write away

Just another WordPress.com site

Archive for August 2011

The three myths of Israel

leave a comment »

There are three attributes for which Israel is frequently praised. First, that it is the Middle East’s only democracy. Second, that it is a nation built up from nothing to miraculously become one of the world’s most advanced nations, and third, that as a tiny, solitary state it punches far above its weight in its never-ending battle for survival.

Problem is, none of these are entirely true. Not that anyone who had watched last Monday’s (August 21) episode of Q&A would be any the wiser, when all three of these mythological praises of Israel were sung by two of the panel’s guests.What’s worse, with the possible exception of the first, none of these assertions were challenged by the other members of the panel. This is indicative of the wider mainstream media’s consistent failure to provide accurate contextual information vital to a true understanding of this most acrimonious of conflicts.

Visiting American conservative blogger, Daniel Pipes, was the first panellist to sing Israel’s democratic praises, claiming the Jewish State provided a strong role model for the Arab Spring. Here he was briefly challenged by author Hanifa Deen, who, despite calling Pipe’s viewpoint a fantasy, wasn’t able to go into any detail as to how Israel fails in its claim to be a true liberal democracy. Deen could have pointed out the segregation that, amongst other things, deems certain roads for “Jews only” and forbids the Palestinian spouses of Israelis from gaining Israeli citizenship.Then there is the fact that unlike actual liberal democracies, Israel does not even have a constitution.

Whilst Israel’s democratic status is arguable, it is the other two myths are perhaps the most damaging and long-running. As part of my master’s degree I recently researched how the Israel-Palestine conflict was reported in the US media. There have been many such studies before mine, and they continuously turn up the same results: that the media exhibits a strong, pro-Israel bias.

According to media researchers from the famed Glasgow Media Group (GMG),  the media plays a key role in extending the conflict by not providing two crucial historical facts. The first takes us back to Israel’s formation in 1948. Far from being built from ‘nothing’ as former liberal Senator Nick Minchin claimed on Q&A, Israel was founded on land that had been continually occupied for many hundreds of years by indigenous Arabs. Tens of thousands of these occupants were displaced, some forced from their homes, others fleeing the impending violence, but all taking their keys with them. Many of these displaced families still hold onto these keys, desperately clinging to the hope they will make their way home again. The keys, which have come to symbolise the Right of Return of the Palestinian refugees, even get passed down from generation to generation.

The GMG reports that this information; that the Palestinian refugees exist, and that the United Nations has consistently upheld their Right of Return by the United Nations for 63 years, is largely missing from the common media narrative. Without this vital piece of information, it is not surprising that media audiences believe it when commentators such as Minchin insist that Israel appeared, as if by magic.

The second factor missing from the media’s narrative of the conflict is the reality of Israel’s military occupation. On Q&A, Pipes and Minchin sought to blame “the Palestinians” for all the violence in Israel/Palestine. To do to so they drew on the common narrative that Israel is locked in an existential battle for its very survival, and as such, its actions are purely retaliatory.

This too is a myth. Both Pipes and Minchin, conveniently overlooked the fact that Israel continues to occupy, in a manner deemed illegal by international law, the West Bank of the Jordan River and East Jerusalem, territory it first captured in 1967. The West Bank also happens to be where so many of the original refugees had fled to in 1948. Furthermore, Israel continues to build and expand residential settlements in these territories, again in defiance of international law. Not only does Israel divert water to these settlements, it also confiscates Palestinian farms to allow for this expansion, with some Palestinian farmers suffering the humiliation of working as farmhands on land that has been in their family for generations. The Jewish settlements are linked to each other and to Israel proper by an intricate system of roads forbidden to Palestinians who are literally cut off from one another, further diminishing the hopes of a continuous Palestinian state.

Without this information the public accepts the so-called “Washington Consensus” that is forwarded by the media: that both sides are to blame in their own way (Palestinians by being aggressive, Israel through disproportionate response); that the US is not a direct party to the conflict; and that it is up to both sides to reach a solution.This approach has merit only if one fails to consider the billions of dollars in aid the US supplies Israel and the diplomatic cover it provides in the UN. Israel is in absolutely no danger of being “wiped off the map”. It has nuclear weapons (the only Middle Eastern country to do so), the fourth strongest military in the world, and the unrelenting support of the world’s only superpower.  If anything, it is the Palestinians hope for a homeland that is being scrubbed away.

These three persistent myths, all of which were presented on Q&A, ignore the basic motivations of the conflict’s participants: Palestinians seek to overthrow Israel’s 44-year military occupation, whilst Israel aims to maintain it. The media’s failure to highlight this simple fact is clearly to Israel’s favour and the Palestinians detriment, as Israel has far more to gain from continuing the conflict and the Palestinians from ending it.

