Monday, May 12, 2008

It's All About Context

Story for the Ames Tribune, run May 3, 2008
By: Betsy Mayfield

I was just about to write a letter to the editor that wasn't about Israel/Palestine, but, alas, I'm stuck. I just can't let the other side's propaganda go. There are many Palestinians, most, I venture, who desperately want peace with Israel. I speak out for the Palestinians because I have seen their suffering and know how dreadfully it's going for them right now; others favor the Israelis because, I guess, they believe in Zionism and the right for a Jewish state to exist. (Does any particular state have a 'right' to exist? Don't we all have a 'right' to exist? Must we deny one to justify the other?) I just wish the American press would simply publish the news and do so regularly and straightforwardly without trying to influence what we all think. Then, I and the coin's other side could stop this tit-for-tat parley which goes no where. As I see it, neither side thinks their side gets a fair deal from coverage and we're both probably right on that. Certainly, when I know about crimes against humanity going on in Gaza and the West Bank, and there's nothing but silence here in the US, I feel anger and I have to speak or consider myself complicit.

Not long ago, I attended a talk by Marda Dunsky, author of Pens and Swords: How the American Mainstream Media Report the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Dunsky focused her attention on the lack of context that Americans get through press accounts of the Middle East conflict. Unless a reader really wants to delve into the topic, few ever get to the bottom of the Israeli/Palestinian debacle, even though it's pretty clear from my research (and Jimmy Carter's, as well) that Israel has the upper hand and, like a pit bull with big teeth, will not let go until there's nothing left of the Palestinians and, maybe, all the Arabs in the Arab World. Maybe that's where 'the right' comes from–might makes right, no? I once heard an elderly lady here in Ames exclaim, "Things will be fine in the Middle East when all the Palestinians are dead." I wanted to cry. But, this lady, hopefully venting a misinterpretation, didn't know enough about the situation to fit it into context. Evidently, she could not envision horrors like those happening now in Gaza. After all, if she had only heard about the Qassam rocket throwing and had no knowledge of the horrendous control Israel maintains over Gaza (and the West Bank) from checkpoints to the seas to the skies to the water supply to medical aide to daily food rations, what could she think? When does the press tell us about all this? We hear about Israel's 60th Year Anniversary, but we do not have an equally realistic story about the displacement and occupation of the Palestinian people that began 60 years ago, also.

Lately, Ames was given a stellar chance to see for themselves the difference between public relations and propaganda. I have never appreciated The Tribune more than the day the paper gave thumbs down to the documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. (Cheers & Jeers", April 19) My husband and I saw the film and came away appalled at the misrepresentation and omission of key points. Remarks of those interviewed were taken out of context and used only to bolster one idea: the film maker's perspective. The film used dark images taken completely out of context to imply that the issue is one of good against evil, the tradition of religion against the consensus of science. I, always thinking of Israel/Palestine, thought that the creator of the film used the same techniques that are used by the Israeli propaganda machine to deflect discussion away from the real issues and to make Israel the eternal innocent victim which it is not.

Maxwell Anderson, a playwright who wrote in verse about British royalty, gave his character Elizabeth I a great line: "It's not what happens that matters, it's what people believe to have happened. . .and they will believe the worst of you (Mary, Queen of Scots) and the best of me." Remember that line and, maybe, the value of considering what you hear within context will allow you a better interpretation of truth.

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