Justice for Palestinians vs. Balanced Reporting

It is relatively easy for many casual observers of Middle East events to be deceived by balanced and ostensibly objective reporting. Simplistic divisions and false dichotomies are often presented. Moderates are juxtaposed against extremists and their identities vary according to current hegemonic agendas. Alternatively, competing narratives are asserted, both of which are assumed to have equal degrees of validity. The aim, of course, is to shape worldviews. Instead of informing readers about asymmetric claims, the reports frequently hide the ugly truth by presenting competing arguments as equivalent.

As consumers of this information, we must be more analytical and factual. It is time to do what mainstream reporting does not want the reader to do: to think. One must strip down the narrative and discover the basic truth. For Palestinians and beneath all the arguments, is a question of Justice. Without an acknowledgement of injustice, there is no truth in balanced competing narratives. Without it, there will be no solutions, no rights, and no peace.

The simple fact is that Israel usurped Palestinians rights. It continues to do them a supreme injustice through the occupation and now war. All else derives from this. Therefore, when a report purports to be objective and presents the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as one of competing narratives, both of which are equally legitimate, this only serves to preserve the original imbalance of power distribution and injustice. There is a complicity in crime, in a lot of balanced reporting.

For those that are sentimental about their attachments to such balanced presentations, it is sometimes helpful to substitute other competing groups and see how well those arguments hold up. As examples, how just is it to assign equal legitimacy to the claims of slave-owners versus slaves and abolitionists; apartheid versus anti-apartheid groups; misogynist Wahhabi clerics versus women; colonialists versus colonized? Historically, in each of these cases, narratives were presented in defense of these now-indefensible positions. Religions, civilizational “white man’s burden” arguments, and traditions were called forth to buttress pre-existing uneven distributions of power so as to perpetuate them. Those who resisted were always branded as ignorant, deluded, uppity, terrorist and so forth. This is not all just historical relic. Let us not forget that until as late as April of 2008, Nelson Mandela was flagged a “terrorist” on US anti-terrorism watch lists. He had been designated as such for having dared to fight apartheid. ((Mimi Hall, “US Has Mandela on Terrorist List,” USA Today (4/30/2008). )) Similar tactical arguments were used by the French in Algeria, the British in India, Ireland, Kenya, and the Conquistadors against the Native peoples of the New World, to name a few.

Current Middle Eastern affairs amply demonstrate the uses and abuses of balanced, “civilized,” and reasonable discourse. How can we forget that “winning the hearts and minds” of Iraqis and Arabs went hand in hand with “shock and awe”? Similarly, the preaching of democracy also conceals a multi-pronged form of subversive attack. Democracy and liberation have served to justify military occupation in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine. They have also been part of a deliberate project of societal fragmentation and religious, sectarian, ethnic and tribal incitement. Witness the Bremer-designed constitution that was foisted on occupied Iraq. It insisted on and reified dividing its citizens into competing sects and tribes. The same thing happened in Afghanistan with the initial reliance on the Northern Alliance as a tool with which to attack the Pashtuns, who were collectively lumped into “Taliban supporters.”

The narrative also accommodates the rule of dictators in every Arab country with the rationalization being that they are “democratizing” as we speak (!). This mirage hides the underlying Western opposition, both historic and present, to any progressive forces in the region. True democracy risks the election of undesirable elements like the FIS in Algeria in 1990 or Hamas in Gaza more recently.

On the regional level, these false dichotomies of balanced discourse have achieved what was previously unthinkable, or at least not publicly flaunted. Effectively, Israel has been integrated within the moderate camp, as part and parcel of the Middle East. The discourse then pits them against rejectionist “Axis of Evil” (emphasis on Shi’i) types. Those who object to the hegemonic agenda are immediately labeled extremist and terrorist. Palestinians who reject occupation and /or actively object to the non-achievements of the peace process experience the dismissal out of hand their legal right to resist. Justification is implied because they are given (more often than not only verbal) support by Axis of Evil Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah. Once again, resistance is narratively impossible.

Conveniently, this coincides with the current uneven distribution of power in favor of Israeli intransigence and refusal to return lands occupied since 1967, or to compensate refugees, or to treat its Palestinian population as equal citizens, etc. The Arab-Israeli conflict is narratively transformed and is no longer about resistance to colonial occupation and ethnic cleansing. Putting Israel on the same side as moderate Arab states renders the Arab-Israeli conflict meaningless and reduces it to a search for the security of the powerful.

