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Bursting the Media Bubble: Engaging in Independent Thinking

"Since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives ..." [an excerpt from Harold Pinter's 2005 Nobel Laureate for Literature acceptance speech, "Art, Truth and Politics."

What did we really know about Operation Cast Lead? What did we know of the people in Gaza? Or of its streets, its schools or the amount of food on the shelves of its grocery stores? What did we know of any real danger to Israel or of the relationship between danger and the attack? What did we know then about Gilad Shalit?

What do we know today?

The Gaza Operation in the media was littered with a flow of labels from seasoned politicians: "We will not allow anyone to put our very existence at risk," Ehud Barak repeatedly stated, offering the confused public in Israel a dramatic mantra. Or, (and this is one of my favorites), "the Operation promotes the chances of a speedy process" (here Barak is referring to the release of the captive Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit).

Bursting the Media Bubble

The bubble in the Israeli media relating to the attack on the Gaza Strip was almost airtight; reports of the foreign media were not accessible to those who did not specifically seek them out. And, even then, you needed will, skepticism, knowledge of a foreign language, a satellite dish or the Internet to access foreign reports. An awful lot has to happen for citizens here to know what is going on here. The news broadcasts here did not analyze the international media's reports on the attack. Instead, they chose to show how "anti-Semitic" the reports were and how isolated we were in our just act. Everyone preferred to believe that the international media exaggerated, distorted and didn't understand the meaning of danger. Or, in other words, society preferred not to shatter the mask of media untruths that politicians in Israel created and used all their power to maintain.

I think that young people today can and must burst the media-political bubble in which we live. They need to think about the education they received, the area in which they've grown up, who their neighbors are, what type of rule they live under. It's not an easy task and I don't have a proven methodology offering tools to burst such bubbles. You would need another type of commitment for this mission - commitment to seeking out the truth. The truth about ourselves about which I'm not sure we want to know. And, if it said that truth is liberating it isn't. Truth is relentless; it will pursue us; it will bring a new way of thinking and, sometimes (hopefully), to ongoing action, to a change in our daily habits.

The media directly fed the Israeli "street" and the people's attitude was shaped by these reports, which built on previous "knowledge" about the true character of the "enemy." People around me wholeheartedly believed that we didn't really want to destroy Gaza; that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is an evenhanded and moral army, that the attack would bring calm and that the war was a necessity.

Any facts that did not support this belief were silenced. Demonstrators against the attack and against occupation were regarded as criminals, traitors, and were undermining the morale. That's the reason that most (if not all) demonstrations ended with several arrests and even prosecutions - after all criminals should be treated in accordance with the law.

Renewed thinking would require that we all reconsider our schooling, perhaps going as far back as nursery school. We'd have to re-think those visits to military exhibitions, our Gadna (pre-military training) weekends towards the end of high school, army officers' visits to our classrooms, the school curricula and the way in which Arabic is taught in our schools.

And, perhaps, I don't have to go quite so far back, it's not only nursery school and the school system that are mobilized to create loyal, obedient citizens and it doesn't require a particularly direct or blatant action to make youth attend a week of Gadna camp to ensure that the home front will be supportive...

A Tale of Two Schools

On December 29, 2008, the IDF attacked the Islamic University in Gaza City. It wasn't the first attack during the campaign, and it most certainly wasn't the only one. But that particular morning, as I made my way to campus, it really touched me. I tried not to think of Gaza on my way to university. I wanted to hold the despair at bay till the end of the day - to forget, if only momentarily, the exhaustion, anger and shame that each picture, each news item, each personal anecdote from Gaza evoked in me. But I couldn't get through the Introduction to Poetry class. How on earth could the lecturer carry on from the exact point at which the lecture had ended the previous week? How could we be studying in our university at the very moment that the only university of other students, a mere hour and a half away, was going up in smoke? How could we possibly talk about the importance of meter and rhyme in modern poetry when airplanes are bombing women, children, men, homes, entire neighborhoods? Academia's efforts to maintain normalcy at such times seems a mission of almost national proportions. After all, there are always wars and there are always emergency operations and, anyway, there isn't very much that can be done. So what? So we'll never talk about poetry?

One can sink into despondency, or one can make normalcy into something sacred. But I chose a third way: to act. Although there really wasn't a great deal that could be done within the chaos, acting itself was a statement.

