Saturday, January 31, 2009

Independent Analysis required for Gaza Massacre

I agree with Editor David Miller in last week’s issue when he wrote that “In a world of corporate news conglomerates, strong independent voices are more vital than ever.” As imperative as this independent courage is, it was unfortunately lacking from the coverage of the Gaza conflict. Both the news and opinion pieces perpetuated the simplistic, dehistoricized narrative which has been propagated by those very same corporate news conglomerates.

Since last week, Israel has unilaterally withdrawn from the Gaza strip leaving behind demolished neighbourhoods and communities. Most recent estimates put the number of Gazans killed well over 1300 with 5000 injured, many of whom were children.

As a result of these blatant atrocities, there has been tremendous global outcry with many human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and B'Tselem, calling for independent investigations into Israeli war crimes. Navi Pillay of the UN high commission for human rights has called for such an investigation in to the killing of over 30 Palestinians who sought refuge in a UN school. Many have been appalled by the use of white phosphorus in collectively punishing over 1.5 million innocent civilians for the crimes of a few.

Regrettably the Cascade’s opinion pieces displayed little outrage over the fact that Israel targeted UN schools, mosques, hospitals, and Gaza University to name a few. Nor was there condemnation of the humanitarian crisis due to the military siege of Gaza, which has been exasperated by the most recent conflict. The Gaza massacre has not made Israel safer but rather it has furthered the hopelessness which promotes the kind of terrorism Israel wants to prevent.

Another major component which was missing in the Cascade’s coverage was an examination of the media’s role in justifying and fighting the war. The Cascade must examine and take into account the pro-Israeli bias in most mainstream media which has been in place well before the conflict even started. Case in point CanWest Global, Canada’s largest corporate news conglomerate which owns the Vancouver Sun, Province, and National Post: these papers are operated under the control of the Asper family who are infamous for exhibiting editorial control. They wilfully exclude Palestinian perspectives while promoting the plight of Israel. The Asper’s are so biased in the favour of Israeli aggression that they even support Israeli’s extremist far-right Likud party.

The media bias is not the only reason that the plight of the Palestinians gets ignored by our media. Israel’s propaganda campaign has been in the making just as long as their military campaign. Israel has learned from the mistakes made during the 2006 war on Lebanon of not controlling the media message. Journalists should be appalled that Israel has prevented them from reporting what is happening on the ground in Gaza. This form of media censorship is not becoming of a so called democracy. It is difficult for journalists to exhibit independence when they are banned from reporting. Furthermore Hamas’s perspective is put at a disadvantage because of their lack of opportunity and capability to respond effectively. Israel has effectively destroyed Hamas’s ability to communicate. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is able to advocate for her nation’s interest in a language and accent North American audiences do not find foreign; this is a substantial advantage for Israel’s media campaign. It is vital that independent media takes into account these biases and media disadvantages. Instead of pointing readers to the BBC to get more information why not suggest a blog such as In Gaza which would provide more insight about the effects of the violence on the ground. Israel’s massacre in Gaza has not only been an assault on humanity but on journalism as well.

Israeli’s media manipulation has failed to galvanize the world public opinion in favour of their aggression. Thanks in part to new media like YouTube we have access to what our mainstream media chooses to ignore. The international reaction is not as mixed as Ms. Chan suggests but actually verges on universal condemnation of Israel. The Pope and former vice-president Dick Chaney are by no indicative of world opinion. Ms. Chan failed to mention the global uproar which has seen thousands of people take to the streets in almost every capital in the world, and not just the Arab world but from Tel Avi to Vancouver. The United Nations General Assembly has also repeatedly condemned Israel’s most recent aggression.

This assault on journalism has helped further the myth that Hamas broke the ceasefire. Under the conditions of the ceasefire agreement Israel was to have lifted the military blockade which it never did. Secondly, Israel was to have halted all military incursions into Gaza which it violated on November 4th the day of the US Presidential election, by going into Gaza and killing suspected militants. For its part, Hamas did not fire any rockets into Israel for several months leading up to killings. These facts are not disputed by Israel or it proponents. The continuing of the siege of Gaza’s air, land and sea and the actions of Nov 4th put into question Israel’s sincerity of a lasting peaceful ceasefire.

