STRAYING FROM THE SCRIPT
Europeans may be forgiven for wondering why the Palestinians have dropped off the media agenda. One reason is that Gaza has become a lot more dangerous for journalists. Another is that reality has dangerously skewed the storyline that foreign correspondents have slavishly followed for much of the past 40 years.
The Palestinians, the most pampered and cosseted group on earth, are not behaving according to the well-worn media script. They are not the innocent, defenceless victims of the brutish Zionist occupation army. In the judenrein reality of Gaza, the dominant forces are corrupt and pathological killers who are committed to pursuing mafia-style turf battles rather than the sacred task of nation-building.
The European media would have been electrified if Israeli troops rather than Palestinian thugs were deliberately gunning down children in the streets of Gaza. Just last month, at least half a dozen children under the age of 12 are known to have been shot dead in gang wars or personal feuds. Such incidents are almost totally ignored in the newsrooms of London, Paris, Berlin and Rome.
In spite of the Mecca agreement, which was intended to heal the rift between the competing Hamas and Fatah factions in Gaza, the Palestinian political structures, economic systems and security services are in meltdown. Palestinian leaders appear to be more interested in controlling the guns and filling their bank accounts than delivering a better life for their people. The sources of power are dribbling down to tribal, clan and family leaders. Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah have also spotted an opening in the market and are demanding a piece of the action. Gaza is tumbling into anarchy and civil war.
Meanwhile, Palestinian expressions of “good neighbourliness” are delivered in a daily torrent of Qassam rockets fired into Israel from across the border with Gaza. The twin aims of these rockets are to visit death on the hated Jews and to provoke an Israeli reaction that will deflect attention from domestic failures and concentrate minds on the “common enemy”.
This is not the heroic Palestine of the media myth but a pathologically violent, deeply dysfunctional society. The Palestine story has strayed too far from the script for the media mavens to correct, so they scale down their coverage.
This is no longer a “five-star” war story. Journalists cannot now venture out of their air-conditioned apartments, drive to the front line, witness the conflict and then scurry back to the bar of the American Colony Hotel to trade tales of how they stuck it to the Israelis in their reports that day.
The unkindest cut of all was the kidnapping of the BBC’s Gaza correspondent, Alan Johnston, in March, apparently by one of the emerging Palestinian warlords. Johnston’s family, friends and colleagues rushed to publicly affirm that he was a “good friend of the Palestinians.” His abduction might have been seen as a terrible betrayal. Not so.
Britain’s National Union of Journalists quickly mustered its forces and voted to boycott… Israel. Not Zimbabwe, North Korea, Iran or even, heaven forbid, Palestine. A rich list of nations around the world manipulate, manage and suppress the media. Some even kill offending journalists. But when the trade union of British journalists chose to impose a boycott, they targeted the only country in the Middle East with a robustly free, independent press.
A union official stressed that this was not a ban on reporting Israel but rather a boycott of Israeli products. Those intrepid British journalists who supported the boycott might be surprised to learn the full extent of their hypocrisy: virtually all the essential tools of their trade – computers, miniature modems, mobile phones, satellite television sets – are stuffed with products that have been produced in Israel, by Israelis, at the major R&D facilities operated by Microsoft, Intel, Cisco Systems, Motorola and NDS, among many others.
Why is the media so obsessed with the Palestinians, recipients of the largest flows of aid per capita in history? Because their enemies are Jews. And why are the cameras so relentlessly focused on Israel? Because it is a free, open, safe, comfortable, high-tech society that permits them to ply their craft without consequences. Reviling Israel is a cost-free exercise.
I am reminded of an encounter I had in 1988 with an Australian MP who was a member of a delegation of Australian parliamentarians to inquire into the first Intifada. We met during a reception at the president’s official residence in Jerusalem, just hours after his arrival, and it was clear his sympathies were not with Israel.
What did he expect to find, I asked. The MP, Lewis Kent, answered that the group could have written the report before they left Canberra, and that any meetings would “only be to confirm what we already know.”
Then why bother making the arduous journey? “The only decent thing about being a member of parliament in Australia is the free trips. I’ve done a lot of travelling, you know,” he replied.
The conversation made the front page of the Australian and the member, along with his inquiry, was prematurely retired. Many foreign correspondents based in Israel probably share those sentiments. They, too, have made up their minds before they arrive. And they, too, are there for the ride. If they do not get such short shrift it is only because they exhibit more political savvy than the good Australian parliamentarian.