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Media misconceptions: Is the conflict really about Jews vs. Arabs?

In the second post of my three-part series about media and publishing, I examine some misconceptions about the Israeli-Palestinian ‘conflict,’ and the ways in which the media feeds into a binary that leaves non-Jews and non-Palestinians out of the spotlight.

When my agent and I shopped my book about Israel’s migrant workers and African refugees around, we got a lot of those “We love it but it’s not right for us” and “This is an important book that needs to be published. But there’s no audience for this” kind of responses.

But perhaps the most common response was, “Where are the Palestinians?”

The Palestinians are there, of course. They are discussed directly and indirectly. As migrant workers were first brought to Israel during the First Intifada to replace Palestinian day laborers—a fact I take care to mention in my book—you can’t talk about the state’s treatment of foreign workers without alluding to those they replaced. And with most Palestinians locked behind the separation barrier, migrant workers and African refugees—the “new” non-Jewish “others” in Israel—have become more convenient stand-ins for the racist sentiments that have long been channeled towards Palestinian.

But, no, publishers who haven’t set foot in Israel—much less covered it as a journalist for years on end—insist that the “conflict” is about Jews vs. Arabs, Israelis vs. Palestinians, not Israel versus all non-Jewish others. Tell that to the families of migrant workers who are being deported by the state; tell the African refugees who face prison without trial that Israel’s conflict is with the Arabs.

And tell that to the many Israeli politicians who readily admit that the issue is preserving a Jewish state.

Further, Israel has tweaked the 1952 Entry to Israel law and the 1954 Infiltration Prevention law—both of which discriminate against Palestinians—broadening them to apply to migrant workers and African refugees. Israeli politicians use similar rhetoric and separation methods (read: walls) against all of these non-Jewish groups.

As I wrote in The National:

In 2003 Mr Netanyahu, then finance minister, called Arab citizens of the state a “demographic problem” adding that the separation barrier would stop a “demographic spillover” of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories. Fast forward to 2010: Prime Minister Netanyahu calls African asylum seekers a “concrete threat to the Jewish and democratic character of the country” and promises another separation barrier, this one to run the length of the border between Egypt and Israel.

When considered through the lens of the government’s goal of maintaining a ‘Jewish and democratic’ country, every non-Jew – Arab or African, Christian or Muslim – becomes a ‘threat’ to or enemy of the state. It’s not about Palestinians or Arabs per se. It’s about maintaining Jewish privilege.

The experience with my book has taught me that the international conversation about Israel/Palestine is stagnant—even though it appears to be changing.

Growing media interest in the “new” unarmed resistance movements—which have actually been around in one form or another since the Ottoman occupation of Palestine—feeds into two binaries: non-violent vs. violent; Israelis vs. Palestinians (or Jews vs. Arabs). Both are problematic.

Regarding the latter, Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh points out in Popular Resistance in Palestine:

In 1831, the Egyptian armies of Muhammad Ali occupied Palestine, appointing Muhammad Ali’s son Ibrahim as ruler. A Palestinian peasant uprising against Egyptian rule echoed earlier revolts in 1808 and 1826 against the Ottomans. On May 19, 1834, notables of the towns, villagers, and Bedouins told Egyptian officials in Nablus, Jerusalem and Hebron that they would not supply the quota of conscripts.

Just as Israel doesn’t take issue with Palestinians, per se, but rather all non-Jews in general, neither have most Palestinians historically taken issue, per se, with Jews. Rather, many Palestinians take issue with occupation and oppression and colonialism and foreign attempts to appropriate resources, whether it is people, as was the case in the 1834 revolt against the Egyptians, or land, as is the case with Israel today.

When one operates in binaries, one invokes the specter of “Palestinian violence” simply by talking about non-violence. By making a spectacle of non-violence, journalists treat it as though it is something extraordinary; by saying, “Look, look, now they’re non-violent!” one implies that Palestinians were and are inherently violent. Research shows that “positive” stereotypes merely serve to uphold the negative ones.

While websites like Mondoweiss and Open Zion suggest that the conversation about Israel/Palestine does seem to be broadening a bit, the debate still seems to revolve around Zionism vs. anti-Zionism and two-state vs. one-state , along with other oppositional ideas.  The discussion about the “conflict” remains black and white. How can things here be framed as a conflict when the power imbalance is so unequal, when political, financial, and military support are all skewed to one direction?

