Shelling UN schools and media soundbites in #Gaza

Last night yet another UN school was hit by Israeli shells, reportedly adding a further 16 dead to the ever growing number of fatalities in Gaza. That death toll has now more or less doubled since the Irish and UK governments abstained from the UN vote on Gaza last week. In the absurd media war that is taking place, varying weights of credibility are being attached to IDF spokespersons on individual incidents like this, as well as the wider context of the Israeli assault on Gaza. In some cases, the IDF have gone as far as to deny any fatalities have occurred as a result of Israeli shelling, such as at the UN school at Beit Hanoun, despite the fact that the testimony of everyone present flatly contradicts the IDF claims. Needless to say, most mainstream media report the IDF claims despite them being clearly contradicted by the evidence available. It goes with saying that the same media, then, don’t indulge in any significant criticism or discussion of why the IDF is putting out disinformation. Jon Snow is one obvious exception here, although he had to use YouTube rather than his employer, Channel 4.

And there is, sadly, a substantial history of IDF disinformation on attacking UN facilities like schools in Gaza (and elsewhere, such as at Qana in Lebanon). In the case of the 2008-2009 Gaza massacre, Israeli claims of rockets being fired from UN schools, like al-Fakhoura where over 40 people were killed by Israeli tank shells, were only admitted as lies in 2012. The al-Fakhoura incident occurred at the mid-point of the 2008-09 Gaza massacre, amid the usual bipolarity of UN and western posturing with no effective action to address the existing UN resolutions against the Israelis, or, remove the immediate threat to life on the ground.

Now Gaza sits in another vacuum of inertia following a UN vote. Fatalities are already on a par with the 2008-09 conflict (which the Arab world calls the ‘Gaza massacre’). Live streams from Gaza give some sense of what residents are having to cope with (eg see this one from photojournalist Jehad Saftawi). At night the sound of IDF aircraft appears ever present, with the sky often lit up by flares and explosions. Despite the (not very credible) Israeli claims of attacking specific targets, the flares, aircraft and explosions must be causing widespread sleep-deprivation and psychological trauma to those hemmed into the Gaza Strip. Particularly so, given that this is on top of the long term impacts of the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Whether this type of live feed from Gaza can survive the Israeli destruction of the only power station isn’t clear (although that is undoubtedly low down the immediate concerns of most Gazans).

For Gazans, on top of immediacy of the physical and very real threat to their lives, a loss or diminution of their capacity to broadcast directly to the outside will mean even more exposure to the reputational damage of relying on the mainstream media to accurately report on events. For instance, look at how that same media have continued to shift the pretext for the Israeli invasion of Gaza. The BBC are now dutifully reporting that the reason for the Israeli assault is tunnels which threaten the security of Israel. As with all sound-bite reporting, this ‘terror tunnels’ pretext doesn’t really stand up to serious scrutiny (see Greg Mitchell here, h/t to @KrustyAllslopp). In many respects this merely demarcates a third stage in a pro-Israeli media campaign, following the previous justifications used, firstly the three Israeli teens abducted and murdered in the West Bank and, then, the firing of rockets from Gaza. Knowing how the media reports on Gaza should make us even more hesitant about forming opinions from its reports on other conflicts, like Syria and Ukraine (and more generally).

The Palestinian poet Rafeef Ziadah, was a coalition media spokesperson during the 2008-09 Gaza massacre, and faced the reality of the western medias role. In ‘We Teach Life, Sir!’ she writes:

Today, my body was a TV’d massacre that had to fit into sound-bites and word limits and move those that are desensitized to terrorist blood.
But they felt sorry.
They felt sorry for the cattle over Gaza.

You can watch her read the whole poem here (you’ll feel richly rewarded for the 4-5 minutes it takes to do so).

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