This enforced bifurcation has split Palestinian leadership into two camps: the settlement-seeking moderates headed by Mahmoud ‘Abbas in the West Bank and the terrorist, rejectionist, Hamas in the Gaza strip. ‘Abbas’ speeches are penetrated by this narrative. Echoing Israeli and Saudi moderates, he excoriated Hamas for “adventurism” that brought on the massacre of Gazans. He appropriated the language of the occupier denying the occupied’s right to resist. And he ignored evidence that this latest conflagration of violence was planned well in advance by Israel and that it was Israel that first broke the cease-fire on November 4, 2008.

Such discourse of balanced moderation and competing narratives has other uses that perpetuate power imbalances in the region. It obfuscates the over-riding self-interest of the various parties. This often involves saving their seats of power at any cost. Moderate Arab regimes also use the democratically elected Hamas as a tool with which to repel any Western pressure (however superficial) to democratize. Proof of the tactical uses of this narrative abound. An obvious case, is why don’t these moderate regimes denounce the (Shi’i, Iran-affiliated) Maliki government in Iraq? After all, they and their backers, the US and Israel, are constantly harping on the dangers of Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, and Hamas (which is Sunni, but the narrative does not allow for inconvenient truth)? One can only conclude that the resisting Palestinians are not afforded the same tolerance because they refuse to submit to occupation in silence; their struggle continues to inflame the imaginations of Arabs everywhere; and they continue to disrupt and embarrass moderate regimes in their dealings with the West (and Israel).

From Israel’s perspective, this discourse of “moderates” versus “extremists” has made for some strange bedfellows. They are now on the same side as the anti-Semitic Wahhabi regime in Saudi Arabia. They are also supporting ‘Abbas as leader of the Palestinians, knowing full well that he is also an anti-Semite, who refuses to be addressed as the “doctor /Ph.D.” that he is, for fear that people will discover that his dissertation was about denying the Holocaust. ((I was made aware of this at a recent UCI conference in which I heard Drs. As’ad Abu Khalil and Norman Finkelstein discuss it. See also source for the complicity of the Israeli army in covering up his anti-Semitic rhetoric.))

Gaza: A recent illustration of insidious balanced narratives

The recent massacre in Gaza has pulled the mask off balanced talk. I will list a few examples to demonstrate that balance deceptively conceal and actively aid the perpetuation of injustice.

Consider Europe’s position when confronting the attack. Europe had declared that they have learned their lessons after Nazism and that their racism was in the past but never to be forgotten. Contrast this with the fact that in the massacre’s aftermath, the EU’s Human Rights representative, no less, blamed the victim for the attack, and promised the dispatching and coordination of European navies to make sure that the victims cannot import “illegal” weapons with which to fight back. A conference in Copenhagen is currently organizing this. ((“Denmark Hosts Gaza Arms Smuggling Meeting,” Yahoo (2/4/2009).))

Likewise, Israel’s moderate peace-seeking stance has been revealed as nothing but a coup de grace of charm with which to demolish Palestinian rights. Israel talks of supporting a political “settlement” supposedly based on the “two state solution”. This discourse is presented as very fairly treating two peoples’ equally valid claims to one land. Balanced reporting ignores Israel’s consistent resort to war as the prime instrument of policy. It also furthers the injustice done to Palestinians by ignoring, the racist basis of a state that is founded on the claim of the superiority of Jews over inhabitants that pre-existed the state’s founding.

It is time to treat the myth of Israel’s support for an independent Palestinian state objectively. The contradictions abound, one of which is the increasing pace of the settlements on Palestinian occupied land. And lest we blame it on some fanatical settlers, a recent Ha’aretz report by Uri Blau presents evidence of collaboration between the various ministries and agencies in Israel to perpetuate and enhance settlements. The World Zionist Organization, when asked about these illegal colonies, replied: “Settlement in Judea and Samaria, as in Israel, has been accompanied by the preparation of regional master plans, […] Steering committees from various government ministries, the Civil Administration and the municipal authorities were involved in the preparation of these plans? The (settlement) department worked solely on lands that were given to it by contract from the authorities in the Civil Administration and all the lands that were allocated to it by contract were properly allocated.” Is it any wonder then that “The defense establishment, led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, steadfastly refused to publicize the figures, arguing, for one thing, that publication could endanger state security or harm Israel’s foreign relations”? ((Uri Blau, “Secret Israeli Database Reveals Full Extent of Illegal Settlement,” Ha’aretz (1/30/01).))

