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Eyeless In Gaza

  • ​Eyeless in Gaza: From two Political Perspectives

    View from the right: Tanya Levine

    It wasn’t easy being Jewish in the middle of 2014. There was a war in the heart of Israel, and, in the mainstream media, that can only mean one thing: the Jews were killing Palestinians. The body counts were constant, and the emphasis on dead children loomed large. While there were some mentions of the non-stop rocket assault from the Palestinian side, the narrative was of a powerful nation inflicting a meaningless war on the stateless people they oppress. In the mainstream media, there is only one side of the story, and it’s rarely the story of Israel.

    This is why Eyeless in Gaza, the film, is such a welcome relief.

    Along with the onslaught from news sources, was the inevitable attacks against Jewish people. As Alan Dershowitz near the end of the film, “If you say it against the Jews, you’re exempt.”

    When Israel acts in ways that western media outlets disagree with, it appears totally acceptable for that media to produce skewed and one -sided approaches. It is a frightening indictment on how pervasive and persuasive news sources can be in affecting global views, and it is unconscionable that the rest of the story goes unheard, which is where Eyeless in Gaza steps in.

    Palestine is controlled by Hamas, a terrorist organisation, whose primary goal is to replace Israel with an Islamist Palestinian state according to its own Charter, and “to fight the Jews and kill them.

    Were this any other nation, it would be considered an ongoing declaration of war. When, in 2014 Hamas fired thousands of rockets from densely populated areas, outside of Israel, we waited for Facebook posts from our friends and family in Jerusalem to keep us updated on our safety. As these family and friends attended funerals and avoided suicide bombings, rockets, and stabbings in the street, the rest of the world was fed images of bleeding children and reports of Israel the mindless tyrant.

    War is horrific in any situation, but when your people are being attacked, and their actions of defence are being branded as cruel, one-sided and for no good reason, the frustration and terror for those people, and yourself grows.

    No filmmaker can capture the long and brutal history that lead to the war in 2014, but Bob Magid provides a different explanation than the usual, often anti-Semitic, version which positions Israel as a monster and Palestine as a hapless, helpless victim. His systematic exploration of the crucial topics at hand has been desperately needed as a record of what else went on and why.

    Our history needs recording

    Magid lays a historical foundation, outlining the various moves Israel has made towards peace with Hamas,. These are not secrets he’s uncovered, but facts that get pushed to the side, or underreported because Israel as a sociopathic superpower is a story gobbled down by those eager to regurgitate the mythology.

    Israel, the strip of red in this map is the only democracy in the Middle East and surrounded by 22 Muslim countries. In 2014, after relentless rocket attacks by Hamas, and the kidnap and murder of 3 teenage Israeli army personell, Israel retaliated.

    During the war it was discovered that Hamas had used aid funding to build a system of tunnels in the city to support its terrorist aims.

    Should Israel really be expected to keep sending olive branches to a group of people determined to destroy it?

    While Hamas stored weapons in local schools and hospitals, Israel dropped leaflets off and made phone calls to buildings it planned to attack, warning the enemy to leave, to minimise civilian deaths. Hamas, who has a long history of using its people as human shields, instructed them to stay.

    Yet this story seems only ever told as that of a group of innocent people who’ve had their land taken away, and the overlord that denies them. Finally, Eyeless in Gaza speaks that which we the Jewish people have known for decades but never more clearly than in 2014:

    As Benjamin Netanyahu said, “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel”.

    View from the Left: Alan Harstein

    Eyeless in Gaza is a confronting documentary about the seemingly intractable Israel/Palestine conflict that has fascinated the world for the past 70-odd years and seems, if anything, to be getting worse with the passage of time.

    This latest installment, which premiered at the Jewish International Film Festival held in Sydney last year, centres around Hamas’ rocket attack on Israeli population centres in July 2014, the Israel Defence Force’s subsequent military operation codenamed Operation Protective Edge, and the way in which the international media covered the conflict.

    Regardless of what side of the fence you may be entrenched on in this highly polarising issue, the one thing you’d agree on is that Eyeless in Gaza does raise a lot of interesting points:

    Hamas launched a seemingly unprovoked rocket offensive from densely populated neighbourhoods of Gaza at Israeli cities, the Israelis were fortunate that the recently erected Iron Dome missile defence system was able to repel over 90 per cent of over 4,000 rocket attacks, and over 2000 Palestinians were killed in what ensued.

    Describing that operation as a massacre, the world’s media seemingly had a collective meltdown, blaming the IDF for the senseless slaughter of civilians and painting the Palestinians as the helpless victims while virtually ignoring Hamas’ role in the tragedy.

    Eyeless in Gaza also shows how Hamas terrorised local and international journalists who didn’t report the ‘official’ version of events and there were plenty of people on the ground, some of a distinctly pro-Palestinian persuasion, that willingly confirmed this version of events.

    But does the documentary simplify a highly complex issue? For example, there was plenty of discussion about the number of fatalities suffered by the Palestinians: 760 civilians, 950 militants, and another 430 people not identified as either. Reports referenced claimed that civilian deaths in these sorts of conflicts are usually disproportionately higher (3 to 1), whereas here it was less than one civilian for every enemy combatant, the argument being that the IDF had been extra careful to avoid civilian casualties.

