Sunday, January 11, 2009

Peaceman and Hopeman

One of the the interesting aspects of any war is how the media covers it and to what extent the government controls the flow of media to the population. In this one , the mainstream media, with the noteable exception of the doveish Ha'aretz, has been uniformly pro war while dissenting voices have hardly been heard.

Friends were at an anti-war demonstration organised by various peace groups last weekend and told me that thousands took part but I don't remember seeing any media coverage. Protests by Israeli Arabs have been continuing on an almost daily basis but since there has been no real violence and since their opposition to the war is to be expected, these have been relegated to the back pages.

According to a recent poll, 94% of Jewish Israelis support the operation, although it's not clear how many would like to halt it now. It's hard to escape the feeling that there's a guiding hand feeding this almost wall-to-wall support. For one thing we are not being shown the horrific images of the death and devastation in Gaza that are being flashed around the rest of the world, or at least we are being fed them in strictly limited doses.

What we are being fed is what the government and the mainstream media (either with official encouragement or simply because patriotism sells in wartime) want us to see. Hence, while foreign correspondents are still battling in the courts to be allowed into Gaza by the IDF, Israeli journalists were allowed in a few days ago to emerge with sterile images approved for publication by the Army Spokesman's Office like this one below which shows our boys picking their way carefully through a dangerous alley. Another much used shot is of soldiers blacking up before "going in". The approach is to heighten the sense of danger while not exposing the viewer to the results of the violence.

The tabloids - Yedioth, Ma'ariv and Yisrael Hayom, along with the three main Israeli TV channels - 1, 2 & 10, are all more or less following this line. Of course the lion's share of coverage goes to what is happening on the Israeli side: the kindergarten destroyed by a rocket; the householder who lost his house; the frightened mothers saying that the kids can't sleep but morale is high and that we're strong and should "finish the job"; the singers who volunteered to entertain people in the bomb shelters ; the mothers of fallen soldiers who tell the TV cameras that their son wouldn't have wanted the army to stop now . And if you're looking for a little action you can always check out the long shots of our planes blowing up tunnels on the HOT cable company's Video on Demand channel (no dead people guaranteed).

This is for domestic consumption only and it works very effectively. It both corresponds with and nourishes the Israeli instinct to close ranks in wartime and support the troops come what may. Interestingly the army spokesman's office that is the official channel for a lot of what we are seeing and hearing (and a lot of what we are not) does not have an English version of its website. One would have thought that the IDF would have wanted to show its side of the picture but either it doesn't care or there is some other reason.

In a democracy, there should be channels for dissenting voices and images, even in wartime and while it is natural and legitimate for the government to try to keep morale high, the role of a free and independent media role should be more complex. Of course the foreign media, trying to explain the conflict to their confused audiences back home are also sometimes guilty of superficial and inaccurate reporting but we'll leave that for another time.

Anyone looking for alternative voices and more complex descriptions of reality on the ground can find them on the internet at a site called Life must go on in Gaza and Sderot which is written by two friends. 'Peaceman' is a Palestinian post-graduate who lives in Sajaia refugee camp in Gaza and 'Hopeman' is an Israeli father of two who lives in Sderot. As they write "Our Blog is written by 2 real people living and communicating on both sides of the border."

Their persistence in keeping their joint blog alive in the face of shellings and electricity cuts deserves our respect
Peaceman's logo

Peace man's last post was dated Wednesday, January 7, and it ended like this:

We have said from the beginning that violence will bring more violence.I hope the world will understand that’s there people want to live safe with dignity and peace .I hope I will have the chance to write you again.

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