The current mass based Intifada by Palestinians against Israeli occupation and brutal repression has yet again focused the attention of the world to what is benignly referred to as the ‘conflict-ridden’ Middle East.
No doubt, many pro-Israeli commentators will at monotonous intervals be called upon by the mainstream media to provide analysis and opinions, which invariably will pass off as ‘expert views’. This practice stems from the fact that the South African press, English and Afrikaans, has traditionally held a strong pro-Israeli bias. It is also true that since Israel represents a Western colonial heritage, its profile as a European outpost in the midst of the stereotypical ‘Arab savages’, has allowed the Jewish state an overtly favorable press.
Those individual journalists and editors who have dared to break away from the tradition which demands an uncritical acceptance of Israeli propaganda as unchallengeable, while still small in number, are fortunately on the increase. For a robust media to thrive, it goes without saying that publishers and journalists are expected to comment without fear. This fear of being excluded as ‘outcasts’ and vilified as ‘anti-semites’ has ensured that the discourse on Palestine remains severely restricted.
The current head of the Zionist state, Ariel Sharon, who is at the centre of the storm that has engulfed Palestine today, was also responsible for the Sabra and Chatila massacre in 1982, when up to 2750 Palestinian civilians were slaughtered by Israel’s Phalangist allies in Lebanon. In keeping with American media coverage of the Middle East which has largely been pro-Israeli, the white-controlled South African media at the time not once referred to the Sabra and Chatila murderers as ‘terrorists’.
Is it a consequence of such shameful and poor journalism, that has led to the persistent paranoia about Muslims in general and Palestinians in particular, that they are by nature mindlessly violent; and the believe that Israel is under siege and deserving of sympathy, not censure?
Is it as a result of shoddy, inappropriate analysis by Israeli leaning ‘experts’ that the Muslim sanctified area of Jerusalem is lamely viewed as ‘disputed’, when in effect UN Security Council resolution 242 demands the complete and unconditional withdrawal of Israeli forces from territories captured during the 1967 war, including East Jerusalem?
It is increasingly becoming clear that the processes through which the efforts of Western powers coincide with the efforts of their client-states, whether in the Middle East, Africa or Asia are there for everyone to see.
But due to an elaborate, almost institutionalized routine which keeps the door wide open to uncritical ‘experts’, opposing voices are either overshadowed, overwhelmed or ignored. Writers or producers who take a view different from established images are ostracized. The unfair attack on Robert Fisk by The Star’s Ombudsman in recent weeks, demonstrates this.
Indeed, has anyone not wondered why, for example, books by authors such as Roger Garaudy, Noam Chomsky, Israel Shahak, Uri Davis and Edward Said are not reviewed?
As a further example, the media coverage of Saudi Arabia is quite revealing. Here we have the example of a country which is facing serious economic and social problems and a political challenge from an increasingly restless populace. Yet, the conclusions reached by media commentators, suggest that the West is better off with a pliant House of Saud than with revolutionary Islamists.
In his landmark study “A Brutal Friendship”, Palestinian author Said Aburish claims that the image of Arab leaders and countries are regularly doctored to suit their usefulness to Western needs. Facts are subordinated to images, and what filters through to the average person is aimed at inducing them to concur with what has already been decided.
Responding to questions in the House of Commons in April 1995 about the activities of dissident Arab groups in London, the then Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, making it clear he was speaking about the Saudi opposition, stated that Her Majesty’s Government had no intention of allowing London to become a centre for terrorist activity. Hurd was talking about the anti-House of Saud efforts of the Committee for the Defense of the Legitimate Rights [of the Saudi people], the CDLR, unchallenged and in the absence of a thorough interrogation by the British media on his strange remarks. Hurd demonstrated how image overshadows reality.
Has silence induced by fear of being viewed as anti-Establishment not contributed to a political culture in Britain, which five years after the Hurd remarks, allows the UK to slip into the statute books of a new Terrorism Act, which seriously curtails political activities against tyrants and dictators who are British allies?
The current battle for Jerusalem and a free Palestine challenges the integrity of mainstream media, political commentators and ‘experts’. The overt anti-Palestinian approach by sections of the media, is evident both in reports and interviews.
The most recent and poignant example is the style and content of an interview with Sharon by Newsweek’s Lally Weymouth.
For instance, the question ‘is the Palestinian Authority rear-resting any of the terrorists that it freed from jails?”, is a damning revelation that Weymouth accepts the Israeli viewpoint which negated legitimate freedom movements as ‘terrorists’. Such a patronizing approach is a major impediment to critical journalism and needs to be discredited by international media institutions as well as activists.
Such pathetic adoption of Israeli inspired euphemism by mainstream media, needs to be consigned to the dustbin of history. The Intifada must therefore be seen not only as a struggle against Israeli occupation, but also as a popular revolt against media bias.
(Mr. Iqbal Jasarat is Chairman of the Media Review Network, which is an advocacy group based in Pretoria, South Africa.)