Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Gaza: twisted language and the right to resist

Eight more Palestinians have been killed today, Wednesday, as the death toll rises relentlessly in Gaza.

Two brothers have been killed as fearful Gazans endured another night of Israeli bombardment. Three Palestinian journalists are also dead after their car was blown up.

Last night on BBC News at Ten (20 Nov), amid scenes of devastation, Jeremy Bowen said of the killings:
"Now, I can't find much anger or sadness or even surprise about what's happened. That's partly because around here they've seen a lot of violent death. But also because in Gaza there is a strong culture of martyrdom."
But does, as Bowen crassly intimates, the 'glory of death' for Palestinians outweigh any other human emotion?

Similar insidious claims can be seen in dispatches from New York Times correspondent Judi Roderon:
"I've been surprised that when I talk to people who just lost a relative, or who are gathering belongings from a bombed-out house, they seem a bit ho-hum."
Are Palestinians predisposed to being 'less caring of life' or 'martyrs'?  Or are they just ordinary people who, subject to brutal occupation, want to live peaceful lives like anyone else?

Similar crude media presumptions and qualifications apply in portraying Israeli and Palestinian attacks. While the former is the prerogative of a 'state defending itself', the latter is 'militant provocation'.

The truth can be more prosaically stated: according to the United Nations and its legally-defined documents, Gaza is still an occupied territory.

All of which means that Palestinians, both in the West Bank and Gaza, have a legitimate right to defend themselves.

Seumas Milne puts it clearly in a fine defence of Palestinian rights:
"Despite Israel's withdrawal of settlements and bases in 2005, the Gaza Strip remains occupied, both effectively and legally – and is recognised as such by the UN. Israel is in control of Gaza's land and sea borders, territorial waters and natural resources, airspace, power supply and telecommunications. It has blockaded the strip since Hamas took over in 2006-7, preventing the movement of people, materials, and food supplies in and out of the territory – even calculating the 2,279 calories per person that would keep Gazans on an exemplary "diet". And it continues to invade the strip at will. So Gazans are an occupied people and have the right to resist, including by armed force (though not to target civilians), while Israel is an occupying power that has an obligation to withdraw – not a right to defend territories it controls or is colonising by dint of military power."
Among the Guardian's usual whitewash on this issue, Milne's article is a courageous reclaiming of the 'right to defence'.  Moreover, like him, one can see the core, rightful reasons for such Palestinian responses without necessarily accepting their practical or moral usefulness.  

The use of other generic language provides a vital means of disguising the issues.  For example, the word 'violence' itself here permits the impression of a 'generalised mayhem' which, from afar (notably, the west), denotes little more than an incomprehensible warring of two sides.

Another is the imbalanced use of the word 'fear'.

Take this typical line from a BBC story on a UK footballer feeling "scary" about playing in Israel while rockets are being fired from Gaza:
"More than 100 people have died in the Gaza Strip in six days of violence, Hamas officials say, with talks over a ceasefire ongoing to prevent more bloodshed."
At first glance, this seems fine. But why not say, more accurately: 'More than 100 people have been killed (if not murdered) in the Gaza Strip during six days of Israeli attacks'?

Again, what chance here of acknowledging the comparative fear, the much more scary anticipation in Gaza of death, injury, trauma and homelessness?

Might not the BBC have used the above story to mention the 13-year-old Palestinian boy killed by an Israeli shell while playing football in the street, a key part of the timeline events largely omitted by the BBC, which led to this latest upsurge?

An attack today on a Tel Aviv bus produced more examples of power-serving language. Unlike the Israeli 'strikes' visited on Gaza, this was a 'terror attack'.

Even in its seemingly 'straight-reporting', the words are loaded with assumptions of Israeli superiority.

Thus, the BBC's John Donnison tweets:
"If bus explosion confirmed as attack in Tel Aviv could be a game changer. #Gaza #Israel"
How revealing that journalists fall immediately into responsive line in seeing any attack on Israel as 'game changing'. This isn't, one suspects, just about reporting the possible 'reality' of Israel's 'heavy response' - as though their actions weren't already heavy - but something much deeper about being conditioned to regard any assault on Israel as 'more significant', 'more dangerous', more 'far-reaching' than the killing of Palestinians.

Why wasn't the atrocious murder of the entire Dalou family reported as a 'game changer' - or any self-examining discussion offered as to why it wasn't depicted as a 'game changer'?

Honest media reflection on those kind of questions would, of course, be career 'game over' for many journalists.

Ilan Pappe has talked of the resourcefulness of the Israeli PR machine in twisting and reconstituting the language for public consumption. Media language seems to follow in default mode.  One of the words Pappe would like to see banished from the narrative here, however difficult, is 'conflict'.

There is, he asserts, no truth in the standard notion of 'conflict' between Palestinians and Israel, a term which denotes equivalence and parity, disguising the line between occupied and occupier, between those transgressed against and outright aggressor.

Likewise, Hillary Clinton can fly into the region in 'support of a peace deal', declare her unequivocal support for Israel, denounce the bus bombing, ignore the ruthless killing of families in Gaza and still be treated by the media as an 'impartial' player seeking to 'stem the violence' and 'end the conflict'.

Thus, from the Guardian:
"The bombing comes as Hillary Clinton held meetings with Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, in an effort to bring an end to the bloody conflict, after arriving in the region on Tuesday."
Where is the suggestion from the BBC, Guardian and others that Clinton is not an unblemished person of peace, trying to 'end a bloody conflict', but a central player in the continuing occupation and killing?

Whatever greater global awareness of Israel's brutal conduct, the propaganda narrative of Israel's 'right to self-defence' remains a powerful one.

And so, driven by a media in automated service to power - with some welcome exceptions - a spectrum of popular messages prevails, from 'the Palestinians are to blame and must pay the price of their own violence', to 'they're all just as bad as each other'; a promotion of myths, confusions and hand-wringing liberal evasions on the 'terrible violence' and 'intractable conflict' all serving to blame, castigate and deny justice to the real victims.

The distortion would be laughable if it weren't so tragic.


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