Thursday, July 24, 2014

Gaza: The Makings of a Modern Day Dystopia
dys·to·pia [ \dis-ˈtō-pē-ə\] noun: an imaginary place where people are unhappy and usually afraid because they are not treated fairly; an unpleasant future where people are often dehumanized; a nightmare world characterized by human misery, squalor, oppression, disease and overcrowding.
Typically, dystopian societies are depicted through the pages of novels, like The Hunger Games and Divergent. They give us glimpses into distorted societies where justice and freedom are suppressed; where deprivation is a way of life; and lives are dispensable. They ask us to imagine a society where people are pushed to the limits of what they can endure -- and, often, killed if they can't.
But it's just fiction, right? After the last page, it ends.
The most disturbing dystopian narrative of our time is no work of fiction. It's a real place with real people.
It's Gaza. The most tragic place to live on earth.
Where some people in the world battle poverty or violence or prejudice or intimidation or hunger or lack of healthcare or freedom of movement or imprisonment or mass unemployment or constant surveillance or insecurity or deprivation of basic essentials or hopelessness or poor education or enforced isolation or disregard for their human rights or the pain of losing loved ones, Gaza's more than 1.8 million inhabitants battle them all, every day.
In full view of a, largely, indifferent global community.
Women. Children. Infants. The elderly. Those living with disabilities. The innocent. They battle all these injustices every day because, for the last eight years, they have existed -- not 'lived' -- under an Israeli-imposed siege.
A 17-year-old Palestinian boy, detained in an Israeli prison, described the everyday misery that Gazans endure.
"It's like being a shadow of your own body, caught on the ground, not being able to break out. You see yourself lying there but you cannot fill the shadow with life."
Simply put: a slow death.
Unless you've lived day in, day out amidst the suffocating siege and the onslaughts, it's impossible to understand the despair that Gazans endure. Don't forget: 70% of Gaza's population are refugees.
I cannot hope, in words alone, to do their suffering justice. All I can offer are snapshots of their existence.
Imagine being imprisoned on a barren sliver of land, barely 25 miles long and between three and seven miles wide.
Imagine your child needs urgent medical care that Gaza's clinics can't handle. Day after day, you wait at the border crossing not knowing if this is the day you and your child will be allowed through to seek the care you need.
Imagine bringing up children with no access to water, a leaking sewage system, and electricity for barely half the day. Or relying on UNRWA for food parcels to keep your family alive.
And now, imagine, the people of Gaza live with daily bombardments as well.
More than a quarter of those killed in the last two weeks were children: one hundred and sixty one. Hundreds more maimed and orphaned. Tens of thousands of families shattered and displaced.
Imagine sitting around the dinner table with your family and being given minutes to evacuate before your home is bombed. Missiles level your home. Irreplaceable photos of your grandparents, gone. Pictures your children drew when they were young, destroyed. Identity papers, lost. Your personal history, erased.
Or imagine trying to save lives in a hospital with barely any medical supplies and only rusting instruments. Your shoes stick to the floor with blood. And then the hospital is bombed.
Gaza is in a state of trauma.
All the people of Gaza want is what each one of us wants. The opportunity to live a normal life with dignity and security, and build a future in which their children can thrive, dream and fulfill their potential. They must be allowed to do this.
First, there must be a ceasefire. But, that is not the only solution. We cannot allow a return to the hellish status quo: a daily battle for survival. There must quickly follow a dedicated global effort to return life to the shadows of Gaza. Crossings, open. Rights, recognized. Freedom, granted. Infrastructure, repaired. Trade links, restored. Schools, equipped. Hospitals, renovated. Scars must heal. Hope must blossom.
But it won't happen without the collective efforts of the global community. They must insist on a life of dignity for the people of Gaza. Each one of us can do something. Advocate. Raise awareness. Reject violence. Donate to UNRWA.
Remaining silent in the face of this endless injustice makes our global community no better than the peanut-crunching crowd in the arena at the Hunger Games, oo-ing and aah-ing and shaking their heads at each new trial and each new death.
Are we going to stand back and spectate while the ugly foundations of a modern day dystopia are laid in front of our eyes? Or will our common humanity unite us and compel us to act to help save the people of Gaza?
In saving them, we save ourselves.

