How many hours spent “watching the news”—in any of the various mediums and regardless of any political slant— would be necessary to understand the current events of the world? Perhaps with a supercomputer parsing the Internet and with the ability to simultaneously watch a set of international television stations could an individual come close to gaining an idea of all the notable events around the world during a single moment. But the answer cannot be quantified in this way—in fact there isn’t an answer. Even with this scenario, the individual may eventually succeed in becoming aware of the significant events globally, but the question is how much does the individual understand?
Mainstream media, to an extent, succeeds in the above endeavor each day—supercomputers scan the Internet and reporters search around the world. But in the up-to-the-minute onslaught of breaking news, the viewer is aware of every event while remaining very much oblivious to the surrounding circumstances of each. The data is devoid of context—the facts are often without historic or analytical details—and the individual is deprived of understanding.
Soon there may be news of unrest in Sudan. Will the reports detail the violent history since 1983 when war broke out between the government and the People’s Liberation Army began—a war in which two million Sudanese would loose their lives and four million would loose their homes? Will there be any discussion of the sharp cleavages between the ethnic and religious groups? More likely, the “civil strife” will be referenced briefly in the “around the world” segment of the nightly newscast. Each announcement like this becomes a blip amongst an excess of other, seemingly unrelated blips of information on the mind’s radar screen. But no happening occurs in a vacuum. There is a cause and a consequence for each human action and interaction.
The Truth about News is simple: the focus is the “new.” Truth, on the other hand, is timeless. The Current Events section at the AVJ will focus on the Truth— recognizing what is occurring in our shared reality and considering what came before this. Acknowledging the past is a potent method to understanding the present. History does not repeat itself—the very idea is contrary to commonsense. But humans are dominated by the same needs and psyches throughout time and space, so patterns emerge and incidents seem repetitive. Still history does not repeat itself, humans repeat history. Knowing the Truth comes from Understanding the human condition—both in the past and the present.
As the AVJ grows, the Current Events section will increase in scope as well as in depth. But Jeremy Olsen’s interview with a “Combatant for Peace” and my recent conversation with a similarly engaged scholar are reasons for a focused report on Israeli-Palestinian relations—and the role of media in conflict.
The Middle East situation is more accurately termed an international problem. The current conflict stems from a response to anti-Semitism in Europe at the turn of the 20th century. Discrimination and violence against Jews fueled nationalist sentiments—hopes an autonomous state in the land of Israel would protect the Jewish people. American and British politicians helped arrange this solution, the Zionist movement, by encouraging emigration to the region Jews inhabited centuries before.
Historically political leaders maintain a significant role in affairs concerning Israel. Human rights activist and Zionist Albert Einstein explained this attention to Jews as “the moral barometer of the political world.” Perhaps this is best demonstrated by the foundation of the Jewish nation-state, which was not politically feasible until 1948, when the international community could no longer ignore the tragedies of the Holocaust—or the developing Middle East crisis.
A nomadic people already inhabited the plot of land since the Ottoman Empire, and the migration of European Jews quickly incited an equally powerful Palestinian nationalism, for which the British Mandate offered no solution. Two populations asserted equally “legitimate” claims to the land of Israel—or that of Palestine— depending on the viewpoint taken. With these conflicting sentiments in the hearts and minds of the Middle East, the peoples would enter a century of chaos: a tug-of-war over a piece of Mediterranean coastline the size of New Jersey. This small slice of heaven—overflowing with holy sites of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—epitomizes the truism, “There are two sides to every story.”
Whether religious, political, or news media, the “story” is delivered with a particular slant—often a leading factor in perpetuating tensions. Hebrew-Islamic history is particularly influenced by predisposition, as with many sectarian relationships. The battle is waged on a physical and on an ideological level; the former being the headlines of brutal rocket-attacks and air raids, the latter being the headlines themselves— the contest of ideas—that sustains the preconceptions behind the hate.
Yehudit Barsky is an activist-author, who is director of the AJC Division on Middle East and International Terrorism. Last week I was fortunate enough to hear about her endeavors firsthand. A noteworthy project of Ms. Barsky and the AJC is an attempt to combat the anti-Semitic “story” that demonizes the Jewish population in the Internet realm of ideas. Many Islamist publications fabricate the history of the Middle East to propagate their own views and further their own agendas. An individual in Saudi Arabia might genuinely seek answers, perhaps searching through Google for an understanding of the Jewish people, but the individual is instead inundated with misinformation and ideas dehumanizing Israelis and other “infidels.” Ms. Barsky publishes a contrasting analysis on “The Origins of the Jewish People,” written in Arabic, in order educate those who seek Truth in Understanding, but would otherwise be limited to the slant of the Arabic segment of the worldwide web.
Jeremy Olsen interviewed another nonviolent-warrior—fighting for the same cause as Ms. Barsky. Though Roni Segoly and Ms. Barsky are both pursuing peace in the Middle East, they offer different perspectives on the role of media in the region. Ms. Barsky focuses on the overwhelming quantity of anti-Israel publications, whereas Mr. Segoly argues the Israeli media acts similar to a “propaganda machine: in step with the official talking points, offering very little criticism” of the Israeli government. The two individuals paint a picture of the weapons in the war of ideas. The recent Israel-Gaza flotilla incident illustrates “perspective” in the Information Age.
On the one hand, The New York Times reports the Palestinians are Trapped by Gaza Blockade, Locked in Despair, as the population is unable to acquire the most basic necessities. The European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton recently visited areas in Israel and Gaza, pressing Israel to allow ‘a better life’ for Gaza. One the other hand, pro-Israel factions circulate pictures of a new mall in Gaza city and question the authenticity of those reporting a humanitarian crisis. And with regard to the aid flotilla from Turkey, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) stated the deaths were justified, since 65 Islamic militants, armed with knives and metal rods, escorted this aid “looking for a fight” with the IDF and hoping to bring international condemnation to Israel. Two sides to a story with a single outcome: nine deaths, including a dual-citizen of the United States and Turkey, deteriorating international affairs, and no progress for Israeli-Palestinian relations, or in the humanitarian crises of either nation.
There are innumerable flaws in the state of news media and an equally daunting number of issues in the Middle East. But where many individuals, including Ms. Barsky and Mr. Segoly, are beginning to agree is that creating a state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel may be the only solution. The One Voice Movement is an international coalition of 657,680 persons advocating for the peaceful resolution of the centuries-long strife. The organization published the results of a recent poll: 74% of Palestinian and 78% of Israeli respondents would accept the two-state option.
This logical solution provides Palestinians with a chance to develop means for gainful employment, for civil services other than those provided by HAMAS, and for normalized relations with Israel. The Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank are already semi-autonomous regions, just lacking the necessary administration and international recognition to be states. And most significantly, creating a Palestine may allow the Israelis and Palestinians to move past the cyclical violence and hatred, which is so easily spurred by half-truths and fabrications in this Mis-Information Age.
Thankfully, selfless individuals—the Yehudit Barsky and Roni Segoly’s of the world—are lending an honest voice to the glut of bias that is so common in conflict. Like the OneVoice Movement, they realize there will not be an absolute victory, unless both sides win. There will always be two-sides of every coin—especially when the media is involved—but there has yet to be two-states as a solution, because a first attempt is necessary for a long-awaited success.