Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Mavi Marmara revisited

Posted by worriedlebanese on 05/06/2010

I’ll try to spill a couple of thoughts that have been whirling around in my mind.

Yes, sure, the Israeli commando was attacked on the Mavi Marmara. A quick look at the organisation behind the protest gives you a clear idea that you were not dealing with your ordinary “peace activists”. These people were here on a mission: Break the blockade, get through to Gaza whatever the cost!  And yeah, many seem to have an islamist background and amongst them there seems to have been several disreputable characters. But Israeli Intelligence knew all about those people and the organisation behind them since their departure from Turkey. Both sides knew that there was going to be a clash. It was expected. But that certainly doesn’t explain or justify the bloodbath.

Now let’s look at the dynamic the Mavi Marmara affaire triggered. One finds three types of media coverage, and one can fairly say that they were all biased, and their approach was teleological.

  • The pro-Israeli media was interested in whitewashing the Israeli army and justifying Israeli policy. And it used all the usual techniques: an agressive smear campaign against the victims of the raid, and a substitution of victimhood (the soldiers were presented as the victims). The only problem with this “defense” line was that it could only convince those who were ready to be convinced. Those who are not die hard supporters of the Israeli government and its policies could easily see the loopholes in that presentation and the manipulation of information. Watching some footage and comments reminded me of Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel. Another interesting twist is that the pro-Israeli arguments left the Palestinians out of the picture (as they usually do). It wasn’t about Gaza (that is always cynically presented as ok as long as it is not starving). It was about Israel vs Turkey (which is a rather melodramatic approach, knowing that  the military alliance is still secure, no Ambassadors were called back or off…).

  • The anti-Israeli media was interested in celebrating the victimhood of the injured and the killed while denouncing the brutality of Israel. Everything that didn’t fit that picture was discarded… The activists on the Flotilla were shown as heroes not because of their own deeds (ex: they fought Israel), but through their victimhood and their courage in facing a brutish enemy. They didn’t speak of the militants fighting the commando. They did not insist on the psychological dimension or emotions (fear, panic…), as did the pro-Israel media. The anti-Israeli media was so focused on being anti-Israeli that it even repackaged the objectives of the flotilla: they became more anti-Israeli than pro-Palestinian. Actually, Palestinians were left out of the picture. It was more about “we” vs Israel.
  • Then we have the “neutral” media, mostly western (think BBC for instance) with its very ambiguous respons to the events. Probably because it was being (too) actively fed by both sides. The pro-Israel groups were working on the narrative : reframing the events, shedding a different light on the different actors of this drama, feeding the media “information” in an orderly way (even if the “info” was inaccurate). Pure Hasbara. The pro-Palestinian groups were also extremely active, but as usual, they focused on the emotional side. Instead of expanding the narrative, they reduced it to its most emotional content: they shot and killed us. Instead of insisting on the flaws of the Israeli argument, with its specific framing of the events, they repeated their mantra without backing it with more arguments. What the “neutral” media tried to do was denounce the outcome of the raid but it showed its discomfort with the identity of the protestors who were injured and killed, reminding the listeners/viewers that they were islamists.

    To sum things up, the “Mavi Marmara operation” highlights two important elements in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. One one side we have a country and a society that is becoming increasingly cynical and unapologetic with the violence it shows towards anyone non-Jewish. This has become quite apparent for most people except a majority of Israelis. On the other side we have a Pro-Palestinian movement that is growing more and more strikingly heterogenous, and its most vocal, recognisable and effective components are islamist (moderate as in this case, or radical as in the case of Hamas and Hezbollah). This dynamic is affecting the whole movement, making some people within it increasingly uncomfortable, and shifting the focus from “pro-Palestinian” to “anti-Israeli”, a shift that is both damaging to the movement and to the dynamics of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

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    13 Responses to “Mavi Marmara revisited”

    1. Fadi said

      Nice article, although the fact that the rhetoric is shifting from pro-palestinian to anti-israeli (or ismlamist if you will) has been going on for a while, and it’s not only in the media.
      Check out the coverage and content of most demonstrations in Europe, and you’ll find that the issues of immigration, palestine, islamic rights, etc… are all being linked together in one big fat oily ’cause’, even though they are clearly separate issues, which on their own, don’t seem to be generating much momentum, but when you lump them all together, and put them in the framework of a global islamic paranoia, suddenly a lot more people seem to care.
      Consequently, the world seems to be inadvertently (or not in some cases) backing extremist ideology. You go to a demonstration to denounce the death of palestinian women and children everyday, and you find yourself in the same crowd as people with a much more radical agenda, for whom palestine is only the beginning… But on the other hand, not denouncing these acts for fear of accidentally backing radicals is also wrong, with the innocent lives at stake and all. Bottom line is, we’re pretty much screwed…

