Left Turn magazine interviews Nigel Parry about EI 3.0

The Electronic Intifada (EI) website, has become the place to go on the internet to find out what’s really happening in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A quarter of a million people visit the site a month. In January 2004, the EI team revamped the website and launced Version 3.0. Rami El-Amine from Left Turn spoke to Nigel Parry, one of the founders and designers of the Electronic Intifada, about the new site and its incredible success over the past three years.

Left Turn: Since readers of Left Turn may not be familiar with Electronic Intifada (EI), could you give us a quick backgrounder on when, why and how EI got started.

Nigel Parry: The Electronic Intifada (EI) is a not-for-profit, independent publication committed to comprehensive public education on the question of Palestine, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the economic, political, legal, and human dimensions of Israel’s 37-year occupation of Palestinian territories. EI provides a needed supplement to mainstream commercial media representations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The four founders — Ali Abunimah, Laurie King-Irani, Arjan El Fassed, and myself — represent a mix of internationals and Palestinians who have been working on the Palestinian question for many years. We came together to form EI in part out of frustration with infighting in existing activist initiatives, in part due to the impetus generated by the Second Intifada, and because we felt that the most needed contribution to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a credible, mainstream news source offering a window into the Palestinian experience of life under occupation.

The Electronic Intifada’s website receives around one quarter of a million visitors (not “hits”) each month. During periods of increased conflict, the number of visitors can dramatically increase. During Israel’s invasion of the West Bank in March/April 2002, EI’s website saw over 600,000 visits in the period of one month.

EI has received favorable reviews in respected publications that include the Washington Post, Financial Times, The Nation, Utne Reader, and the Jerusalem Post. EI’s founders are regularly contacted by the mainstream electronic media, such as the BBC, CBC, CNN and dozens of radio stations around the world, to provide commentary and analysis on events in the Middle East.

LT: You’ve just launched Version 3.0 of the site. What are some of the main changes you’ve made to the site and what prompted them?

NP: Ken Harper and myself - the design team — were attempting to achieve two main goals. One was to improve and finalize the general navigation of the site, the other to enhance the visual design of the site.

We were inspired in part by online news websites such as MSNBC.com and CBC.ca which, despite the usual reporting issues common to the North American media, offer a rich variety of articles, useful multimedia content, and strong visual images.

A key addition was the BY TOPIC directory, which offers a browsable interface to the content on EI’s site and beyond. We also made more prominent our call for submissions of content, and expanded our About EI section to offer financial reports and detailed team bios, as a way of increasing transparency.

LT: I’ve noticed that over the years the amount of reports from the frontlines and their prominance on the site has increased. Also, a lot of the reports seem to come from members of the International Solidarity Movement. How did this relationship with the ISM develop?

NP: We have always appreciated the work of ISM. Rachel Corrie’s death impacted us deeply, as it signalled the end of an era where the presence of internationals would work to minimise Israeli violence against Palestinians. Having lived in Palestine myself for 4 years, I understood exactly the kind of situation she found herself in and the callousness of the Israeli military present was chilling.

While it is nothing new for people to die in the conflict the killing of an international in cold blood in front of eyewitnesses, with no help offered from the bulldozer crew after Rachel was crushed, was a sign that Israel’s sense of impunity had reached a new level that heralded increased violence towards Palestinians and internationals.

EI began publishing the breaking story on the same day Rachel was killed, and was very quick to offer annotated images of the event.

That article remains the most read page on EI almost a year later.

LT: The activism section is also something that has grown considerably over the years. Can you comment on why that is and how it has evolved?

NP: There is more activism than ever before on Palestine. The ground swell reminds me of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the US in the late 1980s. We want groups to submit well-written reports on actions they take around the world, with images, as we believe that activists in other countries will be inspired by the many excellent and creative initiatives that people are working on.

QUIT’s “colonization” of Starbucks was one such event we reported that had a lighter side. On the other end of the scale, New York activist groups stopped traffic on Fifth Avenue with some Rachel Corrie-inspired street theater that was very to the point, with props that included bulldozer blades and blood. Many people are trying different things to draw people into a deeper understanding of the conflict, our responsibility for it, and ways we can work to end it.

LT: How much impact do you feel EI has had on the corporate media’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Do you feel they’re any more “objective” in their coverage?

NP: We are often contacted by the commercial media for background information, contacts on the ground, and for interviews. For example, we set up CNN with one of the Palestinians inside the Church of the Nativity during the siege.

Newsday credited us and Palestine Media Watch “with making the pro-Palestinian cause more prominent with the media in recent years through letters to editors, op-ed pieces and appearances on talk shows. “

Mostly, the problems in coverage seem to stem from the management level of media organisations, who are subjected to a ceaseless barrage of complaints from the Israeli side which appears to be primarily concerned that the organisations report on Israeli repression without justifying it for them.

Often the journalists are not the problem, even in organisations such as CNN which is widely considered to have the worst TV coverage of the conflict. CNN journalists do file hard hitting stories that challenge Israeli practices on the ground, but they either are edited, spiked or broadcast only on CNN International, which offers much better coverage than the awful CNN domestic that most Americans receive. During Israel’s invasion of the West Bank in March/April 2002, one 60 Minutes producer told me that all three of the stories his team worked on during 2 months there were never going to see the light of day.

