La flotta della vergogna

Ieri non riuscivo a credere alle foto, ai video, alle parole che arrivavano da Internet. Devo dire che, stando in Siria e non guardando televisione occidentale, il mio principale mezzo per informarmi e` il web, e da un paio di giorni sul mio Twitter feed leggevo solo di questa #Flotilla o #FreedomFlotilla che tentava l`”arrembaggio” sulle coste di Gaza per portare aiuti a gente che vive in un ghetto. Conosco personalmente alcuni di quelli che facevano parte della #Flotilla, come la giornalista Angela Lano, da anni impegnata a fianco della Palestina con Infopal, e Manolo Luppicchini, che conosco dai tempi dell`universita` e che, da Genova 2001 a Gaza2009, e` stato sempre in prima fila, telecamera alla mano, e sempre pieno di coraggio.

Ieri sera, da Damasco, ho passato ore  d`angoscia con Lorenzo al telefono dalla manifestazione che c`e stata a Piazza Venezia, che mi aggiornava se si erano avute notizie di Angela e Manolo. Per ore i loro cellullari hanno squillato a vuoto, per ora abbiamo temuto il peggio. Per fortuna invece pare che stiano “bene”, l`ambasciatore li ha visti, sono trattenuti dalle autorita` ma in buone condizioni, pare. Hamdullilah, mi dico, meno male che Angela e Manolo ce l`hanno fatta. Ma la colpa di queste altre persone, morte in un`azione umanitaria, per portare aiuti a un popolo sotto assedio?

Non ci sono parole per quest`orrore e per l`arroganza con cui viene perpetrato da uno stato che ha ormai perso ogni parvenza di legittimita` e che mi pare duro chiamare “democrazia”.

Comunque..e` una cosa troppo grande, troppo grave quella che e` successa..e il mondo non sa che mondo arabo non sa che fare..Damasco ieri sera era sospesa in un`atmosfera ovattata fatta di televisori che vomitavano #Flottilla e bandiere del mondo intero, allineate in fila, pronte per la Coppa del Mondo di venerdi` 11 giugno che tutti aspettano con ansia e che questi nuovi eventi rischiano di “rovinare” in un Medio Oriente che non ha mai pace..

Al Jazeera Forum just over in Doha

Al Jazeera Fourth Forum (14-16th march) is just over in Doha, Qatar. Three days of debates mostly focused on geopolitics from a middle eastern perspective: the strategic importance of Turkey and Iran as neighbouring countries, but also of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China. This is the “new world political order” the Al Jazeera way: not only US, not only Europe, not western centered. The Forum agenda seems to reflect perfecly this emerging perspective, which is also interpreted on a TV level by the English channel.

But for the Arabs the debate that first counts is still the Middle East and particularly the Palestinian issue.

Gaza is still the hottest potato: and, as remarked by one of the panelists of today’s Gaza session, we don’t have to consider it “history” yet. 3iani, we can’t consider it as a written page but more likely as a still-to-be-written one. There are many individuals and organisations in Europe currently working to bring Israel to the International Court for having committed a crime against humanity, so the page is yet to be written. Moreover, as the world famous journalist Robert Fisk recalls -he is one of the guests of the panel together with Alain Greish from Le Monde Diplomatique and Ahmed Sheikh, Al Jazeera Head of News-, in Western media we also have the problem of facing the past, i.e. to trace back the real beginning of the Gaza crisis which is not on the 26 of dec 2008. He reminds the audience that the crisis started more than 2 years ago, in 2006, and since then the Palestinian population was isolated and suffered a big humanitarian crisis. He sadly adds that the media in general is conflict-driven, the TV channels don’t light their cameras if there is not a “story” (which should be an invasion, a rocket, but not people that are starving and dying).  The problem is, Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Sheikh remarks, that then they started to be very suspicious about why channels like Al Jazeera have access to this kind of stories, while the answer is very easy: because we invested before, we have been there for many years, he said.

Same in Afghanistan: I remember that when Tayseer Allouni, Al Jazeera correspondent over there was the only to get access to Bin Laden for an interview and then the office was receiving the famous tapes everybody was attacking the channel. Why Al Jazeera? Why not another? Well, answer is easy: cause they were there, they invested money, they built a relation with them. Just like CNN did with Peter Arnett in the First Gulf War, but at the time nobody would have found it strange.