The Palestinian street is increasingly moving towards a right-based approach. And human rights—whether they are for Palestinians, migrant workers, African refugees, or Jews—aren’t about taking sides. Will the media and publishers listen?

Next: What the media and publishers do listen to? Violence

Read the first post: It’s a man’s world: women in journalism and publishing

This post originally appeared in Souciant.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. “The discussion about the “conflict” remains black and white. How can things here be framed as a conflict when the power imbalance is so unequal, when political, financial, and military support are all skewed to one direction?”

      I believe the answer rests in the way we advocate and the discourse surrounding the conflict both inside Israel – Palestine and Internationally.

      For some time now I have continually pushed for a shift in discourse that changes away from what you identify as a ‘debate’ that “still seems to revolve around Zionism vs. anti-Zionism and two-state vs. one-state , along with other oppositional ideas” – what I call circular rhetoric.

      My position is that if people were to start looking at the way genuine conflict resolution and models of said resolution work we may eventually get somewhere by utilizing a discourse that, whilst possibly being painful for both sides, manages to work through a framework that includes Justice, accountability, Human and Civil Rights along with a few other necessary things in the stages of real conflict resolution.

      Hope this makes sense and that my comment is helpful!

      Reply to Comment
    2. Carl

      I’m not entirely convinced the Palestinians are moving towards a ‘rights-based approach’ nor that that should be the central isue: any Palestinian struggle will pivot around land and national rights until that struggle is resolved.

      On a wider point, don’t expect that a belief in the the value of human rights is the preserve of egalitarians: Pim Fortuyn being a dismal example of how some people believe in liberty and equality for some rather than all.

      Reply to Comment
    3. aristeides

      It’s no news that publishers mired in irrelevancy.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Yo Mo

      “How can things here be framed as a conflict when the power imbalance is so unequal, when political, financial, and military support are all skewed to one direction?”
      This view is commonplace- but is flawed in two ways.
      1. at the level of language – the wiktionary definition: conflict (plural conflicts)
      A clash or disagreement, often violent, between two opposing groups or individuals.
      An incompatibility, as of two things that cannot be simultaneously fulfilled.

      There is nothing in the concept that implies equality of power.

      2. this perceived inequality of power depends on how the conflict is framed- the conflict can be perceived as several million Jewish Israelis who seek autonomy and hundreds of millions of others (Arab/Moslems) who oppose that goal, of whom the Palestinians are just one element.

      No doubt the Israel-Palestinian conflict would look very different if it were transported magically to a part of the world where all other players were disinterested neighbours.

      Reply to Comment
    5. “human rights—whether they are for Palestinians, migrant workers, African refugees, or Jews—aren’t about taking sides” : I see this as exactly right. When 972 began reporting on the African refugees, I at first thought this an aberration, an event of chance, given immigration flows. The South Tel Aviv riot and new detention camps showed me that those highlighting the refugees were right. The core question on refugees is an absent rule of law, and a similar absence can be found in several instances where the Court’s decisions are simply delayed or ignored by the State. Plea for human rights is a plea for the rule of law against structural violence. The dismantling of the law will effect intra-Jewish relations as well. I have come to see this as Israel’s core crisis. And, quite frankly, 972 has blazed the trail.

      Reply to Comment
    6. mya guarnieri

      greg, wow, glad to see that you are such a 972 fan! 972 has, indeed, done a great job covering the african refugees.

      as i mentioned in my first post in the series, i’ve been researching the issue for 5 years… my first story about african refugees in israel ran in early 2008.

      best,
      mya

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Mya, is there an organization or something which helps those refugees who are not capable of helping themselves?

        I asking because there is that refugee female, probably in her early twenties. She lives on the street nearby one of TLV CBS, entrances. It appears that she is mentally unhealthy – or just from some rural land and speaks unknown dialect – anyway she does not associate with any of other refugees.

        If there is no such organization than I’ll probably have to turn her in to the immigration police – hardly there could be anything worse than living near the station entrance.

        Reply to Comment
      • You’ve taken a hard stand–for rights as such. Some people who rise easy in life do that; but, more often, the stand is perceived and defended by those who have hit barriers themselves. And taking this stand means even more hits. I was one who couldn’t take the hits. I can only hope, in these comments of mine, I am speaking rationally and with hope. Maybe doubt is part of the pirce of thinking about rights.

