By Yousef M. Aljamal
In collaboration with the Media Department at the Islamic University of Gaza, the Council on International Relations, held a Study Day on May 26, 2016 entitled “Palestinian Media Discourse towards Western Media”, which was attended by dozens of media professionals and students.
The event reflected the increasing Palestinian interest in addressing the West with regards to the rise of social media. It further focused on the battle between the occupied Palestinians, and Israel, their occupier, which was a topic of heated discussion.
In his speech, Palestinian journalist, Mohammed Omar, stressed the importance of a unified Palestinian narrative when addressing the West, noting that Israeli embassies are watchful of what Palestinians write. He added that “they have a strong PR machine; an example of this is the Israel Project 2009: Global Language Dictionary which is very important to understanding the Israeli narrative”. He used the example of CBS’s 60 Minutes’s Christians of the Holy Land, and how Israelis flooded the network with e-mails protesting the episode, while Palestinians did not do enough to support it. “Zionists sent 30,000 emails to protest it,” he added.
Hussam Shaker, a Palestinian activist based in Austria noted that the image of Palestinians is changing in the West, adding that “A film about Palestinian hunger striker, Mohammed Al-Qeeq, was screened at the Cannes Film Festival”. On the other hand, Shaker showed how that, “Western media highlights the technological inventions of Israelis and overlook that of Palestinians.”
Social media has contributed to highlighting the ordeal of Palestinians especially during Israel’s offensives on Gaza in 2008/9, 2012 and 2014. Commenting on this, Shaker added, “We should make use of social media to promote our narrative”.
Dr. Mosheer Amer, a discourse analysis professor at IUG stressed the importance of self-criticism in improving the Palestinian narrative, noting that Palestinians have managed to make some breakthroughs recently. However, the Western media bias in favor of Israel is present strongly, adding that “An example is a report by Fox News in July 2014 which read: Gaza rockets aimed at Israel: What would you do with just 15 seconds? The wording was simple but extremely powerful,” said Amer.
“My observation of Palestinian English media outlets is not very encouraging. Sometimes the context of occupation is missing, in addition to the lack of the humanitarian aspect of stories. The use of some terms is not helpful and does not reflect the reality on the ground,” he continued. “We need to introduce our terminology to the Western media. We need to establish English media outlets to disseminate information about the situation here,” he concluded.
Commenting on the first session of talks, Dr. Asaad Abusharkh noted that Israelis are proficient at public relations because they speak different languages in addition to promoting the Holocaust. Despite this, however, Palestinians are winning because of the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.”
In a statement made by Philip Weiss, the founder of Mondowiess.net, he highlighted how mainstream media outlets marginalize pro-Palestinians, adding, “We are proud of the American democracy, but we are not proud of the censorship on the true picture of Palestine.” “I wrote about culture, arts and food, and other topics, but when I wrote about Palestine, they told me it is none of my business.”
Weiss assured readers that the reason for this censorship was the influence of the Israeli lobby in American public life, noting that “things started to change because of the Palestinian Somoud. The internet has given me a platform. Young Jews don’t care about Israel as their parents did.”
In a recorded message, American journalist, Dan Cohen stressed the importance of photos in telling/re-telling the Palestinian story: “An article by the New York Times used two photos as propagandist tools for Israel. One photo showed an Israeli funeral with Israelis in tears, while the other showed a Palestinian funeral with faceless Palestinians and faction flags” .
“It is really disturbing, anti-Palestinian discourse and it has to be called out,” he continued. “I once tweeted a photo from the Karama Film Festival in Shujayea which got decent media coverage. The photo showed people watching a film and surrounded by rubble. It went viral and got thousands of tweets,” he added. “I wanted to show people, not tell them. Images are incredibly important.”
Cohen stressed the importance of a unified Palestinian narrative and political representation. “The ongoing infighting between Palestinian factions only serves the agenda of the Israeli occupation.”
In the same vein, Palestinian photographer, Mohammed Al-Baba, stressed the importance and impact of photos: “Photos shape public opinions. An example of this is the photo of a Palestinian girl kissing the forehead of a horse that also went viral. A follow-up story was written when the horse died; it touched the hearts of many.”
In his concluding remarks, Refaat Alareer, a social media activist and a lecturer at IUG asserted the importance of delivering a credible and original message to the world. “Don’t use old photos or photos from the archives,” he suggested. Alareer noted the need to “network with pro-Palestinian individuals and groups.” The message was clear: “Interaction is important”.
The Study Day reflects the need to have a unified Palestinian narrative when addressing the West. A unified narrative will advance the cause of Palestinians on the international stage, as suggested by the participants.
– Yousef M. Aljamal is the Palestine Chronicle Correspondent in the Gaza Strip.