How Palestinian pens can defeat Israel’s sword
Israeli soldiers killed another Palestinian teenager this week, having accused him of throwing a firebomb during protests in the Palestinian village of Al-Khader near Bethlehem.
The victim, Mohammed Shehade, was only 14. Israeli officials immediately asserted that he was one of three Palestinian protesters throwing Molotov cocktails at Israeli settler vehicles in the occupied territories.
In every case of violence against Palestinians, Israel’s priority is to be the first to assert the “facts” and to place all blame on the victims. They do that through manipulation and censorship of media coverage.
The Israeli military never identifies the targets of alleged Palestinian violence as armed settlers from nearby illegal Jewish settlements who drive through the area harassing Christian and Muslim civilians, destroying Palestinian-owned farms and olive groves, and attacking Arab civilians.
In this instance, according to the Israeli military, Israeli troops were conducting counterterrorism operations in response to Palestinian violence. The Reuters news agency said they “could not immediately locate independent witnesses to the incident” — at least leaving some question as to the veracity of the Israeli military sources, although Israeli TV had no problem simply reporting what the military told them as fact.
Those Israeli operations often involve the arrest and detention of Palestinians suspected but never proved to be engaged in violence, and actually provoke the local community into angry protests. Israel responds to every Palestinian protest with violence, and asserting that the protests themselves are always violent.
Most media report only the Israeli version of incidents because the presence of Palestinian media and human rights organizations is restricted, allowing the military to churn out one-sided Israeli media PR propaganda that justifies their violence as “defensive.”
But if the skewered one-sided Israeli version of the killings were not reported, then very little would ever bereported at all by Western news media — so even the one-sided “facts” are judged to be better than nothing.
The problem is that by the time Palestinians or independent and objective media sources are able to track down the truth, so many days have passed that it is no longer news.
Sadly, most media only report the Israeli versions of the incidents because the presence of Palestinian media and human rights organizations is restricted by the Israeli military.
Israel understands the fundamentals of “owning” the news, getting their story out first and comprehensively. Arab media that might try to report facts that challenge the Israeli version are often censored, edited or prohibited from publishing.
Israel censors the media heavily because they understand the fundamental truth about communications: “The pen is mightier than the sword,” as the English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote in 1839. Their other principle, as George Orwell wrote in his dystopian novel “1984,” is: “Who controls the past controls the future,who controls the present controls the past.”
One way to respond to this lopsided coverage and distortion of the truth by Israel is to empower Palestinians to do a better job of reporting facts. Despite Israel’s censorship, Palestinians could provide factual on-scene reporting of these events if they could get the stories out fast enough.
That means giving the Palestinians not only the opportunity to report on the violence against them but also to find resources to fund that reporting. The Internet permits all kinds of opportunities to convey reporting.
Then, as in the tragic killing of Mohammed Shehade in Al-Khader, if Palestinians were encouraged to film and post their first-hand observations in English (not Arabic) to online blogs that could be publicized to Western sources, they could go a long way to counter Israel’s massive multimillion-dollar propaganda efforts.
It would not cost much but would require a coordinated information campaign to encourage Palestinian protesters to have people ready to video and write the details of confrontations and immediately post those to the onternet on easy-to-find publicized blog sites.
But they have to be ready and prepared to counter Israel’s propaganda.
The violence that Palestinians face from armed Israeli soldiers and settlers is certainly menacing and often fatal, but it is also conveyed in the biased Israeli media reports, which is a form of de facto rhetorical violence.
Not only must Palestinians be ready to protect themselves from Israeli soldier and settler bullets, but they also must protect themselves from Israeli soldier and settler rhetoric.
The sword may take the lives but the pen can ensure that the wielder of that sword is identified as the true criminal.
- Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at www.Hanania.com. Twitter: @RayHanania