Gaza distorted by the media lens

The following article, co-written with Peter Slezak, was published today on Online Opinion:

Palestinians are paying the price for what we in the West are doing, or rather, failing to do. Israel and its “supporters” rely on rewriting history even as it happens, with the complicity of our media and politicians.

The average television viewer or newspaper reader could be forgiven for thinking that Palestinians have caused the collapse of the cease-fire with Israel and that the rockets on Israeli towns are the justification for the devastating large-scale military aggression against Gaza.

However, Israel’s own newspaper Haaretz reminds us: “Six months ago Israel asked and received a cease-fire from Hamas. It unilaterally violated it when it blew up a tunnel, while still asking Egypt to get the Islamic group to hold its fire.”

A recent letter writer to the Australian Jewish News (AJN) was more honest in a contorted Orwellian manner: Palestinian Qassam rockets were launched “following a response from the Israeli military”, which attacked a Hamas tunnel. Of course, “responding first” is not just a violation of logic or English grammar but a violation of international law.

Echoing White House spokespeople our own politicians are more logical if less candid. Australia’s Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard said: “Obviously, they [Palestinians] have broken the ceasefire and engaged in an act of aggression against Israel. Israel has responded.”

The cause of justice and peace between Israel and Palestine is not served by such systematic misinformation about the ongoing conflict. Foreign journalists have been largely prohibited from entering Gaza by Israel, and our media are inadequately reporting the human consequences of the ongoing massive air-strikes.

Nevertheless, horrifying accounts of human tragedy are emerging from human rights workers who describe the carnage of civilians – around 380 dead and more than 1,700 injured by “surgical” air strikes that have hit mosques, television stations and other non-military targets including a medical supplies store, civil defence sites and refugee camps. Hospitals such as Shifa are unable to cope with the influx of casualties especially in view of the shortage of key items due to Israel’s blockade.

Despite Red Cross and UN urging, Israel does not permit import of spare parts the hospital needs for the main generator that keeps the ventilators, monitors and lights on. Shifa’s Head of Casualty, Dr. Hassanyeh, explained: “Not even the most advanced hospital in the world could cope with this number of casualties in such a short space of time.”

While the Palestinian rockets against Israel are undoubtedly crimes to be condemned, their minor damage cannot be compared with the disproportionate Israeli response. Israel has declared Gaza a “special military zone”, a classification that is one degree below a declaration of total war against an enemy state. The Israeli media are reporting that the current assault has already killed the largest number of Palestinians in an Israeli military offensive since 1967.

Despite rhetoric from the Zionist lobby about media bias against Israel, recent events demonstrate quite the opposite. Palestinian restraint in observing the cease-fire was under conditions of a deteriorating crisis that has been imposed by Israel’s blockade of Gaza. This has caused desperate shortages of bread, fuel, ink, paper and glue to print textbooks for children, medications and other elementary necessities of life. Some were forced to eat grass.

In view of the dire humanitarian tragedy reported by the Red Cross and following the Rudd government’s vote against Israel on two resolutions at the UN, it is a welcome sign that an Australian Jewish News editorial on “Tough Love” recognized the need for friends of Israel to be critical.

In this respect, AJN echoes the sentiments of nearly 500 signatories of the public statement by Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV) in early 2007 who expressed concern about the misleading framing of the mainstream commentary on Israel and Palestine.

However, it is clear from recent comments that representatives of the Jewish community such as the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) and Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) evidently can’t dissociate themselves from the policies of the Jewish State to support international humanitarian law.

It is little wonder if others fail to distinguish anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism. The West Bank settlements, the separation wall, house demolitions and brutal collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza are crimes violating the Fourth Geneva Convention. Above all, the very possibility of a two-state solution that the Jewish community professes to support is completely undermined by the illegal settlements that it refuses to condemn.

Our media, commentators and politicians must urgently face more honestly the long-standing injustice and suffering of the Palestinian people. If we are to make some contribution towards a just peace, we might support such recommendations as that of the Brookings Institute in December urging negotiation with Hamas as the legitimate elected government. We must join with Israelis such as peace group Gush Shalom to condemn the unprecedented terror being perpetrated by the Israeli government against the people of Gaza.