Friday, October 29, 2010

The Paradoxes Of Daily Reality In Israel

The following article is by Yochanan Visser, Researcher, Missing Peace--and is reposted here with permission
The good old days before we had peace

The British journalist Peter Hitchens recently published an article about his visit to Gaza and the West Bank.

He wrote: ‘The true state of the Gaza Strip and of the West Bank is so full of paradoxes and surprises that most of the news coverage of the Middle East finds it easier to concentrate on the obvious and to leave out the awkward bits’.
Hitchens’ article was one of those rare things: an analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that was honest.

I was reminded of the tenor of Hitchens’ words this week when I had three encounters, each of which underlined the paradoxes of daily reality in Israel.

A long talk with Khaled Abu Toameh, the Arab affairs reporter at the Jerusalem Post, was the third and most important one of those encounters. During our conversation, Toameh observed bluntly that the foreign media in Israel simply ignore news if it cannot be reported from an anti- Israel angle.

As a result, readers obtain a totally distorted picture of the Mideast conflict.
My first opportunity to reflect on Hitchen's article came in a meeting I had with a Palestinian entrepreneur in the Bethlehem area.

The man asked me for help with emigration to Holland.

I naively thought his request had something to do with the collapsed peace talks.
But that was not the issue. He told me he had had enough of the mafia-like character of doing business in Palestinian society. The elites in the PA, he said, strangle anyone who dares to start a competing new business.

A while ago, he told me a similar story about how the PA deals with sick Palestinians who require hospital treatment in Israel. Ordinary people do not get compensation for the costs of these treatments – but the families of the Fatah elite do.

The experiences of this entrepreneur are consistent with issues raised in the documentary film Precious Life which I saw in Jerusalem last week. It deals with the tribulations of a Gaza family: a desperately ill baby and his parents.

The parents had previously lost two children to the same disease, before turning for help in Israel. But the Palestinian Authority refused to pay for the treatment.

Their story made headlines when it was exposed on Israeli Channel 10’s evening news.

Ten minutes after the broadcast, an anonymous donor, an Israeli Jew who had lost a child in one of Israel’s recent wars, contacted them and undertook to pay for the entire medical treatment.

An especially compelling aspect of the movie is the Gazan mother’s struggle with her ambivalent views about Israelis. The ‘child killers’ – as depicted on Hamas-controlled television – are transformed in her experience into caring humans, struggling to save the life of her baby.
The dramatic peak, however, came when the mother declared she wanted her baby son – once cured – to become a shahid, a martyr, in the Jihad struggle for Jerusalem.

My third encounter with Israel’s paradoxes and surprises came last Wednesday.

In Jerusalem’s Old City, Palestinian reporter Khaled Abu Toameh delivered a devastating blow to the customary narrative of the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

Abu Toameh’s lecture commenced with his account of working for the PLO over a period of more than twenty years. Then one day he decided to become a real journalist. That day, he left the PLO and embarked on a path that allowed him to emerge as a prominent and well-respected journalist at the Jerusalem Post and several other foreign media outlets.

The current mess in Israel is a result of the Oslo accords, he said. The concept was fine; but the implementation caused a disaster.

The West’s support of Yasser Arafat’s PA via money and weapons was the root cause of this disaster. Western leaders should have anticipated that Arafat would abuse this aid. The second intifada was a direct result of the Arafat clique’s misuse of foreign aid. Moreover, said Abu Toameh, it was a deliberate attempt to divert attention from rampant corruption in the PA.
The PA has no mandate to conduct negotiations with Israel, Toameh asserted. The PLO will never implement any future peace accord.

The sole reason Abu Mazen continues to rule from Ramallah is the Israeli presence in the West Bank.

An Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank will result in a Palestinian bloodbath, similar to the one that happened in Gaza during the 2007 Hamas takeover. When it comes to Fatah and Hamas, one can only speak of bad guys and bad guys, he said.

Abu Toameh spoke at length about the influence of foreign media reporting on public opinion about Israel in the West.

The media, he said, have done a great injustice to Israel. He accused foreign reporters of hypocrisy and of applying a double standard.

An example of this hypocrisy: most foreign reporters live in Tel Aviv where they enjoy the freedoms offered by Israeli society. These same reporters then condemn Israel for alleged human rights violations and the lack of freedom of the press. And they are silent when it comes to the widespread human rights violations and absence of freedom of press in Palestinian society.

About Gaza, he said, the real problem is the role played by Egypt.

Egypt did nothing to prevent the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007. It was Israel that actually helped Fatah officials escape the Hamas rampage and executions.

Corruption by Egyptian officials continues to allow Hamas to smuggle weapons into Gaza.
He pointed to the massive presence of humanitarian aid organizations in Gaza; on average, this is larger than in ten African developing countries taken together.

The situation in Gaza has always been bad, he said. The Palestinians wasted an enormous opportunity for a better life following the Israeli withdrawal in 2005.

Abu Toameh described himself as an Arab Israeli Palestinian Muslim. He said he is not pro Israel but rather pro the facts.
As a result of his honest and factual reporting about the PA and the Arab world, he has reason to fear for his life whenever he travels to the West Bank or to Arab countries.

Some of the foreign visitors present at this meeting were visibly taken aback by Abu Toameh’s account.

The paradoxes and surprising insights offered by his lecture clearly were new to them.
As an Israeli, the only real surprise for me was hearing them from a Palestinian journalist.
Driving home, I recalled the words of a Palestinian Arab quoted by Hitchens who mourned for ‘the good old days before we had peace’.

The absence of truth goes some way to explaining why there are so few journalists like Abu Toameh and Hitchens.

Peace begins with the truth. Ultimately, the truth will contribute to a better understanding of the conflict in the West.

And that will surely increase the chances for peace.

Yochanan Visser
Researcher, Missing Peace (Jerusalem Office)
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1 comment:

NormanF said...

Khaled Abu Toameh is the kind of Arab most Israelis like and respect. The problem is there aren't too many like him in the Arab World willing to tell their own people the truth. And until that changes some day, peace will never come to the Middle East.