Where’s that news?

Mohamed Salmawy
Sunday 22 Jul 2018

We focus on domestic woes and miss the larger picture that could change established equations, including for Egypt

Followers of our written and audio-visual media might think that we live in a tiny village, cut off from the world and too involved in our domestic concerns to care about what is happening elsewhere. But could it be that what is happening elsewhere directly affects our major concerns?

During my recent trip abroad, a French journalist asked me a painful question about the Palestinian cause, which we claim to defend as the Arabs’ central cause. “Is Palestine, to the Arabs, now like the Andalusian dream?” he asked.

The two are different, I responded. Andalusia was about a non-Arab land, conquered by the Arabs who established a great civilisation there.

The Palestinian cause is about a people who were driven from their land, whose property was confiscated and who are now the victims of a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

If the dream of Jerusalem has no one to champion it, the Palestinian plight is a humanitarian cause whose advocates are growing by the day, regardless of how preoccupied the Arabs are with their domestic concerns.

That conversation came to mind this week as I browsed our newspapers which appeared solely concerned by the health minister’s decree to play the national anthem daily at state-run hospitals, by the case of kidnappers abducting children from wealthy neighbourhoods and holding them to ransom and, of course, by our defeat in the World Cup.

I do not deny that all these issues merit attention. However, when they become the sole focus of the press, this reflects some distortion in how we perceive the world and in how the media shapes our people’s awareness of the world, which teems with critical and influential events that barely get a mention in our press.

That same day, I browsed some foreign newspapers that addressed a number of issues that concern us directly but that have received no attention here.

Several reports concerned the Palestinian cause which, according to some, has been forgotten or reduced to an unrealisable dream.

In Ireland last week, parliament passed a bill to ban the import of goods from Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, which are illegal under international law.

In spite of the Irish government’s attempts to obstruct it, the bill passed with a significant majority. The first legislation of its kind in the world, it marks an extremely important development for the Palestinian cause.

There have been numerous drives in the West calling for boycotts of products originating from Israeli settlements, but this is the first time that call has become a law governing a country’s commercial transactions with an occupying power. Why haven’t we heard about it here?

While Irish senators were debating the “Occupied Territories Bill”, the British Labour Party adopted a decision, unprecedented at such a political level, that held that criticising Israel was not anti-Semitic.

The move to counter the conflation between criticism of Israel and anti-semitism works to strip Israel of one of its most important weapons which it has used mercilessly to silence all criticism of its racist policies. How could this pass us by without a word in our press?

Perhaps the more important development overlooked by our media is the bill before the Israeli Knesset that, if passed into law, would criminalise photographing Israeli soldiers and documenting their acts of brutality against Palestinian citizens.

The law, unprecedented in the world, would violate the freedom of the press and freedom of expression and undermine the foundations of democracy in the state that claims to be the oasis of democracy in the region.

For years, Israel has tried to restrain and censor foreign journalists who report on its inhumane practices against the Palestinians.

Towards this end, it has brought into play restrictions used in states of war. For example, it is no longer possible for a foreign journalist to dispatch a report abroad without obtaining the approval of military authorities. 

But, the image is always more powerful. And the one that Israeli authorities want to hold sway in the media is that which turns the occupied people into terrorists attacking a state that seeks nothing but to live in peace.

One of the most powerful challenges to that image was the video of the Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria, shooting an unarmed 21-year-old Palestinian demonstrator who lay wounded on the ground.

The video proved extremely embarrassing for Israel which was forced to open an investigation and sentence the soldier to some months in prison. That was a precedent for the Israeli army.

Images of that nature motivated the bill that is being considered by the Knesset. Azaria was sentenced to 18 months in jail for killing a helpless Palestinian.

That sentence was reduced to 14 months and he was released after nine. The proposed “Prohibition against photographing and documenting IDF Soldiers”, ardently supported by Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman, would send people to jail for up to five years for violating the ban and up to 10 years if that harmed Israeli National Security.

Such legislation, if passed, would strip Israel of its democratic guise. Why has that received no attention here? Why have we not turned that bill into a weapon that we can use against Israel, which still harbours animosity towards us in spite of the peace treaties it has signed with Arab states? Why has our press failed to pick up news which, if put to use effectively, could change many rules of the game?

*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 July 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Where’s that news?

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