14 January, 2009

Stop this madness

Was just watching 3ashara masa'an on Dream TV. The hostess was at the Gaza border, talking to school kids in Rafah. It was heartbreaking to watch the kids talk about their fear, hunkering down anxiously and covering their ears as bombs kept falling in the distance. It's not difficult to imagine the traumatizing effect this war is having on them as the sound of Israeli aircrafts passing by can be heard day and night.

And here's the best part: I'm talking now about the Egyptian children, those lucky enough to live on the "right" side of the border!

Inside Gaza itself over 300 palestinian children is believed to have been killed so far, while on the Israeli side, the bombing and shelling is being watched for entertainment. But killing hundreds of children is ok, as long as we remember to repeat the magic words: "Hamas is hiding among civilians".

Meanwhile, Fredrik Malm, a Swedish parliamentarian for the liberal Folkpartiet ("Peoples party") says he "doubts" that Israel is bombing anything other than military installations - in response to demands from a member of the leftist opposition that Israel should be forced to pay compensation for a clinic sponsored by the Swedish church that was bombed on Sunday. I doubt this man will ever have the courage to admit that he was wrong in blindly supporting Israel, even as 0,7 million children was being traumatized for life in another senseless war.

While some may ask why Gaza should be the center of the world when there is plenty of other violent conflicts to care about, the answer is simple: none of those conflicts involve a "democratic" state, armed with nuclear weapons and backed up by the worlds greatest superpower as well as the peace-loving European Union, pounding away at a population of 1,4 million trapped in a densely populated area with absolutely nowhere to run, and with almost no humanitarian supplies or even volunteer doctors being allowed to enter.

The 18 month siege imposed on Gaza, also supported by the West, was uniquely cruel in itself, even before the war. Now it amounts to nothing less than genocidal: In 2005, an average of 631 trucks entered Gaza on a daily basis. Since the war started the daily average is less than 100, or one fifth of what the UN would need to support the 3 quarters or so of the population that are dependent on outside aid to survive.

In scale the Gaza war may look "insignificant" compared to other conflicts going on in the world, especially the one in Iraq. But it's not the numbers of killed that will make this war go down in history as a crime against humanity - it's the method.


  1. Hie Per, this is Marc, a journalist from Barcelona currently living in Alex. I've been following your blog the lasts weeks and it's great, you talk 'bout really interesting things about these amazing country. Congratulations.

    I've also a blog on the net (http://dralmo.blogspot.com) but it's in catalan language.

    see you

  2. Hey Per - Everybody's covering the human interest angle on this thing but for my money the more interesting story is in covering the coverage. I mean, both sides here are shopping alternative narratives--alternative realities, really--each of which selectively strips away some context while emphasizing other aspects so as to persuade the reader/viewer/listener that they are innocent and the enemy is guilty. This is totally normal, it happened after WWI when all sides published papers trying to show that they acted defensively. But it's not getting much coverage except in the best American press and public radio and perhaps elsewhere in long-form media that doesn't get lost in the details.

    The bottom line is that nearly all of Israel will sleep soundly tonight knowing that they are correct--no matter how many innocents die--because their forces are targeting militants and Hamas-related sites (I agree, they miss a lot, but they're not shooting at unarmed women and children just for shits and giggles). In their view the rockets are a threat no matter how badly aimed they are and the difference in death tolls is irrelevant. Their view is that Hamas rockets are aimed at women and children, Israeli missiles are aimed at military targets. Unfortunately (and stupidly) they don't account for Hamas being an unconventional force that depends on and lives among the people, so they end up killing hundreds of innocent people. They will leave out the blockade or say that rockets must stop before the blockade. They will leave out the history of Gaza and where its people came from.

    Meanwhile, Arabs--partly because there's really nothing else they can do--will continue to rage about the death toll. They will emphasize the deaths of women and children without mentioning that Hamas fighters (legitimate targets) are also being killed. They will emphasize injustices such as the siege, which they will call a different kind of occupation, without mentioning that international community views Hamas as a terrorist organization. They will say Hamas was legitimately elected without mentioning that if it was the legitimate government, then Israel is correct in retaliating for rockets. Would Sweden be upset if rockets from Oslo started killing people in Sweden? I think so.

    Either way, their stories are entirely predictable. They both have legitimate points but they both twist the facts and omit unfavorable details. I think this is where the real story is here, what are the differences between the two narratives? Are there similarities? And how are they each exploiting the media as part of their strategy? It is no accident that Israel has a YouTube channel and if you don't think Hamas is delighted to see footage of wounded Palestinian children on TV you're fooling yourself. Every journalist or blogger covering this story is being used, and that's the real story.

  3. Evan: You are right about the Arab and Israeli media narratives. My point of view here is the one of a European. And there is a simple reason you will see me and many other Europeans, who are neither Arabs or Israelis, focusing on the suffering of the Palestinian rather than the rockets against Israel: Israel is the infinitely stronger party, the occupier, and the state with the backing of the world. I'm focusing on Palestinian suffering because I feel "we" have a responsibility for Israel's actions - I think that the blind support given Israel by the US and the EU has led to this disaster.

    If rockets from Oslo hit Gothenburg that would piss me off for sure. I hope we would respond proportionally though, not by killing one Norwegian for every rocket being launched, since I happen to like the Norwegians. I also hope (but I can't gurantee this if any of my friends or family were killed) I would have the courage to ask the question "Why?" Maybe there is some part of Norway that we, unknown to me, has been occupying and colonising for 40 years?

    Another point then: there can only be legitimate targets in a legitimate war. If you are the agressor or occupier, or if your response is wildly out of proportion, even "enemy fighters" must be considered illegitimate. I mean, Swedish media even describe attacks on Swedish soldiers in Afghanistan as "terrorist attacks," since they subscribe to the narrative that Sweden is part of just war over there... And Israel describes resistance actions against occupation forces on the West Bank as terrorism. The point being that you have to look at the whole context of the conflict, not just the actions. And this remains a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians despite the currently dominating media narratives that totally ignore what's going on in the West Bank, as if it was taking place in another universe...