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Time to end the ‘hasbara’: Palestinian media and the search for a common story

File photo of Palestinians fleeing their homes during the 1948 Nakba - 'the great catastrophe'

Merely being in the company of hundreds of Palestinian journalists and other media professionals from all over the world has been an uplifting experience. For many years, Palestinian media has been on the defensive, unable to articulate a coherent message, torn between factions and desperately trying to fend off the Israeli media campaign, along with its falsifications and unending propaganda or ‘hasbara’.

It is still too early to claim any kind of paradigm shift, but the second Tawasol Conference in Istanbul, which took place 18 to 19 May, served as an opportunity to consider the vastly changing media landscape, and to highlight the challenges and the opportunities facing Palestinians in their uphill battle.

Not only are Palestinians expected to demolish many years of Israeli disinformation, predicated on a make-believe historical discourse that has been sold to the world as fact, but also to construct their own lucid narrative that is free from the whims of factions and personal gains.

It will not be easy, of course.

My message in the “Palestine in the Media” conference, organized by the Palestine International Forum for Media and Communication is that, if the Palestinian leadership is failing to achieve political unity, at least Palestinian intellectuals must insist on the unity of their narrative. Even the most compromising of Palestinians can acknowledge the centrality of the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the destruction of their towns and villages in 1947-48.

They can – and should –  also agree about the hideousness and violence of the occupation; the dehumanization at the military checkpoints; the increasingly shrinking spaces in the West Bank as a result of the illegal settlements and the colonisation of whatever remains of Palestine; the suffocating hold on Occupied Jerusalem (al-Quds); the injustice of the siege on Gaza, and the one-sided wars on the Gaza Strip that have killed over 4,000 people, mostly civilians, in the course of seven years, and much more.

Professor Nashaat Al-Aqtash from Birzeit University, perhaps more realistically, downgraded the expectations even further. “If we could only agree on how we present the narrative regarding Al-Quds and the illegal settlements, at least that would be a start,” he said.

The obvious fact is that Palestinians have more in common than they would like to admit. They are all victimised by the same circumstances, fighting the same occupation, suffering the same violations of human rights, and facing the same future outcome resulting from the same conflict.

However, many are strangely incapable of disconnecting from their tribal-like, factional affiliations. Of course, there is nothing wrong with having ideological leanings and supporting one political party over another. It becomes a moral crisis, though, when the party affiliation becomes stronger than one’s affiliation to the collective, national struggle for freedom. Sadly, many are still trapped in this thinking.

But things are also changing; they always do. After over two decades of the failure of the so-called ‘peace process’, and the rapid increase in the colonisation of the Occupied Territories in addition to the extreme violence used to achieve these ends, many Palestinians are waking up to the painful facts. There can be no freedom for the Palestinian people without unity and without resistance.

Resistance does not always have to mean a gun and a knife, but rather the utilisation of the energies of a nation at home and in ‘shatat’ (Diaspora), along with the galvanisation of the pro-justice and peace communities all over the world. There must soon be a movement in which Palestinians declare a global struggle against apartheid, involving all Palestinians, their leadership, factions, civil society and communities everywhere. They must speak in one voice, declare one objective, and state the same demands, over and over again.

It is bewildering to realise that a nation that has been so wronged for so long being so greatly misunderstood, while those who have done the harm are largely absolved and seen as if the victim.

Sometime in the late 1950s, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion became aware of the need to unify the Israeli Zionist narrative regarding the conquering and ethnic cleansing of Palestine. According to a revelation by Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Ben-Gurion worried that the Palestinian refugee crisis was not going to go away without a consistent Israeli message that the Palestinians left their land of their own accord, following instructions to do so by various Arab governments.

Of course, that, too, was a fabrication, but many supposed truths often start with a sheer lie. He delegated several academics to present the most falsified, yet coherent, story on the exodus of the Palestinians. The outcome was Doc GL-18/17028 of 1961. That document has, ever since, served as the cornerstone of the Israeli ‘hasbara’ concerning the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. The Palestinians ran away and were not driven out, was the crux of the message. Israel has been repeating this falsehood for over 55 years and, of course, many have believed it.

Not until recently, thanks to the effort of a burgeoning group of Palestinian historians – and courageous Israelis – who counter the propaganda, a Palestinian narrative is taking shape, although much is yet to be done to offset the damage that has already taken place.

In fact, a real victory for the truth would only happen when the Palestinian narrative is no longer seen as a ‘counter narrative’ but as a sovereign story of its own, free from the confines of defensiveness and the burden of a history laden with lies and half-truths.

The only way I see that happening is when Palestinian intellectuals invest more time and effort in studying and narrating a ‘people’s history’ of Palestine, which could finally humanise the Palestinian people, and challenge the polarised perception of them as terrorists or perpetual victims. When the ordinary individual becomes the centre of history, the outcomes are more relatable, more effective and poignant.

The same logic can be applied to journalism, as well. Aside from finding their common story, Palestinian journalists need to reach out to the wider world, not only to their traditional circle of dedicated friends and supporters, but to mainstream society. If people truly appreciate the truth, especially from a humanist perspective, they cannot possibly support genocide and ethnic cleansing.

And by ‘wider world’ I am hardly referring to London, Paris and New York, but to Africa, South America, Asia and the entire South. Nations from this hemisphere can fully understand the pain and injustice of military occupation, colonisation, imperialism and apartheid. I fear that the emphasis on the need to counter Israeli ‘hasbara’ in the West has meant the allocation of a disproportionate amount of resources and energy in a few places, while ignoring the rest of the world, whose support has for long been the backbone of international solidarity. They must not be taken for granted.