      • I totally agree with your assessment Fadi. It’s true that Islamists are more vocal about Palestinian issues than others, and whenever they’re in a crowd, even in small numbers, they’re the ones who get the media’s attention. But I think we should be less fatalistic about it and see what we can do about that.
        Basically, we have three problems:
        - Islamists are usually the ones who take the initiative (at least in the Middle East) in supporting Palestinian issues (or more precisely the “Palestinian cause”).
        - And whatever Islamists do, they have more credibility than the so-called moderates (conservatives, liberals, autocrats et ali).
        - Islamists usually get more media attention (especially the western media).

        So here are three things that we should be working on:
        - Taking the initiative. Why leave it to Islamists? Sure there are some lefties working on Palestinian issues, but they haven’t been very effective on the political scene. They have more ties with foreign networks (usually western lefties) than with local networks.
        - Being more credible. And this is not about actions but about image. Islamists have a much more convincing image than others (undeservedly).
        - Being more media friendly. Get the ad agencies to do some work (think March XIV rallies).

        • Fadi said

          Well you see that’s not how it works. In every conflict there are two sides: The Extremes. No matter how many groups you add in the middle, you’ll always end up with two groups, and those are generally the extremes. The reason for that is simple:
          - If you’re moderately pro-palestinian, the extremely pro-israeli people will discredit you by making you look like you’re as bad as the islamists, and for them to achieve that, all they need is one person at your rallies that has a slightly more aggressive banner, and suddenly that becomes your “hidden agenda”.
          - People respond to extremes. They are in fact pushed towards them. Confrontation does that to people, and in the context of the israeli-palestinian conflict, there’s plenty of confrontation to go around.

          I don’t want to sound fatalist, but personally I do think that on this issue, we are screwed. What makes it even more probable, is the presence of moderate forces that are fighting for palestinian rights, and who quite frankly are coming out empty handed (e.g. Mahmoud Abbas et al.). There’s a simple fact here, the rhetoric is not the same. You pointed that out yourself in your article. When you talk about Israel, suddenly you find yourself in a discussion about Jews in general, Nazis, and Auswitz, while the issue is clearly separate, and the only way to confront this paranoid rhetoric on behalf of the zionists, is to develop your own paranoid rhetoric, which is precisely what I talked about in the first comment: The islamic paranoid argument. The world has been polarized to this rhetoric, and there is no coming back from this.

        • I see your point Fadi.
          And I agree that the general tendency in conflicts is favourable to the extremes. But I believe there’s nothing mechanical about it. One should see what makes it favourable to the extremes and how this could be neutralised.

          Let’s take a simple example: When the only interactions between Lebanon and Israel for instance are violent ones, it is normal that only the extremist voices are heard: the IDF and Hezbollah. All the rest cannot participate in this interaction because they do not possess the means to communicate (which in this case is weaponry).

          As for the so-called “moderate governments” (which in most countries in the Middles East except Lebanon are autocratic), their problem isn’t in their supposed moderation. It’s in the fact that they do not “fight” for Palestinian rights, but they fight for their self-preservation. This is true for Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt. They use the same thuggish means toward their own population as Israel does toward Palestinians… And they are ready to sacrifice everything for self-preservation and its conflict with the opposition (Mahmoud Abbas had no problem with the arrest of 1/4 of the Palestinian representatives by the IDF (because they were all Hamas MPs and their arrest gave his followers a majority in Parliament).

        • lirun said

          isnt that interesting.. calling idf extremist to me seems insane.. i can see why you would say that.. but to me personally as an israeli its like describing milk as black.

        • Just to make things clear, I believe all armies (or armed groups) are extremists (or have the tendency to be extremist) because they master one language, that of violence. That’s their job. Now if they are not reined in by another body, they become dangerous.
          I apply this thought to all armies (or armed groups), and not the IDF only. I would have mostly excluded the Lebanese Army until 2007 when it showed how well it mastered the language of violence against the Palestinians (it had actually practiced that language on several isolated occasions before).
          And yes, the IDF is extremist because of its definition of security, its military strategy (impress its enemy with its strength and capacity to destroy) or in its willingness and capacity to accept as huge load of “collateral damage”.

