Imagine living in a place where it’s no longer unusual to receive death threats and witness acts of violence; imagine a world imbedded in a hate that is so strong it’s hard to overcome it; imagine a place where cultures collide, resulting in belligerence rather than acceptance. This place is not imagined; places such as this exist all over the world. However, the region that encompasses Israel, the West Bank and Gaza is home to a multitude of injustices and misunderstandings. In this area lies a terror so stifling that it has overtaken the lives of Israelis and Palestinians. Since 1948, the American mass media has spread word of this conflict. By now, the American people know the history of the dispute, the current occupation, and the support America offers to Israel and its policies. However, America doesn’t know it all. There are untold stories and unheard perspectives of this conflict that are expressed by Israelis and Palestinians themselves. Through the use of blogs, those that are in the midst of the conflict are given a voice. Thus, I decided to focus my research on the use of blogs written by Israelis and Palestinians to reveal some of their uncensored opinions and experiences of life under struggle. I will begin by providing an analysis of such blogs and address the current problem that each illustrates. Next I will show shocking viewpoints both cultures hold of our American mass media by the use of four blogs: two Palestinian and two Israeli. Finally, I will show how the U.S. currently deals with the problem in the Middle East by revealing studies conducted by Americans themselves. Thus, I will uncover evidence of what the American mass media is missing and how it can alter it‘s treatment of the conflict.
When I first began sifting through numerous Palestinian and Israeli blogs, I noticed a pattern of anger and redemption from both sides. The most diminutive details such as blog formats failed to repress emotional outbursts with headings that read: “Palestinian people support terrorism!” “Jews are thieves!” “Zionism causes misery!” and so forth. In most blogs, Israelis and Palestinians alike begin their sites with an introduction expressing their hopes of a just and peaceful future. However, as more words splattered amongst the pages, those rational thoughts of peace slowly drift into an angry oblivion of tension and blame. As one Arab blogger puts it “Palestinians are not to blame. The reality is the only no-winners are the Israelis who make something of their lives by demolishing houses, starting gun battles and assassinating the innocent of our culture” (Sabbah 1). Entries such as this are intense, but frequent. What remains the underlying struggle is that while a Palestinian can accuse Jews of engaging in acts of terror and butchery, Israelis can assert the same argument against Palestinians. Thus, as fighting continues to haunt the grounds of Israel and Palestine, heated verbal discourse remains persistent among these uncensored media outlets resulting in an escalation of misunderstandings.
In addition, as I continued my research, I learned that while all Palestinians are consistent with their high levels of animosity, Jews seem to alter in their opinions. In fact, there are two radical subgroups of Jews: Zionists and anti-Zionists. The homepage of every Israeli blog reveals rather quickly a Zionist or non-Zionist position. For instance, the heading of one particular Zionist blog reads “This is a Zionist blog. End of discussion” (Yourish 1). I found this heading rather humorous, yet ironic as it corresponds well to the Zionist attitude of persistence, and perhaps even close-mindedness. On the other hand, an anti-Zionist blog called “Jon, the Anti-Zionist Jew” states the following:
“Palestinians, like all and any other nation in the history has the right to resist the occupation. Algerians resisted the French occupation, nobody called that terrorism. France resisted German occupation, no one called that terrorism etc… It is normal and natural to resist the germs when they attack the body. Same goes with occupation” (Chandler, 4).
Thus, even those that are expected to fit into the mold of one culture are utterly disgraced at what is taking place and acting on behalf of the other. Yet, this still fails to uplift a peaceful reconciliation among the two peoples. In this situation, fighting is perceived as violent and rambunctious from one view, while at the same time legitimate and courageous from another. The circumstances are so paradoxical that it is no wonder the conflict has lasted for so long. Thus, the question remains: what can be done to ensure a peaceful resolution and establish a common ground among the two cultures?
Since the United States supports Israel, the question of peace in the Middle East falls on its shoulders as well. However, through my investigation it appears evident to me that as Americans, we fail to receive accurate, objective information through which we can base our decisions of the conflict around. To make matters worse, after September 11th, we automatically created a bias towards Arabs all over the world and labeled them as terrorists. The news we receive often reflects that bias. I was able to get in contact with one Jewish blogger to whom I posed the question: “Does your knowledge of the conflict resemble what the American mass media portrays about it?” She responded surprisingly: ” No. Generally people learn that Palestinians are the aggressors while Israelis are just defending themselves when in fact it is the opposite.” Thus, through my research of Israeli and Palestinian blogs, I aimed to reveal accounts such as this that our mass media neglects to share.
