Christian Aid News No. 24 (Spring 2004)
Coverage of Israel and Palestine: the front cover; a news item on an exhibition by the artist John Keane; a quote from the Archbishop of Canterbury; a feature on the Israeli doctor and peace activist Yigal Shochat. Total four and a half pages.
Coverage of other conflicts: news items on Rwanda and Uganda, amounting to one page in total. Nothing on Sudan, nothing on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
How to conscript the Archbishop of Canterbury as an Israel-basher…
Rowan Williams preached a sermon in Jerusalem in January 2004. Here is what Christian Aid News quotes from it:-
The security fence stands as a terrible symbol of the fear and despair that threaten everyone in this city and country, all the communities who share this Holy Land... it is seen by so many as one community decisively turning its back on another, despairing of anything that looks like a shared resolution, a shared future, a truly shared peace.
And here is the next sentence:-
It is not the only symbol of despair, of course. The dismembered bodies of bombers and their victims are still deeper signs of the refusal of a future, the choosing of darkness and mutual alienation.
I hardly need comment, but I certainly would recommend reading the full text: find it here.
Christian Aid News evidently thinks it is addressing the post-literate generation, and has about a 50-50 split between text and pictures. In the visual content of this issue emotional manipulation is very much the name of the game. The cover picture is one of John Keane’s paintings, a portrait of a Palestinian farmer who, according to the caption, has lost land to Israeli settlers and been forced by the Israeli authorities to demolish water cisterns he built. It is a powerful image of a man who has endured much. But the way it is used is the visual equivalent of the selective quotation from Rowan Williams – it is truth, but only half of the truth, and half-truths are often the most powerful lies. There are many faces of innocent suffering in Israel and Palestine, including, for example, those of parents whose children have been blown to pieces by suicide bombers, but making them visible is not perceived by Christian Aid to be part of its job.
Now we turn to the feature on Dr Yigal Shochat, and here the manipulation reaches a level which, I have to say, Dr Goebbels would have appreciated. Most of a two-page spread is taken up by a photograph of Dr Shochat facing a sub-machine-gun-toting soldier at a checkpoint. In an inset, Palestinian women carry their babies to a clinic (the caption refers to the problem of malnutrition, which of course we are implicitly invited to blame exclusively on the Israelis). The message couldn’t be clearer: a pitilessly militaristic nation closes its ranks against both its peace-loving neighbours and the solitary “good Jew”.
Israeli women are mothers too, and there are Palestinians who view their children as legitimate targets – but this side of the conflict is simply invisible.
That Dr Shochat is as brave and compassionate as he is portrayed I do not doubt, and it is absolutely right that his work should be celebrated. The problem, as usual, is with the “spin” which the article puts on it. It dwells at length on the suffering inflicted on Palestinians by Israeli security measures. A single passing reference to suicide bombers is the only clue given as to why these measures might have been taken. The impression is given that practically superhuman courage is needed for an Israeli to oppose the occupation of the West Bank, with the result that Dr Shochat’s is virtually a lone voice. The truth is that there are few, if any, other countries in the Middle East where it is so safe to speak out against the government. Many Israelis share Dr Shochat’s views, and many more might do so if they could feel a little less threatened.
I wrote this in my letter to Christian Aid’s Director, Dr Daleep Mukarji:
Can we expect that a future issue of the magazine will give the same prominence to a Palestinian who speaks out with equal boldness against fundamentalism, anti-Semitism and terrorism? I am not optimistic. Jewish voices (Dr Shochat’s, or Oona King MP in the Autumn 2003 issue) may be heard only when raised against the Jewish state; no requirement of self-criticism is placed on Palestinians.
So far my pessimism has not been refuted. My next post links to an article about Khaled Mahameed, founder of a Holocaust museum in Nazareth. How about it, Christian Aid?