I think it’s time to stop asking questions like this and blaming Al Jazeera. I think it’s time that European media, too, invest in crisis zone but not actually only when the conflict is happening. I think it’s time we start to understand places like the Arab world, Afghanistan, and whatever by living there, understanding the languages, making an effort to understand the cultures, too. Otherwise, we will be to blame. And when somebody from the audience asks Al Jazeera Arabic why they haven’t been as “objective” as Al Jazeera English was in reporting the Gaza conflict (I wonder if the guy does actually understand arabic but it is very unlike: most likely he has just watched images on the Arabic channel and then decided they were biased anyway), Ahmed Sheikh has to remind him that they interviewed many Israeli officials, and they gave the floor and the airspace to Israelis, too. Robert Fisk actually adds something very important to the current debate about “objectivity” in the news: what does it mean to be “objective” in such a situation like Gaza?Does it mean we have to give 50% of airtime to Israelis and 50% of the time to Palestinians and let the audience decide by itself?Is it possible to do this for Gaza the same way we do it during an election or a football match by giving the floor to one party or the other, to one team or the other (what we call in Italian TV, borrowing by Latin, “par condicio” which ends up to be a “sandwich news”? first half cheese, second half tomato in equal parts..)? How can we apply this rule in a situation where journalists are prevented to enter where the actual conflict is happening?So how can they actually report the two sides of the story if one side is forbidden by the other side to be watched and told?

Fisk thinks we have to think about justice before thinking about “objectivity” (which by the way doesn’t exist in general terms and particularly in this Gaza situation for the reasons above mentioned) and I actually do agree with him. We shouldn’t be ashamed to have an ethic in our profession, or values that drive us. Values are not only “objectivity” which by the way can’t be applied in such an unjust unbalanced situation. How can the news be balanced and objective if the situation is objectively unbalanced?

This is, I have to say, a very bad Western habit to think that values can be applied in general conditions while there are no general conditions ever. There is always a context.

Having said that, I really wish Western media can understand and move forward. The real point is not how much floor you give to Palestinians and Israelis, the real point is how you frame the context of what’s happening. And how you portay the Palestinians, too. Cause actually there is no such a general thing as Palestinians, there are different human beings that think different ways. There are Palestianians who are against Hamas, others who are against Fatah, and others that are simply against both of them. The issue is much much more complicated than this. The real question is: how can we expect to challenge Al Jazeera -which could be actually be challenged for the way it portays Palestinians and for the way it portrays one part of the Palestianians as it was all of them- if first, we don’t understand it, and secondly, we are always stressing on this “generalisation process”? Palestinians are no more individuals, they become just a collective entity opposed to Israelis in our generalised view. I wish I could see one day a more complex and deeper debate on those issues which concern us as media professionals and as human beings too.


photo by Joi Ito published under Creative Commons license:

Israeli cartoon on Gaza

BBC Arabic is now reporting about this cartoon on Gaza which was just released by Yoni Goodman, one of the creators of  Academy Award nominated “Walz with Bashir” on Sabra and Chatila Israeli massacre. BBC Arabic reports of him now launching this short cartoon “Closed Zone” which can be screened here: The cartoon features a Palestinian child who runs but every time he is approaching Gaza “borders”human hands are preventing him from trespassing. Israeli hands, but also Egyptians. And, even when he takes a small boat to sail the sea he is prevented to go further thanks to the same “human hands”. The cartoon is produced by Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, a human rights organisation which defends the right to freedom of movement of Palestinians through legal and public advocacy.

The cartoon is very interesting and surely it will have a large distribution on the net, hopefully reminding the people around the world about the everyday life tragedy that every palestians should face to go to school, to work, to do every kind of activity which implies freedom of movement.

Ghassan Bin Geddu among olive trees..

Two days ago, while zapping on Arab TV channels, I saw a very curious reportage broadcasted on Al Jazeera. Ghassan Bin Geddu, Beirut bureau chief of Al Jazeera Tv channel and host of the flagship talk show Hiwar Maftouh (Open dialogue), sitting in the countryside with Hamas people, masked and armed, talking about Gaza, resistance, war. The interview set -the countryside, peaceful, among olive trees- looked almost  “surrealistic”  if compared to the contents of the speech and, most of all, to the “outfits” of the people -kind of guerilla style-. Once again, Ghassan Bin Geddu -who is a very popular character in Al Jazeera– has made a “journalistic scoop” by interviewing those Hamas people, which adds to the many others he did in the past (and can increase his reputation of being “close” to Islamist movements). The reportage looked as a masterpiece in terms of setting, birds singing and nature flourishing and those masked men with guys. I wish I had a copy and could listen to it all! And still wonder why no Western media (TV or press) is talking about those kind of stuff or analysing it…

Arab media battle over Gaza summit(s)

What we saw yesterday on Arab satellite TV screens reflects the chaos which reigns in Arab streets and the controversy who rules all the current relations amongst the Arab countries. Yesterday Doha summit was boycotted  by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two very important players in the Gaza crisis. And not only: two of the top media “owners” of the Arab world. The third is, of course, Qatar, the country who hosted the summit hoping to play the same diplomatic role it played in the Lebanon crisis coming out with the “Doha agreements”. But this time, Qatar was not able to present itself as the mediator. Egypt and Saudi Arabia didn’t go to Doha, and Saudi controlled media -like Dubai based Al Arabiya– were focusing much more on the importance of the Arab foreign ministers meeting to be held in Kuwait next monday. While, of course, Al Jazeera was covering extensively the summit -and often splitting the screen in two, the Doha summit on one side, the Gaza chaos on the other side- focusing on its relevance, as underlined by the BBC monitoring.