The first blog I will discuss is a Palestinian blog called Sugar Cubes: the blog of a sugarless Arab girl. This blog belongs to a 22-year old Palestinian girl named Shaden Abdul-Rahman living in the West Bank. One particular section in her blog is titled “If Americans Knew.” This section holds a list of articles written by various Palestinians and news reporters that never made its mark on America’s televisions and newspapers. This further enhances the notion that, we (as Americans), only receive a small piece of the puzzle. As one article states:
“Major operations in Nablus or Ramallah make headlines, but incursions into many small West Bank villages are just a part of daily life. For example, for the past two months, the [Israeli] army has come nightly to Marda village, throwing sound bombs, arresting men, and abducting boys. They spontaneously shut the village completely, preventing residents from entering and visitors from leaving. Situations like these are left unmentioned or ignored by the media” (Levy 5).
This entry was written on March 25, 2007. Along with this quote, Shaden writes about a video clip created by a Palestinian reporter that deals with the lives children of Palestine are forced to lead. These children live in refugee camps that in 1948 only held about 700,000 Palestinians. Today, however, they are home to over four million (Rahman 46). Since most of these camps are so dangerous and hard to enter, they go unreported and unnoticed by the American mass media.
Nonetheless, in the video, Arab children speak about the horrors of living under Israeli occupation. As the reporter reveals live footage of the unsanitary, hazardous grounds in which these poor children exist, a ten year old boy asks “Could you live here? Could you? You couldn’t because the conditions are horrible and you’d be terrified whenever the missiles strike and the walls begin to crack!” (Rahman 7). The video advances to another clip of a young Arab girl speaking of the destruction of her house by Israeli forces. “Why did they break my things and break my toys? What can I do? I didn’t even get to enjoy the sunglasses that my dad gave me” (Rahman 8). Shaden speaks about this video and proclaims that her people live in constant fear. She is saddened by the fact that there can be such injustice taking place in her home and the rest of the world remains uninformed and naive.
Hence, Shaden raises the question: “Why don’t people know what’s going on in Israel and Palestine?” (Rahman 8). In her blog, she provides a detailed analysis of the biased U.S. media coverage regarding the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. “Recent studies reveal that the U.S. media reported Israeli children’s deaths at rates 7 to 40 times greater than Palestinian children’s deaths” (Rahman 56). Furthermore, Shaden reveals media statistics showing that in 2004, NBC reported 100 percent of all the Israeli children who died by Palestinian forces, which in that year was only eight. However, that same year 179 Palestinian children died by Israeli forces and only 10 percent of those were mentioned by NBC (Rahman 57). Other America media outlets such as the New York Times, ABC, San Francisco Chronicle and Portland’s Oregonian newspapers revealed similar statistics. The highest level of Israeli reported deaths was 150 percent, while the highest level of reporting Palestinian deaths was a mere 11 percent (Rahman 57). Shaden asks “Why are so few Palestinian deaths being reported to the American public?” (Rahman 57).
Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the Associated Press (AP) is the major source of international news for the United States media. Virtually all AP news reports about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict go through its bureau in Israel. Of all the major incidents the AP miraculously fails to miss regarding Palestinian anguish, Shaden recalls the tragedy of May 2004. During this time, news leaked of the 300-some Palestinian children under the age of 18 that were being held in Israeli detention centers and prisons for no reason (Rahman 60). “Somehow, this news never made it to the American media. U.S. citizens never realized that their tax dollars they were offering to help support Israel were being spent to ruin the lives of Palestinian children” Shaden says in disgust. (Rahman 61).
This young Arab woman devotes a heavy amount of her blog to what she wishes U.S. citizens knew about her culture and her homeland. Of course she desires peace and harmony among both cultures, but what she wants most is for people to understand. Maybe the reason Americans fail to fully grasp the stipulations of the conflict is due to the lack of news that makes it to our media outlets. After reading through many accounts of news failing to reach American soil, so many that I cannot begin to share every single one, I realize there are many tragedies that we as Americans fail to hear about. In fact, the next Palestinian blog I examined Stranger than Fiction, discusses the unforeseen tragedies of the conflict as well.
Stranger than Fiction is a blog written by another Palestinian named Dana Shalash. She lives in Ramallah and teaches at Birzeit University located in Birzeit, Palestine. Much of her blog discusses the struggle of teaching students in Palestine who have no hope for a better future.
“Abdul Qader; a smart student from the university, showed up at my door just a week ago. Instead of welcoming him, I insensitively asked who scratched his nose, it was still bleeding. ‘Life,’ he answered. The hardships of real life and the endless responsibilities thrust upon my shoulders are haunting me, he tried to explain”(Shalash 34).
