Don't talk about the Palestinians – media silence deepens

May 9, 2012
Sarah Benton

This post has 6 items:
1) Ma’an, Palestinians isolated, short of funds;
2) NY Times, Mideast Din Drowns Out Palestinians;
3) Huffington Post, 2,000 Palestinian Prisoners on Hunger Strike and Zero News Coverage;
4) EMAJ, Under-reported Palestinian political prisoners: an urgent matter for peace
5) Electronic Intifada, How BBC views Gaza through a Zionist looking glass
6) Arabic News Digest, World’s media cool on Palestinian hunger strikers

Fayyad: Palestinians isolated, short of funds

By Michael Stott and Samia Nakhoul, Ma’an news/ Reuters

RAMALLAH — Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said Tuesday the Palestinians may have “lost the argument” on the international stage for an independent state but cautioned that continued Israeli occupation was unsustainable.

In an interview, Fayyad struck a note of discord with President Mahmoud Abbas by calling for elections that have long been delayed because of deep political divisions between the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.

He also warned his administration’s future was clouded by severe financial strains and said the Palestinians had failed to galvanize a distracted world behind their cause.

“I think we are losing the argument, if we have not already lost the argument. But that doesn’t make our position wrong,” said the former World Bank economist, a political independent who has had strong support amongst Western powers.

Arab unrest, the US presidential elections and financial crises in Europe had combined to knock the Palestinian issue off the global agenda more than 18 months after peace talks with Israel broke down in a dispute over settlement building.

“What is the biggest obstacle we face? The state of marginalization. It is unprecedented,” he said. “The Israelis have managed to successfully trivialize our side of the argument,” he added, alluding to the Palestinian demands for a halt to settlement building before negotiations can resume.

Israel says talks should continue without preconditions and has continued to build housing in blocs that dot the West Bank on land the United Nations deems illegally occupied.

Speaking from his offices in Ramallah, 12 miles from Jerusalem, with the red, black, green and white national flag behind him, Fayyad said Palestinians must get their own house in order before they could hope for long-cherished independence, which most world powers continue to support in principle.

“I do not believe we will be able to get a state unless we are able to reunify our country,” he said of the political divide that has split the West Bank from the coastal enclave of Gaza, governed since 2007 by Hamas.

Deep freeze
Attempts by Abbas, who rules in the West Bank, to bridge this divide over the past year have failed amid mutual recriminations and plans to hold long-awaited elections this month across the Palestinian territories were shelved.

“The reconciliation process is in the deep freeze. Let’s face it,” Fayyad said, adding that the Palestinians should forge ahead with election plans regardless of opposition from Hamas in order to re-engage with a disillusioned populace.

“A basic right of our people is being violated. The right of being able to choose our leadership,” he said.

The last presidential and parliamentary elections were held in 2006 and many Palestinians, including Abbas and the Hamas leadership, have said a fresh vote can happen only if both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are involved.

Strains have been reported in relations between Abbas and Fayyad since the PA prime minister refused to hand over a letter from the president to Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu laying out Palestinian grievances over the failure of talks.

Fayyad disagreed with the initiative last month but said the episode was now behind them and confirmed the two were working on the formation of a new government, where he will remain prime minister but will likely lose the finance portfolio.

Given the task of building institutions in readiness for statehood, Fayyad said his job was being imperiled by a lack of resources, with Arab nations failing to hand over promised aid.

“There is an issue of survivability of the Palestinian Authority given the acute financial crisis we are going through,” he said, adding his government needed a “few hundred million dollars” to keep afloat.

The Palestinian Authority — which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank — depends on donor aid from the United States, the European Union and Arab states to pay the salaries of public workers, including teachers and security personnel.

The Palestinians had planned for foreign aid of about $1.1 billion in 2011, but received just under $750 million and are lagging again in donations this year. No reason has been given for the failure of some Arab allies to honor their pledges.

Despite the many challenges facing the Palestinians and the lengthy breakdown in peace negotiations, Fayyad said he was convinced that independence would be achieved within 10 years.

“Occupation is not only a major political failure, but given its oppressive nature it is also a moral failure for Israel. It is not something that can be sustained,” he said. “Walls have gone down elsewhere. Why should here be an exception?”