The Cascade’s coverage made no mention of the timing of Israel’s aggression. The Gaza massacre occurred between the US presidential transition and just before the Israeli election. It is often said that whatever party takes the hardest line against the Palestinians fairs the best electorally. We see this realised in the fact that Israel’s Defence Minister and Labour leader Ehud Barak, who has been the champion and face of the war, has benefited substantially in Israeli public opinion. The Israeli media machine has generated sympathy for the oppressor while justifying the indefensible slaughter of innocent civilians. Not only are both sides unequally represented in the media war but they do not share equally in the responsibility and guilt.

Independent media is responsible to recognize the grossly unequal power balance. I by no means condone the violence committed by Hamas but I find it difficult to refer to the conflict as a war when the ratio between dead Palestinians and Israelis is 100 to 1; this is not war, this is massacre. The proportionality of violence is fundamental to international law.

More attention must be paid to the US’s unconditional support of Israel both diplomatically, through the Security Council, and the militarily, through the industrial complexes at play in both countries. Israel has an endless supply of weapons of mass destruction such as F-16 fighter jets, Apache helicopters, Tanks, and nuclear weapons. This power difference is in sharp contrast to the homemade rockets and stones used by Palestinian militants. Despite what we are told Hamas does not pose a credible threat to the existence of the State of Israel. Robert Fisk, the Middle East correspondent for the Independent newspaper, said recently that “Hamas is no Hezbollah.” It is also a myth that Hamas even wants to wipe Israel off the map. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that as early as 2006, Hamas leader Ismaeil Haniyeh offered “a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders and … a truce for many years.” The Palestinians are so isolated that even their Arab neighbours such as Egypt are unwilling to help. This is due to the fact that US funds dictatorial regimes such as Hosni Mubarak on the condition that Egypt unconditionally supports the State of Israel. This is not a war between two equals. The lack of a response from the Obama administration is indicative of the fact that US politicians can only succeed if they do not unconditionally support the views of the Israeli lobby or AIPAC.

Ms. Chan suggested that there could be no lasting peace until the Palestinians where united. Israel’s recent aggression has done just that, unite the Palestinian people. She was unaware of the history of Israeli involvement in Palestinian politics. In the late 80’s Israel was targeting the Palestinian Liberation Organization with assassination while supporting Hamas. Now Hamas is the target and Fatah, made of former P.L.O. members, is the ally for peace in an unethical strategy to divide and conquer. We must not forget that Hamas was democratically elected and are the official representatives of the Palestinian people. The reality of the situation is that Israel’s ruling and military elites do not want to give up physical control of Palestine.

Unfortunately last week’s Cascade contributors propagated the simplistic narrative laid out by the mainstream media. This conflict is not rooted in religion and is not the mere result of a cycle of violence but is the result of a never ending, harsh occupation of Palestine. The occupation has been compared to that of South African apartheid by the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The illegal settlements continue to be expanded and as does the illegal appropriation of Palestine through the so call “security wall.” I echo Naomi Klein’s call for boycott, divestment and sanctions to end Israeli illegal occupation.

Though Israel’s advocates often argue that they have withdrawn from Gaza, this perspective ignores the fact that Israel still controls Gaza’s boarders, air and sea. Most Israelis are oblivious and not directly affected by the conflict whereas every Palestinians is affected by the occupation which has lasted for over 40 years. Almost every action in Palestine is controlled by the Israeli military. From how deep one can dig a well for water to the ability of a pregnant woman to travel to the hospital and give birth. The Palestinians live in a dehumanizing concentration camp in which they are unable to provide themselves with the basic needs to sustain life. 80% of Gazans depend on the UN Agency UNRWA’s humanitarian aid for survival. This is not a war between religions or cultures but a war of self-determination. Hamas re-emphasized this position recently, adding, “Our conflict is not with the Jews, our problem is with the occupation.”

As Canadians are we really as committed to democracy, human rights and justice as we claim to be? Is Israel really the bastion of our ideals in the Middle East? I ask the writers who contribute to the Cascade to practise independence and perspective. Independent news such as our student newspaper must not to merely propagate the narrative put forward by our corporate news conglomerates which pretend to display balance. Last week’s articles were painfully lacking both context and perspective; they failed to observe this rare event in history, in which Palestinian nationalism was destroyed or as the late Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling called "politicide," the murder of a nation -- at our hands. For our journalists, the distinction needs to be made between the mere summary of an already bias mass-media report and honest, impartial coverage. As independent media, The Cascade is not already under the control of corporate news conglomerates, a fact of which we should take both pride and advantage.