While there are still endemic problems with media coverage, mostly in North America, we feel that print media coverage has improved in some ways, although one still regularly witnesses serious distortions such as the widespread description of a two-month period at the end of 2003, during which 117 Palestinians were killed, as “relative calm”. What the journalist meant was that few Israelis had died during the period.

In general, TV news coverage remains miserable, couching every Israeli attack on a Palestinian population area as “retaliation”, briefly mentioning killings of Palestinians while offering extensive, borderline pornographic, coverage of the aftermath of suicide bombs.

LT: Clearly there’s been a sea change in opinion and activism around Palestinian rights around the world but particularly here in the US. What factors do you feel helped bring about this change? How much of a role, if any, has the internet played in bringing about that change?

NP: I think the Intifada, the commercial media, and the Internet are the main facilitators for this trend. People first became interested in the issue because the Intifada resulted in an intensification of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which meant that they see it on TV every night.

Since 9/11 in America, many people are actively seeking alternative news sources. It has become evident that the US government intentionally misled us about Iraq’s WMDs — and the media never challenged these lies until the damage had been done. Instead of any genuine investigative journalism, all TV channels pumped out an uncritical and relentless pro-war message. As a result, 14,000 Iraqis and 700 Americans are now dead. Media encouragement for war should be considered a crime against international law.

LT: What are some of the future goals of the EI Team?

NP: Primarily, now that the website structure is more stabilised, we want 2004 to be EI’s Year of Content. We want good writers to contribute to EI regularly, and increase both the amount and scope of our coverage in all areas of the site.

In financial terms, EI desperately needs to be able to afford to pay people to maintain the website, so that we have a reliable content flow. The current volume of content and process of adding it sometimes overwhelms the current team members, who put together and maintain the site on a budget of just $50,000, less than the salary of a single foreign correspondent. Were we able to double our budget, we would be in a much better position to consolidate and move on.

LT: What needs to be done to bring about a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what role can EI play in making that a reality?

NP: Apartheid ended in South Africa when citizens of Western nations made any support for South Africa politically disadvantageous for politicians.

This didn’t come about because people were sending charitable donations to Black South African hospitals and schools, nor did it come about because people were going to South Africa to see for themselves (the Anti-Apartheid Movement discouraged this for boycott reasons). It happened when the cause became a mainstream concern, when it was always being discussed in the news, when popular musicians sang songs about South Africa and held highly visible benefit concerts broadcast to 1 billion people around the world — one fifth of the earth’s population at the time.

The change happened because on every high street in the UK where I was living at the time, you’d walk past activists on Saturday afternoon who were handing out leaflets about the situation, or normal people like you and I who were simply wearing FREE MANDELA T-Shirts. The campaign was in front of you all the time, its goals were simple and understandable, and when you started reading more about the issue it became patently obvious — as in the case of Palestine — that whatever justifications the side with power wanted to make, the issue was a black and white case of racist-inspired injustice.

Palestinians need to start seriously funding information sources like EI so that we can increase our outreach and help speed this process. While giving to hospitals and schools on the ground is important, it is reactive rather than proactive. Stemming the bleeding is one thing, but educating the North American public about life on the ground for Palestinians will motivate them to call on their leaders to halt the bloodshed for once and all. That’s the only way any of this will change for the better.

The Israelis certainly aren’t making the same mistake. Public relations and information production for them is a high priority. Look how much they get away with as a result.

EI will continue to inform people about the situation on the ground so that they have access to understanding the actual cost of the conflict for normal people, and have the tools to get past the demonisation that forms much of the media’s Palestinian repertoire.

In terms of a just solution, the occupation needs to end immediately, and the armed paramilitary settlers must vacate Palestinian land. Settling an American or Russian-born armed religious zealot on a poor Palestinian farmer’s land is a criminal act. There should be no negotiation about crimes. Without a doubt, these two steps would end the ongoing violence immediately.

Then, Palestinian refugees should be permitted to have permanent residency in a country of their choice, whether in the US, Europe, their old land in 1948 Israel, or a Palestinian state. Frankly, after ignoring them for 50 years, the international community owes the refugees the right to live out the rest of their precious days on earth anywhere they damned well please. If a few Israelis need to give back the keys of their homes to the original Palestinian owners and Israel needs to resettle some of its citizens in alternative accommodation to make that happen, well, worse things already happened to the Palestinians to get us where we are. It’s time for some accountability and justice.

If the road leads to a single state in Israel/Palestine that many seem to think is a good solution to the conflict — which would mean the end of the Zionist dream of an ethnically homogenous Jewish state — so be it. After the horrors of the last 100 years, humanity should run in the opposite direction from any person or group or nation that suggests creating any system that discriminates against anyone based on race or religion.

The American public doesn’t seem to grasp that there is a road less traveled where we can deal with international conflicts in a way that preserves international law rather than undermines it. In today’s America, for partisan ideological reasons supported by a minority of American citizens, such common sense considerations seem secondary to the all-important charge into an era of endless war.

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