Mideast Din Drowns Out Palestinians

By Ethan Bronner, NY Times

RAMALLAH, West Bank — In the 14 months since revolution has spread across the Middle East and tension has soared over Iran’s nuclear program, the Palestinian leadership has found itself orphaned. Politically divided, its peace talks with Israel collapsed and its foreign support waning, the Palestinian Authority is sidelined, confused and worried that its people may return to violence.

“The biggest challenge we face — apart from occupation — is marginalization,” Salam Fayyad, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, said in an interview. “This is a direct consequence of the Arab Spring where people are preoccupied with their own domestic affairs. The United States is in an election year and has economic problems, Europe has its worries. We’re in a corner.”

For decades, as autocrats ruled their neighbors, the Palestinians were at the center of Middle Eastern politics, their struggle with Israeli occupation embodying the Arab longing for post-colonial freedom and dignity. The Obama administration came into office asserting that a state in the West Bank and Gaza was the key to regional progress.

But when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel visited Washington this week, the conversation was dominated by Iran, not peace talks or occupation.

In the region, the Arab Spring may have increased popular attention to the Palestinian cause, freeing Egyptians and others to express anti-Israel sentiments. But that has actually made things harder on the Palestine Liberation Organization, which negotiated with Israel. Popular affection has shifted to the Islamists of Hamas. They too have difficulties, however, abandoning their political headquarters in Syria, facing reduced help from Iran and contending with their increased divisions.

The result is a serial splintering of the Palestinian movement, a loss of state sponsors and paralysis for those trying to build a state next to Israel. Just six months ago, there was a moment of optimism when the Palestinian Authority presented its case for recognition to the United Nations, and later when Hamas closed a deal to free hundreds of its prisoners in exchange for the release of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.

But now, as momentum for a peaceful two-state solution fades, and the effort at the United Nations remains stymied, no viable alternatives have emerged and attention has focused on other conflicts.

Zakaria al-Qaq, a Palestinian expert in national security at Al Quds University in Jerusalem, said he recently joined dozens of other foreign scholars for a series of lectures on his specialty in the United States. Not a single one mentioned the Palestinian issue.

“I don’t see Palestine on the agenda of the United States or Israel,” he said. “It is on the shelf. The Palestinians don’t have the ability to impose themselves on the world and they can’t mobilize their people. The Arab world is busy. The Palestinians are becoming secondary.”

President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, known for indecisiveness, seems especially torn on how to proceed. He and his lieutenants have been working for weeks on a multipage letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, laying out all the reasons they believe that Israel has stood in the way of peaceful progress.

He plans to deliver a copy to American and European leaders as well, explaining why he thinks he must abandon the Israeli peace track and reconsider the Palestinian Authority’s relationship with Israel. And while diplomats are sympathetic with his frustration over Israel’s refusal to stop settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, they suspect that Mr. Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, feels politically unable to compromise with Israel at this time of upheaval.

“The political price Abu Mazen pays for being in negotiations with Netanyahu is too high right now,” a top Western diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “People in this region believe that you are either protesting or being protested against. He has decided it is better to protest.”

The problem is not only a Palestinian one, however. Mr. Netanyahu’s government and its supporters also say that the regional tumult makes it harder for them to yield territory.

“Israelis have always been concerned that if they make difficult and strategic concession in the peace process, what will happen if the regimes with which they signed an agreement are overthrown?” noted Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a longtime adviser to Mr. Netanyahu.

“Israel has to be extremely cautious and ratchet up its security concerns. Will the Palestinian Authority be the Palestinian Authority one year from now? When European diplomats come to Israel and ask it for new territorial concessions, it is like asking us to put up a tent in the middle of a hurricane.”

Others argue that as Palestinian frustration grows the chance of an explosion in the West Bank increases. Rock throwing and confrontations with Israeli troops have picked up in recent months.

“We don’t want to be employees of the occupation,” Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in an interview. “Israel has left the Palestinian Authority with responsibility but no power. At the same time, Israel has gotten the international community to pay the bill. It has a cushy occupation.”

The end of the Israeli track has pushed Mr. Abbas to pursue reconciliation with Hamas. But that too has faltered. Announced in a flourish last May, the plan for a unity government that would ready the Palestinians for elections has stalled largely over internal Hamas divisions on the plan.

