Gaza Flotilla, US Media and Pakistanis

Aaj TV’s Talat Hussain and his producer Raza Mahmood Agha, and Nadeem Ahmed of Khubaib Foundation are three Pakistanis who joined the Free Gaza Flotilla to deliver humanitarian aid to the Gazans who have been under siege since 2007. All three were on one of the six ships that included the Turkish ship that was brutally attacked by the Israeli commandos, claiming the lives of nine peace activists on board.

The latest reports indicate that all three Pakistanis were detained by the Israeli commandos, and are now at the Jordanian embassy in Tel Aviv. Their arrival in Pakistan was expected on Wednesday.

“It is a sad incident. The people and government of Pakistan strongly condemn it. There is no moral and legal justification for it,” Pakistani prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told GeoTV.

“The killing of members of this humanitarian mission, which also included women, is brutal, inhuman and constitutes a flagrant violation of international law and norms,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry statement said.

William I. Robinson, a Jewish-American Professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, has compared Gaza with Nazi concentration camps in Europe. “ Gaza is Israel’s Warsaw — a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians. We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide,” he wrote last year.

Most of the powerful American news bureaus and offices in the Middle East are staffed by pro-Israeli Jewish-Americans. And the editorial control of reporting from the Middle East is also retained by Jewish-Americans and their allies in the United States. For example, New York Times Jerualem Bureau chief Ethan Bronner is a Jewish-American whose son is currently serving in the Israeli military.

The Israeli lobby has reliable allies in the mainstream American media: the debate among Middle East pundits, the journalist Eric Alterman writes, is “dominated by people who cannot imagine criticizing Israel”.

Here is how John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt describe the US media bias for Israel:

Alterman lists 61 “columnists and commentators who can be counted on to support Israel reflexively and without qualification”. Conversely, he found just five pundits who consistently criticize Israeli actions or endorse Arab positions. Newspapers occasionally publish guest op-eds challenging Israeli policy, but the balance of opinion clearly favors the other side. It is hard to imagine any mainstream media outlet in the United States publishing a piece like this one.

“Shamir, Sharon, Bibi – whatever those guys want is pretty much fine by me,” Robert Bartley once remarked. Not surprisingly, his newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, along with other prominent papers like the Chicago Sun-Times and the Washington Times, regularly runs editorials that strongly support Israel. Magazines like Commentary, the New Republic and the Weekly Standard defend Israel at every turn.

Editorial bias is also found in papers like the New York Times, which occasionally criticizes Israeli policies and sometimes concedes that the Palestinians have legitimate grievances, but is not even-handed. In his memoirs the paper’s former executive editor Max Frankel acknowledges the impact his own attitude had on his editorial decisions: “I was much more deeply devoted to Israel than I dared to assert … Fortified by my knowledge of Israel and my friendships there, I myself wrote most of our Middle East commentaries. As more Arab than Jewish readers recognized, I wrote them from a pro-Israel perspective.”

As expected, the pro-Israeli western media is already busy full time spinning the news of the Gaza Flotilla tragedy as part of the usual campaign to justify all Israeli atrocities.

I see parallels between the Indian and Israeli methods of organizing what Paul Brass calls India’s “production of violence” and the role of Indian media in creating justification for it. All you have to do is substitute “Israeli-Palestinian” for “Hindu-Muslim’” and the picture becomes clear. Here’s Paul Brass’s description of what is often deliberately called “Hindu-Muslim riots”:

“Events labeled ‘Hindu-Muslim riots’ have been recurring features in India for three-quarters of a century or more. In northern and western India, especially, there are numerous cities and towns in which riots have become endemic. In such places, riots have, in effect, become a grisly form of dramatic production in which there are three phases: preparation/rehearsal, activation/enactment, and explanation/interpretation. In these sites of endemic riot production, preparation and rehearsal are continuous activities.

Activation or enactment of a large-scale riot takes place under particular circumstances, most notably in a context of intense political mobilization or electoral competition in which riots are precipitated as a device to consolidate the support of ethnic, religious, or other culturally marked groups by emphasizing the need for solidarity in face of the rival communal group. The third phase follows after the violence in a broader struggle to control the explanation or interpretation of the causes of the violence. In this phase, many other elements in society become involved, including journalists, politicians, social scientists, and public opinion generally.

At first, multiple narratives vie for primacy in controlling the explanation of violence. On the one hand, the predominant social forces attempt to insert an explanatory narrative into the prevailing discourse of order, while others seek to establish a new consensual hegemony that upsets existing power relations, that is, those which accept the violence as spontaneous, religious, mass-based, unpredictable, and impossible to prevent or control fully. This third phase is also marked by a process of blame displacement in which social scientists themselves become implicated, a process that fails to isolate effectively those most responsible for the production of violence, and instead diffuses blame widely, blurring responsibility, and thereby contributing to the perpetuation of violent productions in future, as well as the order that sustains them.”

As the world seeks to find out the full details of what really happened on the Turkish ship yesterday, a powerful campaign is already well underway by the pro-Israel US media to control the explanation of “violence” to suit the Israeli narrative of the latest massacre of unarmed peace activists by the Israelis.

Although the Pakistani media have only a tiny fraction of the power and the reach of the American media, it will still be interesting to hear the eyewitness accounts by Talat Husain and his fellow Pakistani reporters on the scene in the Mediterranean at the time of the Israeli commando assault.

By Riaz Haq

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