Shifting Discourse on Gaza

A cosmic motherly-sounding voice has always told me that even the darkest of clouds have silver linings. The past two weeks have forced me to now wonder if the same idea of a silver lining applies to clouds of white phosphorous.

In an arbitrary 15 years from now, the past two weeks (and, unfortunately, the remaining time to come) will be remembered with images of disturbing death and injury, reports of complete destruction of an already weakened Gazan infrastructure; thousands of IDPs; an unreachable humanitarian crisis and stories from survivors. Yet there is another memory which may leave an impact on the dynamics of the region and the North American perception on the entire 60-year-old conflict.

Without question, the North American media has often shown sympathy with one side more so than the other – an unfortunate, but natural occurrence. At the same time, however, a digression from such a grievance is vital. The aforementioned complaint does not take into consideration the surprising slight shift in the coverage of the war and humanitarian crisis. Oft-repressed opinions and oft-ignored facts are being given the opportunity to be expressed. Fierce criticisms of Israel and piercing predictions of the ramifications of the war are flooding major newspapers.

Unapologetic opinion pieces about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are being published every day. Aside from asserting truths about the conflict during an extremely pertinent and bloody time, a common cause cannot be found amongst the authors. The claims of the Israeli government in regards to the operation and the facts about the humanitarian crisis are two points of contention which have been repeatedly brought up. The commentary has also, unsurprisingly, treaded outside the proximity of the current conflict. It is extremely hard to discuss this war without considering 60 years of context. And it is this particular tangent which may leave a legacy in popular discourse and thought about the conflict at large in North America – a region in dire need of another perspective. Underdog ideas seeping into the mainstream allow for a slim, but potentially momentous opportunity for the balance to be tipped toward a more equal and fair footing.

The rise of commentaries has also thrown out a rather pathetic and almost saddening punch to Israel’s public relations monopoly. Active writers, in print or online, have rushed to assist in and showcase the “unravelling” of Israel’s claims of self-defence and cries of moral responsibility. Fingers are viciously being thrust toward the direction of the political timing of the war, the Israeli breach of ceasefire; the failures of Israel’s propaganda machine this time around, and the unfathomable denial of the existence of a humanitarian crisis. Even the International Red Cross, a thoroughly neutral organization, came out with a statement which condemned and criticized Israel for its complete lack of compliance (and fatal defiance) of the organization’s attempt to reach injured and starving Gazans.

There generally seems to be an air of exasperation, as though the war has become one of the final pieces in a long and painful Jenga puzzle, with the prophetic early quivering of the tower just beginning. These sighs of being fed-up most poignantly found within the brief titles of the daily commentaries.

American historian Mark LeVine’s seething article “Who Will Save Israel from itself?” featured in Al-Jazeera discusses the gun with which Israel has shot itself in the foot, albeit with an extremely unsatisfactory answer to the title question. Robert Fisk’s repeated commentary in The Independent has asked and answered age old questions from an insightful and firsthand perspective, in such pieces as “Why do they hate the West so much, we will ask,” and “Why bombing Ashkelon is the most tragic irony.” Gideon Levy’s “The Time of the Righteous” in Haaretz unwaveringly with silent solemn anger lashed out against all supporters of the Israeli so-called “defensive war,” claiming that “anyone who justifies this war also justifies all its crimes.”

The BBC’s Paul Reynolds brought to the public’s attention, early on, the question of Israel’s propaganda in “Propaganda war: trusting what we see?” Khalid Rashidi’s “What you don’t know about Gaza” in The New York Times wrote a quick and to-the-point piece with “a few essential points that seem to be missing from the conversation [in the press] about Israel’s attack…”

Former Israel Defense Force soldier and now Oxford professor Avi Shlaim’s furious article in The Guardian, “How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe” labels Israel as a rogue state. Just recently, the Times Online reported that Israeli soldiers coming back from the frontline were revealing the sort of “ruthless tactics against Hamas” being used. One soldier claims that he was shocked to see the neighbourhoods in Gaza as though “we [had been] bombing them for years.” Naomi Klein also got in on the action when she posted “Israel: Boycott, Divest, Sanction” on her online blog. And the list continues tirelessly.

This proposed shift is not solely about politics, just as the situation in Gaza is not. To approach the conflict as such is to approach it with a narrow and propaganda-cluttered ideological mind. The Palestinian issue is about a mounting humanitarian crisis which has existed for far longer than 18 days. Our governments (save for the Venezuelans) may not be taking the appropriate action required to address the atrocities being committed by Israel, but challenges to the mainstream discourse through the mainstream discourse allow for the general populace to gain the critical information necessary for change in the policies of our own states toward any country oppressing another people. On January 14, the president of the United Nations General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, described the slaughter of the Palestinians as genocide. The tower begins to sway a bit more.

This is the silver lining in the clouds of white phosphorous over Gaza.

Sana Khawaja Saeed is a Montreal writer.