And while Al Jazeera was giving lot of relevance to the fact that Qatar has suspended economic and political ties with Israel -being before one of the few Arab countries to have an official Israeli representative  in Doha- , the rival Al Arabiya called this suspension as “temporary”. The relations between Saudi and Qatar, which a while ago seemed to have been restored and improved, now seem to be back to the past. And media are reflecting these divisions once again.

Some side effects of the Gaza crisis

Jordan Prime Minister Nader Dahabi has formally apologized with Al Jazeera‘s Amman bureau chief Yasser Abu Helalah who was beated by the police, together with  other Jordanian staff member of the channel,  during a massive demonstration pro-Gaza on friday. Many Jordanians are Palestianians or of Palestinian origin and we can immagine to what extent the Gaza attacks are effecting them. Yesterday there were massive demonstrations all across the countries -one of them, in Amman, being organised by the Muslim Brotherhood is reported to have hosted more than 100.000 people- protesting against Israel and calling upon the abrogation of the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel.

With the hostilities continuing in Gaza and the anger of the “Arab streets” growing, this would reflect also on Arab governments that are reputed -now more than ever-  to be guilty for what’s happening by the Arab public opinions, fostered by Arab TV channels or leaders like Nasrallah that is claiming Arab governments’ responsibility in this crisis.

Many Arabs are demostrating those days across the Arab world. They are expressing an anger that has always been there -an anger which is aimed at their own goverments as much as it is aimed at Israel-.

With the escalation of violence in Gaza, and if the Arab governments are perceived not to do anything for the Gaza people, the situation risks to become explosive fro many other Arab countries. The risk of destabilising all the Arab region is there.

Hasan Nasrallah said, in one of his last speeches, that the only “positive thing that we are witnessing in the Arab world during those days is that the Arab people are alive, are demostrating all across the Arab world, and they are putting pressure on their governments”.

Nasrallah reminded  the Arabs, during the Ashura, that Chavez has expelled the Israeli ambassador proving himself to be more Palestinian that all the Arab governments.

Yesterday night..

..the most incredible mix of images was offered by Al Jazeera Mubasher which is Al Jazeera’s live channel where they broadcast only events -like press conferences, official meetings, etc- live, without any cuttings or comments. Yesterday night the celebrations for the Orthodox Christmas going on in the amazing beautiful church of Bethlhem were live on their screens, without any editing or comments.  It was almost surrealistic, not only because you see all those beatiful celebrations and you think that Bethlhem is only few miles away from what’s happening in Gaza, being also a part of the same Palestinian country. It was surrealistic, too,  because at the bottom of the screen there was a smaller window, where the United Nations conference in New York was about to be broadcasted live, featuring the discussion of the UN Security Council about the Gaza issue. Those two images  put together without any comment and going on parallel -the Bethlhmen church and New York UN office- were just so distant one from each other, either if both being related to the same tragedy happening in Gaza. The Strip was not appearing itself  on the screen ever during this live broadcast but virtually it was everywhere in those Nativity celebrations as it was everywhere spread in the words of the world nations’ diplomats. At the same time, even if being everywhere, its tragic reality of violence and death was still so faraway from those rejoicing people of one side and from those debating people on the other side. Some time TV can make you think even without saying a word. It was a very interesting job what Al Jazeera Mubasher did yesterday.

Hasan Nasrallah’s speech to be delivered tomorrow during Ashura

I am currently out in Beirut and I will assist tomorrow to the big demostration for the Ashura religious celebration that is going to become a political demostration against Israelis’ attacks on Gaza. Everybody is waiting for Hasan Nasrallah‘s speech cause it is clear that it will have a political added value. In this moment Hezbollah’s position on what’s happening in Gaza is very key. Hezbollah is the only power that could respond to Israel by opening a new military front. For the moment, Hezbollah’s spokeperson Husein Rahhal has denied that a military response is going to happen by saying that: “Our position has been expressed by our secretary general” he told The Daily Star, referring to Nasrallah. “There is nothing new to add”. But the same magazine reported about Israel intensifying violations of Lebanon airspace which could raise the tension if Hezbollah decides to “answer”.  Hasan Nasrallah’s speech will go live on Al Manar, Hezbollah’s TV station headquartered in Beirut.

Facebook war happening in parallel to Gaza war

As Global Voices reports today, it seems that many “pro-Gaza” Facebook groups have been hacked, apparently by the Jewish Internet Defense Force (JIDF) who states to be  “leading the fight against antisemitism and antiterrorism on the web” and “promoting jewish pride, knowledge and unity”. So it now seems that a parallel “war” is now happening on the virtual world of the Internet..

To know more about Gaza..

..have a look to those websites: Menassat, which is a Lebanon based project very much focused on media. They have a very good Arab media community which you could eventually join. Today their homepage headlines is:  “Ground offensive continues amid media blackout”. Global Voices’  Middle East section is also doing a great job and gives an idea of how the bloggers’ community here in the Region has been very active trying to fill the information gap on Gaza.