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PMW in the Media
Israel and the Flotilla: On the Dangers of a Binary View
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"[U]nfailingly, in every rendition, the May 31st Flotilla bearing humanitarian aid has been universally cast as a force for moral good, a symbolic 'liberator', as a response to a forgotten need. A colossal gesture of providing massive cargo bearing millions of dollars of aid is indeed philanthropic. But there is more to this than that.
From the first moments, I was flummoxed as to why these ships were suddenly arriving at this time, even though the blockade is over 3 years old. More intriguing was to consider why private interests in Turkey were underwriting this astonishingly expensive effort when their elected government has been an ally of Israel for years, even to the extent of engaging in regular naval exercises with the Israeli Navy in the Eastern Mediterranean.
For a long time, the portrayal of Israelis has been universally monolithic: oppressive, brutal, inhuman and heartless. The parallels between Israeli and Jew; military engagement with national identity; state policy with individual responsibility are conveniently blurred into one homogeneous, maligned, dislikeable edifice. Evidently we, the viewers, the invisible media auteurs, have lost all powers of nuance and discernment. In every report, Israeli brutality, whether on the ship, or in Gaza has been emphasized, both implicitly and explicitly.
At no point have I heard a sane discussion on the complex reasons why a blockade was in place or indeed why Egypt had for years cooperated in maintaining the blockade through the closure of Rafah. Rafah remained firmly shut throughout the entirety of Operation Cast Lead, immutably so, even in the face of pleas from the Arab world. Egypt's collusion in Operation Cast Lead was an acutely felt betrayal which resonated globally.
I was in Riyadh in those first days of what would become known as Operation Cast Lead, watching the episode unfurl from within the region. Within the first week, Saudi Arabia had gathered massive humanitarian aid at the behest of apical leadership. Despite the military incursion on Gaza, passage of aid was categorically and absolutely obstructed. It wasn't the Israelis refusing access to regional Arab aid - no the deniers of the Saudi appeals were not Jews, they were Muslims. It was Muslim-majority Egypt which refused to allow Saudi Arabia access to an open border even to deliver medical aid and supplies. Quite uncomfortable for Muslims to think about, wouldn't you agree?
And was Egyptian denial due to fear of Israeli retaliation? Perhaps -indeed that is a convenient construct, which does likely contain kernels of reality. However, more significant, the borders remained closed because, simply put, Egypt doesn't want to face a mass migration of Gazans.
These and other such details are irritating distractions, messy deviations, from a chiseled, binary portrayal which both the media, its bipolar audience and master media manipulators seek to display when we think about Israel and Palestine, Muslim and Jew. As world media becomes ever more comfortable with the portrayal of Israel as monolithic villain devoid of conscience, anti-Israeli criticism begins to ascend in volume, and commentary further deteriorates. This is a frightening descent and should concern all of us, irrespective of one's politics, faith or relationships.
At one stage, a spokesperson for Hamas appeared on the BBC citing that Gazans have no need for aid, adding " we do not need to fill our bellies". Well, the world thinks otherwise. In his astonishing defiance revealed by a casual, throwaway comment, the spokesperson revealed the prime goal of the Flotilla's mission, as he perceived it: to run the gauntlet against the blockade, not to alleviate material needs of his suffering electorate. The Flotilla was a bald and blatant political move designed to humiliate and provoke.
His remarks reveal the extent to which Palestinians are now objectified political pawns, rather than a people. While we are comfortable with the longstanding objectification of Palestinians by Israelis as the 'other' in the form of a security threat (after all Israel must balance a constant struggle to determine the needs of a terrorized Israeli citizenship over the needs of an exploding ever-younger ever impoverished, increasingly radicalized Gaza population) we fail to encounter our own sinister objectification of the Palestinians which we accomplish so effectively all by ourselves. This objectification is not only held by their revolving, corrupt leadership, but also by an objectifying Muslim world. We the Muslims need the Palestinians to remain locked in their plight so that they might continue to serve as the Ummah's scotoma (a blindspot) which literally prevents us from seeing our own more immediate distresses, distresses which might demand our attention and perhaps even require societal interventions . We would be lost, disarmed, and stunned without an external locus for our rage which is so piercingly trained on Gaza and the West Bank, so piercing in fact that Darfur barely warrants a sidelong glance.
Does this exonerate Israel? No. Does this implicate Muslims? You bet.
Let me continue the self-flagellation.
During this same period of Flotilla Face-Offs with the IDF, Pakistan, my nation of matrilineal and patrimonial heritage has witnessed the extraordinary massacre of 120 moderate, pacifist Muslims, followers of the Ahmadiyyah movement that subscribes to peaceful, pluralistic Islam. Specifically, they embrace non-violence, condemning violent jihad. They were massacred, in cold blood, in worship, by fellow citizens, fellow Pakistanis, fellow Muslims. Most of the murdered were elderly, and male. Hundreds more were injured, some of whom are still dying this week. Emergency services did not arrive for over two hours. Pakistani police stood back, apparently allowing the carnage to occur, supposedly too afraid to engage. Awaiting special operations commandos to intervene, in their uncertainty, perhaps their tacit tolerance, Pakistani police became silent accomplices to the massacre. Many of the pacifist Muslim worshipers died of uncomplicated hemorrhagic shock within mere minutes of advanced medical care.
Where has been the subsequent national and international outrage at the death of these Muslims? Where is the Muslim world now? Where are the Muslims calling for War Crimes to be investigated within the inert and increasingly fractious Pakistani 'leadership'? We, the Muslims find ourselves suddenly voiceless, tongue tied, jaded and unmoved, yet somehow Gaza stokes our bald fury.
So, against this deafening silence, when six passengers on the ship were regrettably killed during a confrontation with the Israeli Defense Force, this bloodshed became sufficient to call for investigations of war crimes by an elected government in charge of their military at work enforcing a public, long standing naval blockade, one which has been tacitly accepted in the region, irrespective of the ethics of this blockade. It wasn't just a member of the IDF, who was thrown overboard in the on board skirmish it would seem, it was morality.
Like most things in life, morality unfortunately is a little more complex than some would have you believe. Presently, morality is sinking into oblivion deep into the Eastern Mediterranean and all that remains is some soggy, discarded flotsam bobbing up and down in a magnifying pandemonium of hysterical, biased tropism.
It is increasingly clear Israel is judged by very different measures and with decreasing objectivity by every actor independent of Israel. Israel herself cannot be objective because she is entrenched in a terrible dilemma. A Hamas that cares not to fill the bellies of those starving in Gaza is also the same agency spending millions of dollars on televised indoctrination designed to manipulate young, plastic minds. See for yourself: go to Palestinian Media Watch. Children, in the prime ages of 5-7 are critically vulnerable to developing attachment figure-like relationships to God. At precisely these ages, they are bombarded with "Hamas Box Office" productions: aspirational propaganda extolling the virtues of suicide bombing as vengeance. Through his work at Palestinian Media Watch, Itamar Marcus has revealed just how institutionalized terror has become in the territories.


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