Category Archives: Gaza

The Hamas Show

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Is the caller there?

The juxtaposition of two seemingly very disparate articles in the newspaper this morning provide a window into where the whole TV news business is headed.

First, there is a massive controversy building in the UK today over The BBC’s refusal to air a charity appeal to help the stricken people of Gaza.

The Corporation’s Director General was on BBC radio this morning (which we can get via the web), to defend his rather isolate position.  ITV and Channel4 are both carrying the appeal progrm, which is being produced jointly by 13 British charities.  The BBC feels that carrying the show will taint their ability to cover news in the region objectively.

It’s a difficult position for the BBC’s DG Mark Thompson to take, but an understandable one.  The charity appeal will doubtless contain endless heart rending scenes of children maimed for life by the Israeli incursion.  The Guardian itself carries such a heart-rending article on pages 8-9 titles ‘Among Gaza’s Craters Lie Those Who Need That Aid”.

Objective? Well, that’s certainlyl arguable.

Shocking, riveting and revolting, absolutely.  Gaza is a terrible place, particularly now.

The curious juxtaposition is an article in The New York Times today, explaining that Obama is going to circumvent conventional news outlets and TV networks to use video to go directly to the people.  Instead of the traditional weekly radio broadcast, used by US Presidents since Roosevelt, Obama is going to blog and upload his videos to Youtube, as well as whitehouse.gov.

His first vlog apparently was seen by more than 1 million people, which I will venture to guess is a far greater number than those who have heard Bush on his weekly radio broadcasts.

There are also now close to 250,000 people following Obama on Twitter!

What does Obama on Twitter and Youtube have to do with Gaza?

OK

The reason that The BBC, (and now SKY also, apparently, as of a few minutes ago) will not carry the Gaza Charity Appeal is that the images are just too disturbing. They will be a PR disaster for the Israelis, no matter how much the broadcast is couched in ‘charity’ clothing; no matter how valid that couching.

Obama has decided that he can now bypass the traditional media and use video and the web to go directly to the people.

Which he can.

And if Obama can bypass the traditional media, then so too can Hamas.

Or anyone else.

If the images from Gaza are so powerful that The BBC is afraid to show them, then good.

All the more reason that Hamas can and should bypass conventional media.

They have a powerful story to deliver, but they don’t need The BBC or Sky or CNN or anyone else to get it out to the world.

This is a sea-change in the relationship between subjects of stories and the old media.

For more than 20 years, to use Gaza as an example, the living conditions in Gaza have been just apalling. Terrible. Criminal.

Yet there has been virtually  no media coverage what day to day life is like in Gaza.

And having this terrible life inflicted on the inhabitants of Gaza makes them angry.  Very angry. So they strap explosives onto themselves and walk into Israeli cafes, or they lob rockets into Israel.

They don’t do this because they want to destroy Israelis cafes, nor do they do this because they believe that their rockets will bring Israel to its knees.

They don’t.

And they won’t.

But they do know that enough suicide bombers or lobbed rockets will bring in the crew from CNN or The BBC to do a news story.

They are ‘making’ the news.

But now, if they are smart, (and I have no indication that they are), Hamas can bypass the rockets and the suicide bombers and CNN and use video as a tool to make their case to the world. Directly.

Just like President Obama.

Gandhi didn’t organzie nonviolent resistance in India to protest the salt tax per se. He did it because he knew that the British police would beat the unarmed Indian protestors, and that the public knowledge of that unarmed beating would, in the end, shame the British into leaving.

Hamas, if they are smart (and again, I don’t think they are), could use video to shame the Israelis publicly.  But they won’t, even though Israel, like Britain, is a nation that is uniquely vulnerable to public shame.

Mao used to say that power flowed from the end of a rifle.

Today it flows from the end of a video camera.

If you know how to use it.

In Gaza

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Gaza bound…

Normally, I don’t write about politics or current events, but today I am going to make an exception.

For Gaza.

A long time ago, when I was 21, I went to Israel. Following the ususal American Jew goes to Israel itinerary,  I did the rounds of Tel Aviv, the kibbutz work, Jerusalem and Masada. In those days, the Israelis still held Sinai, so like many others, I washed up on the beach in Dahab, halfway down the Sinai, on the Red Sea.

Dahab was a hippie crashpad, like Goa in India. Sun, sand, drugs and sex. It was lots of fun. I stayed for a month.

Then, one evening, I got into a debate with a guy from the Peace Corps who was on R&R from Malawi.  We had one of those heated college dorm discussions about Palestinians.  Having grown up on Long Island where everyone I met was Jewish, I gave the standard holocaust laden response ‘Israel must live!’

He stared at me and then he said, “your problem is you never met a Palestinian in your life. You should go to Gaza”.  (This was 1977).

So I went.

