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Supporting a righteous fight for freedom

Journalists in South Africa under attack for supporting Palestine are not alone. All over the world, we face the same hate, mostly from Zionists. The only differences between our antagonists are that they don’t all speak the same language, and may use different tactics to adapt to their domain.

July 12, 2016 at 3:01 pm

Journalists who are interested in human rights don’t have to be Muslim, anti-Semitic or crazy to support the Palestinian struggle. It’s just that, when we do, we’re usually accused of hating Jewish people, being secret supporters of the Islamic State – as if the Islamic State and Palestinians share the same goals, which they do not – or of not understanding history.

When those accusations fail to gain traction, we sometimes get accused of denying the Holocaust, as if supporting a righteous fight for freedom is the same as being a Nazi. It’s not.

In South Africa, in particular, the lobby against us is vociferous, often vicious, but also small. Some within that lobby try to use their economic might, if they have any, as a threat. Others who might not have that economic muscle, try to use their influence within their communities to stop others from consuming what they regard as “pro-Palestine” media.

How do we know this? By the open menace. Lobbyists are seldom the people who hurl peril at journalists on their cellphones in the quiet of the night. But there are those people, too. We shouldn’t have to worry about our safety for expressing our opinion in a country which extols freedom of expression, but on this one, at times we do.

Certainly, it can sometimes feel surprisingly lonely to speak against Israel’s military, its right-wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu, his representative in South Africa Arthur Lenk and the illegal occupation, while covering the struggle for the liberation of Palestine. Yet, as was the case with many local and international journalists and their support of black South Africans during apartheid, there’s no giving up.

Fortunately, there’s global solidarity, as the recent Palestine International Forum conference on Palestine and the Media in Istanbul, Turkey, showed. Journalists in South Africa under attack for supporting Palestine are not alone. All over the world, we face the same hate, mostly from Zionists. The only differences between our antagonists are that they don’t all speak the same language, and may use different tactics to adapt to their domain.

In Brazil, for example, they might use the Catholic Church as a proxy. As in South Africa, many Christians there grow up with the belief that Israel is the “promised land”, and congregants may be drawn into believing Israel’s claim, for instance, that it does not oppress anyone, but instead only protects its citizens against rocket fire from the Palestinians.

Arlene Clemesha, a professor of contemporary Arab history and the history of Palestine at the University of Sao Paulo, explained to delegates at the Istanbul conference how a distortion of truth, and personal attacks, have affected the propensity for coverage of Palestine in the mainstream media in Brazil.

Weary of relentless assaults on their reputations and their publications, many Brazilian journalists steer clear of the subject, or offer only superficial reports that don’t provide a full narrative. If stories are published, journalists and media companies may fail to take a stand, pushed into a corner by allegations of “unbalanced reporting” – even when both sides are quoted in the story.

Other speakers in Turkey – including El Pais senior correspondent Angeles Espinosa, Opera Mundi editor-in-chief Rafael Targino and UCLA associate professor Ramesh Srinivasan – echoed Clemesha’s thoughts.

And what of that claim about rocket fire into Israel from Gaza? Journalists who give positive coverage to the Palestinian struggle are often confronted with this, as was discussed at the conference. And while most of us would be uncomfortable with supporting any civilian deaths anywhere, the number of total fatalities in the history of rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza into Israel since 2001– at the time of the Second Intifada after the breakdown of talks between US President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat at the 2000 Camp David summit – is reported as being fewer than 50.

This number does not include Palestinians killed by rocket or mortar misfire in the Gaza Strip. It’s also worth noting that some of the rockets fired into Israel over the past two years in particular, have emanated from Syria, possibly from Islamic State positions.

Ethical journalists use a number of sources to check these figures – not, in this case, including Wikipedia. The most accurate is probably the website of the Israeli Security Agency. Its latest report is from May 2016, in which it cites three rockets in two attacks being launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel and 19 mortar shells in 12 attacks. In April, no rockets or mortars were launched. Throughout February, it also cites no rockets or mortar shells launched, although there were seven rockets in two attacks in January. No fatalities were recorded.
At the same time, there are also “Israeli terrorist attacks”, as the Shabak site itself describes them. But it’s rare to hear about those. And while Hamas’s Qassam Brigades may indeed have fired many rockets into southern Israel during the nine-year Israeli blockade of its territory, the Israeli military has killed thousands of Palestinians mostly through shelling and air strikes in three wars – Operations Cast Lead, Pillar of Defence and Protective Edge – since 2008.

Yet the lobbyists who target pro-Palestine journalists get angry when we mention the number of Palestinian casualties, in particular those during Protective Edge in 2014, which raised international condemnation. In about six weeks, more than 2 100 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, while 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians died in Israel.

Delegates to the Istanbul conference were able to show how, within minutes of their coverage of the event starting, hashtags were taken over with pornography. This is standard practice. The lobbyists are organised and have the same intention, no matter where they are.

Anyone reading the letters pages of newspapers will recognise the same names putting forward the same arguments again and again in response to any writing recognising Palestinians.

They hope to silence us, but until Palestine has gained its freedom, just as South Africa did in 1994, that’s not going to happen.

This article was first published by The Star, 1 July 2016.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.