It’s no wonder that the hopes of Palestinians are dwindling. In a recent post on January 20, 2007, Dana wrote a list of 24 “blessings” the Israelis have bestowed upon her and her people. Some of these include: Israelis forbidding Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to stay in the West Bank; Palestinians are forbidden to enter Nablus in a vehicle; residents of certain parts of the West Bank are forbidden to travel to the rest of the West Bank; people of a certain age group – mainly men from the age of 16 to 40 – are forbidden to leave the areas where they reside; and as of January 9, 2007, there were 75 manned checkpoints in the West Bank (Shalash 46). This provides only a mere glimpse of the destruction of freedom the Palestinians have to endure.
Dana recalls a conversation she had with one of her current students. “I need to leave the country‘, he told me desperately. ‘I need to get to the States, I have to make some money and have a real life. Here, I am burying myself alive” (Shalash 66). It seems that it is a common trend among young Palestinian students to yearn for escape from their land so overcome with sorrow and terror. If anything, this reveals how desperate Palestinians are to lead better lives, and how sick and tired they are of fighting. Dana explains “My students are stuck in a situation where they must choose between staying here and barely surviving, or losing their identity and moving to the states where still, no one will understand” (Shalash 67).
Of course it’s hard for Palestinians to be understood and welcomed by Americans when we may only be receiving bits and pieces of the truth according to those in the West Bank and Gaza. If it remains that challenging for our media outlets to execute well-balanced coverage of the conflict, then sadly stereotypes will formulate in our minds unless we conduct our own research. Thus, Americans tend to perceive Palestinians as creatures not like us, and most don’t care to understand more than that.
“It is funny how when we Palestinians are striving to prove and maintain our Palestinian identity, others still perceive us as aliens.” Dana says, “It is as if the concept of ‘Palestine’ only exists in our heads. Well, that was actually a comment by an American-Jew comedian years ago. I can never forget that show. It made me feel as an invisible entity. But since then, lots of struggles to try to make our voices heard have been materialized. Nevertheless, our attempts to make the world recognize us as Palestinians seem to be all in vain” (Shalash 73).
A reoccurring trend seems to be stirring through the Palestinian blogs: their longing to be heard and recognized as a people, rather than objects that can afford to be misplaced. Perhaps if all media, not only the American mass media, shed more light onto the stories of these Palestinians, stereotypes would diminish and a peaceful future wouldn’t seem so unreasonable.
Nevertheless, Palestinians are not the only ones upset and feeling ridiculed by the U.S. media. There remains biased stories of Jews living in Israel and the devastation they feel they are unfairly accused of on a daily basis. Thus, I investigated a Zionist blog held by a Jew living in the midst of it all: Jerusalem. The titled of the blog is Mr. Jew talks to Mr. Islam. The person writing this blog never reveals his real name, but rather refers to himself as “Mr. Jew”. Therefore, I will refer to him as Mr. Jew throughout the paper. On the opening page, Mr. Jew writes a letter to “Mr. Islam” stating the reasoning for his blog:
“Dear Mr. Islam,
I write this blog to introduce myself, the humble Jew. I write to try and make sense of the situation you and I find ourselves in. I know you and your people have lived on this land of Israel for centuries. Just as I know you understand that I and my people have lived here for thousands of years. Its time to resolve this dispute and say enough. We Jews are tired of being killed and were tired of having to kill you to stop the bloodshed. The only justification for our current conflict is that God gave the Jewish People this land of Israel. If we Jews do not follow his laws then we have no right to be here. Peace and Shalom Mr. Islam” (Mr. Jew 1).
Mr. Jew opens his page with this letter to show how he respects the Palestinians. His main theme throughout his blog is that Israeli Jews get verbally slashed by the media for ridding Palestinians of their rights when all they are doing is fulfilling God’s promise and inhabiting a land that is rightfully there’s.
Going along with his theme of respecting Palestinians, Mr. Jew writes a blog entry describing how Israeli forces offer Muslims protection and indulgence every Friday as they go pray upon the Temple Mount. “Israel should be congratulated on its continued religious tolerance” Mr. Jew proclaims (Mr. Jew 34). As if that isn’t enough for Palestinians to accept their oppression, Mr. Jew ads in a rather sarcastic entry titled “Apology from the Jews”. In this entry Mr. Jew shows a video conducted by another Zionist Jew living in Israel. The video illustrates a Jew apologizing to the world for having upset it for so many years. “Today it’s Lebanon, yesterday it was the ‘brutal repression’ of the Palestinians. Before that it was the bombing of the nuclear reactors in Baghdad, and the yum kipper war and so forth” (Mr. Jew 55). It seems Jews that triumph and therefore live, upset the world most extraordinarily. “We [the Jews] have become so upset by upsetting you dear world, that we decided to leave you in a matter of speaking, and establish a Jewish state” (Mr. Jew 56). Thus, Mr. Jew speaks of his people’s decision to go home to the land that they were driven out of 900 years earlier.