“The more the dead, the better”: Israel’s crumbling media war

As the world watches in horror at the massacre of Palestinians, Israel’s propaganda war is being challenged

“The more the dead, the better”: Israel’s crumbling media warAyman Mohyeldin (Credit: MSNBC)
Israeli propaganda has hit a new low. While the world was still trying to come to terms with the mass deaths in Shejaiya, Benjamin Netanyahu went on CNN to state that Hamas uses the “telegenically dead” to further “their cause.” He added that for Hamas: “The more the dead, the better.” Even while Netanyahu followed the propaganda script, which is to first show sympathy and express remorse, by reducing dead Palestinians to a photo-op he showed how his own mind works. 
There is a standard script for how to deal with Palestinian casualties. After Israel killed four boys on the Gaza beach on July 16, the U.S. establishment media fell in line behind Israel’s PR framework: acknowledge the tragedy but blame Hamas.  This is exactly what Israeli spokesperson Mark Regev said on Channel 4 News when grilled by the anchor Jon Snow. It is also how the U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki responded, using the same word-for-word talking points.
This framework, developed in 2009, can be found in The Israel Project’s 2009 Global Language Dictionary. The Orwellian manual provides a detailed outline on how to “communicate effectively in support of Israel.”
One of its first instructions is that pro-Israeli propagandists need to show empathy. The manual insists that they should “show empathy for BOTH sides” (caps in original) as a way of gaining credibility and trust. To make sure that the point is understood, the manual repeats again (in bold, and underlined this time) the instruction “use Empathy”—the suggestion being that empathy is an important tool to be used in the propaganda war.
When innocent Palestinian children and women are killed, the first response should be to show empathy; the next is to reframe the issue stating that Israel is not to blame and that it is only defending itself and further that it only wants peace. Even when it is raining death and destruction on Palestinians, the manual is clear: “Remind people—again and again—that Israel wants peace.”

