Mainstream media does not appear to have the will to show the complexity of the Palestinian situation.
“If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.”
—W. I. Thomas and D. S. Thomas
Interpretations and representations, though executed through the medium of language, have material, as in physical, consequences. When interpretations are linked with profit, as most of media houses are profit-seeking entities, the desire for un-biased reporting tends to disappear. Consumers of media are not interested in a reappraisal of their worldviews but a reaffirmation of their cognitive habits. If the majority of audience of a news channel believe in the stereotype of the Arab as a terrorist, it will be almost impossible for the media house to try to portray the Arab as a decent human being. Any attempt to challenge the stereotypes results in a loss of viewers. The reduced number of viewers translates into lost revenue through advertising and sponsored content. It is this mutually constitutive relationship between stereotypical images and revenue that creates a loop of frenetically produced information and its social validation. It is for this reason that a majority of Western media houses present Israel’s latest attack on Gaza as a “response” or “defence” or “war.” The situation on the ground is totally different. The residents of Gaza are not citizens of a state and they are not independent to make choices. They are refugees in their own land. On the ground, ordinary residents have to deal with the conflict between Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Fatah, which controls the West Bank. Not all Jews are Zionists nor all Muslims are extremists/terrorists but the media thrives on simplistic divisions in the same way as the global weapons manufacturing industry thrives on conflict, often supplying the arms to the both sides.
Recent Wikileaks revelations have also indicated some cooperation between Fatah against Hamas. The ideological differences between Hamas and Fatah reflect the broader conflict in the region between Islamism and Arab nationalism, with Hamas being a flag-bearer of Islamism and an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. When the media reports the conflict between Israel and Palestine, it simplifies a very complex situation. Media houses, in the era of instant sound bites, do not have the patience to highlight the realities that challenge the perceptions. Therefore, ordinary readers remain unaware of the information that can challenge the stereotypical worldview. For example, an ordinary reader might think all Israelis are against Palestine. This is not the case. There are many organisations that represent the Jewish people who are against Zionism. For example, this is how one Jewish organisation conveys its vision: “True Torah Jews is dedicated to informing the world and in particular the American public and politicians that not all Jews support the ideology of the Zionist state called “Israel”. In fact, a great number of Orthodox Jews view the ideology of that state as diametrically opposed to the teachings of traditional Judaism.”
Similarly, Hamas also believes in the possibility of a peaceful social space where Muslims, Christians, and Jews can live in harmony: “Under the shadow of Islam it is possible for the members of the three religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism to coexist in safety and security” (Article 31, The Charter of the Hamas). Hamas also tacitly accepts the state of Israel by accepting the borders between Israel and Palestine as they existed in 1967, even though the official stance is to “liberate” all of Palestine. Both Hamas and Fatah believe Israel to be a colonial and aggressive presence in the region and their claims have legitimacy. In 1938, President Roosevelt once considered settling the oppressed Jews of Europe, who were trying to escape the Holocaust, in Alaska: “Interior Secretary Harold Ickes and a few others in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration liked the idea of resettling German Jews in Alaska. Despite the isolationist and anti-Jewish sentiments prevalent at the time, they proposed to establish “a haven for Jewish refugees from Germany and other areas in Europe where the Jews are subjected to oppressive restrictions.” According to Ickes’s diaries, President Roosevelt wanted to move 10,000 settlers to Alaska each year for five years, but only 10 percent would be Jewish “to avoid the undoubted criticism” the programme would receive if it brought too many Jews into the country. With Ickes’s support, Interior Undersecretary Harold Slattery wrote a formal proposal titled, “The Problem of Alaskan Development,” which became known as the Slattery Report. It emphasised economic-development benefits rather than humanitarian relief: The Jewish refugees, Ickes reasoned, would “open up opportunities in the industrial and professional fields now closed to the Jews in Germany.”
The plan to settle European Jews in Alaska was dead by 1939. By 1948, the State of Israel was born after a UN General Assembly vote. The United States, under the leadership of Harry Truman, was the first country to recognise Israel and the USSR second. This shows how similar the views of the two opposing superpowers were when they were dealing with the question of Palestine. The historical similarity between the American and the Soviet position also challenges the present split between the American Right supporting Israel and the American Left ideological support for Palestine. The Soviet delegate to the UN explained the Soviet position thus in 1947: “The fact that no Western European State has been able to ensure the defense of the elementary rights of the Jewish people and to safeguard it against the violence of the fascist executioners explains the aspirations of the Jews to establish their own State. It would be unjust not to take this into consideration and to deny the right of the Jewish people to realise this aspiration.”
The mainstream media does not appear to have the patience, the space, or the will to show the complexity of the Palestinian situation. Not all Jews are Zionists nor all Muslims are extremists/terrorists but the media thrives on simplistic divisions in the same way as the global weapons manufacturing industry thrives on conflict, often supplying the arms to the both sides.
Published in The News on Sunday
dated July 20, 2014