Eyewitnesses of tomorrow’s news

There is a desperate need to stress that Israel’s claimed “war against terrorism” in Ramallah and elsewhere is actually a war against the Palestinian population. What ‘gains’ Israel may later claim should be fundamentally undermined in the minds of all decent people by Israel’s scattered application of its violence and the endemic collective punishment it employs against all Palestinians to achieve these supposed ‘gains’.

If you want to fight terrorism, you don’t surround and enter entire towns with battle tanks, crushing people’s cars, and force the terrified population to huddle in their rooms for days, without electricity, water, or access to information sources to let them know what is going on. Rather, this will radicalise the population.

If you want to fight terrorism, you don’t destroy the physical infrastructure of local government, you don’t execute policemen (paid just $250 in salary each month) in dark corridors with a bullet to the head, and you don’t conduct large-scale arrest campaigns of civilians so terrified by these reports of massacres that they aren’t sure if they’ll ever see the family they were dragged away from.

None of these things will undo the hate you stomped into the hearts of the ones you claim to be after. It will instead sow more.

If you want to fight terrorism, you certainly don’t rocket the compound of the already impotent leader of the population you are asking to join you in the battle, someone who doesn’t even have access to food, water, or electrical light.

This is only the most recent assault on his authority. Israel has humiliated Arafat for most of a decade by continuing to confiscate Palestinian land under cover of the “peace” process. For 18 months now, Israel has shot Arafat’s people’s children and shelled their parents. Now it corners him in a room and expect him to be compliant.

Israel has given Arafat nothing to work with and has utterly failed to fulfil even the ‘minimum requirements’ that a ‘peace process’ by any definition should meet. Israel’s historical rape of Palestine puts it in the position where Israel, not the Palestinians, needs to show some evidence of genuine concession. The world is still waiting.

Israel handed over a people — not land — brutalised by 34 years of institutional violence without handing back the geographic region necessary for them to roam free and thus erase the awful memory of occupation. Even at the earliest moments of the implementation of Oslo on the ground, Israel found itself unable even to let go of the keys to the gates between the Palestinian towns.

The Palestinians that Israel continues to jail in these bantustans are people who historically and generously surrendered control over 78% of their land in exchange for peace. In exchange for peace — it should be noted — with the same mortal enemies that ethnically cleansed their grandparents from their homes, 50 years ago.

Israel demands these people not only to be suitably grateful — while it uses checkpoints to reduce these already tiny pieces of land into unnavigatable crumbs — but additionally expects these people to fight each other in the jail, until only the ‘peaceful’ are left alive.

We live in a dark world when our broadcast media misrepresents these stange realities.

The media’s compliant spin on the Ramallah invasion and other ongoing invasions around the occupied territories — in fact only the latest manifestations of the 34-year-old Israeli military occupation — contradict the whole basis for the existance of the media in Western democracies, as understood by citizens from Australia to Canada, from Britain to the United States.

This understanding asserts that the media exists to protect citizens from unfocused, punitive actions by states which target and terrify the innocent and fail to distinguish between civilian and soldier, in exactly the same way that a suicide bomb fails to distinguish among its victims.

I came to really understood this gulf between TV and reality in the late 1990s, when I lived in the Palestinian West Bank, and was able to witness at first hand events that the Associated Press or Reuters would devote a passing 400 words to. In the accounts, you were never given the information necessary to grasp the violation of humanity that was permitted on a daily basis. Seeing the contradiction is very painful.

The misrepresentation effectively amputates normal human outrage, the righting mechanism of civil society when governments and sub-national groups are out of control:

The Israelis seem to view foreign journalists as a threat, too. This afternoon the army decreed: “The entire Ramallah area has been declared a closed military zone. No foreign citizens (including members of the media) are allowed to be in the closed zone. Anyone found in the closed zone henceforth will be removed.”

A little while later, a reporter for The Boston Globe, Anthony Shadid, 33, was shot in the shoulder as he was walking near Mr. Arafat’s headquarters. He was reported to be in stable condition. How he was shot was unclear. When a group of colleagues tried to see him at Arab Care Hospital near Manara Square, they were refused entrance by Israeli soldiers who had taken up positions inside the hospital.

At a Foreign Ministry press headquarters in Jerusalem, government officials warned tonight that journalists caught here would have their press cards revoked. Organizations that continued to report from Ramallah could have problems, officials said.

The army has already issued orders that no journalists are to be permitted past the checkpoints that surround most of the town, but it was possible to slip into Ramallah today by back roads and a dirt path.

There are several dozen journalists here, many of whom have been here since Thursday, expecting an Israeli retaliation after a suicide bombing killed 22 people on Wednesday in Netanya. The journalists move tentatively through the streets in small convoys, their headlights flashing. Some cars are marked all over with strips of red tape spelling TV.

— from “Residents Cower in Ramallah, Now a Ghost Town Occupied by Israelis”, by John Kifner, The New York Times, 1 April 2002.

I learned during my time in the West Bank that, as eyewitness of tomorrow’s news, we cannot hope to understand what is going on without access to alternative information resources. I have subsequently devoted time to developing them. This latest project represents yet another more step in this direction, the closing of a gap between our experience on the ground and the different experience suggested by the media coverage that we critique.

With Israel’s current attempts to remove the witnesses from the scene of the crime, initiatives like this will become increasingly important. With the increasing ubiquitousness of information technology these obstacles can be overcome.

The Electronic Intifada is more than an organisation with a specific regional interest. It is a belief in the equalising force of information technology, applied in a specific situation. In 2002, we will take more steps to appropriate information technology to amplify our voices in challenge to the status quo. In the short term, we will continue to work to build Live from Palestine.