Why are Palestinian voices excluded?

Palestinians may be encouraged to tell their ‘human story’ but they are seldom allowed to express their political views.

Without Palestinian voices, the media will continue to willfully ignore the fact that the war on the Palestinians of Gaza actually began in 1947-48, writes Sabawi. [EPA]

Reporters from major western news networks in the US and elsewhere, seem to mostly approach Palestinians in order to do what they call a “human story”. That seems to be the parmeter that defines the limited space we are allowed to occupy within the public narrative of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Our “human story” often consists of footage of the dead and dying accompanied by short sound bites of concerned relatives and crying victims. When we insist on expressing our political views, contextualising the footage, asking for as much air time as the pro-Israel voices get or challenging the language the media has adopted in covering the conflict, we are often met with polite silence or cold rejection.

Excluding Palestinian voices

There is clear disparity between the number of Palestinian voices allowed to express their political views compared to the number of Israeli voices. An analysis of CNN media coverage by Punditfact concluded that Israeli officials outnumbered their Palestinian counterparts by more than four-to-one. However, beyond numbers, there is also the challenge of addressing a biased and misleading discourse that inhabits the language with which the Palestinian story is being reported.

For example, the Israeli narrative, widely adopted in western media, frames the conflict as a war between Israel and Hamas, rendering the entire Palestinian civilian population who bear the brunt of this war invisible.  This has a direct impact on the way the media shapes public opinion. Consider the latest poll conducted by the Gallup. The poll asks “Do you think the Israeli actions in the current conflict with the Palestinian group Hamas over the past few days have been mostly justified or mostly unjustified?” 

The poll results indicate strong support for Israel albeit at a lesser rate than previous years. This is hardly surprising. Much like the mainstream media narrative, the poll question ignores that 80 percent of those killed by Israel’s bombing are civilians, and that much of Gaza has been destroyed, including thousands of homes and basic civilian infrastructure including Gaza’s only power plant and its water treatment station. It also ignores the fact that resistance in Gaza does not only consist of Hamas, but that it also includes a united front of all other Palestinian factions.

Israel’s attacks on Gaza are presented as self-defence against the barrage of Hamas rockets. But there is evidence that Hamas did not start this war.

Without Palestinian voices, the media will continue to willfully ignore the fact that the war on the Palestinians of Gaza actually began in 1947-48, as it did for all Palestinians. That’s when most of the same people who are now being bombed today, were exiled out of their homes in what is now Israel and were pushed into refugee camps in the far corners of their historic homeland.

Gaza is a big holding cell for the refugees that Israel refused to allow back home after 1948. Since 1967, Israel has militarily occupied the Gaza Strip – and yes, it is still occupied, as well as besieged by Israel. It’s worth noting that during the first 20 years of Israel’s occupation, Hamas didn’t even exist. Yet Palestinians were treated with the same level of contempt and denied basic human rights including the right to their homeland.

We are told the only way forward is through negotiations for a two-state solution. The western media pundits continue to parrot this as if it was a holy truth, claiming that Hamas’ charter is what is stopping this peaceful outcome from materialising. But even if we were to ignore all the signs on the apartheid wall in the West Bank, the settlement growth, the Likud charter, how could major US and other western media outlets ignore Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement which made it clear that “there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we [Israel] relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.” In other words, there will never be an independent Palestinian state.

Anyone who believes that Israel’s war on Gaza is a war on Hamas that is waged for “security” concerns will have a hard time explaining the West Bank, where unarmed Palestinians live in caged up Bantustan-like areas under Israeli control and with full security collaboration by the Palestinian Authority. Amnesty International recently published a report accusing Israel of being “trigger-happy” and documenting cases where Palestinians, including children, were killed in the West Bank by the Israeli army with “near total impunity”.

The non-violent protesters in the West Bank marching against Israel’s latest attack on Gaza have been met with Israeli bullets and tear gas. This is part of a systematic Israeli policy to crush all forms of Palestinian resistance. During the first mostly non-violent intifada that began in 1987 throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, then-Defence Minister Yitzhak Rabin instructed soldiers to break the arms and legs of Palestinian protestors. In 2006, Dov Weisglass, the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s adviser, explained Israel’s aim in besieging Gaza: “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet but not to make them die of hunger.”  

So with or without Hamas, Israel will continue to militarily control the Palestinian people, colonise their land, and exploit their resources including water and Dead Sea minerals. Israel certainly takes no responsibility for the security, rights and protection of the indigenous Palestinian population on that land – the duty of an occupier under international law. No other state is holding it accountable for its actions and no major western news network is asking the right questions or challenging the Israeli narrative. In fact, in the rare times that Palestinians have been given a platform to voice their views, they were often asked to respond to Israeli allegations, setting the tone of the interview to fit within the Israeli narrative. 

But we are seeing the tipping point of Israel’s monopoly on the Palestine/Israel discourse. While western mainstream media continues to present the illusion that Israel is defending itself, 150,000 people marched in London against Israel’s war crimes in Gaza, and millions of people marched around the world. It is clear that Israel’s impunity, the silence of the international community and the deliberate exclusion of Palestinians from mainstream western media are no longer enough to silence the Palestinian voices, nor to curb the fast growing global solidarity that has embraced Palestinian civil society’s Boycotts Divestments and Sanctions movement.

There is no doubt that the people will lead where the leaders have failed, and that the Palestinian narrative that has been denied in the western mainstream media will continue to reverberate loud and clear around the world, online and in the streets.  The legendary resistance of the Palestinian people and especially the people of Gaza will live on and will inspire many more generations to come.

Journalists looking to do a “human story” on the Palestinian people need to understand that ours is a story that cannot be told outside of its political context. It is a story that precedes Hamas, the rockets and even the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. It is a story of 67 years of continued ethnic cleansing and dispossession by one of the world’s leading military powers. Can we have some space to talk about that?

Samah Sabawi is a Policy Advisor at Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network

Follow her on Twitter: @gazaheart