Monday, October 24, 2011

Martin Flanagan: Moderates & Extremists.

In an earlier post, The Peace Team: Politics & PR (5/10/11), I drew attention to the role of Age sports journalist Martin Flanagan in promoting Israel's joint Israeli/Palestinian so-called Peace Team.

Well, he's at it again. In his latest promo, Moderates must reclaim the public stage (22/10/11), Flanagan muses on the difference between good and bad journalism, asserting that "News Ltd has to ask itself whether the writing of Andrew Bolt in the recent [law] case, with the scale of its errors, distortions and innuendoes, is journalism or merely a form of propaganda."

Now leaving aside the fact that it's taken an adverse legal finding for Flanagan to establish Bolt's bona fides as a propagandist, it speaks volumes for his capacity for self-delusion that he's somehow incapable of seeing that he's equally guilty of the crime. Take, for example, the conclusion to Flanagan's piece:

"Journalism, is inherently subjective and, for that reason, limited. No matter how technologically sophisticated we become, the question will always have to be asked: who is telling the story?... Last week, Sulaiman Khatib, a Palestinian with the Peace Team, posted a link on Facebook to the Common Bond Institute, a forum for people on all sides of the Middle East conflict to discuss, together with their experience, best practices for resolving conflict. The following statement by Common Bond about the state of the media is as good as I have read: 'There is a chronic, growing sense of dismay, powerlessness, and fatalism in the Middle East and general global public, largely promoted by a lack of knowledge of models that work (for example, the Peace Team) and a media focus on animosity and small group extremists on all sides who fuel polarity and monopolise the public stage'. The public stage has to be reclaimed from extremists on all sides."

All this basically boils down to is: if only Israelis and Palestinians, instead of going all 'polar' and voicing 'extreme' views, could just get together and kick a ball around then everything would be sweet as, eh?

Now Flanagan's correct when he says that we always have to ask who is telling the story, or, in this case, who devised and packaged the Peace Team for which he barracks so loudly in the Fairfax press?

The Peace Team is one of the projects of The Peres Center for Peace, which, according to Wikipedia, "was founded in 1996 by Nobel Peace Laureate and current President of Israel Shimon Peres, with the aim of furthering his vision in which people of the Middle East region work together to build peace through socio-economic cooperation and development, and people-to-people interaction."

It follows then (or should) that for Flanagan whatever Shimon Peres says or devises is ipso facto moderate and best practice for resolving the Middle East conflict.

OK, so what does Shimon Peres have to say about that most fundamental of issues, the return to their homeland of Palestine's 1948 refugees:

"It is hard to separate the miserable plight of the Palestinian refugees from the claim to rhe 'right of return'. For the first generation of refugees, the experience of being a refugee and the culture that grew up around it served as a basis for the consciousness of exile from the land of their birth - the loss of the country, house, lands, landscapess familiar from childhood, and family graves - alongside the hope of returning to their homes. The second and third generations have inherited this experience, a powerful emotive load that grows ever stronger amid crushing poverty and degrading conditions in the refugee camps. The claim to the 'right of return' has to be seen against this complex historical background. However, it is a maximal claim; if accepted, it would wipe out the national character of the State of Israel, making the Jewish majority into a minority. Consequently, there is no chance it will be accepted, either now or in the future. No Israeli government would agree to a strategy that entailed the destruction of our national entity." (The New Middle East, Shimon Peres, 1993, p 189)

So Peres concedes we've got three generations of refugees here who just want to go home. But then he says, in effect, if we let them back into Israel (and don't forget the trouble Israelis, including Peres himself, went to in sending them packing in the first place), there'd be way too many of them and not enough of us. Or, to put it another way, there'd be too many of the wrong kind of people and not enough of the right kind - know what I mean? The national character of Israel must be preserved at the expense of the refugees' right of return, which term, you'll note, Peres encloses in inverted commas by way of indicating its lesser priority.

OK, so if maintaining that the Jewish character of Israel must take precedence over the implementation of the Palestinian refugees' universally recognised right of return (no inverted commas needed) represents the moderate position that must reclaim the public stage, then arguing for the latter must represent the kind of extremism that should be opposed.

OK, having heard from the moderate Shimon Peres, now let's hear from a Palestinian extremist - unlike the lovely, compliant Suleiman Khatib - a real little troublemaker. Her name's Lucy, she's from occupied Bethlehem, and she's been lured with others by the Peres Peace Centre to a peace pow wow in Nazareth:

"We went to Nazareth, and in the beginning it was very stressful for me. The Israeli facilitator wanted to impose things things on us, and I stood up and I told her, 'Listen, we are here to talk, and if you don't believe in dialogue, then let's go back home; we're in the wrong place'. We were supposed to talk in that program about 3 pending issues: refugees, Jerusalem, and water. And when we were there, they decided this was a hard topic, so we have to change it. The Palestinian group decided, 'Oh no, we are here to discuss these things'. So we sat together and we tried to find a way: if we have to go back, or shall we continue, and what will we talk about. I don't know where I got this idea, [but I said] 'Okay, guys, let's talk about our daily life'. They said, 'Yeah, but what do we have to say?' I said, 'Topics you can talk about: Okay, in the morning, you want to wash your face, you won't find water, especially during summer time. So we will talk about water issues. Okay, I still have a dream: the key of my uncle's house [in a Palestinian village inside Israel's pre-1967 borders] is in my hand, and I have a dream that one day my uncle will come from Jordan or Iraq or Syria - from the refugee camp. And the other part is Jerusalem: Easter is coming, and we have to worship in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the heart of the three religions'." (Refusing to be Enemies: Palestinian & Israeli Nonviolent Resistance to the Israeli Occupation, Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta, 2011, pp 182-183)

So there you have it: the voice of moderation, arguing for the maintenance of an ethnographic, discriminatory state in Palestine and the voice of extremism, arguing for her people's right of return (unencumbered by inverted commas), which, if implemented, might disturb Israel's national, which is to say, Jewish character.

The question for Martin Flanagan is simple: where does he stand on this crucial matter?

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