I recently attended a press conference at Erez Crossing point at the top of Gaza. While the earlier one in Hebrew had quite a few participants, the one in English and Arabic had me, another blogger, a European AFP reporter, and three Arab journalists, one for AP, Al Jazeera English, and Arabic. They were accompanied by a crew of Arab cameramen.
While their formal questions to the spokesman – whose Arabic was considerably more fluent than his English – were largely contentious, their conversation was strangely open and even mordant. At first I suspected ideologues. When I asked my companion about the population of Gaza, he said, “1.5 million,” immediately corrected by one of the Arab journalists to “1.7.”
But after the press conference, and before we could leave, there was an alert and we spent about 20 minutes in a room waiting for the all-clear. Israeli soldiers lounged around, obviously quite used to this. The Arabs gathered around one table, looking a bit out of place. I imagined they were feeling hostile to these “Occupation Army” soldiers with whom they were forced to spend time. I went over to join them.
“Statistically speaking, you might not want to sit here,” said a cameraman from East Jerusalem.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well considerably more Arabs are killed by Hamas rockets than Israelis, so if a rocket does land on this base, the statistical odds are it will hit this table.”
I carry on a great deal about “hidden transcripts” in cultures. Here’s one lying just under the surface of Arab “solidarity.” These journalists don’t like Hamas very much, and they deal with them up close. (One of them said, the journalists refer to the radical Islamists of all stripes, “beards”.) They know perfectly well that Hamas’ behavior endangers Palestinians more than Israelis.
Will they take that further? Certainly, if you read the journalism of Diaa Hadid, who started out as a true believer in the Intifada, you’ll find plenty of just what I’ve claimed is almost impossible in the Gaza Strip: criticism of Hamas.
The larger question is, just how far will this trend go? At what point does following Hamas’ tactic – fire at Israel no matter what the cost to Palestinians, and then blame Israel – lead to the the larger strategy that keeps this conflict eternally stewing, that is, the Arab strategy of making the Palestinians suffer so they can blame Israel?
In principle, if journalists realized that and started covering the systematic victimization of Palestinians by their “leaders” and Arab “allies”, maybe the strategy would start to backfire, and therefore cease. Imagine an alternative reality:
The Hamas Militants looked for good places to provoke the Israelis. They were usually youths, 16 or 17 years old, armed with submachine guns. They couldn’t do anything against a tank or jet. They knew they were much weaker. But they wanted the [Israelis] to shoot at the [the civilians’] houses so they could accuse them of more war crimes.
Now imagine that, instead of cooperating with this strategy and blaming Israel, the MSNM, the NGOs, and the Goldstone Report had actually revealed this dimension…
How long would Hamas continue to victimize their own people? How long would Gazans accept their mistreatment? How much more would Palestinian rights be protected?
Or is it to much to ask, to fundamental a breach of honor-shame-driven solidarity, to ask journalists to question the Hamas/Palestinian radical “talking point” – the Israeli attack has made Hamas more popular.