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Update – 27 January 2011

Posted by Jack Chrapot on Thursday 27 January at 5:09pm

Dear All,

The actors who played Macbeth and Macduff stood face to face and drew their swords on a battlefield that was the stage of Melbourne University’s Union Theatre. The anticipated sword fight was delayed however, when a copper coin accidentally fell out of Macduff’s pocket and onto the battlefield/stage. The penny piece rolled interminably and finally came to rest with a clang amid much laughter from the audience that consisting mainly of high school students. We understood at this point that reality had been restored and the play was as good as over.

Our British History teacher brought us even closer to reality the following day when we discussed our outing. She was a proud Scottish woman who had no time for the Bard. She claimed that he wrote to please his patrons and, to a lesser extent, his audiences. Macbeth had been a kindly Scots ruler in real life but was falsely portrayed in The Tragedy of Macbeth as a traitor and murderer. The author had taken the Macbeth story from an already fictionalised historical account and altered it further to clear King James’s legendary ancestor Banquo of being an accomplice to murder. It took a few strokes of an elegant pen to turn a good Scottish monarch into a monster.

You can do the same thing in real life today if you work in the media. We’ve seen it done in the context of the conflict between Israel and the Arabs, particularly after the collapse of Oslo and the instigation of the second intifada by then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The death of Mohammed al Dura, the so-called Jenin massacre, the death of Rachel Corrie, the Second Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead and more lately, the Free Gaza flotilla and the alleged tear gas death of Palestinian woman Jawaher Abu Rahma. There are conflicting versions of each incident. Words are twisted and used to suit each writer’s agenda and sometimes simply to please an audience. One man’s apartheid wall is another man’s security barrier. Terrorists can be militants, activists or freedom fighters. Take your pick. Please yourself.

But sometimes those who write news stories attempt to make the news themselves and then things become problematic. We saw this with the so called “Free Gaza” flotilla incident of May last year when a very deliberate attempt was made in the media to pass off as news a one-sided version of the incident on board one of the six ships, the Mavi Marmara, that led to the deaths of nine Turkish activists. Certain reports were tailored to exculpate the provocateurs of the incident, the Turkish government and the IHH (a Turkish Islamist “charitable group” that praises martyrdom and Israel’s destruction) of any blame for the deaths. A brutal Israeli nation as a whole was not only accused but also tried and found guilty of murder without so much as an opportunity to defend itself in court.

Moreover, despite the expressed peaceful intentions of many members of the flotilla, the outcome the extremists on board this ship sought to achieve was to strengthen the hand of Hamas and weaken those who aspire for peace in the region. To their eternal shame, this was partially done with the assistance of some in the journalistic profession.

The darkness and chaos of the Mediterranean provided a perfect backdrop to what we now know as a mainly fictionalised account from one of the reporters. We were told the attack was timed to coincide with Muslim morning prayers. One could even feel the presence of the evil witches as the battle was about to begin with the storyteller obviously hovering through fog and filthy air to come up with a description of Israeli commandoes as “hyenas”. But like the witches, he saw nothing of what took place on board the Mavi Marmara. He wasn’t there.

The supposed “eye witness” versions relied upon were not those of the author but rather of partisans who travelled on board and who had an anti-Israel agenda from the very start. The account managed to fit that agenda but there was no balance to the story and the truth was left somewhere out in the Mediterranean. When I read Paul McGeough these days, I know that something wicked has just come my way.

Thankfully, there was enough evidence available to piece together what really happened on board the Mavi Marmara. This week the first part of the Turkel Commission report was released. It can be read here and it concludes:-

“The naval blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip – in view of the security circumstances and Israel’s efforts to comply with its humanitarian obligations – was legal pursuant to the rules of international law. The actions carried out by Israel on May 31, 2010, to enforce the naval blockade had the regrettable consequences of the loss of human life and physical injuries. Nonetheless, and despite the limited number of uses of force for which we could not reach a conclusion, the actions taken were found to be legal pursuant to the rules of international law.”

True, this is the Israeli version of the events but it is based on a thorough inquiry presided over by an eminent Supreme Court judge and observed by two respected international independents (a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a former military judge) and not a set of interviews with selected participants whose agenda was clear from the start.

