A gathering in Turkey last week was one of the rare occasions that Palestine was the topic of a conference rather than a marginal or traditional issue added to a broader conference agenda. The organisers clearly did not intend simply to tick a box, get peace of mind or seek political relevance; believe it or not, participants spent two entire days talking about the Palestinian cause. I am referring to the International Palestinian Conference on Media and Communication held in Istanbul on April 23 and 24, which was attended by about 300 people from across the Arab world (with the exception of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), Europe, the United States and Russia.
Although the “reconciliation” between Hamas and Fatah was announced during the conference, it was entirely coincidental, the programme being in the diary for two months or more. I understand that there were five main factors for the conference to be organised. The first was the world’s preoccupation with the Arab Spring, the atmosphere it has brought about and its implications, which have distracted everyone with the internal affairs of individual countries, causing the Palestinian cause to be side-lined. Second is the distortion that the cause has been subjected to, and which has dealt a serious blow to the Palestinian people, from the “normalisation” camp, the remnants of the former Mubarak regime in Egypt, or the voices and platforms that implicated Hamas in the hate campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood, thus letting down the Palestinian cause and people. The third factor are the fingers pointing at the Palestinians with accusations that they were responsible for the violence and killings that took place during and after the Egyptian revolution in order to clear the police and members of the security establishment after the fact-finding committee proved that they fired live ammunition at demonstrators. The media has tried to suppress the committee’s report and conclusions. Number four was the incitement campaign against the Palestinians, accusing them of setting their sights on Sinai, an idea rejected and fought by the Palestinians in the 1950s when it was proposed during President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s rule and known as “Project Sinai”. The fifth and final factor is that Palestinian activists have realised that the battle in the media is no less fierce than the battle on the ground and, therefore, it is important to establish a platform for the efforts in the media which address the falsification and distortion campaigns directed against the Palestinian cause and people.
Discussions addressed a number of key areas: Palestine in the Arab media; the impact of regional changes; the Palestinian cause in the Western media; Palestinian creativity and media; facing the Israeli lobby in the media; and working towards a new Palestinian media strategy. In addition to the main sessions with Arab and foreign experts and specialists, there were workshops focusing on the restoration of the centrality of the Palestinian cause in agendas around the Arab world, not only to restore the lost rights in Palestine but also to protect Arab national security which Israel continues to threaten, despite the fact that it has been preoccupied with other issues, such as Iran, sectarian strife and the threat of terrorism.
I spoke in the first session, which discussed Palestine’s position in the Arab world after the Arab Spring started and grabbed most of the world’s attention over the past three years. In my speech I warned against simplifying and reducing the understanding of the Arab Spring; that is, defining the Arab Spring in a manner that limits it to the scope of changes that have taken place in some Arab regimes, when, in fact, it is much larger and greater than that. The most important thing about the Arab Spring is the shift that occurred within the Arab people themselves, who broke through the fear barrier expressing a desire for change in a revolt against political and social oppression. It is in this sense that we should note the echoes of revolutions, not only in the four or five countries that experienced a change or attempts at change, but also in the voices of the masses who are still heard loud and courageously clear on social networking sites in all Arab countries without exception, including the countries that resisted the desire for change and suppress dissent by various means.
I also supported the view that argued that the Palestinian cause has lost its priority due to understandable and legitimate reasons, but I argued that this shift is only a phase and has limited impact, and that the people who have surrendered to it were mostly from circles that are new to politics and have no background, knowledge or awareness of the realities of the conflict in the region. However, I considered it a fleeting shift because the Palestinian cause is deeply rooted in the hearts and minds of the Arabs, at least in the Egyptian experience, as every Egyptian family had a soldier or officer who fought the Israelis, or was injured or captured by them. The media was successful in distorting some perceptions but we cannot pretend that it sabotaged their consciences.
It was clear from the discussions that the media in the Arab world is tied closely to politics. In all fairness, therefore, we are required to judge and condemn politics and politicians alongside the media and journalists and to disapprove of most of their positions.
Finally, the conference was held in Istanbul as Arab capitals would not host it, which highlights the decline in terms of the Arab world’s priorities. Which is what, appropriately, the conference set out to address and remedy.
Translated from Shorouk newspaper, 27 April, 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.