Developed after the 2008 Gaza war, when Americans began to show greater sympathy for Palestinians, this propaganda manual tries to address some of the shortcomings during Operation Cast Lead. Among the various shifts it suggests, the manual notes that it is important to distinguish between the Palestinian people and Hamas. Ayman Mohyeldin, one of the few international reporters who covered Cast Lead, noted that Israel sought to “portray everyone in Gaza as a Hamas sympathizer, as a terrorist sympathizer” as a way to justify its indiscriminate killing.
The 2009 manual counters this strategy, stating that while Americans “get” that “Hamas is a terrorist organization. . . if it sounds like you are attacking the Palestinian people. . . you will lose support.” It carefully emphasizes again: “Right now, many Americans sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians, and that sympathy will increase if you fail to differentiate between the people from their leaders.”
In other words, in order to decrease sympathy for the Palestinian people new tactics were needed to augment older ones.
Israeli propaganda has a long history. In 1982 the Israeli invasion of Lebanon was met with international condemnation. In particular, the massacre of Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila damaged its public image. Israel then instituted a permanent PR establishment that would work to cultivate good media coverage in the U.S. The Hasbara project involved training Israeli diplomats and press officers on how to speak in ways that ensured favorable media coverage. The media watchdog group Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) was formed to monitor and respond to “unfair” media coverage of Israel.
But pro-Israeli coverage isn’t simply the product of good talking points; rather it stems from the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel and their mutual interests in the Middle East. It is not a coincidence that Psaki would use the same language as Mark Regev. Or that John Kerry would echo Netanyahu.
The U.S. political elite, the elite in Israel and the owners of the corporate media share a set of common economic and political interests that ensures that pro-Israeli propaganda dominates in the establishment media. Should journalists and media organizations break from the script, various pro-Israeli groups, such as CAMERA, generate flack and bring enough pressure to bear on editors and reporters that they are brought back in line.
As Glenn Greenwald noted recently, media figures and executives are more “petrified” of covering Israel than any other issue. Jon Stewart comically made the same point in his segment “We Need to Talk about Israel.”
The end result is that news coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict follows predictable pro-Israeli patterns that are outlined in an educational video produced by media scholar Sut Jhally called Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land: U.S. Media and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
Cracks in the Propaganda Machine
But something new has been happening in the establishment media, particularly since the July 16 tragedy. Ayman Mohyeldin, now working for NBC, witnessed and covered Israel’s cold-blooded murder of four young Palestinian boys playing soccer on the beach. Mohyeldin’s coverage was gut-wrenching but it was carried by NBC nevertheless.
However, NBC immediately recalled Mohyeldin, giving no explanation for why its best journalist on this topic (Mohyeldin has covered Gaza before, speaks Arabic, and has a good understanding of Middle East politics) might be pulled out of Gaza.
This is standard establishment media protocol. But what happened next is anything but standard.
Following Glenn Greenwald’s article on this at the Intercept, large numbers of people, primarily through social media, held NBC’s feet to the fire. In contrast to standard patterns where the only pressure comes from well-funded pro-Israeli groups, this time ordinary people who were reeling from the Palestinian death toll organized their dissent.
The result was that Mohyeldin was reinstated. He tweeted: “Thanks for all the support. I’m returning to #Gaza to report. Proud of NBC’s continued commitment to cover #Palestinian side of the story.”
Similar outrage at ABC’s Diane Sawyer, who misidentified the devastation and suffering of Palestinians as Israeli, prompted a rare apology from the pro-Israel corporate media.
The dynamic at work is as follows: First, independent media have played a crucial role in countering Israeli propaganda and offering alternative accounts. Second, social media have provided a forum from which independent journalism, as well as first-hand reports from Palestinian people in Gaza, are circulated. Third, in these spaces Israel is losing the propaganda war, despite its vast resources of misinformation experts. Fourth, grassroots activists using social media have been able to bring pressure to bear on the establishment media. Fifth, this climate has enabled establishment journalists on the ground to be more forthcoming about the horrors of what is happening in Gaza.
Thus, Tyler Hicks, a photojournalist for the New York Times, who also witnessed the Israeli attack on the beach, was allowed to contribute a story in the Times about his experience. Calling the lie to Israel’s claim that it only bombs Hamas targets, he wrote: “A small metal shack with no electricity or running water on a jetty in the blazing seaside sun does not seem like the kind of place frequented by Hamas militants, the Israel Defense Forces’ intended targets. Children, maybe four feet tall, dressed in summer clothes, running from an explosion, don’t fit the description of Hamas fighters, either.”
At the beach when this tragedy occurred, Hicks asked: “If children are being killed, what is there to protect me, or anyone else?”
Ben Wedeman, CNN’s veteran foreign correspondent, found out first-hand that nothing can protect journalists. He was hit in the head by an Israeli rubber bullet. Following this, he filed areport of a family in Gaza who were evacuating their neighborhood in anticipation of an Israeli attack. The scream of horror and panic of a little girl hearing a missile strike close to her location filled the screens of CNN viewers.
For the first time, perhaps, Americans are witnessing the suffering of Palestinian people in the establishment press. Even while the framework of “Blame Hamas” dominates mainstream media coverage, the humanity of Palestinian people is cracking through the decades-long, well established façade of pro-Israeli propaganda.
And how can it not? When the actual experience of journalists contradicts the propaganda narrative, if they have a heart or a brain, they cannot help but see Zionist propaganda for what it is. This is possibly why Israel kept out foreign journalists during the 2008 Cast Lead operation.
Another journalist, CNN’s Diana Magnay, hearing the cheers of Israelis as Palestinians were being bombarded, and somewhat horrified by it, said spontaneously on the air—“it is really astonishing, macabre and an awful thing really to watch this display of fire in the air.” As a trained journalist, she seems to have self-censored and substituted the words “fire in the air” for what she actually thought about the people cheering on: “scum,” the word she would later tweet.
Magnay wrote: “Israelis on hill above Sderot cheer as bombs land on #gaza; threaten to ‘destroy our car if I say one word wrong.’ Scum.”
Despite the serious intimidation faced by journalists, in this case to bomb Magnay’s car if she got even “a word wrong,” such pressure seems to be working less and less. While Magnay was called away from Gaza by CNN, a vigilant social media sphere combined with mass protests around the world has created a climate where if media institutions are to retain their credibility they have to at least appear to be balanced.
This is the opening that Palestinian rights activists and supporters need to harness in order to reframe the debate. While they lack lobby groups, media watchdog outfits, paid trolls, disinformation experts and the vast financial resources of the Israeli side, they do have one thing going—the truth.
Deepa Kumar is a professor of Media Studies at Rutgers University. She is on Twitter @ProfessorKumar. She is the author, most recently, of Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire. You can follow her work at

