Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bloodless Journalism

Remember Gaza?

Fairfax's Middle East correspondent, Jason Koutsoukis, reports from the killing fields, but it's a compromised and anodyne effort. (Gaza shifts from a state of war to a state of despair, Sydney Morning Herald, 27/4/09) There's virtually no sense of agency in his report: Israel is shielded by the passive voice, and its monstrous brutality toned down: "The borders between [sic: with] Israel and Egypt remain closed to everything but food and medical supplies [more on that in a minute!] and humanitarian aid. And with things like concrete, steel or any other materials needed to rebuild Gaza prohibited from entering, the thousands of homes, offices and public buildings destroyed in Israel's intense bombing campaign remain just piles of rubble."

And of course there's the obligatory 'balancing' act: "A report released last week by the Israel Defence Forces high command said that 1,166 Palestinians were killed during the 3-week campaign. Of those killed, the report said, 709 were members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad, and 295 were confirmed as innocent civilians. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, however, said the 22-day offensive resulted in the deaths of 1,417 Palestinians of whom 236 were members of Hamas or other militias, and a further 255 were police officers. Thirteen Israelis were killed."

But there's worse: "An obvious question that springs to mind about Gaza is, 3 months after the end of the Israeli offensive, is life measurably worse for Gaza's 1.5 million citizens? 'A little bit, but not by much', said Hamdan Nimat, a 38-year old father of 4 who was born in the Jabaliya refugee camp, but whose parents were born in Ashkelon, a coastal centre several kilometres north of Gaza now a part of Israel. 'The real truth about life in Gaza is that no one is dying because there is no food', Mr Nimat said. 'Nor is anyone dying because of lack of medicine'." Is this Nimat character for real? I mean really for real? Mr Koutsoukis?

Compare that cosy little assessment to this from Inter Press Service's Mohammed Omer: "Mohammed al-Sheikh Yousef could save his eyesight if only he could cross the border out of Gaza. He was denied a permit by Israel; he got one from Egypt, but not for someone to accompany him. And he can't go on his own, because he cannot see very well. 'If Mohammed does not get out of Gaza for medical treatment within the next 14 days, he may totally lose his eyesight and be blind for life', Dr Mawia Hasaneen, head of the ambulance and emergency service for Gaza hospitals, told IPS in a telephone interview. 'In the past few weeks we have received 150 appeals from people in Gaza who are in need of urgent medical care', says Ron Yaron from Physicians for Human Rights, a human rights group in Israel that campaigns on behalf of Palestinian patients to obtain exit permits for healthcare. 'We submitted 99 applications to the Israeli army on behalf of the patients, but only 15 were approved', Yaron told IPS. 'Israel as the occupying power has primary responsibility for the health of the civilians of Gaza, because it controls the crossings. It should not use the patients as a political tool'. The emergency staff often stand by, helpless spectators to suffering. 'I just received a call from the mother of a 4-year-old child from Jabaliya refugee camp in the north; her son has congestive heart failure and respiratory distress', said Dr Hasaneen. 'As an official I can't stand to watch her child dying simply because medical treatment is not available in Gaza and the borders are closed'. But he has no option but to do just that. The al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, based in Gaza, says that at least 41 Gazans died last year of causes that can be attributed to the collapse of the medical referral process. Currently, it says the condition of hundreds of Gazans is deteriorating rapidly. For Gazans, what happens at the border crossings can make the difference between life and death. Medicines for many easily treated diseases sit across the Rafah crossing with Egypt or the Erez crossing into Israel. Patients cannot get across, and most medicines are not allowed in." (Gazans desperate for medical care denied, 28/4/09)

Compare it too with Israeli journalist Gideon Levy's empathy, passion, plain-speaking and eye for detail: "Alyan Abu-Aun is lying in his tent, his crutches beside him. He smokes cigarettes and stares into the tiny tent's empty space. His young son sits on his lap. Ten people are crammed into the tent, about the size of a small room. It has been their home for 3 months. Nothing remains of their previous home, which the Israel Defense forces shelled during Operation Cast Lead. They are refugees for a second time; Abu-Aun's mother still remembers her home in Sumsum, a town that once stood near Ashkelon. Abu-Aun, 53, was wounded while trying to flee when his home in the Gaza town of Beit Lahia was bombed. He has been on crutches ever since. His wife gave birth during the height of the war, and now the baby is with them in the cold tent. The tent was sent flying during the storm that devoured the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, so the family had to put it back up. They received water only occasionally in a container, and a tiny tin shack serves as a bathroom for the 100 families in this new refugee camp, 'Camp Gaza', in Beit Lahia's Al-Atatra neighbourhood. Abu-Aun sounded particularly bitter this past weekend; the Red Cross refused his family a bigger tent. He has also had enough of eating beans."

"For three months, the Abu-Aun family and thousands of other have been living in five tent encampments built after the war. They have not begun clearing away the ruins of their homes, let alone building new ones. Thousands live in the shadow of the ruins of their homes, thousands in tents, thousands crowded together with their relatives, tens of thousands who are newly homeless and whom the world has lost interest in. After the conference of donor countries, which convened to great fanfare in Sharm el-Sheikh a month and a half ago, which included 75 countries and agreed to transfer $1 billion to rebuild Gaza, nothing happened. Gaza is besieged. There are no building materials. Israel and the world are setting conditions, the Palestinians are incapable of forming a unity government, as is needed, the money and concrete are nowehere to be seen and the Abu-Aun family continue to live in a tent. Even the $900 million promised by the United States is stuck in the cash register. It's doubtful whether it will ever be taken out. America's word.

"It's exactly three months since the much-talked-about war, and Gaza is once again forgotten. Israel has never taken an interest in the welfare of its victims. Now the world has forgotten, too. Two weeks with hardly a Qassam rocket has taken Gaza completely off the agenda. If the Gazans don't hurry up and resume firing, nobody will take an interest in their welfare again. Although not new, this is an especially grievous and saddening message liable to spark the next cycle of violence. And then it will be certain they won't get aid because they will be shooting.

"Somebody must assume responsibility for the fate of the Abu-Aun family and other victims of like them. If they had been injured in an earthquake, the world probably would have helped them recover long ago. Even Israel would have quickly dispatched aid convoys from ZAKA, Magen David Adom, even the IDF. But the Abu-Aun family was not injured by a natural disaster, but by hands and flesh and blood, made in Israel, and not for the first time. The response: no compensation, no aid, no rehabilitation. Israel and the world are too preoccupied to rebuild Gaza. They have become speechless. Gaza, remember?" (Gaza, remember? Haaretz, 19/4/09)


Michael said...

Gaza?......where's that??

MERC said...

The ms media has ADHD.