Monday, 25 August 2014

Gaza's suffering - don't mention 1948

This rare 1950 documentary film, Sands of Sorrow, shows the desperate plight of mass refugees across Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem, Jordan and other parts of the region.
It's a remarkable piece of footage, illustrating the grim reality of an uprooted and oppressed people after fleeing their homes in 1947/48.

Yet, watching these moving images and listening to the empathy-laden commentary, one might have no idea that all these people were escaping from Zionist militias.

Despite the film's clear humanitarian intent, there's a notable absence of any reference to the actual perpetrators, such was the still carefully-calibrated reportage. 

As Gaza is being bombed, with ongoing mass murder and the misery of a displaced people, how much clearer is the depiction of that suffering in 2014, not just in imagery but in the framing of 1948 as a key reference for current Zionist crimes?

Beyond what's coming from a leftfield, independent media, it's still badly obscured by mainstream news and liberal discussion. 

Much of the problem lies with liberal Zionism, a boundaried mindset that wants to condemn the 'disproportionate killing' in Gaza and speak about the 'moral case' for a two state solution, but avoids any serious invocation of Al Nakba (catastrophe), ethnic cleansing, or Palestinians' historic right of return.

Rania Khalek  provides a helpful illustration of this carefully-avoided reality in her account of a recent debate led by Sarah Wildman, "an American journalist and progressive Israel supporter".

Wildman had criticised a virulent article by Yochanan Gordon in The Times of Israel which suggested that the genocide of Palestinians was a legitimate price to pay for the protection of Israel from Hamas rockets. In her response at The Jewish Daily Forward , 'Genocide is always wrong', Wildman wrote: “We must stand up now and be counted and we must say: We revile this thought. We must say: We reject your demand for destruction”.

Yet, notes Khalek:
While the sentiment is laudable, Wildman struck a much different tone two weeks earlier when she participated in a panel discussion on Israel’s Gaza onslaught hosted by The New America Foundation, a Washington, DC think tank that focuses on national security. As panel moderator, Wildman banned the used of the term “ethnic cleansing” and repeatedly told the two Palestinian panelists to stop connecting Israel’s Gaza slaughter to the Nakba — the premeditated dispossession and displacement of 750,000 indigenous Palestinians by Zionist militias in 1948, a crime Wildman referred to as “the original sin or original blessing of Israel’s creation,” implying that the verdict is still out.
Citing other participants - notably, Naomi Paiss, vice-president of the New Israel Fund, and Lisa Goldman, director of the Israel-Palestine Initiative at New America - Khalek goes on:
The ninety minute-long panel was a remarkable display of Israel’s most progressive supporters obscuring the genocidal desires of Israeli settler colonialism, demonstrating that the only difference between liberal and right-wing Zionists is the degree of violence they are comfortable inflicting on Palestinians to maintain Israel as a Jewish state.
On Gaza, the framing reference was 2005/2006 as the 'starting point' of the 'conflict', not 1948:
Wildman opened the discussion by asking panelist Lisa Goldman to explain Gaza’s history, beginning with Israel’s unilateral “disengagement” from the coastal enclave in 2005. The four non-Palestinian panelists repeatedly invoked 2005 as the starting point for the latest round of massacres in Gaza. Goldman proceeded to offer an incomplete history, saying “Hamas took over Gaza in 2006” and then “kicked Fatah out of Gaza.” She left out that Hamas was democratically elected to represent the Palestinian people and removed Fatah from Gaza in a counter-coup after learning that the US and Israel had armed members of Fatah to overthrow Hamas. Wildman followed Goldman’s revisionism by emphasizing that “both sides feel that they are under siege.”
Despite Wildman's repeated insistence on this 'two-sides perspective':
Palestinian-American human rights attorney Noura Erakat pushed back. “With all due respect, though both sides may feel that they are under siege, one side, 1.8 million Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip … are indeed under siege,” said Erakat.
The point was pursued by Samer Badawi, of 972 Magazine:
“Eighty percent of [the people of Gaza] are refugees from the creation of the state that is dropping the bombs on them today,” explained Badawi. “The real policy agenda behind Israel’s attacks today is to try to wipe out the memory of that injustice from 1948. It is a sore festering memory for Israel and it cannot be undone,” he added. “Until you reckon with the fact that 80 percent of the people, 1.2 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip today, don’t belong there because of Israel’s creation, you will not have justice and you will not have peace and you will not have a ceasefire.”
All crucial context. Yet, at every stage Wildman tried to close down discussion of 1948, pushing the safer 2005/2006 'narrative' and keeping deferentially to 'Israel's security' and the 'two state solution'.

