Daniel Mandel

Eyeless in Gaza: A Corrective to a Bias Long Overdue

The truth behind the Gaza situation is often “what you’ve been told.” Rarely do we get an honest account of both sides. A pioneering documentary looks to put the question of bias to bed.

 

Gaza has been a flash point between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs for many years, but with recurrent intensity since 2005 when Israel unilaterally withdrew its military and civilians from the territory it had conquered in the Six-Day War. Calculated at once to divest Israel of the headache of ruling a tinderbox and as an earnest of goodwill, the Israeli withdrawal actually proved a fillip for Hamas, the radical Islamic movement committed in its Charter to Israel’s elimination and the murder of Jews.

As a history lesson, it’s important to know that since its founding in 1988, Hamas had proved a challenger to Fatah, a party founded by Yasser Arafat, and the dominant power within the Palestinian Authority that had emerged from the failed Oslo peace accords. Indeed, in 2007, Hamas seized control of Gaza, ejecting Fatah forces and throwing their officials and loyalists from the tops of buildings. Rocket fire into Israel increased exponentially leading to three major Israeli military incursions into Gaza since that date. The latest, the Gaza War of 2014 and the issues arising from it, are the subject of a documentary produced by Robert Magid.

Eyeless in Gaza investigates how the outside world and mainstream media arrive at the popular perceptions that have prevailed of the Gaza conflict. At its basic core, the prevalent international perception of Gaza is of a dominant Israeli power unwilling to accord independence to stateless Palestinian Arabs who have taken up arms as a result. As a corollary, there is much sympathy for the residents of Gaza who have found themselves in the midst of Israeli-Palestinian firefights and anger with Israeli military action that results in dead and shattered Gazan lives. It is the contention of Eyeless in Gaza that this version is the product in large part of profoundly and systemically flawed international reportage and media bias.

Eyeless in Gaza opens with a flourish of footage from protest rallies against Israel during the 2014 war, seeking the origin of the passions it unleashed. It then embarks on a journey through news footage; interviews with journalists, researchers and participants, both local and foreign; examination of the methodology of reportage and telling excerpts of Arabic language interviews with Hamas officials that undermines the prevalent international perception.


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There is a good deal of footage that may be familiar, of Hamas terror tunnels unearthed into Israel for mass-casualty attacks, mayhem on Gaza streets during fighting, and injured Palestinian youth. But there is also much footage shown that will be new to many viewers, such as the lines of hundreds of trucks daily entering Gaza from Israel with food and medicines. No less interesting is the footage we do not tend to see of Hamas launching missiles from hospitals and schools, thereby endangering all non-combatants around them, or of dead Hamas gunmen or destroyed rocket launchers. Still more uncommon footage shows Israelis scrambling for bomb shelters as Hamas fires rocket barrages into Israeli towns. Equally rare interviews and footage of Israel blanketing Gaza suburbs with leaflets informing residents of impending attacks on Hamas installations ensconced among them show Israel to be taking all manner of measures to minimize civilian casualties.

Interviews with foreign reporters show a good deal of censorship and self-censorship is at work, clearly under Hamas intimidation. The little of what we do see of Hamas rockets launched from civilian neighborhoods and the like emerge from reports filed only after the foreign journalists had left Gaza and felt safe to share them with the world. Much of the breaking footage we tend to see, while presented by foreign media outlets, is not actually produced by them; it is Palestinian stringers and cameramen who, if not already critical of Israel, must in any case continue to live in the Hamas-controlled enclave, file copy.

Hamas officials tend to be sufficiently savvy in foreign interviews, reliably reproducing a litany of Israeli sins and avoiding the more blood-curdling statements that emerge at their rallies, although the odd refusal to accept Israel’s existence when pressed emerges from time to time. However, interviews with Arabic language media shown here tell a different story of unbridled antisemitic hallucinations of world Jewish control. Hamas figures speak of the Holocaust as simply an exaggerated episode in history, the product of a stupendous Jewish conspiracy to frighten Jews into leaving Europe and taking over Palestine, of evil Jews having no raison d’être other than controlling the world through finance and vice.


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That this thinking infects Hamas’ overseas supporters becomes evident in the case of Lauren Booth. Booth, sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and a convert to Islam, whom we see stridently supporting “resistance” at a pro-Hamas rally in London at the start of the documentary, insists with calm certitude in an interview that BBC editorial policy on Israel is determined by the Israeli embassy.

It is to the documentary’s credit that it seeks not only to expose that a systemic bias against Israel is at work in the international media but to probe its origins. Here, the results are unnerving. The journalists concerned do not share the relative ignorance of the public they misinform. One is obliged to conclude, as researcher Matt Friedman does when interviewed, that the media is not merely conforming to Hamas’ wishes and directives in Gaza. Rather, it is predisposed to cooperating with it in purveying a false narrative of Jewish moral failure in a conflict that is actually devoid of resolution so long as Palestinians insist on Israel’s removal from the map. The Jews as examples of moral failure is a preoccupation of centuries. The late Irish statesman and scholar, Conor Cruise O’Brien, once wrote that the West tends to perceive Jews through the eyes of Christian antisemitism which posits that the Jews were once holy people who are now very unholy. Eyeless in Gaza shows that it is this – what Friedman calls a “deep thought pattern” – which often prevails in how Israel is reported to the world.

As a corrective to a bias that poisons as it misinforms, Eyeless in Gaza is overdue and has much to offer to viewers willing to keep an open mind.

Watch Eyeless in Gaza today:

 

Daniel Mandel

Daniel Mandel is Director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Center for Middle East Policy, a former Fellow in History at Melbourne University, and author of H.V. Evatt & the Establishment of Israel (Routledge, London, 2004).

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