By Skip Hambling
GAMBLERS CALL IT A "TELL": some action that tells you the real truth of things. Like when a poker player with a strong hand always blinks his right eye. For me, the open letter signed by over 500 Canadian journalists, working in all our major print and broadcast news outlets, is a tell. It tells me there is a problem with our news coverage of the Palestinian-Israel conflict.
So much of a problem in fact they signed an open letter* asking for something to be done about it. Telling them they are mistaken—like all their bosses did—is pointless and patronizing. Yet bosses still try it every time workers take any kind of collective action.
Lived experience is lived experience. The journalists know what goes on at work. They know what instructions and assignments they get and don’t get. In their letter they ask: “So why do we tip toe around coverage of Israel and Palestinian?”
That is their reality and it bothers them—enough to write and sign an open letter to change that reality.
Identifying a problem matters a lot. Finding a simple solution to the problem matters a lot more. The letter writers thought they had done that.
The letter ends with this: “Our ask is simple: That all the tenets of journalism should apply to Canadian coverage of Occupied Palestinian Territories moving forward. Fair and balanced coverage should include historical and social context, reporters with knowledge of the region and, crucially, Palestinian voices.
Problem is the letter writers didn’t keep it simple. The way the writers made their case complicated things. The body of the letter refers to charges of “ethnic cleansing” by Israel and a Human Rights Watch report that calls Israeli treatment of Palestinians “crimes against humanity”. That was all defenders of Israel needed.
It provided them an opening to maliciously misinterpret and miss the point. They used it as a springboard to jump to the conclusion that the journalists were actually making a case for the Palestinian cause—rather than for a simple ask of fair and balanced reporting.
It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to conclude that the writers might have wanted to make that case. Which is unfortunate, because it clouds a clear and legitimate call for news reporting—all news reporting—that does not take sides, but gives us the context, nuance and detail we need to go beyond the surface of things to a fuller understanding of how the world really works and who is zooming who.
Forget the blame game
For me, the fetid swamp that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is as close to another holocaust as I hope we ever get. When I think about it I feel like Macbeth when he says: “I am in blood stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er.”
Who is to blame for most of it, or any of it, is surely now beside the point. Who can do the most to begin to stop it is not. I believe that responsibility rests with Israel alone.
Get out of Gaza. That’s my simple ask of Israel. Gaza is not your country. Don’t be like the Nazis were in Poland, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Yugoslavia, and Greece. Just get out.
An occupation is not an abstract concept, open to nuance and interpretation. It is an imposed concrete reality, as real as troops in the street, forced midnight evictions, and bulldozing buildings, sometimes with people still in them.
An occupation is a thing unto itself. It is a stand alone element within a larger conflict. Israel has the power to end it—the power to allow 2.04 million people to live free within the borders of a tiny sliver of land (just 41 kilometers long, and from 6 to 12 kilometers wide) that has been their homeland since before Moses parted the Red Sea.
To ask Israel to get out of Gaza is not taking sides. It is not siding with the Palestinians. It is a simple recognition that there is no way to defend an occupation. Simply because no occupation ever brings peace, mutual respect and understanding.
They didn’t in Europe during World War II. It has not, and will not, in Gaza.
To think that a nation founded by Jews from Europe doesn’t know this in their bones beggars belief.
The longer Israel stays in Gaza, the easier it becomes for those who look for reasons to hate Jews, to hate Jews.
The sooner Israel gets out of Gaza, the better—for Jews and for Palestinians. The sooner the desire for lasting peace in the Middle East will seem less like a fool’s errand. The sooner the “blood-dimmed tide” may start to ebb.
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