Gallup: Americans' Reaction to Middle East Situation Similar to Past

Gaza: How bias affects coverage of Israel-Palestine conflict

Ayman Mohyeldin, NBC's correspondent on Gaza was kicking around a football on a beach in Gaza with a bunch of children who had chosen the sunny afternoon to get away from the refugee camps where they had been housed. Also on the beach was a hotel where foreign correspondents and journalists covering the Gaza conflict were staying. Mohyeldin finished playing with the children and walked away, only to have to tweet this:

Days later NBC had pulled Mohyeldin from Gaza, in a widely-protested move seen as the network's way of ensuring that the coverage isn't seen as too sympathetic towards the Palestinians. But, social media was already on the case, as the hashtag #LetAymanReport trended on Twitter and outraged gripped all those who had seen Israel's atrocities in Gaza. With no explanation about the entire incident, NBCreinstated Mohyeldin, the award-winning former Al Jazeera journalist who returned to Gaza. Mohyeldin's arbitrary removal from air and subsequent reinstatement has brought the spotlight back on conflict journalists and how war zones are covered amid political slants and resulting censorship. Recently, the BBC defended it's coverage of Gaza after protesters gathered outside it's London office along with an online petition signed by 45,000 people and called the broadcaster's reportage devoid of context. The Guardian reported:
"The petition, signed by Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Ken Loach, Brian Eno and Jeremy Hardy, accused the corporation of pro-Israeli bias and said it would “like to remind the BBC that Gaza is under Israeli occupation and siege [and] that Israel is bombing a refugee population”.
The problem, as the Guardian report says, something BBC journalists themselves admitted -- they are unable to convey the Palestinian perspective. “Many times senior journalists at the BBC have told me they simply cannot get the Palestinian viewpoint across, the perspective they can’t say – which is the Palestinian view – is that Israel is a brutal apartheid state," the report in Guardian says quoting Greg Philo, professor at Glasgow University and co-author of Bad News from Israel. But as the conflict plays out in the media in form of a public relations war, Israel, as a New York Magazinereports says, has already lost the plot -- something Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows well. Netanyahu recently complained to journalists that Hamas had been using "telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause".  
A Palestinian man carries the body of a boy killed by Israeli shells on a beach in Gaza City. Reuters image
A Palestinian man carries the body of a boy killed by Israeli shells on a beach in Gaza City. Reuters image
"But his [Netanyahu] complaint is in itself a concession. The story of the conflict between Israel and Palestine looks a little bit different this time around. Social media have helped allow us to see more deeply inside war zones — in this case, inside Gaza — and allowed viewers much fuller access to the terror that grips a population under military attack," writes Benjamin Wallace-Wells for the New York Magazine. Even Mohyeldin, NBC's only Egyptian-American correspondent, made no attempt to hide that there existed a tug-of-war between him and the network over how the crisis should be covered. Putting NBC on the spot, he tweeted after being reinstated that he was grateful that the network was committed to covering the "Palestinian side of the story".  

The discussion of bias becomes especially important in light of the recent comments by US secretary of state John Kerry who was caught on tape criticising Israel.
Kerry was heard talking about Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza to a State Department official identified as Jonathan Finer just before appearing on the "Fox News Sunday" political talk show.
"I hope they don't think that's an invitation to go do more," Kerry is heard saying. "That better be the warning to them."
This is followed by a frustrated Kerry saying, "It's a hell of a pinpoint operation, it's a hell of a pinpoint operation," in apparent frustration over the civilian toll in the Israeli operation. "We've got to get over there," Kerry is heard saying on the Sunday recording. "I think, Jon, we ought to go tonight. I think it's crazy to be sitting around. Let's go."
And yet, on air, particularly on a conservative website like Fox, Kerry sang a different tune. When confronted over the remarks by Fox host Chris Wallace, Kerry only reiterated Israel's right to self-defense.
"You have people who've come out of tunnels. You have a right to go in and take out those tunnels. We completely support that. And we support Israel's right to defend itself against rockets that are continuing to come in," he said.
In the recent flare up which went from searching for three kidnapped Israeli teens to a full fledged invasion, has seen no halt in the bloodshed as the death toll hit 583 on Tuesday, 15 days since Israel launched its operation. Another 3,640 people have been wounded as the violence spirals into the bloodiest one in recent years.
To many however, it isn't a PR war. Recently, an Al Jazeera journalist broke down on air while reporting from Gaza, and had to walk off camera as his voice broke mid-sentence, highlighting the devastation felt by all those who witnessed the heartbreaking violence.
With inputs from AFP