        Reply to Comment
    7. Mikesailor

      Is this the heart of the problem: Jews versus all non-Jews? And is this viewpoint endemic to Judaism as a whole with Zionism merely its most famous current manifestation? Is this undeniably racist core belief; mandating that all non-Jews are somehow less deserving of any rights, privileges etc. the heart of the ‘Jewish’ state ideal? That those non-Jewish can be freely discriminated against, that injustices can be heaped upon them for the ‘accident’ of birth that deprived them of being Jewish? Is this the real reason for antisemitism? Is antisemitism at its core a ‘goyish’ reaction to this Jewish antipathy which traces its roots into the earliest Scriptural writings? If so, then what future could there ever be for Judaism as it relates to the rest of humanity? There are differences within most other religions: that they are the only ‘right’ path to godhead etc., yet Judaism seems the only major religion which contains within it the belief that those “not of the group” are children of a lesser god and therefore less ‘human’.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >Is this the heart of the problem: Jews versus all non-Jews?

        Since there is no acts of aggression amongst Jews and all non-Jews it is safe to conclude that this particular claim of yours in nonsense, like pretty much most of your other claims.

        Reply to Comment
    8. CDeSole

      Great article Maya. But don’t forget as well that the Arab/Jewish binary completely erases Mizrahi existence and oppression. Because of Zionism’s racial ideologies, Mizrahim are exiles in the “homeland.”

      Reply to Comment
    9. CDeSole: Totally. The impact on Mizrachim and the flattening of Jewish identity both merit discussion but I didn’t feel like I had space for it here. I’m being urged to write a post about… hopefully will get to it relatively soon.

      Thanks for reading and thanks for your thoughtful, productive comment.

      Best,
      Mya

      Reply to Comment
    10. Jenny

      this is a really excellent piece, well done. A binary approach is a massive part of the problem.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Mikesailor

      Trespasser: Is there one group that Jews show an affinity for that is not Jewish? We are regaled with stories about how Jews have been discriminated against over millennia as a minority, yet Jews in the majority seem to discriminate against everyone not Jewish. How many Christians are spat upon, monasteries and churches vandalized? How many mosques vandalized or subject to arson attacks? Is the new definition of ‘antisemitic’; those who hate Jews for being Jews or those Jews hate? Most of the world has moved beyond defining citizenship based upon ethnicity or religious belief. Only Israel seems to think that going backward to create a ‘Jewish’ state is admirable. Is xenophobia a ‘Jewish’ trait? It seems an Israeli trit for sure.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        So many irrelevant rhetorical questions…

        >Is there one group that Jews show an affinity for that is not Jewish?

        Yes. This particular website for instance.

        >How many Christians are spat upon, monasteries and churches vandalized?

        3? 5?

        Why won’t you start counting Christians spat upon by Muslims and vice versa? I’m sure you’ll get to much higher numbers.

        >How many mosques vandalized or subject to arson attacks?

        Few magnitudes less than synagogues vandalized and burnt in Muslim countries.

        Your point being?

        >Is the new definition of ‘antisemitic’; those who hate Jews for being Jews or those Jews hate?

        You are welcome to produce a proof of hatred by a significant number of Jews towards any other group.

        Until than you claims remain empty and void.

        >Most of the world has moved beyond defining citizenship based upon ethnicity or religious belief.

        Not true.

        >Only Israel seems to think that going backward to create a ‘Jewish’ state is admirable.

        Not true as well. Besides what’s wrong with the desire to have an own state? You are not against the Islamic Republic of Iran, are you?

        >Is xenophobia a ‘Jewish’ trait?

        No, silly. Xenophobia is a pan-human trait.

        >It seems an Israeli trait for sure.

        What seems for sure is that you hate Israel and Israelis and are trying to rationalize it by libeling and generalizing huge groups of population consisting of people with most diverse opinions and affiliations.

        Reply to Comment
        • Mitchell Cohen

          Trespasser,

          It (“Mikesailor”) ain’t worth it. Having a discussion with him/her is like having a discussion with David Duke.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            I am not discussing with him – just practicing in refuting crazy lies.

            Thanx for the warning tho ;)

            Reply to Comment
    12. Both Berl Katznelson and Vladimir Jabotinsky (along with Achimeir) defined the national struggle as the Jewish nation vs all others.

      Jabotinsky wrote several articles about economic warfare against non-Jews.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Mohammad Reza Naqdi

      These refugees are worse off in israel than in Eritrea or Sudan. I think they are being trained to become an elite force to attack Iran

      Reply to Comment

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