The Israeli attack on Gaza, to say the least, is entirely despicable. Press coverage in the US media has been mostly pro-Israeli with an occasional bone thrown to the Palestinian ‘point of view’. That is and has been the norm ever since the start of the Arab-Israeli confrontation from the time the state of Israel came into being in 1948. The only time in my years in the US when I saw some general displeasure with Israel was during the Israeli attack on Lebanon in 1982, especially after the massacres at the Shatila and Sabra Palestinian refugee camps by the Phalangists (Lebanese Christian militia), egged on and supported by the Israeli army, came to light.
Why the US supports Israel is an interesting question. First it was about supporting an ‘underdog’ fighting for survival against an enemy overwhelming in its numbers. But then it evolved. Some 20 years ago, I remember watching a television programme where a US senator and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was being interviewed. The senator during that interview described Israel as an “American aircraft carrier” in the Middle East. The mantra in the US is that Israel is a useful and reliable ally and the only ‘real’ democracy in that part of the world to be protected at all costs. And, of course, the Jewish lobby in the US makes sure that any US politician who seems to be a trifle ambivalent about Israel suffers in the media and at election time.
About 12 years or so ago, I attended a series of discussions held in a local university in New Jersey about the Arab-Israeli confrontation that was addressed by, among others, Palestinians, Israelis and US Jewish ‘academics’. It was interesting that the US Jewish academics and discussants were considerably more anti-Arab/Palestinians than their Israeli counterparts. The Israeli Jewish point of view was, “We have to live with the Arabs and Palestinians so we need to learn to live with them.” The Palestinians sort of agreed with their Israeli counterparts.
It is official US policy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel but is a “disputed” territory. The US still strongly supports the idea of a two state solution in Palestine and also opposes the building of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. That said, as far as the US media is concerned, the Israelis are the good guys while the Palestinians are the bad guys. Frankly, in the present situation in Gaza there are no good guys. Depending on your point of view, either the Palestinians, especially Hamas, are the bad guys or the Israelis are the bad guys. The only good people in this conflict are the innocent civilians on both sides who are being terrorised.
From a historical perspective, in 1948, when the United Nations (UN) decided to partition what was then the a UN mandate territory between the Jews and the Arabs, the Jews accepted the partition while the Arab/Palestinians refused. Arab states attacked the nascent Jewish state and lost. The part of Palestine that was mandated for the Palestinians was taken over by the bordering Arab states. The West Bank and East Jerusalem, including the holy places, went to Jordan while the Gaza Strip went to Egypt. Yet, neither of these countries allowed a Palestinian state to emerge in these areas. After the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Israel conquered the West Bank, Gaza and Sinai. In 1973, Arab countries again invaded Israel but the only success was that Egypt managed to obtain control of the Suez Canal. In 1978, Anwar Sadat, the president of Egypt, made peace with Israel and got Sinai back. However, even today, other than Egypt, all the Arab countries bordering Israel are still in a state of war with Israel. And Israel is an ‘occupying’ power as far as the West Bank and Gaza are concerned.
This brings me to two points. First is the origin of the state of Israel. If the Palestinian Arabs had a leader like Jinnah who was willing to accept the UN mandate like Jinnah did with the partition of India even though he got a ‘moth-eaten’ Pakistan, today we would have had an independent Palestinian state in control of the holy places and what we now call the “occupied territories”. Second, even subsequently, if the Palestinians were willing to accept the status quo, a Palestinian state might have become a reality. As Abba Eban, the former foreign minister of Israel said rather famously, “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
And that brings to me to what is happening in Pakistan these days and the role of the media. Is Zarbe-Azb similar to the Israeli attack on Gaza? The Pakistan army, like the Israeli army, asked all the people of the area to be attacked — North Waziristan in the case of the Pakistan army and Gaza in the case of the Israeli army — to leave. In Pakistan, the people of the areas being attacked were able to move into other areas within Pakistan but in Gaza they had nowhere else to go. These internally displaced persons (IDPs) are getting coverage but nobody in the media wants to discuss how being forced out of their homes will make them feel less inclined to support and ultimately accept the army action as legitimate and appropriate.
The other similarity between the US’s media coverage of the Israeli actions and the Pakistani media is how the Pakistani media covers sectarian violence in Pakistan. Just as the US media is unwilling to cover Israeli atrocities, the Pakistani media is unwilling to cover sectarian violence in Pakistan. When the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi types kill Shias, Ahmedis or Christians, the news is rarely carried for too long and the perpetrators of these crimes are almost never condemned directly. This is either due to the fear of retribution or because many within the media ‘support’ such actions. The US media’s support for Israel is probably due to similar reasons.
The anthropologist Jack Weatherford once wrote, “Every society produces its own cultural ...