The current wave of widespread protests by Palestinians against Israeli brutality has yet again focused the attention of the world to what is commonly 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 must be stated too, that since Israel represents a Western colonial heritage, its profile as a European outpost in the midst of the stereotypical ‘darker Arab savages’ , has allowed the Jewish state an overtly favourable press.
Those individual journalists and editors that have broken away from the legacy which demands an uncritical acceptance of Israeli position 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 producers are expected to deliver without fear. However, this fear of being excluded as ‘outcasts’ and vilified as ‘anti Semites’ has ensured that the discourse on Palestine remains severely restricted.
By a strange twist of coincidence, the current head of the right-wing Likud party, 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 belief 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 1987 war, including East Jerusalem?
It is increasingly becoming clearer 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’, contrary voices are either overshadowed or overwhelmed. Writers or producers who take a view different from established images are ostracized. Has anyone not wondered why, for example, book’s by authors such as Roger Garaudy, Noam Chomsky, Israel Shahak and Edward Said are not reviewed?
The media coverage of Saudi Arabia is quite revealing too. 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 experts 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 including 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 Defence of 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 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 also challenges the integrity of mainstream media, political commentators and ‘experts’. The first hurdle would be to overcome prejudice by recognising and acknowledging that the Palestinians live in a state of perpetual subordination and oppression against their will.
The obvious will then be relatively easy to support: The Palestinians have the right to struggle and resist this state of affairs!
Mr. Iqbal Jasarat is Chairman of the Media Review Network, which is an advocacy group based in Pretoria, South Africa.