The problem with the Gaza disaster appeal video is that it focused itself on the Palestinians as victims rather than being a call for peace. This is not new. The media’s focus on the Palestinians as victims has been a considerable part of the problem over the last 30 years.
During the First Intifada, when children threw stones at Israeli soldiers, pictures were beamed around the world and it became the biggest media story of the day, but the effect on both Israel and the Palestinians was disastrous. The need of western-world television viewers and magazine readers was to share the suffering of a small people, but children in the West Bank and Gaza found themselves with a choice of going to school or going to where the western press scrum were gathered and be a hero before cameras that told their story to the whole world. Perhaps a billion dollars worth of media was made out of that story, by Reuters, AP and the BBC, but I doubt if the Palestinians received a single penny of that money.
The Israelis, meanwhile, were still believers in free press in those days. Their view was that the Intifada was a movement by the Palestinians to find their own identity. They allowed the cameras in and put their side of the story believing that their openness would be recognised and appreciated as compared to the policies of their barbaric Arab neighbours. However, their reputation throughout the world was ruined by these protests and a whole generation of Israelis grew up unsure of themselves and the purpose of their country in this part of the world.
Egypt had refused to take back the Gaza strip in the peace deal done with Sadat, while Jordan was hardly queuing up to take responsibility for the West Bank. The system of proportional representation meanwhile meant that the 10% vote of the religious right gave them the power to decide which of the two main parties would form a government, and their demand was that no biblically important land should be given up even if the Palestinians were capable of forming a government. And so the lack of political decisiveness led to the incremental crackdown on Palestinian rights, which were perceived as weakness by the Palestinians whose violence grew in direct proportion.
By the time I revisited Israel in the 90s, I came out of the airport to find that the Israelis were organising Palestinian taxi drivers into a slow lane and Israeli taxi drivers into a fast lane. This was due to the policy to deny the Palestinians the benefits of the Israeli economy. Following the ‘67 war the Israelis had opened the borders to give the Palestinians free movement of goods, capital and labour. Relatives in Gaza visited relatives in West Bank for the first time in living memory.
Palestinians found prosperity through their new construction jobs and Israel’s need for a cheap source of labour was satisfied, so the Palestinians pretty much built the state of Israel during the 1970s. But the spontaneous acts of Palestinian violence; the stabbing of a woman at a bus stop, another in a street market, more, made the Israelis fear that they’d let a demon they didn’t understand into their society.
It’s said in the Middle East that the Israelis’ cannot govern Arabs because of their western sensibilities. They refer to the murder of 7,000 Kurds by Saddam, which cemented his authority, and also the Syrian town of 10,000 inhabitants which was bulldozed by Assad, the population buried beneath the dust. The Israelis were never capable of imposing the authority in such a way, so cracked down tentatively and increasingly, never quite believing that there would ever be peace but never being able to find a solution other than more soldiers.
We used to have discos in the bomb shelters in my Kibbutz in the mid 80s. These shelters were about the size of a village hall with high ceilings and the bare concrete walls that would bounce back the sound of the loud rock music so that it was like being in one of the actual speakers of the sound system.
The number of Israeli casualties from Kassam missiles over the last year has been so small that you’d think these missiles were fireworks; they’re not. The low casualties are due to the preparedness of the Israeli people. Most of the Israeli casualties happened when missiles were being fired infrequently. Once Hamas announced the end of the cease fire and began systematically firing missiles Israeli casualties stopped happening. This is because half a million were now living underground.
It’s difficult to imagine how peace can come for these peoples, but it’s important to recognise that the international media has played its part in creating the conflict. If the charities wish to raise money for this cause they should make a film about the hope of peace rather than a film that dwells on the victimhood of a tiny people.