Thursday, November 02, 2006

Sans context, it's all bad news

I have a context now. When I read a news report or see a "dramatic" photo or film clip about Palestinians shot by the Israelis, I think of al-Dura and other Pallywood productions, and I wonder. I try not to dismiss them all, but I am loathe to accept them without corroboration and time for the stardust to settle.

Not a healthy attitude, I agree. But perhaps it is inevitable given the need for broadcasters to hit us hard with drama, and do it in 30 seconds. The drama is in the figures of the dead (14 Palestinians dead in Gaza clashes) or in the seconds of video of people falling in the street. What is not in these quick daily fixes of drama is the other sort of context, the important one that tells us how people got to this point.

When I read the news reports yesterday of 8 Palestinians dead in clashes in Beit Hanoun, I looked for this sort of context and found nothing. I didn't know why the Israelis were there and the articles I saw weren't telling me. I went to This Ongoing War to find out and they reproduced a press release by the IDF which states,

"Terror organizations have launched over 300 rockets into Israel from the Beit Hanun area since the beginning of the year."
One a day from that area. Good to know. Makes a difference.

In a Reuters article from today, you get this (in the middle of page 2 of a 3-page article)
The army operation is aimed partly at halting rocket fire at the Jewish state from the area. Militants still managed to launch six homemade missiles at the nearby Israeli border town of Sderot, wounding at least two people, medical officials said.
This is the only reason given for the Israeli presence and notice, no figure and the second sentence implying that the operation was of no use anyway. Which leaves the reader to conclude that the suffering inflicted, the deaths, the wounded, the interrogations, were useless and therefore tantamount to bullying, or in the usual parlance, oppression. The headline is Israel kills 5 in Gaza.

Meanwhile in the Irish Breaking News, under the headline Israeli military tightens grip on Gaza town (less drama), I learn this
Troops moved into Beit Hanoun yesterday because it was a major launching ground for the 800 rockets fired at southern Israel since the beginning of the year, the army said.
So southern Israel has been hit by 800 rockets this year, of which 300 have come from Beit Hanun. Now, I would also like to know what casualties there have been or what damage done, but at least I have something. Why do I have to look so hard for it?

I'll probably never know the context to this. It's a video on the La Repubblica site about 67 seconds long of a street somewhere, presumably in Gaza, but it could be Chechnya for all I know, and it shows individuals and small groups running to collect guns off the road, and then fleeing, two falling, waving for help and being carried away. Gunshots sound out.

The caption reads:
The attack of the Israeli army (video): nine deaths. Shots fired at a group of Palestinians on the street.
What does that say? Change "Palestinians" to Romans or Londoners, and you'd think, What maniacs are these shooting people in the street? Perhaps we think that anyway, because these images translate as senseless violence committed by hidden, and therefore malevolent, gunmen on defenceless civilians. Now, for all I know, that may well be the case. But I have no means to confirm or contradict that impression.

Just like the reporting from Iraq that tells us how many civilians have died in terrorist attacks in Baghdad, but nothing else from the rest of the country, this sort of reporting from Gaza transmits the message that resistence to Palestinian or 'insurgent' attack is futile and /or brutal. Get out! Get out! That is the message. Get out, no matter what the consequences might be, because it's nasty.

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