Reaching the Western world

Azza Radwan Sedky
Tuesday 7 Nov 2023

Two separate incidents over recent weeks have seen the debunking of Western media stories about the Middle East, writes Azza Radwan Sedky

 

I

t is hardly possible for those outside the Western world to get their messages across to the Western public.

Their plights and causes are seen through the lens of the Western media, which views matters from its own perspective. So, when a window of opportunity presented itself last month, it was a chance like no other, and we must applaud the set of circumstances that allowed this to happen.

The Israeli-Gazan war was introduced to the West in the usual warped and distorted fashion: Hamas is a designated terrorist organisation; it conducted a heinous and unprovoked attack on innocent Israeli civilians on 7 October; Israel has the right to defend itself and finish off Hamas; and collateral damage will be incurred because Hamas hides behind civilians and treats them as human shields.

In two separate incidents, this story has been debunked, and a more realistic view presented from our restricted sphere.

Rahma Zein, an Egyptian podcaster, was at the Rafah Crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip where humanitarian aid had been awaiting permission to enter Gaza for days on end. Aggravated by the delay and the siding of the Western media with Israel, Zein confronted Clarissa Ward, a reporter for the US network CNN, for the false reporting that her network and other Western media outlets are presenting.

Furious, Zein told Ward that the voices of Palestinians are not being heard and that instead of being able to mourn the dead Palestinians in the War the Arabs have to deal with more dehumanisation and misrepresentation. She expressed her rage at what she considered to be the lies promoted by Israel and the Western media.

Her video of the incident went viral.

Not out of the goodness of his heart but due to the potential for skyrocketing numbers of viewers, Piers Morgan, a well-known UK broadcaster, then invited Zein for an interview on his programme “Piers Morgan Uncensored.” Again, Zein, aggrieved and distressed, expressed herself passionately and bluntly, saying that the relationship between the US and Israel was putting the world in jeopardy and that the US had given Israel the permission to commit genocide.

She called Israel a “spoiled brat,” to which Morgan exclaimed that “Israel has the right to defend itself.” Zein fired back “against what? Against women and children? How many Palestinians have died?”

She also said that Arabs and Jews had lived together peacefully in Palestine and Egypt before the establishment of Israel. Now, however, “Palestinian women under occupation give birth sometimes at Israeli checkpoints, and Palestinians are being jailed in Israeli prisons. In mercilessly bombarding the Palestinians, you are breeding a new Hamas.”

Before the interview ended, Zein asked Morgan to call for a ceasefire in the ongoing war. His response was, “that’s not my job. My job is to interview people on the issue.” “Your job seems to be conducting sensational interviews,” Zein said as she took off her mic.

Again, the interview went viral, and in the process exposed viewers to another aspect of the war.

The second incident occurred when Bassem Youssef, an Egyptian heart surgeon turned satirist, was invited on to Piers Morgan’s show. This was a golden opportunity for Youssef, who, using a blackly comic and satirical approach, talked about the calamity taking place in Gaza.

Using wit and a few swear words, Youssef got his message across as he satirised the harsh reality. Why should Israel kill hundreds when it can kill thousands, he asked. Why not get rid of all the Palestinians? He spoke of his wife’s family home in Gaza turning into rubble and his wife’s cousin, “a total loser who has never had a job and failed all his interviews as a human shield.”

Morgan was unable to decipher the jokes from the facts. He didn’t know whether he should laugh, rebut what Youssef was saying, or end the show. He explained things later by saying that “last time [in the last interview], I was very taken aback. I remember feeling unusually uncomfortable, thinking I didn’t know how to react to that. I didn’t know whether I was supposed to laugh or be silent. I sort of ended up slightly grimacing and listening.”

Morgan said that it was his most-watched interview since his show was launched a year earlier. With 20 million viewers watching the first interview, he had had no alternative but to bring Youssef back for another two-hour interview and a chance for a non-Westerner to air his views in an eye-opener for the world.

Youssef presented the Palestinian cause in a serious, cordial, and riveting fashion, forcing Morgan to listen to him and understand where he was coming from.  He brought Morgan a gift, a bottle of olive oil and some zaatar, a mixture of herbs, from the West Bank, and he explained why this olive oil was so special since it came from a tree planted 600 years ago. That olive tree, planted by Palestinians, existed long before the state of Israel.  

The interview covered many crucial side issues of the Palestinian catastrophe, again ones not thoroughly understood by the West. They included the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, the question of terrorism, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the fabrication of stories by Israel, and the threat of the Palestinian displacement into Sinai, amongst many others.

Youssef’s double-edged jokes were there, too, which somehow eased the very dark topic the two men were discussing. “Those Palestinians, they’re very dramatic. ‘Israel is killing us,’ they say, but they never die. I mean, they always come back. They’re very difficult to kill. I know because I’m married to one. I’ve tried many times. I try to get her every time, but she uses our kids as human shields.”

However, this time round Morgan was ready for the satire and irony.

Youssef identified the real reasons behind the Israeli carpet-bombing that has caused thousands of casualties in Gaza. “They can tell you it’s about Hamas, but they have said this many times,” he said. “In fact, this is a way of pushing the Palestinians into Sinai. This is not about eradicating Hamas. That ship has sailed. I am sorry, but anybody who believes that this is still about Hamas is stupid.”

This is a crucial point that the West does not understand. Westerners sometimes ask why Egypt does not want to take the Gazans, all 2.2 million of them, as refugees, comparing this situation to Poland’s immediately taking in Ukrainians fleeing from the Russian-Ukrainian war.

But there is no comparison between the two situations, since the Ukrainians will return to their country once the war is over, or, if they wish to do so, can return right now. It is only when Westerners understand the original displacement of the Palestinians that occurred in 1948 that they will be able to understand the difference between the two cases.

Not one of the Palestinians displaced in 1948 can return to their homeland, and if the Gazans leave Gaza, they will never be allowed back. It would be a repeat of the original story.

“If you meet Palestinians, you’ll often see them wearing a necklace with a key,” Youssef said. “That key is the key to their house, the one they were kicked out of. Those people have absolutely no ability to go back. Even if you are a Palestinian with a US passport, they give you hell in order to go in.”

This is terribly revealing, as it depicts the agony that displaced Palestinians feel.

“This is not an eye-for-an-eye anymore,” Youssef said. “This is an eye, a limb, a life, a house, a neighbourhood, a whole population for an eye… It’s not about Hamas anymore.”

These are realities that the West never gets a chance to understand. It cannot fathom that Israel, that idolised country created for Holocaust survivors, can err or do wrong, and it thinks it’s more likely that the Arabs, whoever they may be, are the culprits.

It believes that the war started on 7 October, never realising that Palestinian pain and suffering have been going on for decades and that 7 October was the outcome of that pain.

I don’t know how much of what we publish in the Arab media reaches the West, but to have 20 million viewers watch a Western show about the current Israeli war on Gaza could be the most effective way of getting the message across.

Piers Morgan may have had an ulterior motive in interviewing Rahma Zein and Bassem Youssef, but both were able to get through to millions of viewers, who, thanks to the Western media, rarely get insight into the reality of the situation.

 

The writer is former professor of communication based in Vancouver, Canada.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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