Imagine what our understanding of the Middle East would be like if we had a free press. Newspapers, radio and television would carry stories with headlines such as:
“Barak’s ‘generous offer’ a fraud; Arafat right to reject”;
“U.S. Security Council veto abets war crimes against Palestinians”;
“30% of Palestinian children under five chronically malnourished; and
“Israel founded on terror and theft.”
Each of these headlines depicts empirical facts that any half-decent researcher can dig up. Problem is, the mainstream media chooses to ignore them. This must be true, since it is impossible to believe that these facts are lying undiscovered like so many unearthed fossils. Take the last headline, for example.
Between the time that the Partition Plan was signed (Nov. 29, 1947) and Israel was proclaimed (May 15, 1948) zionist forces had dispossessed more than 300,000 Palestinians. By December, they had seized 78 percent of Palestine and more than 400 Arab villages. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine put the total figure of Palestinian refugees at 726,000.
(The authoritative account of the dispossession is All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948, edited by Harvard professor emeritus Walid Khalidi.)
For its part, the Partition Plan (UN General Assembly Resolution 181) was grossly unjust toward the Palestinians, and thus was never ratified by the Security Council. That means it wasn’t legally enforceable; it was no more than a recommendation, and as such the Arab states had every right to reject it. When David ben Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel, he did so without moral or legal sanction. Therefore, Israel was founded on terror and theft.
Nevertheless, the media still trots out the tired fiction that the Arabs are ultimately responsible for the violence because they rejected partition. Does nobody know what really happened?
Of course, many do know, but the presumption of Israel’s virtue and legitimacy is such a powerful dogma in our media and social culture, that nothing, not even honest historical scholarship, can be allowed to challenge it. Any reporter who tries to get at the root of the Middle East conflict must stand outside this dogmatic frame of reference, which means he will immediately suffer the libel “anti-Semite” and/or be fired. Professional integrity is a virtue that few if any can afford.
As a result when we tune in to a newscast or pick up a paper we do not see the Middle East as it really is; instead, we are presented with a make-believe world in which criticism is carefully controlled.
When we see the effect of sacrifice bombers blowing themselves up in a crowded Israeli market, we are supposed to believe that it is the work of terrorists bent upon destroying “democratic” Israel. We are not supposed to see such violence as the desperate act of Palestinian resistance fighters trying to protect an unarmed civilian population from the predations of a sadistic occupying army.
When Israel assaults refugee camps causing murder and destruction, we are expected to accept it as a legitimate act of self-defence. We are not supposed to denounce it categorically as wanton murder and terror. The Big Lie supporting all this is that the Palestinians want war, and the Israelis want peace. This is rubbish, and the public knows it.
Even with the hyper-zionist frothing of the CanWest media empire and the polite zionism of the Globe and Mail, the Internet and smaller alternative publications are providing Canadians with balance and perspective. This is one such publication.
The Alberta Arab News will reach 2,000 Albertans every other week, and if only a handful of readers passes it on to someone else, or is moved to act because of something they read in it, then it will do much to broaden people’s understanding of Arabs and Muslims. Readers are free to disagree with what they read, but at least they will have read it. That ability alone is enough to terrify the pro-Israel lobby.
Until the World Wide Web went live in 1993, the ability to censor and skew reporting from the Middle East was relatively easy. Of course, people could read foreign papers like The Guardian, The Observer and The Independent (U.K.); Le Monde and Le Figaro (France); or Ha’aretz (Israel) to read a more realistic account of what was taking place, but there were only so many copies to go around.
With more than a thousand newspapers on the Internet, only the number of computers limits the number of copies. The one weakness of the Internet is that people have to make the effort to seek out the news. In contrast, the morning paper and the evening newscast come to the people. Unless readers of news are prepared to make the effort to be informed, the skewed prism of the mainstream media will continue to define our understanding of Arabs and Muslims.
Those who read Ha’aretz (www.haaretz.com) might have seen the disturbing Sept. 15 story “Twilight Zone/Birth and death at the checkpoint.” Rula Ashtiya is about to give birth as she and her husband Daoud approach the Beit Furik checkpoint asking to be let through to meet an ambulance coming from Nablus. The Israeli guards refuse to let them through and force them to sit on the ground next to a barbed wire fence.
Even though Rula’s contractions grow more intense the guards refuse to permit them to cross. At length, Rula gives birth to a girl who dies almost immediately. Incidences like this are not reported because they betray the true face of Israel and real suffering of the Palestinians.
As a regular columnist, I will do my best to offer analysis and opinion to present the full story of Arabs and the Middle East. One day soon, the mainstream media will catch on.
I welcome your comments.