How the Guardian inserts ‘the occupation’ into even the most mundane Palestinian acts

Every day, millions of people – including Palestinians – practice some form of yoga in order to improve their physical, mental and spiritual health. No, we never thought we'd be forced to ponder something so anodyne in the context of our blog's mission of promoting accuracy in the UK media.

Every day, millions of people – including Palestinians – practice some form of yoga in order to improve their physical, mental and spiritual health.

Palestinians practice yoga on a West Bank hilltop
Palestinians practice yoga on a West Bank hilltop

No, we never thought we’d be forced to ponder something so anodyne in the context of our blog’s mission of promoting accuracy in the UK media.  Indeed, an Aug. 27th Guardian story on the putatively increased prevalence of the eastern practice in the Palestinian territories wouldn’t have grabbed our attention if not for the characteristic narrative the author (Lubna Takruri) chose.

yoga

First, Takruri explains the problem:

A lack of yoga teachers, and a social stigma from the confused belief that the practice had something to do with a foreign religion, meant that until recently not many Palestinians had exposure to yoga or meditation.

Enter the requisite international volunteers and a Western NGO with a grant to help solve the problem:

In 2012 and 2013, Farashe [community yoga centre in Ramallah] was boosted when Washington DC-based nonprofit Anahata International ran teacher training for Palestinian women to take the self-care techniques into their communities on the West Bank. With training from Farashe and others, over the last three years, about 80 men and women have become yoga teachers.

Today, yoga-based practices are integrated into community centres and gyms, not only among the elite of cosmopolitan Ramallah, but also in the small villages. It’s used in health clinics in crowded refugee camps, and in classes at small private studios led by new teachers trained by international volunteers.

At this point, the Israeli occupation makes its first appearance.

Palestinians living under the Israeli occupation face stresses that affect their psychological and physical health. The merging of the 4,000-year-old tradition of yoga with the modern science of stress relief is giving West Bank residents the tools to manage their day-to-day wellbeing.

Then, there’s the requisite UNWRA confirmation of the desired narrative:

Basma Abu Sway, a board member of Farashe and former general director of the family and children department in the Palestinian ministry of social affairs, started teaching yoga in a village north of Jerusalem through a UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) programme at the beginning of the year. A report by UNRWA cites chronic lifestyle illnesses among the population as their main health concern, exacerbated by extreme restrictions in movement for Palestinians. “Yoga that can help us with these circumstances,” Abu Sway says.

Finally, the reminder – which, evidently, most readers need – that yoga alone won’t solve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

But Abu Sway cautions against giving yoga a bigger role than it deserves. “It’s not a solution for ending the occupation,” she says. “It doesn’t solve our problems.

Of course, we can think of other stresses some Palestinians may be trying to ameliorate while assuming the lotus position, such as the stress caused by their misogynistic, homophobic and religiously oppressive culture, and living under the yoke of an autocratic regime which doesn’t tolerate dissent, led by a president currently serving the 11th year of his 4 year term, for instance.

Or, maybe they’re simply trying to relieve the stress of everyday life.

But, as former AP Jerusalem correspondent observed about coverage of the region, reporters covering Israel and the Palestinian territories understand quickly that the only thing that matters in the broader Israel-Palestinian story is Israel. “If you follow mainstream coverage,” he adds, “you will find nearly no real analysis of Palestinian society…or investigation of Palestinian government.”

Finally, we’ll note that some friends of this blog have suggested that we post an occasional satire post to lampoon the often risible coverage of Israel.  

However, in addition to the fact that other blogs already claim such territory, Guardian stories such as these suggest that the UK media will continue to provide a supply of unintended parodies to satisfy those of us who can’t help but laugh in the face of reporters’ bizarre fixation on Israel’s putative role in shaping even the most mundane Palestinian acts.

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