentified source at the US State Department told me in response to a BBC report. “We just asked for more inclusion of American perspectives . . . balanced coverage.”
Al Jazeera, the CNN of the Arab World and arguably the freest media in the Middle East, will hopefully continue to pursue its freedom of press. The Qatari-owned television station is not only watched by 40 million viewers day-in and day-out, but is respected by American media like TIME é which has lauded Al Jazeera for its quality and comprehensiveness of the Middle East conflict. Nowhere else can the Middle Eastern community get such coverage of its part of the world.
As for our own media’s balance? Unfortunately, many would say that the daily events of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict have largely gone unnoticed. Few fellow Americans are aware of the daily siege on Palestinian cities by the Israeli Army. Few are aware that medicine and food are in need, or that university students are not able to get to classes. Few are aware of the home demolitions by Caterpillar bulldozers or the thousands of Palestinians who have been made paraplegics and quadriplegics by Israelis. But Al Jazeera shows these events on a daily basis. In fact, numerous Arab-Americans watch Al Jazeera on their own TV screens, thanks to their satellite dishes.
The ultimate irony of this situation is that we say the terrorists wanted to destroy “our way of life and our freedom.” Strange, a free Arab media seems to bring us concern. Arabs have complained forever that American media coverage is unbalanced and clearly gives a pro-Israel tilt. Recent improvements have been made, but not enough to capture the asymmetry of the suffering. And few can argue with this as public opinion polls demonstrate sympathy with Israel. As an American, I am dumbfounded that the land of the free can ever sympathize with those who are depriving a whole population of their liberties.
Throughout the last few weeks, many pro-Israeli political commentators have seen to it to raise the issue of democracy in the Middle East. Or lack of it. Israel is considered the haven of democracy, though Palestinian friends who live inside Israel tell stories that reflect a society similar to the days of segregation here in the States.
True, most of the Arab regimes in place are quite repressive to their people and rarely serve their people’s needs. However, it is widely viewed by many throughout the world that many regimes are in place because they serve our national interest, and support for Israel is a priority. This may or may be fair.
But, let’s consider one likely scenario should Arab democracies begin sprouting, as their populations would prefer.
Arab governments plead with the US to require Israel to implement UN resolutions; to implement international laws and conventions so that no more Israeli settlements are built on Palestinian Arab land; and they ask the US to prohibit the Israeli Defense Force from uprooting olive trees and maintaining its military checkpoints between every Palestinian city/town. The US response is that everything must be negotiated at the table. The democratic Arab governments say that none of these issues are usually up for negotiation, but we’ll let the parties try to work things out. Several years pass. The occupation continues and Palestinians continue to live without any freedom or improvement in their lives. Israel does not implement any interim agreements. They say they shouldn’t have to because the Palestinians living under its Occupation are not doing everything they are being told.
The democratic Arab governments, which rely on the voice of their populace, wave the oil card to the US. “If you’re not going to put any pressure on the Israelis to implement laws and agreements, then you leave us no choice. We’re raising the price of the barrel.”
Americans begin to pay several dollars per gallon to go to work or to visit family and friends. [Keep in mind that Palestinians are not able to go to work nor even attend weddings/funerals inside Palestinian areas due to Israeli “security” measures]. The US economy begins to really suffer. People are saving their money just to fill up their gas tanks. It takes its toll in the end, and the US insists that Israel start implementing the laws and agreements.
Lucky for Israel, there are no Arab democracies to worry about.
But without liberty for all, can a meaningful peace ever result?
Sherri Muzher is a Palestinian-American activist, lawyer, and freelance journalist.