Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians and the Struggle for Media Supremacy by Stephanie Gutmann

This book is a bit different from the regular WWII history books I try to cover here. But, as the blog states, this is WWII and other books, so here we go.

In today's day and age it is no longer contested that the media plays a rather large role. Thus it is with this in mind that I began this book and have to say that I admire the author and what she has presented the public in the way that the media covers, or rather used to cover, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the second Intifada.

Right away I will say that I have a somewhat bias toward Israel, but that does not omit the fact that I do question Israeli policies and treatment of others when there is indeed reason to question those said policies. I think the Israeli situation is a very difficult one to judge without having some type of bias toward one side or another. This is also a nation that routinely gets bombarded, quite literally, with terrorist attacks in the forms of rockets and suicide bombers, and no I will not call them 'homicide bombers' like some cable TV news stations do. I consider myself a patriot, the difference between that and a nationalist is that I can admit when a country which I am patriotic about makes a mistake and I can allow myself the ability to question that nation's policies and actions without considering myself a 'traitor' or 'unpatriotic.'

In either case, to get to the book. I was quite surprised by the simple word manipulation, that if inserted, will give a skewed view of what is in fact happening when a situation is being discussed. For example, when writing about terrorist attacks, the terrorists are faceless and nameless, simply put, 'A car bomb exploded in Tel Aviv killing 10', is a regular headline, yet whose car was this? Who took the credit for it? On the other hand we have, "Israeli IDF troops while in a fire fight with Palestinians throwing stones, killed a child', I'm sure you get the idea. Here we have clear drawn lines of good and bad, while in the former we have a general statement that something bad happened, yet not really understand the why and the who.

Another contention addressed is the fact that many foreign media outlets would lament that the Israelis are censoring them. A bad thing? Perhaps. Yet, when speaking of the fact that Palestinians routinely take away cameras and/or film from reporters when they are caught filming something deemed 'bad' by the Palestinians, this isn't seen as censorship, no no, this is simply Palestinian rules that one needs to respect and go by if they are to work in this environment. Really, is the double standard still too hard to see?

A few of the 'events' confronted in the book are that of Jenin, today hardly remembered as the blood bath it was portrayed. With some journalists claiming 'thousands dead!' and a 'genocide' ad nauseam. Today the count stands at 45 dead, mainly dead fighters. Yet there were women and children dead, under 10, whose fault? That will never be known. But the IDF should be admired, nor demonized, for their actions in such an intense urban conflict and confrontation with the enemy who most definitely knew the terrain better and had many other advantages. The author also points out that some activities which were later deemed illegal by Israeli courts, specifically that of IDF troops telling Palestinians to go to their neighbors house and knock on the door, this was because booby traps were quite frequent, etc.

The history of the Israeli government press is also described, how they mismanaged their own stories and how they forced the foreign press to simply go on hearsay or at times make up their own stories. One reporter arrived when there was no activity going on at all during the second intifada, this didn't stop him from setting up his camera next to an Israeli tank and starting his broadcast off with "Today has been the heaviest fighting recorded..." or something to that affect, when corrected by another that 'nothing is going on' he said he didn't come all this way to report on nothing!

Understandable? Sure. Fair to Israel and her people who this reporting directly and indirectly represents/affects? Not at all, the IDF is a part of the population, least one forget that everyone is required to serve, man or woman (well unless a woman marries before turning the required age). This book is highly recommended and there are many more stories recounted, aside from the few I listed above. Another that I found interesting was about a Palestinian reporter who reported what Fatah and the PLO were doing which didn't show them in as nice a light as one might think. Killing 'collaborators' and the such, and yet he was still alive and well and writing on a day to day basis as he strolled through Palestinian territory to find yet another story to write about.

It should be appreciated and understood, for both sides, that not all Israelis in the IDF are monsters and not all Palestinians want to blow themselves up for the wrong cause. This book tries to present both sides but mainly focus on that of the foreign correspondents who routinely politicize any and every action undertaken by either a Palestinian or an Israeli. If interested in the modern media and how they affect the way you think, this book is a good start and investment.

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