Khaled Meshal, the political chief of Hamas who was based in Syria, agreed that Mr. Abbas would become the prime minister in the interim government. But his colleagues in Gaza objected to the way he negotiated without consultation. There are divisions among them and within the military wing of Hamas. Few Palestinians believe that elections are imminent; many suspect that they are a long way off.

Meanwhile, the distractions in the Arab world along with Israeli maneuvers have contributed to a worsening fiscal crisis for the Palestinian Authority even as the private sector here builds a modern infrastructure, creating a small but impressive business class.

Economic growth for the West Bank, which from 2008 to 2010 averaged 10 percent, slowed to 5.7 percent in 2011 with unemployment remaining at 17 percent, said Oussama Kanaan, of the International Monetary Fund. Last year, Arab countries together gave only $340 million to the Palestinian Authority, leaving it with $200 million less than expected.

The authority has been unable to pay its debts to private companies and the public pension fund, leaving it about $500 million in arrears, in addition to its debt of $1.1 billion to private banks.

Agreements between the Palestinian and Israeli finance ministries to improve Palestinian revenue collection have not been carried out because the Israeli government has not signed off. Prime Minister Fayyad said that unless those measures went into effect, he might not attend a donors conference planned for Brussels this month.

At the same time, Israeli troops have stepped up their nighttime raids on West Bank cities,recently shutting down two television stations and contributing to the sense of impotence.

“We need attention to our finances, our security and to the violence from the Israeli Army,” Mr. Fayyad said. “What the army has been doing is both wrong and dangerous. It makes us look like a weak authority. They don’t know when there will be one incident too many, when things will simply spin out of control.”

2,000 Palestinian Prisoners on Hunger Strike and Zero News Coverage

John Wight, Huffington Post

There are currently 2000 Palestinians on hunger strike in Israeli prisons, though judging by the lack of coverage of the story in the mainstream media you’d never know it. Two of the prisoners involved are now in a critical condition, having been on hunger strike for 60 days and counting. They are protesting prison conditions, including the widespread use of solitary confinement, lack of medical treatment, and most importantly the use by the Israelis of the prisoner category described as administrative detention.

Under this particular category prisoners can be held indefinitely at the behest of the military without any charges being brought, no trial, or even so much as a hearing to be made aware of the evidence against them. Currently, over 300 Palestinians are being held in Israeli prisons and detentions centers under administrative detention, including six women and six children.

According to the website of the Palestinian prisoner support organisation Addameer, 19 of the Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike are being kept in solitary confinement. One of those, Ahmad Sa’adat, has been held in isolation for three years.

It is also claimed that the Israeli prison authorities are waging a campaign of punishment against the hunger strikers, which includes daily raids on their cells, the confiscation of personal belongings, cutting their electricity supply, and various other measures deemed illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Back in March Amnesty International called for the immediate release of Hana Shalabi, a female prisoner who was being held under administrative detention and was close to death as a result of the hunger strike she began 37 days prior.

The human rights organization issued a statement on Shalabi’s plight.

Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Israeli authorities to release Hana Shalabi and other Palestinians held in administrative detention, unless they are promptly charged with internationally recognizable criminal offences and tried in accordance with international fair trial standards.

Shalabi’s case came to international attention. The resulting pressure brought to bear on the Israeli government led to her being released her as part of the prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas involving 1,027 Palestinian detainees in return for Gilad Shalit, who’d been held captive in Gaza after being captured during an operation by members of the Palestinian resistance on an Israeli military position in 2006. Shalit was the only Israeli being detained by the Palestinians, who are now holding no Israelis captive. In contradistinction, the Israelis currently have over 4,000 Palestinians in captivity.

Israeli prisons and military detention camps are primarily located within the 1948 borders of Israel. There are a total of four interrogation centers, as well as secret interrogation facilities, five detention/holding centers, and about 21 prisons in which Palestinians from the Occupied Territories are held. The location of prisons within Israel and the transfer of detainees to locations within the occupying power’s territory are illegal under international law and constitute a war crime. Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly states that “Protected persons accused of offences shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted they shall serve their sentences therein.”

Most of the Palestinian Prisoners are being held in detention facilities located outside the Occupied Territories.

