According to the official Israeli perspective, the world was better without Al Jazeera, the network that occupied our eyes and ears when it launched a new media era in the Arab world in 1996. The Arabs were exposed to something else other than the monotonous official propaganda channels in their capital cities. Public discussions took place and opposing views were expressed when Al Jazeera paved its own way, followed by other Arab media outlets later. With the flourish of electronic networking, communities began to show their presence in an unprecedented manner, interacting with news material presented by Al Jazeera and others.
The situation was different 20 years ago. The Israelis stood in their corridors, boasting about their media experience that included, for example, the establishment of a radio station speaking in Arabic, called “Voice of Israel”. It had a number of Arab listeners, who showed interest in the station in order to know what was happening in their countries.
This era ended with the emergence of Arab media experiences that rivalled others in the world, such as that of Al Jazeera, which broadcasted in several languages and whose screens showed the faces of the world. Successive Israeli governments were angered by the fact that this media openness directly showed the Israeli occupation authorities and their forces’ actions on the ground. The problem wasn’t with Al Jazeera itself, but with the reality its screens were showing to the Arabs and the world. This reality is imposed by the occupation via its forces, violations, bombings, settlements and walls, and in the era of Al Jazeera it cannot sweep any of this under the rug.
The Israeli governments slept well when they made major deals with Egypt, the Palestinian leadership and Jordan. All this went smoothly before the emergence of Al Jazeera, satellite channels and social networking sites. What happened was that weak Arab leaders who feared the future were pushed by their fears to accept agreements they were not honest with their people about. They didn’t even present them to experts and specialists in their own countries. The official Arab media promoted the agreements that were prepared in secret and claimed they would make their countries heaven on earth, according to the newspapers and screens at the time.
Today, there seems to be an urgent need to return to that time of naive media, in preparation for major new deals being pushed by Arab leaders who are terrified of the future and democracy, of course without discussing the content of these agreements with their people. For example, who in the Arab world wants generations to ask about their money, which Trump is talking about sucking by the hundreds of billions in order to provide “jobs, jobs, jobs” for his voters?
A large-scale multi-level process has been occurring in the Arab world’s media industry for a while now, aiming to return to the pre-Al Jazeera era. This of course will comfort the Israeli side, which decided to fully embrace its share of the process. Netanyahu’s government decided to stop allowing Al Jazeera to broadcast in the country while the Israeli forces storm various television stations’ media offices in the West Bank. During this time, it has also escalated its hostility and aggression towards journalists and photographers in order to intimidate and arrest them.
According to official Israeli reports, these measures were taken in line with steps taken by Arab countries it described as “reasonable and moderate”. What these reports failed to mention is that these countries do not recognise freedom of press to begin with. The Israeli attack on Al Jazeera will also affect other channels, as it is not this television channel’s trademark that Israel is targeting, but the press coverage it is providing. Netanyahu’s government is currently acting like its soldiers in the field, who use their meaty hands to block press cameras from filming what they are doing.
The Israeli authorities believe now is their best chance to destroy Al Jazeera in the hopes of turning back time. This rough option was chosen after Israeli propaganda lost the media competition in the Arab world a while back. For example, when Ariel Sharon’s government decided to launch a satellite television station aimed at Arab viewers in order to re-establish the glory of Israeli radio, no one tuned in and the experiment quickly failed.
Israeli spokesmen ignore the fact that Al Jazeera, in particular, gave them an unprecedented chance to address the Arabs face-to-face. Senior officials and army spokesmen compete to appear on Al Jazeera’s screens in order to justify crushing the Palestinians and committing violations. However, these appearances did not succeed in winning the hearts and minds of the Arabs.
The problem with the Netanyahu government is its excessive self-confidence, which results in it embarking on adventures it cannot afford. After it embarked on its recent adventure in Jerusalem, without considering the world’s reactions, it has now decided to crush the media in its own way. It may succeed in implementing its decision to stop Al Jazeera’s coverage and revoke its correspondents’ permits, but the following day, Al Jazeera will gain large audiences carrying smart phones and they will start capturing and broadcasting on their own, without having to answer to anyone.