    Yet an Israeli military inquiry found that it dropped more than 2,000 bombs, missiles and shells on the southern city of Rafah in just one day, August 1, including 1,000 in the three hours following the capture of an Israeli soldier. That four-day bombardment killed at least 135 civilians, injured many more and destroyed hundreds of homes. Eyeless in Gaza also made much of the way that the Egyptians have treated the Palestinians on the Sinai side of the border and the brutal oppression by the Syrian government of its Palestinian population during the civil war, both of which were apparently much worse, especially in terms of numbers killed and injured.

    While it's easy to agree that there’s been an unacceptably low level of coverage of these atrocities by the international media, there’s still no escaping the findings of reports into the IDF's conduct during the 2014 conflict and worth also looking into the research from Amnesty.

    Much was also made of the unprovoked nature of the attacks and while Hamas richly deserves its portrayal as a venal, toxic organisation, attacks like these are rarely unprovoked, regardless of ideology.

    Israel had launched two major incursions into Gaza in the previous six years, the area has one of the highest population densities on earth and living conditions that most would agree are appalling, especially given the restrictions placed on the movements of people and goods.

    Perhaps the real tragedy of the situation, that Eyeless in Gaza went some way to explaining, is that the people of Gaza elected a group of fascist thugs hell bent on destroying any chance of a lasting peace.

    Of course the reality of the situation is that there’s never been any shortage of appalling hardliners, both in and out of government, who are equally enthusiastic about scuttling any chance to find a way forward in this conflict.

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  • The Big Smoke

    The first casualty of war is truth, so the saying goes.

    In 2017, in a world fueled by 24-hour news and social media, a world that constantly seems to teeter on the brink of all-out chaos, this is more apt than ever. It’s a world hungry for content at any cost, desperate for hits and clicks, driven by advertisers fueled by their own political agendas.

    While we understand that all media carries some bias, we also expect that journalists will attempt to be objective and impartial, especially when innocent lives are at stake. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

    The term “fake news” has been bandied about a lot in the last few months, ever since it became the catch-cry of anything Donald Trump didn’t like in the 2016 election. But fake news has been around forever: what has changed is our ability to instantly share and be influenced by it. There is, however, a fine line between fake news and entrenched media bias, between clickbait intended purely to make some noise and a carefully orchestrated misrepresentation of the facts, something which has devastating and far-reaching consequences.

    Delving deep into this murky world of media bias, Eyeless in Gaza is a courageous attempt to re-write the narrative when it comes to Israel and Palestine, examining in particular the most recent instance their ongoing skirmish erupted into full-blown warfare in the summer of 2014. Too often- the film asserts- Israel has been branded as the aggressor by the world’s media in the bloody battle against Hamas.

    The film is painstakingly constructed and evenly balanced featuring interviews not just with prominent Israelis but also with Palestinian civilians and journalists, Hamas leaders, military analysts and UN officials. It is clear- from those who are willing to talk- that we haven’t been told the full story. Instead, the film suggests that the media’s traditional bias against Israel combined with Hamas’ ability to control local coverage through threats and intimidation resulted in a staggering lack of honest reporting, incorrectly painting Israel as the well-funded bully to Palestine’s scrappy, defenseless underdog. Few would deny there are complex issues on both sides of this conflict, but what is also undeniable is that there is more to the story the simple hero/villain narrative the media has perhaps let us believe. In reality, it’s not quite as black and white.

    Eyeless in Gaza sheds light on this, on the entrenched prejudice within certain western news organisations and at the same time, the degree to which Hamas was able to control the media, by intimidating journalists deep within Gaza territory and threatening civilians for speaking out. One of these was Harry Fear, a British TV correspondent for RTV, who was thrown out of Gaza for tweeting that Hamas were firing rockets from within civilian areas. Others- like AAP reporter Matti Friedman- tell stories of waiting until they were safely out of Palestinian territory before filing any reports which may have been critical of Hamas. Combined with raw footage- video surveillance of Hamas fighters setting off rockets next to UN schools and people being used as human shields- the documentary paints a vivid and disturbing picture about the lengths to which Hamas- a democratically elected government, let’s remember- were willing to go to, even putting their own citizens in harm’s way.

    Whilst applauding this courageous documentary for blasting the media and exposing their bias, it’s also important to have full disclosure about the creative team behind it. (It would be hypocritical not to) Eyeless In Gaza was produced by Robert Magid, a wearer of many hats including economist and property developer as well as filmmaker. He is also publisher of the Australian Jewish News. With that in mind, one might be quick to assume Magid has his own bias on this subject, though this assumption is unfair. True, he has a vested interest in Israeli-Palestinian relations, yet that interest comes from years living and working in the Middle East and observing its politics. He has a unique and valuable perspective on this complicated and divisive issue. The same can be said of his director, Martin Himel, who notched up 25 years in the Middle East both as a correspondent and then a bureau chief for a number of networks in the US and Canada. He’s since become an award-winning documentary maker for CNN, Sky and PBS. In other words, you can’t discredit the impeccable credentials of these two heavy-hitters. This is clearly an important subject they believe hasn’t been addressed, and one upon which they are more than capable of shedding light.

    Whatever your perspective on the Israel/Palestine conflict, it’s important to recognize that the responsibility of the Fourth Estate is to seek out the truth and report it “without fear or favour”, as Adolph S. Ochs, the founding father of the New York Times once implored.

    Eyeless in Gaza presents a compelling and powerful case that invites you to decide for yourself just how much truth was reported in Gaza in 2014. It reminds us all that we must be ever vigilant in questioning where our news comes from, who has filtered it and what they stand to gain.

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