As Khalek concludes:
By conflating Israelis and Palestinians as equally culpable in the conquest of Palestine and whitewashing the original sin of Israel’s creation, liberal and progressive Zionists like Wildman, Paiss, Goldman and Duss are enabling these genocidal impulses. They might condemn the occupation and even criticize Israel’s military aggression, but their refusal to back any meaningful efforts to pressure Israel, combined with their unwavering support for a Jewish state in a land inhabited by millions of non-Jews, is an endorsement of the violence required to maintain it, which makes them no better than the right-wingers and fascists they claim to deplore.
Much of that same indictment can be levelled at liberal journalists. Many are eager to show the suffering, even to express empathy, but rarely willing to explore the roots of why these things are happening.  

This is how liberal Zionists - politicians, academics, 'peace' activists, journalists - help maintain the 'basic integrity' of Israel and uphold its capacity for 'self-correction'.

Such voices will readily deplore Israel's humanitarian violations, but usually equate them with those of Hamas, their comments loaded with 'two-sides-to-blame' implication, repetitions on Israel's 'right to exist' and anxieties over the 'stalled peace process'. 

Where, beyond the 'missing text' of that grainy 1950 film and the evasions of liberal Zionism, are the true accounts bearing witness to the human crisis and its vital background?

From the carnage, we've seen some fine reporting from a few Western journalists, such as Channel 4's Jonathan Miller, and a notable Channel 4 News investigation into Israel's ruthless killing of Salem Shamaly as he picked through the devastation in search of his kin.

But while laudable, does any of this bear fuller contextual witness to Israel's longer historical crimes?  

Thus, could Jon Snow go to Gaza, see the horror, feel the emotion, express the compassion, but still fail to amplify the core, historical context.

Shujaiya 2014
Six-and-a half decades on from Sands of Sorrow, Gaza's Shujaiya district displays all the same effects, and much worse, of Israel's mass murder, state brutality and forced removal.

Max Blumenthal has also been in Gaza gathering accounts of the horrific massacres, the testaments of residents now despairingly displaced from their homes, the slaughter of entire families, and the clinical execution of Salem Shamaly.

Alongside Palestine-based journalist Dan Cohen, Blumenthal's reports, images and tweets from Gaza are a vital record of that suffering.   

But the pain recorded here is not just about the present murder, physical calamity and mental health crisis. It also encapsulates the enduring decades of genocide, oppression and trauma. The Nakba is ongoing, an internal part of their accounts, photos and discussions, a vital reminder, as Blumenthal asserts: "that every day for Palestinians is another 1948".

Cohen tweets:
1948 continues in Beit Hanoun today

Snow and his colleagues may say it's 'not our job' to 'do the history'. Why not? John Pilger has done so, setting the bar through his landmark reporting and films, notably Palestine is Still the IssueMax Blumenthal has done so. Dan Cohen has done so. Ben White does so. Jonathan Cook does so.

Is it really about 'I'm just being a reporter'? Or is it that most journalists are, in fact, conditioned to believe in their own 'impartial' roles and 'independent' status? Is it that most are severely limited in their corporate and institutional situations from ever daring to make such independent comment, or take committed positions?

Just imagine if the Nakba, like the Holocaust, was a regularly-used term, a media-adopted signifier of 1948 and the roots of the killing we're seeing today in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. 

Everyone will be familiar with standard references to persecuted Jews who fled Nazi terror. Yet, try finding any such common reference to terror-fleeing Palestinians.

Try finding, as noted in a rare piece by Robert Fisk, regular truths about where all those people now living in Gaza's squalor originally fled from, such as the village of Huj - stolen, built-over and re-named Sederot.

How difficult would it be for the BBC or Channel 4 News to run regular lines like: 'A large section of Gaza's population fled there as refugees during the 1948 Nakba'?

Or, how about: 'The humanitarian crisis in Gaza has continued since the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes by Zionist forces in 1948'?

Or, more simply : 'Millions of Palestinians remain UN-defined refugees since the Nakba in 1948'?

Variations abound. But those kind of sentences would be entirely factual, informative and in the public interest. Yet, think of the conformist 'context' and loaded language we get instead from the BBC and other elite-serving media.

Texts like Ilan's Pappe's The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine should be required reading for all liberal journalists who profess concern for the Palestinian oppressed, yet lamentably fail to disseminate the central cause of their oppression. Alas, even acknowledgement of such forensic truths probably wouldn't be enough to see them mentioned or reflected in most journalistic output, such are the cautious understandings and constraints.

Without addressing the primary historical issue of Palestinian rights in this land of mass dispossession, without recognising both the formative and ongoing process of ethnic cleansing, and without comprehending a future where all people must have equal rights, rather than living under occupation, siege and apartheid rule, there will never be any true resolution.

Until then, those either too afraid or uninformed to mention these core truths in their reports or discussions are merely helping to make it yet another 1948 day for Gaza and all suffering Palestinians.  

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