Dear Mainstream Media: Think Before You Reduce The Middle East Conflict to the Lowest Common Denominator
For years, though more so in the past month, Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been the focus of outlandish discussions and debates between millions of people, while many have never even visited that beautiful colourful area of the world, or lack the requisite knowledge to engage in decent analysis. Shining examples of that come from television's comedic current affairs talk show hosts Jon Stewart and Bill Maher.
A lot of people don’t seem to realise that between the photos, the speeches, the talks and debates around the world, there are people, who have lived in that small piece of land for decades and centuries, whose only wish is to wake up in the morning, go to work, come home to their families, have some dinner, maybe watch some TV, tuck their kids into bed, and go to sleep. You know, just like you do. These people, most forget, actually exist.
I grew up in Israel, served in the military and went to college there. As a lot of Israelis and Jews might attest to, it is difficult to let go of the bond that holds us all together, especially during times such as these.
Over the past few weeks, since the horrific murders of the three teenage Jewish Israelis, and of an innocent Arab Israeli, I have kept my ears to news outlets. I have seen Facebook posts; commentaries and comedy shows make the reality of my Israeli life as well as others, a controversial and distorted story, and at times a joke.
Throughout these weeks I have kept broadly silent, besides occasionally sharing or liking Facebook posts by others. Not once have I written or spoken about these terrible days, except for with close friends.
But everyone wants to know about the war. And the bombs. And the religious conflict. And the territorial conflict. And the terrorism. But speak of a peaceful life? The beaches, the warmth, the beautiful desert mountains in the south? Those remain for the truly informed. The region is not simply what flashes across CNN news alerts.
One of my brothers served in Gaza before the disengagement, the other in the first Lebanon war, and me, the Second Lebanon war. I was in Israel when Gilad Shalit was taken, and I was there when he was released. I wept for friends who died in combat, and cheered when others came out alive. But that is not the sum of my life in Israel.
My life in Israel is my friends, my family, and my hopes for continuing a life that is free of conflict, so we may address issues of education, public policy and infrastructure.
I can write of words spoken by advocates for Palestinians, and words spoken for Israelis. But I feel enough has been shared by others, and I, a simple Israeli longing for days of peace, may not have enough oil to add to the fire. Especially since I choose not to degrade one side so that the other can die in peace. I agree with one thing that’s been repeated, and will share only that: Israel is not at war with the Palestinians, it is at war with Hamas – it is at war with terror. I am not at war with those who are different from me, but I fear many are at war with me for being an Israeli Jew, and therefore different from them.
Israel is a beautiful country, full of colour, warmth, and (overly) outspoken people. It is frustrating, it is comforting, and it continues to uphold one of its most sacred roles: being the only refuge in the world for all Jews, no matter their ethnicity or race, where they grew up, or even where they place their allegiance. It is also home to Muslims, Christians and other religions and minorities, and in times of war or peace – the Israeli Defense Force protects us all, not just the Jews. That might explain why Israel is the only country in the world that has potential citizens flocking to, rather than away from it during a time of war.
I do not believe the conflicts Israel faces are close to being over. But we have a chance, and most of us have hope. This hope begins with remembering that there are people amongst both sides who just want to live. Don’t forget those people when you debate, yell, shout and hurt others in defence or in offence. Remember that every time one obsesses about who’s right or wrong, who started what, who died more, and who killed less, one also tends to forget the human beings living in this horrible reality which is continuously perpetuated not just by actions, but also by malicious, inaccurate and inconsiderate media coverage.
Media coverage doesn’t just cover controversial issues - it also creates and influences them. It would be better if journalists and presenters took time to think before they spoke, and for that thought to take longer than an online minute.
Lee Golan Fischgrund lives in Washington, D.C. and previously worked for media monitoring organisations focused on the middle East