Gaza: Discord in narratives on war

February 18th, 2009 | Posted in Canada, Palestine, Quebec
    Interview with journalist Jooneed Khan, for Tadamon! by Stefan Christoff.

    Photo: U.N. school shelled by the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip.

Major gaps exist between different narratives on the recent war in Gaza; as major Canadian media outlets and human rights organizations on the ground in Gaza offer strikingly different pictures of the conflict.

U.N. officials have labeled recent Israeli actions as ‘disproportionate’ while the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories issued a statement outlining the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip as representing “severe and massive violations of international humanitarian law.”

In discord to U.N. positions on Gaza statements from the Conservative government of Canada consistently painted Israel’s actions as defensive in nature. Editorials across the Canadian media offered a similar line to the Conservative government.

Jooneed Khan, journalist and author, offers reflections on these major divergences in narrative presented on the Gaza conflict. Khan spoke with Tadamon! for a live broadcast on CKUT community radio in Montreal.

Stefan Christoff: Throughout the recent war in Gaza you wrote multiple analysis articles for La Presse on the evolving situation on the ground. Given your work reporting on the situation in Gaza wondering if you could outline the main points you were trying to stress in your own analysis?

Jooneed Khan: My reports tried to outline the basic situation on the ground in Gaza; that Israel is an occupying power and that under international law an occupying power has responsibilities with respect to the human and civil rights of the people living under occupation. Gaza continues to live under an Israeli imposed siege.

One of the conditions to the ceasefire, that Hamas had been observing prior to the latest war, was for Israel to lift the blockade which Israel never did, so essentially Israel was never respecting the ceasefire. Also it is important to note that it was Israel who first violated the ceasefire militarily.

Under international law an occupied people have the right to resist occupation.

Also stressed that the recent military campaign in Gaza was strongly driven by electoral politics inside Israel, given [the recent] election and the rise of Likud. The Kadima party under Tzipi Livni’s leadership launched the war in Gaza as an attempt to look tougher to the Israeli public. Hamas in Gaza became an opportunity for Kadima to try to prove that they could out-Likud Netanyahu.

Stefan Christoff: From your reading on the situation in Israel can you win votes through a bombing campaign in Israel?

Jooneed Khan: It would seem that this was certainly the calculation undertaken by Kadima and this analysis of placing the entire military campaign within Israeli electoral politics was widespread within the Israeli media itself. In my analysis this point was stressed and included many quotes from the Israeli press in this regard.

Stefan Christoff: Wondering if you have any critiques concerning Canadian media coverage on the recent war in Gaza, were there any major gaps in the media coverage in Canada?

Jooneed Khan:There were major holes in the Canadian coverage and within the international coverage on the conflict in general. Clearly there was a great deal of coverage of the latest war in Gaza not so much because the Palestinians were being bombed but because the war involved Israel and revolved around the Israeli elections.

A constant narrative within Canadian media coverage was Israel’s right to defend its civilian population, an important point however this point was stressed over and over. However other crucial points such as the right of Palestinians to resist occupation, the fact that Israel didn’t honour the terms of the previous ceasefire and the fact that it was Israel who violated the ceasefire first were seldom mentioned.

Media coverage in Canada painted Israel as the victim and Israel’s actions as defensive, which is the same line that Harper in Canada, Bush in the U.S., Sarkozy in France and Brown in the U.K. stressed. There is an unhealthy similarity between the political lines stressed by western media outlets and governments.

Stefan Christoff: Concerning the justification towards Israel’s actions as defensive; as a journalist do you think that this narrative isn’t accurate?

Jooneed Khan: Through only stressing Israel’s right to self defense it’s impossible to do justice to the story at hand.

Presenting a narrative of self-defense for both sides also doesn’t do justice to the story because this would establish a sense of symmetry to the story, that there is some sort of equality between the two sides. In reality the situation is totally asymmetrical, Israel is a major military power and the population of Gaza are an imprisoned population packed into a very small piece of territory without an army as such to defend them. This asymmetrical relationship was certainly not made clear in the western media coverage, including in Canada.

The fact that the Palestinians as an occupied people, who are [currently] besieged by air, land and sea, have every right to resist the occupying power, which is also a part of international law, is another key fact that was removed from major media coverage in Canada.

Stefan Christoff: Concerning Canada’s position, wondering your thoughts concerning the Conservative government position on the latest conflict in Gaza?

Jooneed Khan: The Conservative government position was in-line with a narrative coming out of Washington and followed-up by most of the western governments, which was the erroneous claim that Israel’s military actions were entirely defensive. A similar line that Shimon Perez told [the Turkish Prime Minister] Erdogan at the World Economic Forum, that Israel’s actions were defensive.

The reality of Israel’s ongoing military occupation, established in 1967, is seldom mentioned in western political discourse. Multiple resolutions from the U.N. outline Israel as an occupying power in the West Bank and Gaza.

It is amazing that the word occupation is barely mentioned in our coverage, this dimension which is so central to understanding the situation in Palestine-Israel, is seldom mentioned. Israel as an occupying power is victimizing the civilian population of Gaza, the Palestinians, through collective punishment, in contravention to the Geneva Convention, a fact totally admitted from much western media coverage. A key point of context also admitted by Harper, the Conservative government and also from the opposition in Canada, the Liberals.

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