Monday, August 23, 2010

The non-crisis in Gaza goes mainstream …

If any label can be applied to The New York Times, mainstream is certainly it. The paper is widely regarded as THE American newspaper, the most respected throughout the nation, and the standard by which other papers are measured.

An article in the paper yesterday touched on the recently opened Gaza Mall, a small shopping center in the city that has received much attention from the pro-Israel blogosphere. In the article Ethan Bronner provides, in my opinion, one of the most succinct and honest descriptions of the situation in Gaza.
To the commentators who have never been here, certain points need to be cleared up. To those who contend the mall is proof that Gaza has construction materials: the building is 20 years old. To those who have described the mall as “gigantic” and “futuristic”: it is small and a bit old-fashioned. To Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, who wrote that the mall “would not look out of place in any capital in Europe”: it would.

But the broader point many of these advocates are making — that the poverty of Gaza is often misconstrued, willfully or inadvertently — is correct. The despair here is not that of Haiti or Somalia. It is a misery of dependence, immobility and hopelessness, not of grinding want. The flotilla movement is not about material aid; it is about Palestinian freedom and defiance of Israeli power.

“Gaza is not poor in the way outsiders think,” said Nida Wishah, a 22-year-old information technology student who was at the mall one recent afternoon. “You can’t compare our poverty with that of Africa.”
I think it must be said that this story would never had appeared but for the noise created by pro-Israel bloggers and Israeli government offices. For too long unfounded claims about Gaza - that there was a raging humanitarian crisis, or that it was a large prison or concentration camp – went unchallenged and were accepted by many as fact.

Examples of this kind of rhetoric are abundant. There was the recent statement by the British PM calling Gaza a prison camp, or this example from the BBC in which a Cardinal from the Vatican compared Gaza to a concentration camp
For a long time it was almost impossible to challenge this narrative. But slowly, the truth about Gaza was presented. Two blogs stand out in this regard; Elder of Ziyon and Israellycool. Both feature frequent posts highlighting the lack of devastating poverty in Gaza
I recall seeing comments from left-wing Israeli commentators deriding these assertions as "government propaganda." But now, the point has been made, and by The New York Times no less.

This is another example of the power of the blogosphere to shape to the public debate about the conflict, and it's an unquestionable win for those seeking to promote the Israeli perspective. This, along with the relative, but small, successes from the flotilla incident, shows the growing skill of the pro-Israel community to disseminate the truth about the situation
The pro-Israel community was certainly late to the game in terms of communications savvy. But it is learning fast, and has already produced tangible results.

However, pro-Israel bloggers need to be careful moving forward. We can not overstate the case. While it is true that the situation in Gaza is far from the disaster that was commonly presented in the media, it is also true that there is nevertheless a difficult situation there. Using terms such as "luxury mall" is unnecessary hyperbole. Presenting a truthful, but balanced perspective is always the best course of action, and in the end, it is the truthful narrative that will support Israel the most.

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