Physical abuse and humiliation of the detainee by Israeli forces is common. Based on numerous sworn affidavits, detainees have reported that they have been subjected to attempted murder and rape, thrown down stairs while blindfolded, as well as various other forms of physical abuse. During their arrest, detainees are often forced to strip in public before being taken into custody. Family members have also been forced to remove their clothes during military raids. Mass arrests from homes in entire neighborhoods continue to take place in the Occupied Territories during military incursions. Once bound and blindfolded, the detainee is usually placed on the floor of a military jeep, sometimes face down, for transfer to an interrogation and detention center.

Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967, over 700,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel. This forms approximately 20 percent of the total Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories. Considering the fact that the majority of those detained are male, the number of Palestinians who’ve been detained forms approximately 40 percent of the total male Palestinian population of the Occupied Territories.

Draw your own conclusions.

Under-reported Palestinian political prisoners: an urgent matter for peace

By Alessandra Bajec, emaj magazine

In contrast to political prisoners in other parts of the Middle East and beyond the situation of Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli jails gets very little coverage in the mainstream media. The reported arrests of Palestinian MPs, Mohammed Totah, Khaled Abu Arafeh, Aziz Dweik, or the current detention of hunger-striking prisoner Khader Adnan are only the most recent cases in Israel’s ongoing campaign of arrests across the occupied West Bank. Why is this subject under-reported by the established media? And why is the political status of  Palestinian prisoners still ignored in the press today?

Anat Matar, senior lecturer in philosophy at Tel Aviv University, sees the main problem as the reporting by international media being largely based on Israel’s perspective, which tends to silence the issue. “I have been involved in many political activities in the last 40 years, certainly the least popular subject in Israel is that of Palestinian prisoners”, she observes.

Matar, who also chairs the Israeli Action Committee for Palestinian Prisoners, points out that  Palestinians are presented in the Israeli press as ‘security prisoners’ rather than political, and are portrayed by the mainstream media as ‘criminals’. In her view, this label denies their political nature and justifies Israel’s need for self-defence and its mass detention policy. “When I insist on calling Palestinian prisoners ‘political’, it brings so much criticism from the Israeli society, they don’t want to acknowledge this”, Matar explains.

Murad Jadallah, legal researcher at Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Organization, suggests that the media tends to wrongly report the situation in Palestine as if it was a post-conflict scenario. “We still live under military occupation. Israel detains up to 7,000 Palestinians every year, with an average of 11 to 20 Palestinians are arrested every day. There are 123 veteran prisoners kept in Israeli jails since before the Oslo accords.”

Abeer Baker, private human rights lawyer and public defender in prisoners cases, maintains that prisoners issues attract limited media attention, and this is particularly true for Palestinians. “It is obvious that, with very rare exceptions, the public opinion will never be interested to hear about these thousands of people.” Baker also explains the justification for Israel’s denial of the political nature of imprisonment. “To acknowledge this would mean admitting that Palestinians are fighters for justice and self-determination. Criminalizing Palestinians, instead, turns them into ‘terrorists’ making the Israeli people feel like persecuted victims forever.”

Israel’s attitude to criminalise and de-politicise Palestinian prisoners is then reflected in the mainstream media.

The prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and Israel, reached earlier last year, was the first time that we saw intensive media coverage of Palestinian prisoners. Baker, also former senior lawyer with Adalah Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, criticizes the news reporting throughout that period. She recalls the media were busy covering the case of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit rather than one thousand Palestinian prisoners, and focuses on certain prisoners and their crimes: “The impression was that nobody from the media could stand the idea that political prisoners were released. The stories of these prisoners, their families, and what they had faced during the years in jail were totally ignored.”

Matar similarly highlights the unbalanced reporting by the major media. “Palestinian prisoners themselves were treated by the international media as masses, not individually and not politically”,. Jadallah reminds us that there are still at least 4,500 Palestinians in Israeli jails, and condemns the media for never mentioning about the more than 8,000 Palestinians who have been detained by Israel since 1967. “Last year, Addameer documented that over 3,700 Palestinians were arrested, and in 2010 only in Silwan more than 1,200 children were rounded up by Israeli forces, some of them several times”, the legal researcher also reports.

Based on Addameer’s media monitoring, as part of its advocacy work, the response from the mainstream media proves to be largely disappointing. “We invite foreign journalists to military courts so they can attend trials on cases of political prisoners, and report what they witness, but in many instances they refuse to go”, Jadallah denounces.