Advertisements

Written by Ruby

August 30, 2011 at 4:28 am

Treat them like animals…

leave a comment »

…where ‘animals’ is a compliment, not a disparaging term. The good folks over at New Matilda have published my latest piece on the link between animal cruelty and human rights violations. I have found that articles such as this tend not to be as popular as articles that deal with human rights and/or specific instances of animal abuse. My theory is that people are comfortable with calling out injustices when they are committed by other parties, but when it comes to injustices in which we are complicit, well, people tend to be less enthusiastic about even acknowledging them. Anyway, here it is in full. Make up your own mind.

Treat Them Like Animals

By Ruby Hamad

(First published in New Matilda, August 19, 2011)

sheep

Animal rights activists get criticised for siphoning attention away from human rights but the two are connected. It’s not a case of live exports versus the Malaysia Solution, writes Ruby Hamad

Athough Andrew Wilkie was unable to convince MPs to support his bill to ban live animal exports, the issue of animal cruelty continues to weigh heavily on our national conscience.

Even so, the issue of animal rights will not gain real traction as long as it is viewed as completely divorced from, and subordinate to, the issue of human rights.

This was evident in the attempts to shame those who expressed outrage at the footage of the slaughter of Australian cattle in Indonesian abbatoirs for not showing greater outrage about the suffering of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat. Moira Rayner, for example, although expressing sympathy for the tortured cattle asked:

“Does anybody see, other than myself, the dreadful hypocrisy of demanding … interruption to the export of live cattle, and the complete lack of outrage and demand for action to ensure the humane treatment of asylum-seeking, unaccompanied children?”

Similarly, immediately following Four Corners’ expose, an audience member asked the live panel on the ABC’s Q and A:

“While animals are experiencing cruelty and suffering on boats going from Australia to Indonesia, refugees sail past them in the other direction, also in unspeakable conditions. Which story is more likely to generate compassion from the average Australian?”

This question set off a torrent of like-minded comments on Twitter and spread to the mainstream press. SMH blogger, Sam de Brito, lamented that Australians “get in a tizzy about cows being mistreated in Indonesia, but shrug over boat people sliced up on rocks or children going crazy in detention”.  Prominent human rights lawyer, Julian Burnside, will give a talk at the upcoming Festival of Dangerous Ideas entitled “We care more about animals on boats than people”.

These commentators are rightly concerned with the plight of refugees but they unfairly use the issue of asylum seekers to divert attention from the suffering of non-human animals by claiming it is morally defective to be concerned with cattle when there is so much human suffering.

There are two problems with this position.

Firstly, it presumes all those upset at the treatment of cattle don’t also feel the same way about refugees.

Secondly, it overlooks the fact that the same system that permits the oppression of human beings also approves the exploitation of animals. Many of those who advocate for animal rights do so from a position of opposing all suffering which results from that false hierarchy that values some living beings over others.

There is a long history of activists who have made the link between how we treat each other and how we treat non-human animals. One of the earliest, as Animals Australia’s Lyn White has repeatedly pointed out, was British politician William Wilberforce, who spearheaded the abolitionist campaign to end the slave trade and founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

World War I saw the relationship between violence against animals and violence against humans discussed by pacifist, feminist and vegetarian writers such as Henry Bailey Stevens, Agnes Ryan and George Bernard Shaw. An editor of Nineteenth Century and After magazine wrote:

“In 1918 the spectacle of a herd of scared and suffering cattle hustled together in a van, and being conveyed to a slaughter yard, struck (this) writer as being at least as abominable, and as degrading to our civilisation, as anything he had recently witnessed on several hard fighting fronts in France and Italy.”

The implication is clear: violence against animals, whose blood, organs and emotions are so similar to ours desensitises us to violence against humans. Once the mistreatment of animals is rationalised, so too can be the mistreatment of people.

Institutional slavery, genocide, and other injustices occur because people are conditioned to see those who differ from them as somehow lesser — in the same way we see other animals as lesser species. Their “otherness” makes their suffering justifiable. For many centuries, social justice advocates have called for people to focus on similarities between groups rather than differences. And for almost as long their efforts were resisted by a dominant culture that “naturally” saw men as superior to women and whites superior to other races.

This systematic subordination of marginalised groups extends to the animal world. Our fervent belief that animal life is intrinsically inferior has blinded us to the immense pain and suffering they endure at our hands. If the Four Corners footage has shown us anything, it is that animals are as capable of feeling pain and terror as acutely as any human being.

This willingness to inflict such pain on another sentient being not only causes that being to suffer, but devalues both the life of that animal and the humanity of its tormenter. It is the act of violence itself which is problematic — not only the object of that violence . Once violence is accepted as justifiable, then it can justified repeatedly.

There is no shame or hypocrisy in protesting the mistreatment of animals because human rights and animal rights are intertwined. It boils down to this: we too are animals, and as precious as our lives are to us, so too are the lives of non-human animals to them.

 

 

Written by Ruby

August 20, 2011 at 12:25 am