The Commission looked at evidence which many in the media sought to airbrush out of existence even though vision existed of IDF soldiers being beaten by the IHH mob armed with a wide array of weapons, including iron bars, axes, clubs, slingshots, knives, and metal objects. It found that the attackers lost the protection of their civilian status when they directly participated in the hostilities.

There is little doubt that the actions of the IHH were pre-planned. On June 18, 2010, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs released video footage of a rally on board the Mavi Marmara the day before the raid in which the IHH President Fehmi Bülent Yıldırım declared to dozens of activists: “And we say: ‘If you [Israel] send the commandos, we will throw you down from here and you will be humiliated in front of the whole world’ as participating passengers chant “millions of martyrs marching to Gaza!” Other reports have confirmed that one set of relatives of a dead IHH operative has admitted he was on a suicide mission.

The release of the Turkel Commission report was overshadowed by two events.

There was upheaval to the north of Israel whereby Lebanon became the occupied territory of Iran by virtue of a political takeover by its proxy, the Hezbollah in an attempt to whitewash the inquiry into the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Harriri. The fresh danger this brings to the region is obvious but, on this subject, the media commentators seem to have gone on vacation.

Not long after (some would describe it as perfect timing), came the release by Al Jazeera and the Guardian newspaper of the “Palestine Papers”. While the full body of the documents is still in the process of being released and there is some dispute as to their accuracy, the early versions show genuine concessions on both sides (many of which were already public knowledge). However, the release of the documents and the way it was treated by Al Jazeera and in the Guardian were clearly calculated to discredit the Palestine Authority for the way in which it conducted negotiations and the concessions it purportedly made as well as to attack Israel for not accepting the purported offers.

Noted historian Benny Morris has issued strong criticism of Al Jazeera and the Guardian in Wailing over the Palestine Papers. He says,

“Let Wikileaks or Al Jazeera (or Freedland) find and publish the document showing that the Palestinian leadership has accepted the Clinton formula for solving the refugee problem—i.e., settlement in place, in the Arab countries, in the future West Bank-Gaza Palestinian state, across the oceans in Canada, or wherever—and conveyed that acceptance to Israel, formally, officially and definitively, as well as the agreement for recognizing Israel as the Jewish state, and peace between Israel and the Palestinians would be achievable in short order.”

We can see that the efforts of Al Jazeera and the Guardian (locally syndicated through the Age) represent another instance of agenda journalism  going overboard with the result that the prospects of peace are not only hurt but irreparably damaged – a result that will only help the extremists.

In the process, they have also unwittingly exposed another tragedy – the Palestinian leadership has never prepared its people for the day when a peace agreement is finally made – a peace that will inevitably entail two people living together side by side in the land. Palestinian writer Dauod Kattab disingenuously claimed this week in the New York Times this week that the PA has cleaned up Palestinian television of “anti-Israel” incitement but a quick visit to Palestine Media Watch will demonstrate he is lying. 

Professor Barry Rubin understands the phenomenon and describes it well when he asks whether the truth matters:
“Roughly two-thirds of the American people do not accept what the media tells them on this issue. In fact, support for Israel in the United States went up during the Gaza flotilla crisis. Every day, more people are waking up. New sources of information are expanding.

A lot of average people have common sense. A lot of government officials (not enough, for sure), have to deal with reality and sooner or later see through the illusions. Polls on media credibility show it to be quite low. Students sit through indoctrinating classes and don’t accept what they are told.

Basically, we have to wait it out. Meanwhile, we need to tell the truth, educate as many people as possible, help build an alternate elite to replace and repair the diseased segments of society.”

The incitement against Israel and the Jewish people in the Palestinian media and its encouragement by outside elements has undoubtedly served certain agendas and delighted certain audiences but in the end, it’s all a fiction.
We can only hope for the sake of the people of the region who truly want to live together in peace, that one day the penny drops and reality and the truth are restored.
Best Wishes,

Jack Chrapot is a Melbourne lawyer who once played a witch in The Tragedy of Macbeth.