Testimony

Several days after the attack, the Grad missiles from Gaza struck Be'ersheva too and it was decided to discontinue studies for an indefinite period. Despite the fear that this was getting out of control, I could comfort myself with thoughts of now being free to go to Tel Aviv to be among friends who understand me and so feel less isolated, with more opportunities to demonstrate and take political action. I went to the Physicians for Human Rights offices (where I had worked as a volunteer during my year of national service and then remained as an employee), with a last hope that I could, perhaps, be of use to someone and, if not in Gaza, at least to try and support the frustrated project team.

I asked what I could do.

They asked me to take testimony from people in Gaza, to talk to ambulance drivers and to record the delays and attacks on medical teams in Gaza.

I didn't quite understand. And what were we going to do with the testimonies? I again asked: To whom do we submit the complaints? Who's in the Gaza central office? "There's nothing to be done with them other than submit them to the local and international media and follow through to see they are published," was the reply.

All that remained was to transfer information from one place to another. So that was the work that needed doing. And what of the resulting publicity? Were there reviews of the demonstrations? Were testimonies taken up? Some did make it to the international media. A few, if at all, with small headers, with reservations, made it to the Israeli press.

So it's true, I knew what was going on and tried to keep working although the despair was enormous; our work and the demonstrations seemed such a small drop in the ocean; the killing in Gaza continued full steam, with or without us.

After Gaza

I spent the last day of the Operation demonstrating in Jaffa. After the demonstration, having a post-event beer in a pub, we learned that Barak intends to leave Gaza within two weeks and end the campaign. So yes, on the one hand, there was a good feeling to hear this. We would be able to stop the panicky calls to our acquaintances in Gaza, to stop seeing the pictures of destruction, of the dead and the wounded. There would no longer be a need for endless arguments or to support arrested demonstrators. It would now be possible to go back to the Introduction to Modern Poetry and life would go on as before. But what really remained inside us on the day after Gaza? Do we know anything more? Are we more secure? Did we find effective means to object? Will we know how to be more effective for the next operation? When will we drink a beer that will signify that it's really all behind us?

The attack on Gaza was perhaps more violent and cruel than we could possibly have imagined and tried to address in terms of political and even humanitarian protest. This attack could not have happened or been carried through without the wide consensus that formed around the government, the soldiers and those living in the south of Israel who suffered from the attacks from Gaza. This consensus silenced any critical discussion, trod on any possibility of protest, covered up any internal and external criticism and created a smooth and aesthetic plateau of a strong, non-compromising united nation.

Let's return for a moment to Harold Pinter because it seems that there are some things that we do know: the attack on Gaza was not an isolated incident, nor was it a war of emergency. The attack was part of an occupation that began 42 years ago - part of the total control over the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank - part of an electoral campaign. War is not an act of God, nor is it a normal event. We cannot increase the chances of peace if we do not grasp who manages war and their motivating interests. One has to decide to doubt the consensus.

Liberation through Independent Thinking

But the main thing is to undermine the accepted truths and to engage in independent thinking. This will give us back our strength. It will liberate us from not knowing and will give us no choice but to go out and take a stand. The most important and difficult steps are those from not knowing to knowing, and from knowing to taking action. Once we decide to act, there is much to be done: from learning Arabic, participating in demonstrations, to acting in solidarity with Palestinians in their struggle against occupation and with Israeli Arabs in their struggle for equal civil rights, to active refusal to collaborate with the occupation and its masters. These basic steps begin with the courage to judge ourselves, to break free of the taboos on which we were educated and to see the environment in which we live in a new light. Critical thinking will challenge the dangerous social hegemony and will break the unbearable obedience of walking a single path. It will crack, if only slightly, the comfortable, blind routine. After all, those who rule always prefer calm.

Keeping to routine and maintaining the common sense of fear, the collective hug and the unilateral belief in the righteousness of our way did not form naturally from spontaneous instincts. To shape unified consciousness, you need a designer; you need producers and, in particular you need good editors to decide what to add, what to accentuate and, especially, whom to silence.

I will end by sharing with you a short conversation that gives me the strength to carry on my activities after the attack. A colleague from Gaza happened to phone during one of the demonstrations in Tel Aviv. He ended the conversation by asking that we remain strong and not despair. We asked him what on earth he was talking about. We're here in Tel Aviv; it is he who is in Gaza and must remain stronger than ever. "I?" he replied. "I have no choice, you do."

Translated from the Hebrew.


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