Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Dying for Public Relations

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Dying for Public Relations

Article excerpt

The Palestinian/Israeli conflict has become a staple of international news through neverending reports that volley our PingPong violence back and forth, inviting an international audience to see bloodshed as it happens. The drama of conflict sells, they tell me, and marketers of news must draw an audience. So far, the Middle East has disappointed neither the marketers or consumers of news. We live the stories, the propaganda, the sound bites. Here in Palestine, we're all dying, in a sense, for public relations. The world seems to view us as mere actors in a war movie, trying our best to get the lead roles and the support to survive until the world's directors call, "Cut!"

In Hollywood movies, one man can pummel another and, the next day, the victim is up and about, showing no sign of injury or pain. For us, however, the pain is real, lasting and ugly. Women do not maintain perfectly pressed clothes or unsmeared makeup when shoved into the mud at a checkpoint. Young men beaten with gun butts or kicked in the ribs by soldiers wearing military boots do not jump out of bed the next morning as if nothing had happened to them the day before.

Longing for peace, writing endlessly in hopes of increasing the world's understanding of our position, caring for the injured in our hospitals, hanging onto my beloved family and friends for strength and relief, I'm still threatened by the shadows of death walking ahead of us to our future here in occupied Palestine.

It has become part of my daily routine to get up early in the morning, pick up a newspaper, look at the pictures and read the names of the latest who died for our cause. I put the paper down despondently, wondering who will be next.

Every day, it seems, we hear about another Palestinian youngster blowing himself up to protest the Israeli occupation. Nor, these days, is the act limited to the "few religious fanatics" of the past.

"Suicide Bomber a Woman," announced the headlines of Jan. 27. As much as I am haunted by the pain I see in virtually all our people-men, women and children-this headline jolted me into a deeper awareness of my own anguish over what life has become in Palestine.

On the morning of 27-year-old Wafa Idris's final act, I remember standing with my sister, waiting at the "ultra-obstructed" morning checkpoint-"the half-a-day morning rush;' we call it. Along the wall men stood, waiting with arms raised, car engines still purring. I whispered to my sister, "Look at the line up! I'll bet there will be a bombing during the day and Israel will shell the skies over our heads tonight."

"Surprise, surprise," she replied nonchalantly, passing over my comment with a nod toward the traffic around us.

At noon, from the medical library of AlMaqassed Hospital on the Mount of Olives, I could hear the horrible sounds of a bomb in West Jerusalem. No surprise, I thought. We have learned to predict violence with uncanny accuracy. Of course, I did not yet know who had died, or how many. The first thought that crossed my mind, however, was the irreverent reflection that, perhaps, we were dying for public relations. Just by the strength of the boom, I knew it would make the news. I did not know, however, how those reports would slant the story.

"Palestinians have terrorism in their genes," I had recently heard an Israeli suggest. Distracted, now, by thoughts of how the press would tell the newest "bomber" story, I thought, "What a sound bite that phrase is!" Words go out around the world on the same theme: "It's the Palestinians' fault-if we could get rid of them, everything would be all right."

There are, of course, variations on the theme:

"Get rid of Arafat."

"Shell their homes."

'Assassinate their leaders."

"Dismantle their resistance."

"Build a wall!"

Repetition is the talent of the Zionist spin doctors, and of others who do not know or who reject the humanity that is ours as well as theirs-be they Israelis, Americans, whoever. …

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