The other day, a media academic mentioned in passing that our mainstream media hardly ever carry features about the plight of Palestinians. On the other hand, the Israeli ambassador to Singapore was recently accorded an op-ed page in the Straits Times. How many ambassadors get that privilege?
The academic’s remarks validated a vague feeling I have had for some time. And I too had thought it a little strange to see the Israeli ambassador given so much space.
I surf for international news. I also read the Straits Times fairly regularly. When I’m surfing, I see plenty of stories about Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and dire conditions imposed on Palestinians. But when I open the Straits Times, such stories are extremely rare. Why do our editors think them not newsworthy?
This is not to say that there is a blackout. Whenever a bomb is launched or a major raid conducted, the news – a wire service report – is carried. But there is an absence of feature articles describing the situation on a day-to-day basis and analysing Israeli motives, and in their absence, people are left with the impression that Palestinians are always fighting and Israel is justified in taking its harsh measures.
To illustrate what I mean by missing features, let me name three good articles you can read online, all dated within the past day or two. Two are from the BBC and one from Aljazeera.
The first is about the severe economic blockade that Israel has imposed on Gaza. Details of Gaza blockade revealed in court case describes how Israel goes about making life miserable for Palestinians in Gaza. A long list of items that make life livable, that make an economy run, are banned. Even the spice cinnamon is banned, let alone construction materials Palestinians need to repair their homes. Moreover, the list of banned items is kept secret and approvals for exceptions arbitrarily made. One sees an attempt to inflict psychological despair, through heightening anxiety in the populace, in addition to material deprivations. But there’s also a list showing minimum calorific needs. This suggests a careful if callous policy of depriving the Palestinians as much as possible without tipping the situation over into mass starvation, which would attract too much bad press. But short of that, Israel is out to reduce Gazans to mere subsistence. Is this not a crime against humanity?
The second story I want to highlight is also about Gaza, but is a human interest story. Gazan surfers brace the sewage is about young men who enjoy surfboarding. They have plenty of time to practise their art, because most cannot find any work. The unemployment rate is more 40 percent. But the surfboards they use are 15 years old. Import of new ones is banned by Israel. Is this not ridiculous?
From Aljazeera is Israel’s big and small apartheids. This one looks more into Israel proper itself, in particular the way it treats its own citizens who happen to be Arab. It is a shocking read. The racism mandated by the state would put Israel in the international doghouse if not for the unfailing support of the United States and the silence of countries such as Singapore.
Do read these stories, and ask why our government-friendly media do not think Singaporeans should be seeing them.
I believe that Israel has a right to exist — provided it is a state that respects universal standards of human rights, both towards its own citizens (including Arab citizens) and with respect to people living under its occupation. But right now, I think it is failing these tests badly, and one could argue that if it continues like this, it should forfeit its right to exist.
However, Israel has no right to inflict its Zionist aims on the Palestinians, and by this I mean a continued, heavy-handed occupation, building new settlements and evicting Palestinians from their private property. On top of that, Israel is clearly unwilling to show any good faith to negotiate towards an independent Palestinian state. The Palestinians have an equal right to their own state on contiguous territory, within secure borders. It is the longings of Zionism that denies them that right, and Singapore should have no truck with that.
Last Saturday, I attended a concert by David D’Or, an Israeli counter-tenor. He and his band gave a charity concert with all proceeds going to the Tzu Chi Foundation, a Buddhist-inspired mission. It was very uplifting to see hands stretch across borders in compassion. It also reminded me, for all the errors of the Israeli state and the intransigence of perhaps the majority of Israeli voters, there are plenty of private citizens who represent different ideals. However much we abhor the actions of the state, we don’t brand all Israelis with the same iron.
But why does Israel brand all Palestinians alike, and subject them to decades of dehumanising treatment? Why by our media’s silence, are Singaporeans not informed of it? Why do we not hear our own government speak up?