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10 January, 2009

Israel loses war on airwaves

by JALAL GHALI
Commentary

New America Media

In Arab media, images tell only part of the story.

Arab countries are broadcasting graphic images of the violence in Gaza on their state-sponsored television stations in order to mask their own failure to do anything tangible to stop the Israeli military operation.

The end result, however, is the demonizing of an already hated enemy without advancing solutions.

Iran and Syria, which openly support Hamas, are broadcasting the most graphic images. Tehran-based Press TV juxtaposed images of Palestinian civilians killed in Gaza with those of Iraqi civilians killed by Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons in the Kurdish town of Halabja. Press TV accused Israel of using cluster bombs and phosphorus shells against civilians.

Syria, home of Hamas political leader Khaled Mashal, shows gruesome images, including children whose bodies have been torn apart, and uses the strongest language in condemning the Israeli “massacres.”

The television a stations’ support for Hamas reflects a larger principle of resistance: The Hamas confrontation is not only seen as a defense of Gaza, but also as defense of the Palestinian plight and the Islamic nation.

But Syria also has a political motive – to use its alliance with Hamas in future peace negotiations with Israel in order to ensure that it will get the Golan Heights back.

Iran’s political motives become clearer when one watches the Tehran-based Al Alam television station.

Egypt was singled out in one of its programs called "Gaza under Fire." Arab viewers called in from all over the world, accusing the Egyptian government of collaborating with Israel against Hamas because it has refused to open the Rafah crossing despite the dire situation in Gaza.

This reporting serves Iran’s agenda: to win the hearts and minds of the Arab masses (who are very supportive of the Palestinian plight) while de-legitimizing “moderate” Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

Cairo-based Nile News Channel, however, defended the position of the Egyptian government. A Nile reporter noted, "Under the framework of Egypt's continued efforts to ease the suffering of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, Egypt received a new wave of injured Palestinians for treatment in Egyptian hospitals. Twelve tons of medical aid was provided to the Strip through the Rafah crossing."

Egyptian television stations also show graphic images of civilian causalities, especially children, to show the Egyptian government’s solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

For example, a Jan. 5 news report showed an entire family killed by the Israeli bombardment. With subtitles reading, “Gaza under fire,” the reporter said, “Wholesale killing, the entire family of seven of Abu Aisha were martyred, the father, the mother and five innocent children.”

The message is that although Egypt can't open the Rafah crossing, it is doing what it can to help the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Jordanian television stations defended the position of King Abdullah II. Although Jordan has not taken political measures to pressure Israel to halt the bombardment of Gaza -- such as expelling the Israeli ambassador to Amman – Jordanian TV portrays the state’s solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

One news report shows the king donating blood to the Palestinians in Gaza. “Citizens continue to extend their arms to donate blood for their Palestinian brothers led by his highness King Abdullah II,” the reporter said. “He was the first to extend his hand to donate blood in support of our families in Gaza, in confronting the Israeli aggression which killed many people and injured thousands of others.”

Saudi television stations, which showed a segment of images of injured children with music playing in the background and the subtitle, “Gaza under fire and siege,” also defended the position of their own government.

Their reporting highlighted the treatment of injured Gazans in Saudi hospitals, showing King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz personally shaking hands with the injured.

This was in part to deflect the Arab world’s criticism of the Saudi government for not taking tangible action – such as its oil boycott in the 1970s – as a way to stop Israel’s attack on Gaza.

In contrast, Israeli television stations are refraining from showing graphic images. Instead, they are focusing on the effects of rockets launched by Hamas, and the stories of families of injured and dead Israeli soldiers.

A reporter from Israeli Channel 10 visited a hospital where wounded Israeli soldiers were being treated, saying, "You have to be impressed with the families' motivation because they feel this is a just war." One can read the following subtitles in Hebrew, “War on Hamas.”

However, at least two fathers of injured Israeli soldiers did not share the reporter's point of view. One father told the Israeli channel, "I'm waiting for my son to get out of a coma. This is Lebanon, part two." The father of another injured soldier said, "I do not want a hero. I just want my son to be afraid and to stay home."

The images of graphic violence in Gaza – which cannot be seen on Israeli or American TV – may be used for different political reasons, but the result is the same: the repeated graphic images of dead Gazans further demonize Israel in the eyes of the Arab world, ultimately making it harder for Israel to coexist with its neighbors.

Israeli officials are given air time on such Arab television stations as Al Aarbiya and Al Jazeera English to make their case. The images are so telling, though, that it is difficult to argue for the Israeli side. Israeli officials might be able to get away with their claims in western and Israeli media, but when it comes to Arab TV it is a different story.

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