Racism is “the belief that one ‘racial group’ is inferior to another and the practices of the dominant group to maintain the inferior position of the dominated group. Often defined as a combination of power, prejudice and discrimination.” This is how the British Library wished to define racism on its website.
The above definition hardly deviates from the essence of almost all definitions of the ominous concept. And indeed, the concept is being fully utilized as I write these words in the Gaza Strip, with Israel’s onslaught against the Palestinians and the international community and media’s mild, if not accommodating response to the onslaught.
The capture of Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit is a clear act of self-defense. One of America’s top and most courageous international law professors wrote me yesterday: “Insist on calling Gilad Shalit a prisoner of war, for he is one.” Well, maybe according to international law and the Geneva Conventions, but not CNN, Fox News and the increasingly spineless BBC, which insists on presenting the solider (with an overt emphasis on his young age) as a victim, who was “kidnapped” by Palestinian “militants”, who are “affiliated” with the Hamas government, and that Israel is doing its outmost to free him, insisting that there can be “no negotiations with terrorists.” If reporters stationed with the invading Israeli soldiers, amassed in and around the Gaza Strip fail to communicate these assertions themselves, then they will do all they can to ensure that they are communicated by Israeli military spokesmen or “experts”, both seem to convey the same ideas.
By not challenging the Israeli narrative in any meaningful way, and dumping it on hapless viewers all around the world, the uncritical media has become a tool in the hands of Israel’s war strategists and their eternal concoctions. Consider this for example, an Israeli military commander tells a BBC correspondent dispatched to the border area between Israel and Gaza, that Israel intends on opening the border for “as long as it takes” to offset the humanitarian crisis developing in Gaza. The Israeli Army representative in a barefaced lie declares that the border has always been open, despite the perpetual Palestinian threat on the state of Israel. The BBC correspondent thanks him sincerely and signs off. I, in turn, throw my remote control at the television.
Is it possible that the BBC and its mighty researchers are unaware of the fact that Gaza has been under a very strict military siege since Hamas’ democratic advent to power through the January 2006 elections? Could it be that the Western media has missed the dozens of shocking reports, including some by the World Bank, that have warned that the Israeli siege, which began months before the capture of Shalit, was soon to create chaos and panic among the already malnourished Palestinians in Gaza? Did they all miss statements by top Israeli officials, vowing to carry on with the siege until the ouster of Hamas?
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Well, maybe. For someone who has spent many years in this business, I can testify that some reporters misrepresent facts out of ignorance, not by design. But if that indeed was the case, then how can one excuse the fact that the same media that coined the term “kidnapping” to describe the action of the Palestinian fighters who captured Shalit, refused to use the same association to describe the kidnapping of most of the elected Palestinian Cabinet, mostly academics with no affiliation to any militant wing of any sort. Israel’s military spokesman insisted that they are “all terrorists” and Israel, “like any democratic” country has the right to protect itself against terrorists. If they were indeed “terrorists” as Israel claims, why did Israel refrain from kidnapping them until Palestinian fighters embarrassed the mighty Israeli Army and captured their first prisoner of war in a long time, Shalit? Is “rounding up” Palestinian ministers and scores of legislators the same as having a solider captured in what has been for long a one-sided Israeli war? If you are an avid viewer of Fox News or a reader of the New York Times, then Israel is yet to exceed its legitimate legal boundaries, that of a democracy opting to defend its citizens.
But only utter racism can lead to such rationale. Only a racist media portrays the capture of a solider whose army units have besieged Gazans for years, denying them food and medicine, as an earthshaking violation of all that is holy. Only a racist media presents the kidnapping of 9,000 Palestinians, now in Israeli jails, as a just outcome of Israel’s routine arrests of Palestinian terrorists or potential terrorists.
Only racism can play down the Israeli destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure or the little infrastructure that it still possesses (since Israel has already destroyed a great deal). The sabotage of Gaza’s electricity, water supplies, its bridges and universities is justified without question, for such actions are necessary to impede the militants efforts from transporting its soldier to another hideout. And yet, Israel is praised for its seemingly generous act of allowing some food to be transferred to hungry Gazans, who ironically have gone hungry because of the Israeli spearheaded international campaign to punish Palestinians for electing Hamas.
Only racism can completely remove from the current discourse the murder of dozens of Palestinian civilians at the hands of the Israeli Army (90 civilians in seven weeks) as the reason that led to the Palestinian raid on the Israeli Army post and the capture of Shalit; instead depicting the current escalation as if it was entirely the work of the Palestinians, with Israel’s slate still clean.
Indeed, Israel’s slate will continue to be clean as long as racism and inequality are the concepts according to which this conflict is explained. Israel has the right to collectively punish, starve to death, kidnap democratically elected civilian ministers and try them “in accordance with Israeli law”, destroy its neighbors’ infrastructure, instigate a humanitarian disaster, assassinate at will, violate international law without hesitation, because Israel is not Palestine, and the lives and well being of the residents of Israel, at least some of them, cannot be equated with Palestinians. Turn the tables for a moment, and you’ll understand how repellent such racism is.
Inequality has always been at the heart of this conflict, the late Professor Edward Said used to say. Racism is at the heart of inequality, I must add. The media can be ignorant, biased, self-serving, indeed, but it can also be utterly racist.