LONDON: Leading Palestinian activist Mohammed El-Kurd has lambasted what he regards as the mainstream media’s biased coverage in favor of the foregrounding of pro-Israel “talking points” — and called for reporting that centers the voices, experiences and agency of Palestine’s citizens.
El-Kurd made the comments during a live discussion held on April 24 in London titled “Against Erasure: Why Palestinian Voices Must Finally Take Centre Stage,” attended by journalists and campaigners.
During the discussion, attended by Arab News, El-Kurd explored the challenges of what he considers distorted and hostile coverage, the role of art, literature and other media in the struggle for Palestinian liberation, and finding ways of connecting Palestinian realities with Western audiences.
The award-winning poet is best known for being one of the leading voices of the #SaveSheikhJarrah movement. In 2021, he was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME Magazine alongside his sister Muna.
The event, hosted by independent media platform Palestine Deep Dive and publisher Haymarket Books, took place against the backdrop of his recent viral BBC interview in which he criticised a presenter for his reporting of Israeli police raids on Al-Aqsa Mosque. He went on to chastise fellow news commentator Peter Ricketts, a former British diplomat, for his “clear lack of expertise” on Palestine, stating: “I’m amazed by how far removed you are from the matter.”
“When you turn the question on its head, when you correct the presenter, you are changing the power dynamic in the interview itself. You are having the observer, the viewer, question the integrity of that media platform and thus give you more authority on the subject,” El-Kurd said on stage in conversation with The New Arab opinion editor Malia Bouattia.
El-Kurd said that the dehumanization of Palestinians has become normalized, particularly after the First Intifada and that they have been “depicted as terrorists.” Therefore, he argued, advocates navigating through the landscape of mainstream media are tasked with additional hurdles in order for their voices to be heard.
“We have the truth on our side, but the truth is not enough. Those of us who are advocates, who go on TV, must acquire a certain kind of political education,” he said.
“It is not enough to be just a subject of violence, it’s not enough to just have the bruises. You must also be able to be compelling,” he added.
Explaining his uncompromising approach in his BBC interview, pushing back against pro-Israeli talking points, El-Kurd said: “You should not care what the interviewer is asking. You have a talking point to deliver. You have a narrative to deliver, so you deliver it.”
Equally, El-Kurd recognized that his notoriety made him an exceptional case where a Palestinian is being given a mainstream platform, but that these news outlets are largely sidelining Palestinians in a conversation in which they are central.
However, he believed that large grassroots movements were still capable of tackling biased media narratives in order to evoke change.
“I think about the 2021 campaign for Sheikh Jarrah and the fact that it was mostly successful in halting the expulsion orders against our families (and it) was the fact that it was completely volunteer-led. And it was hundreds of thousands around the world that were participating in it, that were taking the time out of their day to protest, to tweet, to divest, to create work in their cities.”
According to Palestine Deep Dive, of the 2,490 opinion pieces about Palestinians published by the New York Times between 1970 and 2019, only 46 were written by Palestinians, less than 2 percent.
Like many other pro-Palestine rights activists, El-Kurd also argued that equating criticism of Israel with antisemitism has been used to silence a discussion about Palestinian suffering.
He found that even progressive media outlets in the UK or US “often engage in this qualification policy, where they can only speak about Palestine if they spend 15 minutes denouncing all kinds of bigotry and racism as if Palestine is inherently tied to a certain bigotry.”
Recent years have witnessed several people accused of antisemitism being threatened and marginalized, from German courts ruling Deutsche Welle’s firing of journalist Maram Salem was unlawful to courts in the country overturning a ban on Roger Water’s Frankfurt concert over antisemitism concerns.
Despite this, El-Kurd said he believed people must run the risk of sacrifice, noting: “Across history, any opposition to any injustice has not been met with applause initially.”