Doing so would expose the holes in the narrative.

Moreover, Israel’s real opposition to an independent Palestinian state was exhibited in the latest attack on Gaza (and continues the tradition of expropriating Palestinian land, water, and resources). Israel deliberately destroyed Palestinian farmland, fully cognizant of the extensive poverty in Gaza, thereby enhancing the suffocating embargo. Furthermore, the narratively hidden truth of deliberately targeting civilians, ((Peter Beaumont, “Gaza Desperately Short of Food After Israel Destroys Farmland,” The Guardian (2/1/2009). Deliberate targeting of civilians is discussed extensively in Norman Finkelstein, “Foiling another Palestinian Peace Offensive,” Counterpunch (1/28/2009).)) is counterproductive to establishing a “moderate” Palestinian state since it radicalizes its victims.

Other inconvenient facts also contradict this Israeli purported desire for peaceful settlement. Recent Israeli polls indicate that, in the wake of the Gaza attack, Netanyahu, head of the Likud party, is the frontrunner to win the elections, and that the ultra racist and fascist former nightclub bouncer Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Yisrael Beitenu party, has made the largest gains in the race. ((Uzi Mahnaimi, “Israel’s Nuclear Hawk Avigdor Lieberman in Poll Surge,” Times Online (2/1/2009).)) Conveniently, Western “balanced” reporting ignores some decidedly unbalanced facts.

For one, the Likud Party Charter and platform does not recognize a Palestinian state. It specifically states that the settlements are “the realization of Zionist values” and that it will “prevent their uprooting.” It goes on to say that “The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river. The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state.” Contrast this with the excoriation of Hamas for not recognizing “Israel’s right to exist.” Similarly, Lieberman’s vitriolic invective against Arabs and Palestinians, both inside and outside Israel, is inheritor of Meir Kahane’s racist enterprise. His advocacy of “transferring” Palestinian citizens of Israel and his vociferous rejection of creating a Palestinian state indicates that what was once fringe has now become mainstream. ((Ira Stoll, “Israel’s Lieberman Calls for Tougher Stance on Israeli Arabs,” New York Sun (12/13/2006).)) Credit for this is due to balanced competing narratives discourse, which has effectively lumped all Israelis into the “good” camp opposing the Axis of Evil.

Another discursive myth is Israel’s “most moral army in the world.” The attack on Gaza revealed the IDF valiantly “winning” by massacring hundreds of defenseless women and children. Amnesty International reported that the IDF also engaged in such “professional” behavior as the use of white phosphorus to incinerate civilians, the bombing of UNRWA schools where refugees were seeking shelter, and the looting and desecration (sometimes even with excrement) of Gazans’ homes. The Palestinian Authority estimates the material extent of the damage at $2 billion.

The examples discussed above demonstrate clearly how balanced talk can hide a reality of injustice and a project for its perpetuation. But the secret ugly truth remains. Its repercussions are not limited to continued Palestinian resistance and demands for freedom. Proof is also evident on the flip side of that coin. Israel, the “fair,” the “moderate,” the “peace-loving,” the “good,” is now so afraid of the legal repercussions of their actions in Gaza, that they are now prohibiting the identification of the participants in the “war.” ((Uri Avnery, “Israel’s Black Flag,” Counterpunch (2/2/2009).))

There is no escaping the consequences of supreme injustice.

Dina Jadallah-Taschler is an Arab-American of Palestinian and Egyptian descent, a political science graduate and is also an artist. She can be reached at: Dina.Jadallah.Taschler@gmail.com. Read other articles by Dina, or visit Dina's website.

11 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. jan said on February 7th, 2009 at 5:59am #

    The news stories always start with the last Jew who died. It’s been that way for years.

  2. Gideon said on February 7th, 2009 at 8:24am #

    Point by point part 1
    In 1961, nearly fifty years after its formation, African National Congress imitated terrorist attacks against government facilities and did not directly target people.
    This is no Ghandi but WOW, what a concept!

    Resistance is not labeled as Terrorism. Targeting civilians and killing as many as you can is Terrorism (including your own people).

    In Iraq, is it realistic to ignore that ALL local politics is tribal? Can you really not to acknowledge the fault lines? Naive does not help building new country institutions or practice freedom. Iraq or Afghanistan, the easiest way to test the measure of Tribalism is to see the extent of inter-tribal marriages.

