There is nothing much I can say about what is happening in Gaza today that others have not tried to say before. The only thing I can say is that this is a war of perception vs. reality. What people believe to be true rather than what is true.
What really disturbs me about the conflict, is the fact that most people in Britain still believe Israeli politicians and propaganda, despite their increasing mistrust of their own politicians and media at home! They are unwilling to see beyond the rhetoric and ask questions that would propel the conversation towards something constructive, rather than the destructive, unhelpful, and often, ignorant comments one reads on most newspaper readers’ comment sites.
Yet most of those commentators may have never even set foot in Palestine. They may have gone to Israel, but the intricate checkpoints, ‘security’ wall and the warnings from Israeli friends may have deterred them from going to find out for themselves what the situation is really like. So how they can speak of any understanding of what an average Palestinian goes through is beyond me.
The media in the UK, and the perception of its average audiences, accepts Israel’s version of us, I fear. And so represents Palestinians as different, as not like ‘Us’ in the West: they have long beards, their women are veiled and hardly wear any make-up. Whereas Israelis are clean-shaven, white, blue-eyed, silver foxes or fashionably dressed female spokespersons that people actually find attractive, so people like ‘Us’, despite the fact that Israel is racially diverse, but you wouldn’t know it from their media representatives or political elites.
What drives home Israeli’s perceived ‘sameness’ with British citizens is the fact that they are involved in culture and the arts and have toured Britain, showing the ‘civilised’ face of Israel as so-called ‘cultural ambassadors’. So of course the average British person is going to think positively of Israelis and will not understand why there are calls to boycott Israeli artists when they are invited to dance at world renowned festivals, as they were to the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) this past summer.
One former American colleague said to me once that footage of men chanting at funerals doesn’t help our image. I agree, but I don’t think people are worried about how they are being perceived, although they should be. There is no one unified PR machine that cynically advises Palestinians to weep and mourn in certain acceptable ways so that the average British person can empathise with us, but maybe there should be. Sadly, I don’t control what the Western and UK media choose to film and subsequently broadcast about us. So our struggle continues, not just for individual and collective rights, for freedom and self-determination, but also for a change in perception about who we are on this absurd world media theatre.
The average UK viewer wouldn’t know it, but there is a rich cultural heritage in Palestine, great painters, musicians and writers. Most are just normal people, teachers, nurses, university lecturers, driving instructors, medics, philosophers, poets. Women do go out to work in many of these professions and the first female mayor for Bethlehem was recently elected, but there has been little, if any, coverage of her victory in UK papers or broadcast media.
Yet, to acknowledge that Palestinians are a diverse population and anything other than those those strangely clothed people chanting and firing guns in the air does not suit warmongering Israel and would raise too many confusing questions — have the British people been mislead about the Palestinians, too?