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Chinese lessons for the Middle East journalist

July 3, 2013 21:48

All too often, the media play a detrimental role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as news organizations often seem to be in competition over who can publish the most shocking images of violence, terror and occupation.

Palestinians picking olives

Palestinians picking olives 370. (photo credit:REUTERS)

All too often, the media play a detrimental role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as news organizations often seem to be in competition over who can publish the most shocking images of violence, terror and occupation.

By focusing almost exclusively on negative reports about the extremists on the other side, the media misses a moderate majority that exists in every society. It thereby betrays its role to properly inform people, and perpetuates hatred between the opposing sides of the conflict.

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A friend once told me that China passed a law many years ago requiring news networks to report at least one positive story in every broadcast.

While such laws are of course illegitimate for democratic states, one cannot help but slightly envy that sort of regulation. That is particularly true from the point of view of someone born and raised in a conflict zone.

Following are some examples from my own experience as the leader of OneVoice Israel, a grassroots movement working toward the two-state solution. A little more than six months ago, 1,000 members of OneVoice Palestine were planting the seeds of the first “Peace Forest.”

A thousand trees were planted in an area between Bethlehem and Jericho, in an act of nonviolent resistance to the occupation and to protect the land from settlement expansion.

The act itself and the language around it were nationalistic, but also peaceful and pragmatic. I was eager to share this story about the Palestinian peace camp with reporters from prominent Israeli news channels, and was told that they would consider publishing the story once the rockets then being fired from the Gaza Strip stopped.

So the media chose to extensively cover the work of a few Iranian-funded Kassam launchers, while completely ignoring the story of the voluntary peace activism of 1,000 Palestinian youth.

The following week, 175 Israelis and Palestinians were killed by Hamas rockets and IDF bombs launched in Operation Pillar of Defense. The extremists got their way, and the news channels which covered the violence received extraordinarily high ratings.

On Sunday US Secretary of State John Kerry left the Middle East after a weekend of strenuous talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. It is still unclear what will come out of it.

What is certain is that headlines from interviews with far-right wing members of the Israeli government like Naftali Bennett or Danny Danon were at best unhelpful.

On the other side of the political map, 2,000 people gathered last Sunday in 11 cities across Israel for a rally to revive the peace process, support the efforts of Kerry and endorse the Arab Peace Initiative. OneVoice Israel, along with 20 other leading Israeli peace organizations, co-hosted the event in an unprecedented display of alignment of the Israeli peace camp. The event connected the elites with the grassroots: 18 members of the “Knesset Caucus for Ending the Israeli-Arab Conflict,” from both coalition and opposition parties, spoke with the crowds at eye-level.

Again, mainstream media in Israel, Palestine and abroad did not report a moderate voice for peace.

The media coverage of Israel and Palestine is in desperate need of a bit of hope and some positive stories, which journalists can find without any effort on either side of the conflict. While China is far from being an example of good democratic standards, we just might have something to learn about making space for good news from the biggest autocracy in the world.

The author is executive director of OneVoice Israel, a grassroots movement working in Israel and Palestine for the two-state solution.

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