Haggai Matar, 13 February 2011
On Saturday night Israel’s most-watched news program on Channel 2, aired a 10-minute “Special Report” on the weekly demonstrations in the Palestinian village of Bil’in. Every Friday, Palestinians of the village demonstrate against the separation fence which was built on their lands, and are joined by Israeli and international activists. Haggai Matar, of Anarchists Against the Wall, was a key figure in the news piece. This is his reaction.
You could say I’m nit-picking, that maybe Palestinians just happened not to fit the concept of this particular story. You could say that had this issue not already become so routine.
This time again it began with a phone call made by a producer at Channel 2 news to an activist with Anarchists Against the Wall, offering to accompany and film one of the group’s members at a weekly protest held every Friday in Bil’in. This time the activist passed them on to me. Both she and I made it clear to the producer several times that these demonstrations are a Palestinian initiative, that Israelis are there as guests and partners – but that we are not the main story. We got her to promise that the news crew would also film Muhammad Khatib, one of the leaders of the popular struggle in the village, and we made sure they spoke.
Friday comes around, along with the filming. Channel 2’s senior reporter Danny Kushmaro and his team arrive at my house and film me throughout the day – from the morning when I prepare a sandwich at home and hit the road, and through the end of the demonstration in Bil’in. They also coordinated with the IDF spokesman’s video crew, who in parallel filmed a day in the life of the unit commander who is in charge of dispersing demonstrations in Bil’in. During the demonstration Kushmaro wandered between the two sides. And the cameraman who was to accompany Khatib? Nowhere to be found.
I decided to take initiative, and bring Khatib into their footage on my own. I made sure the crew was filming when he gave a speech to the protesters at the outset of the demonstration, in the heart of the village, when he spoke about Bil’in’s solidarity with Jonathan Pollak. I explained to the researchers and the film crew who were with me for the march that it’s important they talk to him, and they did in fact interview him afterwards. Later, at the end of the demonstration, a veteran activist, Wajee Burnat, who was filmed as he received medical treatment, found the film crew and gave a heart-felt speech about his family’s lands which lay on the other side of the fence, explaining that even if the fence is moved as is planned, it will not return all of their lands.
But somehow, Khatib, Burnat, and all the other Palestinians just fell aside in the news piece, when it was broadcast last night. The full news item can be viewed here [Heb].
Kushmaro came up with a concept of a battlefield between two Israelis: Me and the officer, and between us the fence. And if that’s the concept, what does reality matter? What does it matter that those who cut the fence that day, those who were hit the hardest by the gas, those who gave the most powerful speeches to the soldiers and the cameras – were Palestinians? What does it matter that the lands – on both sides of the fence – are fully theirs? That the demonstrations and the creative ideas they employ are theirs too? The most important thing in the eyes of Channel 2, apparently, is to present an internal Israeli (Jewish) drama for the viewers at home.
As mentioned, this is not the first time that mainstream media chooses to portray the conflict this way – without the Palestinians. Only two Jews, one right and one left, or one religious and one secular, or one demonstrator and one soldier. It’s much easier to talk about the occupation as our own internal political problem, an argument that’s almost theoretical. This is, for example, the logic behind the opposition to a boycott of settlement products. After all, if you think there’s only two Jewish groups, one that boycotts, and the other that’s innocent, then it really doesn’t look too good. Just as if you portray a soldier who represents law and order, and against him a demonstrator – you could easily see the demonstrator as criminal or a traitor.
But this way of thinking is made possible only when from the start we are forget that there’s a few more million people in the picture, transparent people in the margins of our story. Kushmaro demonstrates this blindness to them with an absolute lack self-awareness right in the middle of the piece when he says: “The demonstration begins with calls supporting the Palestinians.” The video footage shows Palestinians, who are the majority of the demonstrators, calling out against the fence in Arabic. But what Kusharo sees is Israelis who are “supporting the Palestinians.”
It’s exactly for this reason that we insisted in advance that if Kushmaro’s crew films me, then they must also show the story of one of the leaders of the village. Because only when the media starts doing its job, portraying Palestinian suffering the same way it portrays Jewish suffering, and giving Palestinians names and faces on putting them in front of the camera – only then will people will be able to understand what the conflict is actually about. The problem is that that’s when the Israeli establishment will suddenly not look so good. And, what can you do, that doesn’t bring ratings.
A few notes on what you’ll see in the story:
1. Despite what Kushmaro says, the village will not get back the majority of the territory taken from it. Of 1700 hectares belonging to the village that are captured by the fence, only 700 will be returned when it is moved to its planned route.
2. Saying that “the fence has prevented terrorist attacks” completely ignores the issue of the illegal location of the fence, against which, and against the very existence of the fence itself, the demonstrations are targeted.
3. The piece shows children who earn 2 shekels by selling bracelets or a cup of coffee. Against this background, Kushmaro and the IDF office explain that Palestinians make money off of the demonstrations. Firstly, 2 shekels is not that much, and there is no such industry in the village where people are earning a living off of the throwing of stones, which the piece implies. Secondly, since when is there something wrong with earning a livelihood? The army prevents people from accessing their land and cultivating it, robs them of their last means of livelihood, prevents workers from entering Israel to work there, and then complains that they even manage to sustain themselves in part from the sale of bracelets?
4. In one instance the editing becomes very manipulative: While I’m shown speaking to the soldiers and explaining that there’s no reason to attack the demonstrators – words I said while the soldiers were preparing to shoot tear gas and no stones had been thrown at all – the footage juxtaposed is of a much later stage in the demonstration, after the soldiers had already shot the tear gas, the end of the demonstration had been declared, and several youth remained behind to confront the army.
5. Towards the end, Muhammad Khatib and the officer are shown, both declaring the end of the demonstration. In reality, after Khatib announced the end of the demonstration, the army crossed the separation fence and began its most intense attack, with massive amounts of gas, after most of the protesters had already retreated to the village. The officer’s announcement that the demonstration had ended actually came much later. Besides, Khatib tells protesters: “The demo is over.” The translation to Hebrew in the story: “Game over.” Another thought on how the media portrays these people’s struggle.
Haggai Matar is a journalist in the Hebrew media, an activist in Anarchists Against the Wall, and a former conscientious objector who spent two years in prison.
This article first appeared on MySay. Translation by Shir Harel.