Walter's World with Walter Bingham - every Sunday on Israel National Radio

Walter Bingham is a veteran journalist and broadcaster from London who now lives in Jerusalem. His weekly radio programme, Walter´s World, can be heard on Israel National

Monday, July 17, 2006

Disasters: The Media and Israel's Government

Oct 23, 2005
Walter Bingham

The whole world was shocked, and rightly so, by the disasters that have recently befallen many countries. I am referring to the earthquakes, the tsunami, the hurricanes and floods and the creeping woodland fires. The news coverage was excellent. On each occasion, the news media showed not only the actual devastation, but it also concentrated heavily on the plight of the affected population, the personal stories about the loss of their homes, jobs and livelihoods, the uncertainty of where they are going to settle and the lack of funds for food, etc.
Those stories and pictures have aroused tremendous sympathy and most relief agencies quickly established aid distribution in those areas. In many countries, public appeals have been launched with an almost unprecedented response, ranging from schoolchildren who donated their savings, to large amounts of money from corporations. National stockpiles of emergency equipment, tents, food, clothing, bedding and other necessities are still today being shipped out by air. The value of this generosity amounts to billions of dollars. Israel is usually early in offering material, manpower and expertise wherever it is needed, which by proportionate size comparison with other donor countries is much more than can be expected. I am really happy to see that in this materialistic world, nations can still raise compassion for those in need, regardless of their religious or political beliefs.
Sometimes, however, there are exceptions to this rule. There are times when political and even religious considerations override desperate need, on the one hand, or compassion, on the other. For instance, despite extensive recent contacts with Israel, Pakistan expressed the wish to have Israeli aid channeled via a third country. Isn't that the paradigm of hypocrisy?
One of the recent events in Israel was the so-called Disengagement Plan; the forced evacuation, or expulsion, as I prefer to call it, of approximately 10,000 Jewish men women and children from their homes in the Gaza Strip and from a part of Samaria in the centre of Israel. Perhaps 50% were children under 16. Natural disasters are decreed by the Almighty and cannot be averted, but this disastrous expulsion was carried out by Israel's government. I have, on other occasions, written and spoken about this disaster at length and want here to concentrate on the media and world response.
The deliberate, premeditated and unprecedented phenomenon of a government making its own subjects homeless by destroying their houses, and forcing them to leave the are that was their home for the past 20+ years, was to be the media event of the year. Ever since the date was announced, networks from all over the world, from Japan to the US, Europe and Australia, all competed for space to accommodate their crews as near as possible to the centre of the proposed action. They hoped for bloody battles, and even shooting, between the residents and the expelling forces - but instead, saw only non-violent, passive resistance, which was an anticlimax for them, considering their expenditure. So, they concentrated on the soldiers and police carrying struggling people out of their houses, or on defiant young residents and sympathisers sitting in synagogues or standing on rooftops, determined to make it as difficult as possible to expel Jews from their legitimately owned homes.
One might have speculated that the areas were required by the government for strategic installations or military purposes or for the establishment of such important industries as water desalination plants so urgently needed here; in other words, absolutely unavoidable use for the defence of the nation or its life-preserving necessities. But there was none of that.
The land was handed without conditions to the same enemy who has daily sent rockets and mortars in the direction of these and other Jewish-populated areas. It was an effective unconditional surrender; exactly the line that the Palestinian terrorist organisations overtly publicise and celebrate - and the PA leadership quietly applauds as a first step to further withdrawals.
To have expelled Jews for the purpose of unilaterally giving to the enemy the land under fire, was 'adding insult to injury'. The last time I wrote those words was in connection with the burning down of synagogues by the Nazis during Kristallnacht on the night from the 9th to the 10th of November, 1938 (which I witnessed), when payment was demanded from the Jewish community, to make safe the remaining dangerous structures.
The extended parallel is striking.
The international news media acted as one. None concentrated on the plight of the now-homeless. There were few, if any, interviews with expelled residents. There was no hint of compassion in the reporting on the English and German networks that I monitored. Oh yes, crying women were shown, publicly venting their anguish and distress in Hebrew, without translation or comment. It was very different from the reporting of the events in New Orleans or southeast Asia.
The news media has the power to either produce factual and objective reports, or to colour the reporting so as to introduce a bias. This can be achieved by flavouring the commentary to specially selected footage or even staged photographs. The effect is that it favours and excuses one side over another regardless of the truth. Worse still, pictures have been captioned fraudulently, as in the case of Tuvia Grossman, a Jew who was depicted as a wounded Arab youth cowering next to an angry Israeli policeman holding a baton, when, in fact, he was being protected from an Arab mob that had earlier attacked him.
Bias can also be accomplished by omission, by failing to explain the background to an event. Omission is not discernable by those readers, listeners or viewers who usually choose to get most of their news from the same source, same network or newspaper, and accept everything as fact. That, unfortunately, is the majority.
In the forefront of the guilty media are the major networks that propagate anti-Israel bias by pandering to populism and thus create a vicious circle in the race for viewer figures. An extensive and academically produced report in 2002 by Trevor Asserson, a lawyer in London, showed conclusively how the BBC distorted the facts. His report so unsettled this giant network, that they asked to meet with him in the British House of Commons chaired by a member of Parliament. As a result, there were some improvement in the commentaries of BBC Middle East correspondents, but they soon reverted to their old ways. Mr. Asserson is continuing to make waves.
Did the events of August/September 2005 in Israel arouse the compassion of the world's relief agencies? Did any large charities offer help or did any country launch a public appeal to aid the displaced homeless? To my knowledge, not one. Perhaps they would have done; but they too get their information from media reports and from the reaction of world governments. With the onset of the colder weather, it is time to look for the winter wardrobe. Admittedly, the belongings of the victims of the Disengagement Plan were packed into containers, but they are now inaccessible, except against a large payment. So most expellees have no home, no jobs, no money and no clothes.
Instead of compassion for the homeless, world leaders fell over themselves to congratulate Israel's prime minister on his 'courageous' step to surrender to the pressure of their oil-hungry countries and to the demands of their politicians, who are vying for the votes of the cuckoo in their nests, the masses of their new Muslim citizens. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, thirsty for glory, is lapping it all up, like a purring cat at the milk dish. With the adulation of the world heaped upon him, there is the great danger that he will continue this path of dismantling Israel, for which thousands died. It is sad that in his own country, this once-great general will only be remembered for his folly in Gush Katif and Samaria.
The Yom Kippur prayer Ashamnu, Bagadnu is one that Sharon should have said with great concentration and devotion. It is written in the plural, because Jews are responsible for each other, and it very much applies to this prime minister and his cabinet:
We have acted treasonably, aggressively, and slanderously;
We have acted brazenly, viciously and fraudulently;
We have acted wilfully, scornfully and obstinately;
We have acted perniciously, disdainfully and erratically. Turning away from your good precepts has not profited us.
The government bears the great burden of responsibility for all of us.
So, on our High Holy Days and festivals, when we say the prayer Ribon Ha'olam before removing the Torah scrolls from Holy Ark, we ask the Lord of the Universe to inspire the leaders of our government to be good to us. Well, if last year we were deemed unworthy of that, I pray that this year, the Almighty will weigh the result of their actions and fulfil our request. It would, of course, be better still if those leaders themselves would display the character of every decent politician who has failed his or her country; but then, it seems that in Israel that is too much to expect, when so many undeserved perks go with the job.


Post a Comment

<< Home