Continuing on with his explanation of the Jewish state Israel, Mr. Jew sheds like on the fact that the America media fails to recognize the massive slaughtering Palestinians did to Jews prior to the war of 1948 and ‘67. “In 1929, 67 Jews were slaughtered in Hebron. In the period between 1936 and 1939, 500 Jews were slaughtered in Arab riots” Mr. Jew proclaims (Mr. Jew 77). He also asserts that the media doesn’t portray enough the Palestinian history of destroying his culture. The violence his people show towards Palestinians is only in self-defense, because they have no other choice. “We will do everything possible to remain alive in our own land, no matter what you people hear about our ‘heinous’ Zionist beliefs” (Mr. Jew 80).
Unfortunately, through his blog, Mr. Jew shows that even Israelis feel they are not getting accurate and unbiased media coverage. His main point is rather than showing how “terrible” the Zionist Jews are, show how horrific the Palestinians are by all the thousands of Jews they have killed currently and before the 1948 war. Interestingly, the same trend follows in the last blog I will talk about, the West Bank Blog. This blog is written by a Jewish women living in the West Bank. Her and her family moved to Israel in 1991 and settled in a suburban community of Samaria, 30 minutes from Tel Aviv. The blogger never reveals her real name, rather she refers to herself as West Bank Mama, for lack of better words I suppose. For the remainder of this paper I will refer to her as WBM.
An entry in WBM’s blog titled “Support Us When We Don’t Bleed” shows the public attention and support that Israeli Jews fail to receive because they aren’t dying as frequently as Palestinians. WBM mentions the incident that occurred in the summer of 2006: Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), carried out a plan to assassinate Palestinian terrorists but instead the attack resulted in civilian deaths. Both the anti-Israeli press and the pro-Israeli press groaned at the situation and reacted rather harshly to the incident. WBM explains that “the unspoken but natural continuation of these complaints is the thought, just under the surface that “it would be so much easier if there were pictures of dead Jews to offset the ones of Arabs…”(WBM 46). Thus, it would be much more convenient for the press to support Israel if there were images of the Jews suffering and dying rather than the Palestinians. WBM says that when Jews are safe from mass killings and bloodshed, the press reacts with “frustration instead of profound gratitude and a fervent prayer that things will continue this way” (WBM 46).
Thus, the fact that Jewish lives were saved by the IDF attacking Palestinian terrorists was null and void because civilians were mistakenly killed in the process. “This attitude makes me angry on many different levels, and points to a skewed perception that affects how people relate to Israel and to our very right to exist in this part of the world” WBM says. (WMB 47).
Another false perception shed upon Israelis by the media is that the Jews “paid” for the land of Israel with their six million dead that perished during the Holocaust. In other words, once the concentration camps were liberated, Jews felt they had to right to live in Israel. WBM explains “It [the media] ignores the ancient history of the promise of God to the Jews that this land is ours, and it ignores the modern history of thousands of proud and idealistic Jews who worked hard to create a thriving country” (WBM 47). Because the bias remains that Jews went to Israel because of their dead loved ones, WBM feels that people will not support Israel unless they (the Jews) continue to die. Thus, “without a [dead] body, Israel seemingly loses its right to defend itself (WBM 47). WBM closes with the following:
“Those who know very little about the Middle East conflict, and depend solely on short sound bytes from the media, automatically reduce complex issues to ‘whoever is the underdog is right‘, as if whoever has the highest number of dead wins. People need to reject the simplistic assumption that the only time one can comfortably support Israel is when she bleeds. We here in Israel have the right to be happy and safe. We have the right to a strong army which defends us properly, even if it means that sometimes civilians on the other side are hurt. In short, we don’t have to be victims” (WBM 47).
Following WBM’s post is a list of comments from other Israeli bloggers all supporting her viewpoint. Many react to the idea that people all over the world think they know what goes on in Israel although they may have never set foot there. Thus, outsiders need more than just the mass media to give accurate accounts of what really takes place in Israel and Palestine. Also, many respond with comments pertaining to the fact that the Jews are legally bound to the land and the Holocaust had nothing to do with their existence in it.
