Peace Journalism from the Holy Land Points the Way to BDS
TMS PEACE JOURNALISM, 21 Apr 2014
One of the finest pieces of long-form reportage on the Israel-Palestine conflict that I have ever seen, by the Australian’s Middle East correspondent John Lyons for ABC Australia’s Four Corners, exemplifies many of the principles of Peace Journalism (now stored here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uz8_qzdDdM4). And it strengthens the case for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions as a nonviolent protest movement against Israeli militarism and lawlessness.
Not that John, or any of the journalists involved, consciously set out to do either of those things, I am sure. ‘Stone Cold Justice’, broadcast on the long-running documentary strand earlier this year, is an exemplary piece of factual reporting. It was impeccably sourced, both among officials, who usually dominate journalistic activity, and a range of non-official sources who, unusually, are given space not only to recount their own experiences but also to offer their own analysis.
The film succeeds, moreover, in disaggregating the parties to the conflict. It departs from the classic ‘on-the-one-hand-on-the-other’ pattern. Among the Israelis who spoke, the viewer could both shudder at the unshakeable religious zealotry of a leader of the Jewish settler movement, and thrill to the courage and integrity of a lawyer who defends Palestinian children. Some of these youngsters are arrested then pressured to inform on leaders of the nonviolent protest movement against the occupation of their land, she said, because Israel has failed to extinguish it by force.
Among Palestinians, there was heartbreaking testimony by a handful of the thousands of children – some as young as five years old – who have entered the military courts system, to endure torture, forced confessions and summary trials that can be over in a matter of seconds. There was also the reality that stone-throwing – the method of choice for expressing defiance – can have deadly consequences. An advocate of nonviolent resistance who spoke turned out to be the brother of a suicide bomber who had killed Israeli civilians.
Not that there is any equivalence between the suffering inflicted on Israelis and Palestinians, and neither, to its credit, did the film pretend there was. The occupied Palestinian territories are not ‘disputed’, in any meaningful sense. Youths who throw stones at occupying soldiers are acting within their right to resist. The soldiers themselves are enforcing an illegal occupation, and international law, in the form of the Fourth Geneva Convention, is crystal clear: an occupying power is not allowed to transfer any part of its population into the occupied territory, as Israel has done with the settlements.
In all these respects, John’s film exemplified the mode of conflict reporting known as Peace Journalism. Conceived as a deliberate remedial strategy, to compensate for the patterns of omission and distortion that can arise unwittingly from journalistic conventions, Peace Journalism is a globally distributed campaign for reform as well as a growing field of scholarly research, with notable movements, among journalists and civil society, in the Philippines, Indonesia and Lebanon, among others.
It calls for journalism to offer backgrounds and contexts of conflict, not just the familiar series of big bangs; a wide range of voices rather than merely a leader on each ‘side’; supply readers and audiences with the means to challenge dominant accounts, and therefore resist propaganda; highlight peace initiatives, however small, which are always underway in any conflict, perhaps in out-of-the-way places; and show images of peace as well as those of war. All these were, in different ways, fulfilled in the Four Corners film.
‘Stone Cold Justice’ ends, as good journalism often does, on an interrogative note. Israel may be strong at the moment, John observes, but what will happen when the present generation of Palestinian youth – brutalised and traumatised, in many cases, by their treatment – comes of age?
It is profoundly to be hoped that the answer will not be to engage in violence. Any repeat of the so-called Al Aqsa Intifada, the bombing campaign launched in 2000, which brought only misery to both Israelis and Palestinians, would be a disaster. The kind of disaster, in fact, that the most famous recruit to the campaign for the academic boycott of Israel, Professor Stephen Hawking, warned about in his statement, explaining why he had declined an invitation to address the Israeli Presidential Conference, ‘Facing Tomorrow 2013’.
Neither can we expect Palestinians meekly to accept the indignities and injustice heaped upon them. That would be to abrogate fulfilment of their human needs for dignity, esteem and identity. ‘Will there be another Intifada’, I am sometimes asked, at public meetings called to spread the BDS protest movement in the international community? My answer: ‘Let’s hope this is it’.
‘Stone Cold Justice’ equipped us to see through the official Israeli line that keeps alive the prospect – albeit one hedged by many caveats – that Israel may, through US-sponsored negotiations, eventually agree to a meaningful Palestinian state, under strict conditions. The settlements are, in fact, exactly what they look like – a calculated initiative for the prevention of peace, by making a ‘two-state solution’ virtually impossible to deliver. John Kerry is just the latest US Secretary of State to try – and, as now looks inevitable, fail – to find a way round that one.
Change will only come with a shift in the wider political context, and that shift is underway thanks partly to the BDS movement. The systematic military responses, whose dire effects were so clearly illustrated in John’s film, have always felt relatively cost-free. The US picks up a sizeable portion of the bills for the Israeli military, and there was not, until recently, any serious risk of political or economic penalties because of the quietism of other governments. That is changing, as international readers and audiences find out more about the situation, look for a way they can join in changing it, and find it in the BDS movement. It is feeding through into political process, as the Palestinians make diplomatic gains at the UN and elsewhere. And that shift can empower the advocates of peace with justice on both sides of the wall.
Jake Lynch, former BBC newsreader, political correspondent for Sky News and Sydney correspondent for the Independent, is Associate Professor of Peace Journalism and Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney, Australia. He is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and the advisor for TRANSCEND Media Service-TMS. Lynch is the co-author, with Annabel McGoldrick, of Peace Journalism (Hawthorn Press, 2005), and his new book, Debates in Peace Journalism, has just been published by Sydney University Press and TUP – TRANSCEND University Press. He also co-authored with Johan Galtung and Annabel McGoldrick ‘Reporting Conflict-An Introduction to Peace Journalism,’ which TMS editor Antonio C. S. Rosa translated to Portuguese.
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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 21 Apr 2014.
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