Similarly, Matar urges more involvement from the foreign media in covering trials concerning organisers of demonstrations. “If they wanted, they could go and draw attention to their cases. Very often, I have seen several EU representatives attending trials, but I don’t remember ever seeing international media there”.

One striking example of this media neglect, which Jadallah remembers well, goes back to 2010, when Addameer documented five cases of sexual abuse by Israeli soldiers against Palestinian child detainees. “We issued a report on our website, I myself contacted the BBC, and they refused to cover the story”.

Jadallah appears to be familiar with the international media’s work in the West Bank. As Israel maintains a heavy control over the media coverage, he underlines, foreign journalists prefer to hide the truth from occupied Palestine. While Israel refuses to abide by international conventions regarding the treatment of Palestinian prisoners, the silence of the international media may risk allowing Israel to continue to breach international humanitarian laws. “Why can they not cover what’s going on in Palestine? By not showing the reality, they are covering up Israel’s crimes. This is not professional, this is not human.”

Anat Matar and Abeer Baker are co-editors of ‘Threat: Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israel’, a collection of essays written by prisoners, ex-prisoners, human rights defenders, lawyers and academic researchers, which sheds light on the subject of Palestinian prisoners from a variety of perspectives. Matar refers to the personal testimonies, the legal analysis on Israel’s breaches of international treaties, and the deals of exchanges of prisoners as some key parts of the book. Despite the many endorsements and some good reviews, Matar regrets there was marginal interest in the subject from the mainstream media. “We tried to raise media attention in both the Israeli and international press, unfortunately we were not successful”,.

Baker finds the reaction the book got was good, but agrees it had a limited scope. “It showed how little people knew about Palestinian prisoners. Many were interested to hear more, but still I don’t think we had a ‘flood’ of writings”, she admits. In addition, Baker observes that prisons are a place in which Israel can excercise its full control over prisoners, their families and children. “The prison is used as a tool to hinder their struggle and silence their voices. No one will ever be able to understand the Occupation if he or she knows little about Palestinian prisoners”, the human rights lawyer states.

One of the main issues that should be presented by the media in relation to Palestinian prisoners is administrative detention. Legal researcher Addameer expresses concern regarding this practice used by Israel against human rights defenders, journalists, legislators, as well as peace activists, women, children, and elders. “Why the need to arrest masses of Palestinians? It’s a punishment for prisoners, for their families, and the Palestinian society. What Israel is doing to Palestine is ‘social genocide’”, says Jadallah. Likewise, Baker sees administrative detention as a major question that should be addressed. “This practice of detaining Palestinians without charges and based on classified evidence shows the easy way to get the freedom from innocent people solely for political purposes”, she argues. In particular, Matar notes that the arrest campaign of political leaders and activists (namely leaders of popular resistance committees) is left under-covered in the media. “This issue includes that of child prisoners, accused of stone-throwing, since many children are detained in order to criminalize leaders and organisers of peaceful demonstrations.”

Like Baker, Jadallah regards solitary confinement as another primary issue of concern. There are prisoners who have been in isolation for many years. Some of them have died in prison, others have been released just before dying. Jadallah states: “We want to stop this policy, it is a crime, it is against the law and against the Israeli prison service regulations.”

One of the minimum demands of the Palestinian people in order to return to the negotiating table is that all the political prisoners should be released. Matar believes this issue will be addressed more by the media in time. “If Israel wanted peace -and if the US and Europe did too- demanding a gradual release of all political prisoners, in line with the implementation of the peace process, would be so critical.” Baker thinks that the demand for releasing prisoners will be highlighted in the next peace talks, though to a lesser extent than the issues of borders, refugees, and East Jerusalem. And Jadallah asks: “How can Israel make peace if it doesn’t want to release prisoners of war? There cannot be peace in the Middle East without the release of all the Palestinian prisoners.”

[EMAJ is an academy for young journalists; EMAJ Magazine is an intercultural magazine, made by a network of young journalists from the Middle East, North Africa (MENA) and the EU.]

How BBC views Gaza through a Zionist looking glass

Amena Saleem, The Electronic Intifada

Watching, reading or listening to a BBC report on Israel’s occupation of Palestine is like stepping through the Zionist looking-glass and witnessing not the reality of the situation, but Israel’s totally distorted version of it.

