Posts Tagged 'Gaza'

World Press Freedom Day: a eulogy to international journalism?

Yesterday a group of students from Northwestern University joined a worldwide huger strike in support of the Roxana Saberi, an American journalist imprisoned in Iran for espionage.

roxana_saberiSaberi’s plight has brought world-wide condemnation of the Iranian government, after she was sentenced to eight years in prison in a closed trial that lasted only one hour. A reported 225 people have signed up to the “Free Roxana” campaign, after the Northwestern graduate started her own hunger strike in protest on April 21.

“The main point is to create awareness about the situation Roxana is facing and what many people are facing in Iran,” said student David Caratelli.

Saberi’s story is the latest example of how journalists around the globe are being persecuted for their profession. Fittingly, yesterday also marked World Press Freedom Day, instituted in 1997 by the United Nations General Assembly to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press as enshrined under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the past year, 60 journalists and media workers have been killed, 29 kidnapped and more than 900 attacked around the world. “Journalists been killed while trying to lift the veil of secrecy that governments seek to wrap around their military actions”, said Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists.

Speaking at a debate at London’s Frontline Club on Friday, he argued against the motion “Governments at war are winning the battle of controlling the international media”.

“The war on terror has been accompanied by a war just civil liberties and independent journalism,” he said, citing numerous instances of journalists in Iraq and Afghanistan facing persecution. But despite the actions of repressive governments the world over, he argued that “the voices of those suffering are given life by journalists”.

Yet his point was hotly contested. Andrew Gilligan, the controversial Evening Standard columnist, argued against the motion, claiming that war correspondents today are so desperate for stories that they latch on to anything that they would normally dismiss as rumour or government spin.

He said: “The real problem for reporting on combat situations and the reason that so many stories from Iraq were wrong is simply this: wars create a sellers market in news”. Citing the practice of embedding journalists with troops in combat situations, he said that war creates a “sellers market” for news where journalists routinely succumb to a pervasive form of self-censorship.

“Even the most independent-minded journalist in the world is not disposed to write unkind things about somebody in that situation. No one needs to threaten or be threatened,” he said.

His co-speaker James Shea, Director of Policy Planning in the Private Office of the Secretary General NATO, also countered the argument that web 2.0 technology is undermining government control of information.

“These days, everybody can be a reporter on reality”

“And if the profession has been democratised, why can’t the government also therefore enter the profession as a reporter on its own activity?”

He cited new NATO TV channels and the use of articles by eminent ‘experts’ in papers as examples of how the government is bypassing the media to get its message across and winning the war of words that has grown out of the war on terror.

Yet the most compelling of all the speakers was and Alan Fisher, a London correspondent from Al Jazeera who has reported from aljazeera1war zones around the world, most recently during Georgia’s war with Russia in August of last year. 

Descrying the debate’s Western-centric view on the success of the media, he said:

“People tend to think that if a tree falls in the forest, and an American broadcast network isn’t there to record it, did it really fall?”

Discussing the coverage of the war in Gaza, which prompted the theme of the debate, he said that Al Jazeera had been the only channel able to give full coverage of the bombings because it was prepared to tap the vast resources of local journalists already living on the strip, unlike many outlets which relied almost exclusively on Israeli news reports.

He also argued that the proliferation of international news outlets meant there are “more ways of accessing the truth” that ever before, creating a more varied and exciting perspective on international events. He said:

“We challenge authority more than ever before an we continue to and that is why the government cannot win.”

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‘Making money out of murder’

Islington Council has been accused of profiting from “murder” after an investigation by Islington Now revealed that the authority has nearly £5m invested in companies dealing in the arms trade.

The deadly weaponry on this tank was made by a subsidiary of BAE Systems

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that at the end of last year the council’s pension fund held £4.9m of shares with seven key players in the defence industry.

More than a third of the investments (£1.92m) is in BAE Systems, Europe’s largest defence firm. The company has been at the centre of controversy in recent weeks for producing parts of the F-16 fighter planes used to bomb the Gaza strip and cluster bombs recently outlawed under the International Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Campaign groups branded the figures “shocking”. Michael Johnson, who works with Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), said: “It’s not just that these companies make weapons. They make money out of murder – and so does the council.