    2. j26 said

      thanks for interesting post. one thing that struck me about the coverage on the several news sites i checked (so-called progressive & “neutral” media), was how the point of the flotilla — the conditions of people in gaza — was overshadowed so quickly by all these other stories and agendas. i didn’t see articles about gaza itself, or the blockade, historical or current. that got buried. on the more positive side, having a mixed group of internationals taking action brought a little more attention to the fact that many nations are playing a role in the strangulation of gaza — e.u. states — in addition to israel, u.s., and arab states, and have a responsibility.

      even on “neutral” media a prominent thread had to do with israeli justifications for their use of force, mostly spinning intimidation into various guises of victim status or “self-defense.”

      • thanks J26
        I totally agree with you. But interestingly enough, the Pro-Israel side is not satisfied with the media treatment, even though many of their justifications were picked up and used. And I believe their dissatisfaction comes from the fact that at the end of the day, soldiers killed civilians, and it’s hard to sell the soldiers’ point of view to largely demilitarised societies.

        • lirun said

          i think israeli society and the idf were less prepared than what you think..

          its not about the violence and the blockade busters and certainly not the aid.. for us its about being sold off wholesale by turkey..

          their european dream has finally crashed and now their social climbing quicky has been shown the door.. they dont want us in bed any more.. and theve bruised us on an international stage..

          turkey has decided to go home.. its leaving the big city and thrown in the towel as well as the fluzey it was wrapping aka israel..

          we saw the writing on the wall but never expected it to be so brash.. and so sudden.. i think israel is severely disadvantaged right now.. we have no foreign minister.. avidgor lieberman is just keeping a seat warm.. we have no face to the world whatsoever..

          i am hoping this brings rewards in the future.. im hoping my country can see sometime soon that the right wing was even less effective than our so called left.. im hoping avigdor’s approach buries the party for good and unlocks the forces of the left who are only starting to pipe up..

          israel does not judge itself by foreign media coverage or forein opinion for that matter.. we almost never have and this government probably does so even less than most.. because the more isolated we become the less we seem to care.. we’re used to isolation and it doesnt scare us enough.. i wish it did.. i wish it motivated us to change ways.. or alter tactics..

          i think our society has grown more violent and i it is regretful.. but so many hudnas were broken either before or moments after they started.. so many opportunities to build trust have been discarded by both sides.. thats its a shame..

          i certainly hope fadi is wrong but im beginning to think that we are all screwed as well..

        • I don’t quite agree with you on this Lirun.
          Israel has strong institutions that are extremely efficient. There is a huge structure that works on PR, and an even larger structure that works on security. So one cannot say that the Flotilla took Israel by surprise or that the country’s image is irrelevant.

          I personally the biggest problem Israel faces is not its arrogance, its the way in which it assess its blunders. If one looks at the reports of the Kahan commission, and the Winograd commision, one can easily spot some analytical problems (dead angles). But what is worse is the way in which the reports themselves are received. Every single time, “technical problems” are highlighted without looking into the problems with the policy.
          In all this affair, hardly anyone in Israel questioned the policy towards Gaza. People were more interested in talking about the “technical problems”, and playing victim (to media manipulation, to treason by the Diaspora or an Ally…).

    3. lirun said

      its all relative..

      you see it as a shortcoming and society here sees it as irrelevant.. the israeli perspective by and large sees the gaza policy as not only without flaws but actually effective.. the rockets have dropped.. end of story..

      the problem with the world criticism is that it offers israel no viable solution.. so basically it composes the melody for the israeli “my security first” song.. if the world was at all even the slightest bit concerned and offered balanced input – that was meaningful then i believe people would listen.. but until that point our ears are turned away..

      • Yeah, the rockets have dropped, but at what price?
        And then let’s not forget that the official policy is “zero tolerance” and the aim of operation Cast Lead was to stop the rockets. And to liberate Shalit. Neither objectives were achieved.

        You know, you are the third Israeli that I read today that speaks of the “world” and is unsatisfied by its respons. I find the expression extremely interesting (because it reduces the plurality to a unity).
        Practically, what would you call a “balanced input” or a “sign of a slight concern”?

    4. lirun said

      u misunderstood me..

      the barrage of rockets has dropped.. ie cast iron (by the way i hate that name) was considered a success..

      shalit is slipping of the national consciousness and turning into a myth..

      balanced input or a sign of concern would be as read in plain english.. there is never any.. just as israel is slowly drifting from gilad and even further from gaza – the world is not phased by rockets hitting jewish towns when it happens or by genuine security concerns..

      and yes the world as a monolyth is exactly how its seen because there are no stand outs..

      mind you the local feeling is that is axiomatic.. we dont feel hard-done by.. we just accept it..

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