In this inverted world, presented to us by a broadcaster with a huge global reach, we were recently told that the besieged people of Gaza have become accustomed to the relentless violence and deprivation of Israel’s occupation and siege, while the residents of southern Israel continue to feel anxiety and dread when crude rockets are fired into their neighborhood.

These extraordinary claims are made in two juxtaposed articles published on one page recently on BBC Online (“Gaza-Israel clashes: The view from each side,” 13 March 2012).

They perfectly encapsulate the BBC’s general attitude towards reporting on the occupation — reporting which, with sad regularity, lacks truth, honesty and integrity.

Published just after Israel had bombed Gaza continuously for four days, killing 27 Palestinians including children as young as seven, the headline for the article about Gaza reads, “Gazans ‘inured’ to conflict.”

This incredible opinion — that the people of Gaza have become used to the mass killings visited on them by Israeli airstrikes, to the destruction of their homes by F16s, to the suffering caused by near-total blockade, to the restrictions on their freedom and movement, to the daily terror of drones flying overhead — is that of the BBC’s correspondent in Gaza, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes.

No evidence
An experienced journalist, Wingfield-Hayes provides no evidence for his article from official sources such as the United Nations or Palestine Trauma Centre, which produce factual reports on the high levels of mental health problems amongst the population. Nor does he interview any Palestinians in Gaza on whether they have become habituated to the Israeli bombs which fall on their homes and incinerate members of their families in order to back up his headline-making claim.

Instead, the basis for his assertion is that, while Israeli warplanes fly overhead as he sits in a building in Gaza City, “down below on the streets the cars kept passing, the shops stayed open, pedestrians kept walking home with their groceries.”

And so, because people continue trying to survive amidst the destruction, the BBC presents them as being “inured” to the violence and injustice that is rained down on them on a daily basis. This public broadcaster, paid for by the UK taxpayer, denies the Palestinians even the luxury of sharing the same human feelings of terror, frustration and longing for freedom that everyone else on the planet is allowed to possess. Described as being “inured” to a situation no sentient human being could become used to, they are, essentially, deemed less than human.

Making the siege invisible

Wingfield-Hayes also renders invisible Israel’s five-year siege, with not even a brief description of the desperate situation currently facing Palestinians in Gaza, as supplies of fuel and cooking gas near exhaustion, electricity is available only six hours in every 24, hospitals cancel operations, schools and universities close, and families resort to candles for light and ancient clay ovens, lit with straw and wood, to cook food.

Is this because reporting honestly on the siege and its effects might elicit sympathy, even understanding, for the Palestinians and clash with the image Israel wants the media to project of a terrorist population threatening its security?

Was a desire to present Israel’s singular view of international law also the reason behind the article’s original claim that the occupation of Gaza had ended in 2005? A written complaint from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign directing the BBC’s Middle East editor to UN resolutions on the matter resulted in a paragraph being added to say that Israel still maintains control over Gaza’s borders and airspace.

Astonishing and inept
Nevertheless, Wingfield-Hayes’ extraordinary questioning of an unfortunate Palestinian in Gaza remains in the modified article. “What do you mean when you say you are struggling against the occupation?” he demands of a man who does not have the freedom to move beyond an area of land measuring 25 miles by 4 miles, whose every aspect of life, including whether he will be allowed enough food to keep his family alive, is controlled by Israel. “After all Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005,” Wingfield-Hayes insists.

This is quite astonishing and, taking into account Wingfield-Hayes’ failure to mention the siege which dominates this man’s life, journalistically inept.

The subconscious message this article is sending out, by denying the desperate reality in Gaza in favor of groundless, unsupported theories put forward by the journalist, is that Palestinians in Gaza are ok, there’s nothing to worry about, you can look away.

This is in stark contrast to the article which runs parallel to it, headlined “Israel’s Iron Dome hopes.” In this piece, the BBC’s Kevin Connolly tells us how “normal life” in southern Israel is “severely disrupted” during periods of rocket fire. He provides us with emotive descriptions of the “anxiety” of the Israelis as they go through “grimly familiar rituals” on hearing “the mournful howling” of sirens and describes a young man running in fear for shelter. We learn about “that familiar sense of dread” experienced by the residents of southern Israel and their hopes that the Iron Dome missile shield will become an “instrument of deliverance” from Gaza’s rockets.