    “True democracy risks the election Hamas in Gaza more recently.”
    How do you save this baby Democracy after the power fell into the hands that do not have any intentions to maintain it, after they grabbed the power?

    Is it about LAND or JUSTICE ?

    The west has been paying for UNRWA since 1948. A refugee agency created only and especially for Palestinians that has not resettled any Palestinians and still classifies 4th generation and Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship as refugees – which not acceptable for any other tens of millions of refugees around the world .

    Israeli Arabs citizens have equal rights. Arabic is the second official language in Israel. There are 10 Israeli Arab members in Parliament, Supreme Court judge, …etc

    Israel is desperate for Peace and will negotiate with anybody that has the power to govern and deliver on the signed agreement! That creates strange bed fellows, but you need SOMEONE to negotiate and close a deal!

  3. bozh said on February 7th, 2009 at 11:49am #

    gideon is either deliberately misleading us or forgetting that there is no such a state as israel.
    actually, as far as i know israel and US are the only two states that do not recognize the state of israel in any borders.
    so for a borderless land to negoatiate peace with another legal entity like the state of palestine amounts to hunting for a snark.

    israel= theft of land. israel+palestine=israel. israe+golan=israel. israel+ part of jordan=israel. israel+plus lebanon=israel. and so on

    in fact, at first opportunity, the world will derecognize israel in any size.thnx

  4. kalidas said on February 7th, 2009 at 7:46pm #

    From 2000-2008 rockets from Palestine killed a total of 18 Israelis.
    During that same time span, allergic reactions to peanuts killed 458 Israelis.


  5. Gideon said on February 7th, 2009 at 8:28pm #

    Yes, Hamas execution of Gaza Fatah members was a massacre. Watch the video and decide for yourself. You call on us to be more analytical, factual, thoughtful, strip down the narrative and discover the basic truth and then you offer us your truth and “simple facts”: a massacre.

    Are you surprised that EU does not share your portrayal of Hamas firing rockets at civilians as “victims”? Gaza people are victims of Hamas Perdify and abuse of human shields.

    “fairly treating two peoples’ equally valid claims to one land”
    Since 1947 UN resolution 181, there was a Jewish state and an Arab state. TWO people, TWO lands.
    Do you believe that UN 1947 resolution 181 had a “racist basis”?

    We know that Palestinian Arabs did not accepted the resolution, Palestinian Jews did and established a state of Israel, which was immediately attacked by Palestinian Arabs and ALL the neighboring Arab countries and then some.

    Palestinian State
    So let’s go along the time line again, reviewing the facts.
    1949 – Palestinian Arabs and ALL Arab countries waging war agains new state of Israel – FAILED!
    Armistice agreement signed in 1949 with Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, (indirectly with Iraq)
    West bank and majority of Jerusalem in Jordan control, Gaza in Egyptian control.

    West bank and Gaza were under Arab RULE / CONTROL / OCCUPATION from 1949-1967.
    Please, enlight us about the ACTIONS taken by Palestinian leadership to establish Palestinian state and the RESISTANCE agains their Occupiers: Jordan and Egypt.

    Now if there was established a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza anytime between 1949 and 1967, then the Palestinian refugee problem would disappear. You can’t have refugees if they are living in their own state. Now that would not be an OUTCOME that Palestinians and the Arab League would like. What about the VICTIMS and all the money flowing from UNRWA?

    Since 1948, Israel was attacked, Arab neighboring states waged war against Israel multiple times and they failed ALL of them and they failed Palestinians.
    Yet, it’s an irony that Palestinian leadership could have only developed under Israeli occupation since 1967.
    Now could you please compare Palestinians quality of life, based on some world acceptable metrics, under occupation by Israel after 1967 vs Jordan / Egypt between 1949 to 1967?

    Israel is desparately searching for Peace. If Palestinians are still searching for Justice or Revenge they will continue, as they have been in the last 60 years, being victims by choice.

    I hope they will find the will and empower the leadership to search for Peace!