In addition, I was able to get in touch with a Jewish blogger who lives in Israel, with whom I’m asked the question: Does your experience resemble what the American mass media portrayals about the conflict? He responded:
“Of course not. The media portrays Israel as an evil occupier. Anything and everything Israel does is open to criticism and even disdain. Yet the Palestinian side of the conflict gets only praise in the media. Does it matter that they have never kept their side of a single agreement? The fact is that the media portrays Israel as an oppressor who is fairly opposed to peace, and the Palestinians as a peace-loving yet oppressed people. The media loves David, which is how the Palestinians are portrayed, and Israel is Goliath.”
Hence, both cultures argue that they aren’t getting their fair share of accurate, unbiased news in the American media, but can our coverage really be that offset? The fact that America supports Israel makes me believe that our mass media tends to be more bias towards the Palestinians versus the Jews. The Media Education Foundation (MEF), reported in 2004 that the U.S. media enforces false perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian controversy. According to MEF, U.S. coverage of the conflict heeds to the “foreign policy interests of American political elites–oil” (MEF 1). In September that same year, Znet released an article called “Killings Of Dozens Once Again Called Period Of Calm By US Media”(Brown 1). The article goes on to explain how numerous U.S. reports declared two suicide bombings in Israel an end to a six week “calm”. This calm was a period when no Israelis were killed. However, during those “calm” six weeks, Israeli bombings killed dozens of Palestinians, most of them civilians, and a large number of Palestinian children were shot down by Israeli occupation forces (Brown 1). None of these killings were reported by the U.S. media.
In addition, Scoop Independent News released an article in 2005 regarding US media coverage of the conflict. Chicago journalist Sonnia Nuttin wrote “Few Americans realize that U.S. mainstream media coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict passes through America’s political elites, Israeli public relations organizations and private American organizations, before it reaches the public” (Nuttin 1). Thus, it appears that the United States media is more apt to favor Israel rather than Palestine.
In order for the American mass media to contribute a better understanding of the conflict, it needs to supply a better understanding of the Israeli and Palestinian cultures and peoples. Perhaps if the U.S. offered balanced news reports and set aside its ties to Israel, we could receive untainted news coverage. However, America’s support of Israel doesn’t seem to be dwindling and blog writers from both cultures aren’t suppressing their anger anytime soon. Conceivably, through the use of such blogs, our media could peak into the lives of those that are in the midst of the conflict and offer raw footage and testimonies of what it’s really like there. Maybe, if our journalist dig deep enough, they could uncover facts that will help lead to understanding, thus resolution. Until then, if that time ever comes, Israelis and Palestinians will continue to cry out for justice through the use of blogs and other outlets so that their voices can be heard, and their beliefs understood.
Brown, Michael. Killing of Dozens Once Again called Period of Calm by US Media. Znet. 1(8) 20 Sept. 2002. 18 April 2007. http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm
Chandler, Judith. How Goes the Occupation? Political Waves. 3 Jan. 2001. 18 April 2007. http://polwaves.planetwaves.net/2007/04/09/how-goes-the-occupation/
Levy, Gideon. The Untold Stores: Tragic, but not Tragic Enough to Notice. 25 Mar. 2007. 18 April 2007. http://annainpalestine.blogspot.com/2007/03/untold-stories.html
Mr. Jew. Mr. Jew Talks to Mr. Islam. 15 Oct. 2006. 18 April 2007. http://mrjewish.blogspot.com/2006/10/israel-and-religious-tolerance.html
Nuttin, Sonnia. US Media Coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Scoop Independent News. 18(7) 14 Feb. 2004. 18 April 2007. http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0502/S00151.htm
Rahman, Shaden. Sugar Cubes: The Blog of a Sugarless Arab Girl. 19 April 2007. http://thesugarcubes.net/about/
Sabbah, Haitham. Sabbah: Finding a Better Way Forward in the Middle East. 2 Feb. 2001. 17 April 2007. http://sabbah.biz/mt/about/.com.
Shalash, Dana. Stranger Than Fiction. Feb 2006. 18 April 2007. http://ms-shalash.blogspot.com/
WestBankMama. West Bank Blog: Support Us When We Don’t Bleed. 26 June 2006. 18 April 2007. http://westbankblog.blogspot.com/2006/06/support-us.html
Yourish, Meryl. This is a Zionist Blog: End of Discussion. 5 July 2006. 18 April 2007. http://www.yourish.com/2006/07/05/1580