It was not easy to get to Gaza, even in 1977. The woman at the Israeli Tourist Board in Tel Aviv wanted to send me to a kibbutz instead.  I told her I wanted to go to Gaza. She said it just was not possible.

So I went to the Israeli city of Ashkelon and outside a cement factory found a group of Palestinian workers who commuted from Gaza to Israel daily. They offered me a ride into Gaza, so I went.

Deposited on the streets of Gaza City, I must have appeared lost and out of place, so someone took me to the home of Alia Shawwa, the Grande Dame of Gaza.  She asked me what I was doing there, and I explained that I wanted to see what life was like in Gaza.  I spent three days as a guest in her home and then she placed me with a family in Gaza Beach Camp, one of the refugee camps in the strip.  I stayed there for a month, living with a family.

Years later, when I quit my job at CBS News and took off with a small video camera to make my own stuff, I went back to Gaza to see Alia Shawwa.  Conditions had gotten far worse. It was 1988, and the height of the Second Intifada. Again, she placed me with a family, and I spent a month in Jabalya Refugee Camp, living with a family again.  This story I shot and sold to MacNeil/Lehrer.

The conditions in Gaza even then, even in 1977, were brutal.

Whole families crowded into one or two tiny rooms.  Open sewers everywhere.  Garbage in the streets. Children playing in trash heaps.  With 80% unemployment, you can imagine the poverty.  In those days, the Israelis still held Gaza, and there were a number of ‘settlements’ on the strip.  A tiny handful of Israelis held 25% of the best land. I went to see them.  They had built resorts no one came to on the beach. Swimming pools, tennis courts, restaurants that sat empty.  All surrounded by razor wire and the Israeli army on patrol.  It was beyond surreal. It was revolting.

It was not easy to get to the Israeli settlements from Gaza City. No Palestinian taxi driver wanted to take me, no matter how much I paid.

Finally, I cajoled one driver to make the trip.  When we arrived at the ‘settlement’, armed guards swooped down on us.  I flashed my American passport and my Jewish name got me a big welcome.  They opened the gates.  When I glanced back, the settlement guards were beating the crap out of my driver.

“What are you doing?” I said. “He’s my driver”.

“You don’t understand”, they explained to me, and led me inside.

Now the Israelis have invaded Gaza in response to Hamas’ firing missiles into Israel.

Nothing has changed. Things have only gotten worse.

There are now 1.2 million Palestinians crowded into this tiny cesspool that is called Gaza. They live hopeless lives.  They live in conditions that are appalling.  Were I born in Gaza, were my children growing up in Gaza, with no hope at all, I too would support Hamas, or worse.  Why not? So would you. So would anyone.

The Palestinians are not going away.

And the Israelis are not going away.

There is a wonderful poem by WH Auden called September, 1939

While it was not written about the Israeli/Palestinian crisis, it captures it so well:

Now I and the public know

what all schoolchildren learn.

Those to whom evil is done

do evil in return.


Hamas TV

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are you watching?

My project just got turned down by the Knight Foundation.

It’s not really surprising, but its too bad, because I think it was a good idea.

Hamas TV.

In 1988, I spent a month living in Jabalya, a Palestinian refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Just me and my video camera – and a family. It was my first “VJ” experience, and it convinced me that this was a better way to do television journalism than dragging around a crew. The work I produced aired on MacNeil/Lehrer.

A few years later I was hired by the PBC, the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, to build a VJ-driven station in Ramallah. It’s one of the projects I don’t talk too much about. Six weeks after we started, Arafat closed it down. It wasn’t because of the small cameras, however. My Palestinian journalists took their training about journalism a bit too seriously and went after the Palestinian Authority and corruption. No more TV after that.

Before I got into the TV business I had been in a PhD program (never completed) in Islamic History. My Arabic is no longer so good, but I can still ‘bis’millah with NY taxi drivers, much to their bemusement.

My whole belief is that young Palestinian kids don’t strap explosives to themselves and walk into Israeli cafes to set themselves off because they are protesting Israeli coffee (which is particularly bad). They do it because they are incredibly frustrated and they want to draw attention to the really awful conditions in Gaza.

It’s a crappy way to get attention.

But maybe the solution is not to wall them in, but rather to give them video cameras, teach them to use them, so that they can show the world what is pissing them off so much that they are willing to blow themselves up. (After all, isn’t this the basis of the First Amendment? Free speech, no matter what?)

My idea then was to find 25 or so young Palestinians in Gaza who I would then so empower and train – and train them to make coherent reports on their conditions and situation that anyone could understand – and then to use some of the Foundation money to buy a half hour, once a week, on Israeli television, to air their work. To force a dialogue. To give them an equal field – at least on TV.

It was, I think, an interesting idea. A kind of ‘Citizen News’, but not the kind you would expect to see, or maybe even want to see – but one that you probably should see.

The Foundation did not agree – which is too bad.

They rejected the proposal – but I don’t think it was because of the small cameras, at least.