“There’s been a major outcry against the bombings in Gaza. BAE trades with Israel and Gaza, they have offices there. Where is the action that says: ‘We’re not going to profit from the murder of Palestinians?’”

Local politician Jon Notts, a former Green Party parliamentary candidate for Islington North, insisted it was unacceptable for public bodies to invest in an industry that supported unethical powers abroad.

He said: “The Green Party is fundamentally opposed to the arms trade and the sale of weapons to oppressive regimes. We are against central or local government investing in this sector in any capacity.”

The council’s pension fund, which represents more than 5,000 members of staff and former employees, states that it aims “to promote corporate and social responsibility” in its investment strategy.

An F-16 fighter similar to those used in Israel's bombardment of Gaza and designed by BAE

But the local authority has claimed that its greatest responsibility is to its investors. 

A council spokesman said: “Islington’s pension fund is regulated by law. The council, acting as a trustee of the pension fund, is legally bound to get the best return on investments and reduce the burden on council tax payers. This is the case for all local government pension schemes across the country. 

“We continually review our policies on socially-responsible investment.”

But campaigners argue that ethical investment funds have matched the FTSE 100 over recent years and can actually outperform other investments over long periods. 

The revelation comes in the wake of a growing trend in public bodies towards more ethical investment policies. In 2006, a report by the CAAT found that 45 universities held more than £15m in companies involved in the arms trade.

Since then, many of them have bowed to pressure from students and campaign groups to withdraw their investments, including SOAS, Goldsmiths, the University of Manchester, University of Wales, Bangor and St Andrews, as well as the previous biggest investor, University College London.

The total value of the council’s pensions fund at the end of last year was around £560m, meaning that arms investments amount to less than one per cent of the total. CAAT argues that this is all the more reason to withdraw them.

Mr Johnson, 29, said: “It’s such a tiny proportion of the overall investment that selling the shares isn’t actually going to prejudice the overall fund’s value. It’s going to make more difference to BAE in terms of their reputation and how other funds view holding their investment than it’s going to make to Islington.”

But Unite, the largest trade union in Islington which represents many of those with investments in Islington’s pension fund, refused to condemn the council. A spokesman said: “We don’t have a position on the matter.”

For more information visit: www.islingtonnow.co.uk

Through a glass darkly: bias in Western news

A report today published by Al Jazeera has highlighted the bias of the Western press in reporting the conflict in Gaza.

Habib Battah compares the photographs of two women, one Israeli and one Palestinian, that were published side-by-side on the front page of an edition of The Washington Post last month. He writes:

“As the Palestinian woman cradled the dead body of one child, another infant son, his face blackened and disfigured with bruises, cried beside her

“The Israeli woman did not appear to be wounded in any way but also wept.”

When the photographs of the two women were published on December 30, over 350 Palestinians had reportedly been killed compared to just four Israelis. Battah argues that the disparity between the suffering on the two sides has not been reflected in the US media which strongly favours Israel.

In Britain, the freedom of the press is seen as a bastion of our society, even if we do not always value it. We descry the censorship of oppressive regimes, yet the bias in Western reporting is far more pervasive and, in many ways, far more dangerous.

Since Bush launched his “war on terror” in 2001, the conflict between the Muslim world and the West has extended into the discourse of the media. Words themselves have become a battleground and the men that print them, the purveyors of truth.

One of the most notorious figures of the world-wide media is Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch, who owns News International is one of the most powerful and influencial men in the world and provided the basis for evil genius Eliot Carver in the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.

He is also a staunch and outspoken supporter of Israel.

The News International empire, worth US $43 billion, spans the globe and includes The Washington Post, The Sun, The Times, Sky and Fox. It also is the majority shareholder in NDS, a digital technology company based in Jerusalem,  which has grown from 20 to 600 employees in the past decade.

According to the Jerusalem Post, News International was one of three US companies lauded for their support of Israel at the America-Israel Friendship League Partners for Democracy Awards dinner in 2001. Murdoch himself co-chaired the dinner.

While every person has a right to their political views, Rupert Murdoch is not any old person. Over the years executives and editors alike have criticised the level of control he exerts over his publications.

Last January, the former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil told the Lords Communications Committee that although he did not hold the title, Murdoch effectively acts as editor-in-chief of many of his newspapers.