  6. bozh said on February 8th, 2009 at 9:15am #

    euros with a cult attacked palestinians before arabs came to their defence.
    however, several hundred palestinians had been murdered, thousands of their villages burned, and over 700,000 inhabitants expelled by the time arab lands came in.
    the reason arab lands cld not come to the rescue of the indigenes prior to many massacres by ashk’m, was beacause UK troops were stationed in palestine until ashk’m were able to establish their state.
    if fact, UK soldiers often fought pals at that time.
    UK withdrew from palestine after that, claiming the situation became messy.
    in fact UK and UN, composed largely of christian (racist lands) left only after the mission had been accomplished. thnx

  7. Shabnam said on February 9th, 2009 at 7:58pm #

    [Yes, Hamas execution of Gaza Fatah members was a massacre.]

    If there was an execution, it could have been related to action of a thug by the name of Mohammed Dahlan, a Palestinian who spy on his own people for Israel and is part of the security team around puppet Mahmud Abbas, and helps Israeli military to locate Hamas leaders so the military can kill them to eliminate leaders of Palestinian people who resist zionist fascists in occupied land.

    A senior Hamas official alleged to TIME magazine that Dahlan appeared in El Arish, an Egyptian coastal town near Gaza, shortly before the Israel attack, and had sent in Fatah loyalists to “cooperate with the Israelis” on the ground in hunting down Hamas commanders. Hamas officials say their allegation is based on interrogation of suspected collaborators accused of helping to pinpoint Hamas’ hideouts and weapons caches for Israeli targeting. The objective, say Hamas officials, was to help Israel decimate Hamas activists in the hope of reestablishing Fatah control in Gaza.

    This is the result of brutal Israeli occupation where keeps Palestinian poor, dispossessed and divided to use them in the game of divide and rule against each others to advance Israel expansionist policy.

    Contrary to whatever Chomsky says this has not been designed by the US. This is Israelis’ own crimes against humanity and those Zionists who support the policy around the world. This is NOT US-Israel holocaust of Gaza rather is ISRAELI made Holocaust in GAZA and the zionist population inside and outside the occupied Palestine who supports such a crime.
    For the first time, at least for me, I saw in the following link, that Chomsky has referred to Zionist delaying tactics to take over more land:
    {I also agree that Israel “can continue to live with an unresolved conflict.” In fact, a leading principle of Zionist doctrine long before the state was established, and continuing since, has been to try to delay diplomacy while establishing “facts on the ground,” to determine the contours of some eventual settlement. That is exactly what is happening now.}
    He still cannot spell out that Israel, not the United States, is afraid of ‘peace’ and has no intension of doing so because Zionist policy is based on expansion rather than resolving the conflict to end the Palestinian tragedy.

  8. Deadbeat said on February 10th, 2009 at 1:16am #

    Chomsky decades long misdirections and disinformation his interference with any economic boycott of Israel and denials of the Israel Lobby has effectively stunt solidarity on the American Left. The net effect of Chomsky’s iconic influence on the Left has crippled any real confrontation of Zionism permitting it to flourish in the USA.

    What Chomsky “fails to see” which is “quite obvious” is he role he has played for nearly 40 years in aiding and abetting in the rise of Zionism — a racist ideology.

  9. Chris said on February 10th, 2009 at 7:16am #

    Calling Chomsky a covert Zionist agent because he disagrees with you is incredibly childish. All he says about the economic boycott of Israel is that it won’t be possible to implement unless there is mass activism and education about the plight of the Palestinians that will motivate a significant number of people to take part in the boycott.

  10. Max Shields said on February 10th, 2009 at 7:39am #

    Chris I agree with the accuracy of your statement regarding Chomsky’s stated position.

    While I fully support a boycott, it must be planned and executed with some understanding of how to increase chances of a potent impact. Chomsky offers a practical warning.

    But, let’s all be clear. Chomsky was writting on these matters way before anyone else would say a WORD. Back in the 60s and 70s he was cutting into the Zionist/Israeli state and the US Imperial Empire. His world-view is clear with solid historical body of evidence to support his conclusions.

    Never once have I gotten from Chomsky a sense of dogma, quite the opposite. You can disagree (as I do on a couple of important points) with him, but his arguments are always fact based and not based on emotional sense of personal destiny.

    We make far too much of him by holding him up as a symbol of obstructionism. He seems only to be taunting people to think for ourselves.

  11. Max Shields said on February 10th, 2009 at 7:43am #

    On the topic of boycott, I would add, that with the collapse of the US empire, much will be radically altered in the “balance” of power and particularly with the state of Israel. Israel better find a way to make her enemies friends real fast. And for me, that means ROR and one state.