The good news, however, is that Palestinians have been making great strides in the right direction, although with no thanks to the Palestinian leadership. The key, now, is to be able to unify, streamline and build on those existing efforts so that such growing solidarity translates into greater success in raising global awareness and holding Israel accountable for its occupation and violations of human rights.


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  • peepsqueek

    By the time the war ended in 1945, there were an estimated 20 million displaced people roaming the European continent. They were a chaotic mix: Jewish survivors of concentration camps; German civilians fleeing their destroyed cities; freed Soviet Red Army prisoners of war; remnants of Ukrainian, Italian, and Hungarian troops who had fought alongside the Wehrmacht; and the countless slave laborers that the Nazis had rounded up in occupied countries and forced to work in armament factories and on huge fortifications along the French coast. And in less than a decade, many were reabsorbed into Europe, or came to the America’s as their towns and cities were completely destroyed, and a small number came to the geographical area of British Palestine and all began to build a life and held British Passports as did Arabs and others who came to live in that geographical area of the British Mandate who did not have a Country of their own. The British turned Palestinian issue over to the United Nations, and collective Arab Countries chose war and lost. After 1948, Egypt occupied Gaza and Jordan occupied the West Bank illegally, which they used it as staging grounds to attack Israel several times and they lost. I did not fabricate this! How do we judge all this by 2016 standards? Can we undo all the injustice of history?

    UNRWA definition of a Palestine refugee in 1952: “A Palestine refugee is a [person] whose normal residence was Palestine for [a minimum period of two years preceding the outbreak of the conflict in 1948] and who, as a result of this conflict has lost both his home and his means of livelihood.” — The definition omitted references to people of Arab origin to include all stateless persons who had been residents of Palestine for a minimum of “two years”. I did not fabricate this!

  • peepsqueek

    Some of the omitted history leading up to the British Mandate and UN Partition Resolution—It is important to note that the first enduring Jewish agricultural settlement in the Modern Palestine was founded not by European refugees, but by a group of old-time families, leaving the overcrowded Jewish Quarter of the Old City of East Jerusalem. According to the Turkish census of 1875, by that time Jews already constituted a majority of the population of Jerusalem and by 1905 comprised two-thirds of its citizens. The Encyclopedaedia Britanica of 1910 gives the population figure as 60,000, of who 40,000 were Jews.

    In 1878 they found the village of Petah Tikva in the Sharon Palin, a village that was to become known as the “Mother of Jewish Settlements” in Palestine. Four years later a group of pioneer immigrants from Russia settled in Rishon le-Zion. Other villages followed in rapid succession.

    Most of the land purchases involved large tracts belonging to absentee owners. Virtual of the the Jerzeel Valley, for example, belonged to only two people in 1897, the eastern portion to the Turkish Sultan, and the Western part to a rich banker in Syria, Sursuk the Greek. Most of the land had not be cultivated previously and considered uncultivable, This is supported by the Peel Commission Report. All land purchases under the Ottoman Empire required the approval of an Islamic Court. I did not fabricate this! How do we judge this by 2016 standards? The Ottoman Turks (an Islamic Empire) were in control for four hundred years, until they lost to the allied forces in WWI, by why all these so-called Arab territories given independent statehood, but sectarian conflicts exist to this day.

  • Historical Record:

    1 1922 to 1947 League of Nations Trusteeship Mandate State of Palestine under United Kingdom Administration


    2 November 29th 1947 UNGA 181 Terms of UN Trusteeship: Partition of Mandate State of Palestine into three sovereignty

    2.1 UNGA 181 Part II Boundaries A Arab State

    2.2 UNGA 181 Part II Boundaries B., Jewish State

    2.3 UNGA 181 Part III UN sovereignty City of Jerusalem


    3 April 8th 1948 Deir Yassin Massacre of Nakba


    4 May 14th 1948 Proclamation of Establishment of Government of State of Israel

    4.1 Epstein Memorandum of Understanding addressed to USA of specificity of UNGA 181 [Part II Boundaries B Jewish State] Frontiers of the State of State of Israel,_May_14,_1948.jpg


    5 1948-1949 Israel_Arab Conflict: Palestinians were not belligerents

    5.1 UNGA 181 State of Palestine territory occupied by State of Israel at 1949 Armistice: Territories of Negev, East & North Gaza, Jaffa District, Beersheba, Rams Head, & Galilee [e.g. Acre]

    5.2 UNGA 181 State of Palestine territory occupied by State of Egypt at 1949 Armistice: Gaza Territory

    5.3 UNGA 181 State of Palestine territory occupied by State of Jordan at 1949 Armistice: West Bank Territory


    6. May 11th 1949 State of Israel Accession of UN Charter with “unreservedly agrees” to stipulated International context of UNGA 181 & UNGA 194


    7 June 5th 1967 State of Israel breach of 1949 Armistice:

    7.1 Palestinians were not belligerents

    7.2 State of Israel occupies Gaza & West Bank

    7.3 UNSC 242: UN Charter Chapter VII Article 39 Breach of 1949 Armistice Peace


    8 Israel_Palestine belligerency

    8.1 March 21 1968 Battle of Karameh

    8.2 Other Battles

    8.3 1981 IDF invades Lebanon with declared object to destroy PLO

    8.4 1987-1990 1st Intifada

    8.5 2000-2005 2nd Intifada

    8.5.1 2005 IDF unilateral withdrawal from Gaza Territory

    8.6 2008 Battle at Gaza

    8.7 2010 Battle at Gaza

    8.8 2014 Battle at Gaza

    8.9 2015 October to present Jerusalem Intifada & West Bank Intifada


    9 UN Security Council Resolutions