When Murdoch bought The Washington Post in 2007, many feared that his particular brand of newsmongering would pervade the pages of one of the most highly-respected publications in the US.

One incensed blogger wrote: “Murdoch will defile it and turn it into another example of his legendarily low-brow offerings.”

Yet Murdoch is not the only guilty party. Israel has prevented journalists from entering the Gaza strip since the onslaught began more than 2 weeks ago, despite a high court ruling that ordered them to allow in foreign reporters. Al Jazeera is the only channel with a correspondent on the strip.

Israel has also begun to target news organisations in Gaza itself, bringing back memories of the American bombings of Al Jazeera in the Iraq war.

Journalists have been forced to rely solely on UN figures for information, which are based on reports from medical organisations on the ground. Out of the 854 people confirmed dead, the UN claim 25 per cent are women and children.

However, when this is reported in the Western press “women and children” has magically been changed into the far less specific term “civilians”. While not overtly stated, this implies that the rest must be militants.

The Gazan people, dying in their hundreds, have been cast as the agressors in our press. Conversely, Hamas claims that because there is enforced conscription in Israel, many of the Israeli figures claim that civilians are soldiers.

Robert Fisk in the introduction to Pity the Nation, which tells the chequered history of modern Lebanon, writes: “At best, journalists sit on the edge of history as volcanologists might clamber to the lip of a smoking crater, trying to see over the rim, craning their necks to peer over the crumbling edge, through the smoke an the ash of what happens within.”

We can only ever see the truth of what is around us through a glass darkly. Yet it is the responsibility of every journalist and ever reader to strain to see the light.

A siege mentality: Gaza’s pain

As the world looks on with horrified eyes at the devastation that is being wreaked in Gaza, the Israeli authorities have vowed that the strikes will continue.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak said the Israeli authorities would expand the attacks “as much as necessary” to “deal a heavy blow to Hamas”.

Officials estimate that the Palestinian death toll currently stands at over 383 with hundreds more injured, though the lack of medical supplies promises many more. As the hours pass and the body count rises, it becomes ever more certain that the ramifications of Israel’s actions will be felt far beyond the rubble of Gaza.

Yet, despite the relentless barrage of Israel’s rockets, it seems inconceivable that they will succeed in their espoused aim to rid Gaza of their government and ever less likely that Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas will be able to advance peace talks on the West Bank.

Wayne White, a Middle East expert, believes that Israel’s attacks will fail because they are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the Palestinian mindset.

He argues that they are predicated on “a salient and mistaken psychological assumption: that the attitude of a defiant population typically can be changed and its will broken through military force and siege.

“This assumption was disproved in the course of a number of case studies related to the Second World War alone.

“Whether it was Germany’s effort to undermine British morale in late 1940 by bombing urban areas, the Germans’ attempts to break the will of Russians in besieged Leningrad during 1941-1943, or of Britain’s to break German civilian morale by laying waste to city after city during a campaign that spanned several years, this strategy largely has been discredited.

“The military force being brought to bear against Gaza, jarring as it may be, does not begin to compare with the examples above. Nor has the blockade been nearly as severe as that employed against Leningrad, especially during the winter of 1941-1942.”

As Palestinians in Gaza are besieged by the Israelis, this will only make their compatriots in the West Bank question any potential deal with Israel and undermine any attempt at negotiations. Words of peace as people are dying in their hundreds are nothing more than a farce.

For the Palestinians, it is not just an ideology but their homes and lives that are under threat. What the Israelis are ignoring, but must understand, is the conviction that rises from necessity when everything around you is razed to the ground.

As Johann Hari of the Independent argues: “This morning, and tomorrow morning, and every morning until this punishment beating ends, the young people of the Gaza Strip are going to be more filled with hate, and more determined to fight back, with stones or suicide vests or rockets.”

The most detailed poll of Palestinians, by the University of Maryland, found that less than a fifth want to reclaim the whole of historic Palestine while 72 per cent want a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.

The 1.2m people living in Gaza are not militants, they are civilians and children who are watching their friends and family die around them. But the longer this continues, the more likely it is that these children will grow up defiant and radicalised.

Ephraim Halevy, the former head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, believes that Hamas are “ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state in the temporary borders of 1967.” But this dream is quickly fading amid the smoke.


November 2017
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