These are clearly not people, Connolly is saying, who are inured to conflict. So why, according to the BBC, do they still feel dread and anxiety and not the Palestinians? Are the Palestinians simply hardier, or are the F16s, Apache helicopters, armored tanks and drones deployed against them just not as frightening as the homemade rockets which terrify the Israelis?

Leaving Wonderland
Connolly’s article focuses on the image of the Israeli state defending itself from the besieged, refugee population of Gaza. As with Wingfield-Hayes’ contribution to “the view from each side,” there is absolutely no mention of the fact that Israel illegally occupies Gaza, has held it under tight siege for six years, committed a massacre of 1,400 people there during three weeks in 2008-09, shoots from remote-controlled watchtowers at Palestinian children collecting rubble and from gunboats at fishermen trying to catch fish to feed their impoverished families, and no mention at all that Israel violates international law every single day of the year in relation to Gaza and the Palestinians.

Connolly talks about the levels of “military balance” between the Israelis (funded to the tune of $3 billion a year in military aid by the US) and the Palestinians (a people with no state and no army). Wingfield-Hayes implies, when he interviews a man whose house has been reduced to rubble by an airstrike, that the Palestinians have brought their collective punishment upon themselves by standing up to Israel and refusing to accept their occupation.

As a BBC journalist who has been asked to step through the Zionist looking-glass, he does not of course tell his audience that, under the Geneva convention, collective punishment is illegal or that international law allows an occupied people to resist their occupation.

To do this would mean leaving Wonderland and stepping back through the looking-glass and into reality. This is something that the BBC, with its twisted, fact-free reporting of the occupation loaded in favor of Israel, seems incapable of doing. After all, this is the same organization which has declared that “Palestine doesn’t exist” while simultaneously warning that to claim it isn’t free is a contentious issue. And with the BBC’s reach extending into every corner of the globe, this inability — or unwillingness — is something that should concern us all.

Amena Saleem is active with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK and keeps a close eye on the media’s coverage of Palestine as part of her brief. She has twice driven on convoys to Gaza for PSC. More information on PSC is available

World’s media cool on Palestinian hunger strikers

Arabic News Digest, The National

A whole week has passed since the Palestinian inmates in Israeli prisons started their indefinite hunger strike in a symbolic “uprising” against their jailers’ cruelty. But their battle isn’t going according to plan amid what seems to be an intentional media blackout, said the columnist Hussam Kanafani in the Sharjah-based newspaper Al Khaleej.

One day after the collective decision was announced, follow-up news on the strike seemed to slip off most western and Arab news agencies daily grids. The issue should have received more focus, at least in Palestine.

“Who’s to blame?” asked the writer. “It isn’t enough to point fingers at the Israeli occupation authorities at this point. In fact, it was the normal reaction to be expect from them, especially in light of the arbitrary measures they have been practicing so far against the Palestinians.”

Besides, this isn’t the first time the Israeli authorities had to deal with this type of mutiny in its jails. The recently released prisoner Khader Adnan had successfully coerced his jailers to acquiesce, even partly, to his terms by going on a 67-day hunger strike that ended in February.

But if his attempt was successful, it was because of the media coverage it attracted, mainly in Palestine, which in turn caught the attention of the western media.

“No media impetus of the sort can be seen in this instance where more than 1,200 prisoners are refusing their daily meals, either in the Arab or in the western media,” added Kanafani. “On the contrary, it looks as if the fascination that surfaced with the first day of the strike has subsided.”

The issue is bigger than a mere focus on the launching of the strike. Daily developments must lead at every news medium in and outside Palestine; that is if the strike was to reach the same scope as Mr Adnan’s individual strike and especially since reports are suggesting that more and more prisoners are joining the strike.

The Palestinian media have yet to take the prisoners’ movement seriously. Only then will the voice of empty stomachs be heard.

It isn’t too late yet; the movement is still in the beginning and promises more escalation in the near future. But it lacks strong and efficient support from within, away from political divisions, as well as the backing of the Arab world.

Approximately 4,700 Palestinians are detained in Israeli prisons. Their hunger strike, which coincided with the annual commemoration of Prisoners’ Day in Palestine, was a last-resort measure to coerce their captors into meeting their demands, mainly the abolishment of inhumane incarceration policies such as solitary confinement, administrative detention and the continuation of sanctions that were imposed before the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier that was captured in Gaza.

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