Phoebe Greenwood’s polemical caricature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

1612We’ve recently commended Harriet Sherwood for her modest improvements in covering the region, and in taking the first tentative steps towards giving voice to the legitimate concerns of Israelis as well as Palestinians. Specifically, we noted that Sherwood, the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent, recently began seeking comment from mainstream Israelis, rather than simply those representing the far-left, thus enabling her readers to better understand the political dynamics at play in the Israeli -Palestinian Conflict.

Unfortunately, we can’t say the same for Phoebe Greenwood, who has filled in for Sherwood for over a month while she was away.  Greenwood, as with so many ‘journavists’, seems to see her role, in a manner consistent with the au courant post-colonial politics of her day, as providing a voice to the powerless – a binary paradigm which, in ignoring the broader Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Islamist regional conflict, necessarily tailors her reports in a manner which show Palestinians in the best possible light.  Israelis, when they enter the picture at all, are often crude caricatures – a recognizable Goliath in each chapter of the tale she conjures.

Greenwood’s latest report, ‘Palestinian buy land to protect future state and generations‘, March 18, is ostensibly a story about Palestinians purchasing land in the West Bank to secure their presence in the region.  However, such land acquisition is framed as merely a part in a larger Israeli-Palestinian struggle for territory, which she believes defines the conflict – a battle for over 5,000 sq kilometers of real estate in Judea and Samaria which, she claims, Israel is winning.

Israel, according to Greenwood, is winning the war for land by unfairly building “illegal” settlements.  In an effort to explain Israeli motivations for such ‘land grabs’, she adds the following:

Many Israeli Jews believe they have a God-given right to settle anywhere in the biblical land of Israel. Others justify the defiance of international law on the grounds of national security or argue that Arabs cannot be trusted.

This, evidently, represents Greenwood’s conception of Israeli Jews: Violators of international law motivated by religious fundamentalism and racism.

Whilst it’s nice that Greenwood also mentioned Israeli national security concerns, her lazy generalization fails to even address the fact that many Israelis (and many legal scholars) don’t believe that living in Judea and Samaria is ‘illegal’, as their political justification for their presence is supported by Jewish history and, more importantly, codified legally by the Mandate for Palestine – an international adjudication which has never been abrogated.

However, more toxic than Greenwood’s imputation of outlaw status to Israelis who live in communities on the other side of the 1949 armistice lines is the casual accusation of racism – representing a staggering moral inversion given Arab belligerence throughout Israel’s nearly 65 years of existence.

Though the breezy dismissal of Israeli concerns that a deal with the Palestinians, which potentially would remove hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes, may not in fact deliver peace, represents somewhat of the norm amongst even those in the media who claim to empathize with Zionism, the suggestion that such fears are inspired by anti-Arab racism is at best intellectually lazy, and arguably an indication of a broader malevolence.

Israeli Jews who are skeptical of Palestinian peace overtures are rationally responding to several different, though related, historical and political realities.

First, Israeli caution over the possibilities for peace are based, in part, on an understanding of most of the Arab world’s continuing refusal to accept, or in any way normalize relations with, the Jewish state within any borders – a concern only heightened by the ascendancy of Islamism since the start of the ‘Arab Spring’.

Second, Israelis have learned important lessons from the failures of Oslo, and, especially, their withdrawals from South Lebanon and Gaza – the latter representing a perfect cautionary tale regarding the danger of assuming the validity of the ‘land for peace’ formula , or even that Israeli presence in “occupied” land represents the main cause of Arab hostility.

Finally, to address Greenwood’s specific accusation, Israeli concerns over the sincerity of Arab leaders’ putative calls for peace are motivated, in part, by a sober understanding of the pervasive antisemitism among the overwhelming majority of citizens in the Arab world.  Israelis are aware of the state-sponsored hate spewing from Ramallah, Gaza City, Cairo, and Damascus, and understand intuitively that true peace can only be achieved when their neighbors begin to embrace truly liberal values – not merely in rejecting antisemitism, but by adopting democratic norms, treating women, gays and religious minorities with respect, and beginning to nurture a culture of self-criticism.

The path to peace in the region will be a long and arduous one, but must begin with a West, and Western media, that is just as demanding of the Arab world as they are of the Jewish state.  Such moral consistency would of course require the rejection of old, tired and destructive ideologies which place groups, a priori, in arbitrary categories of victim and oppressor – expecting little from the former and everything from the latter.

Until such a moral and journalistic revolution within the mainstream media occurs, however, we can expect stringers like Phoebe Greenwood to continue failing to hold a mirror to a sclerotic Arab political culture which represents a nearly impenetrable barrier to peace and progress in the Middle East.

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