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18 June, 2017 00:00 00 AM

Where is the Palestinian ‘Exodus’?

Ray Hanania
Where is the Palestinian ‘Exodus’?

To mark the 50th anniversary of Israel’s military invasion of Arab East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Palestinian activists and Arab and Muslim organizations in the US issued impassioned, well-meaning statements denouncing Israel and urging people not to forget. In the Arab and Muslim worlds, it passed with barely a rumble.

We need to do a better job of telling our story. Palestinians continue to protest and organize conferences where they speak to the choir. Sometimes the activism is effective, such as with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS has made gains, but it is still not enough to bring about real change. Israel continues to expand, erasing Palestinian identity.
What we should do is what Israel has been doing since 1948. It knows how to tell its story to mass audiences effectively, even though the story is built on lies, exaggerations and the demonization of Palestinians and anyone who criticizes Israel.
I was in the Middle East section of a major Chicago library the other day, where I found dozens of books by Israelis and Jews who compellingly shared their experiences of “building” a state in the shadow of the Holocaust.
The two sides’ literature is together but is vastly different, not just in facts but in style. The Israeli story is not weighed down by footnotes or even facts. It is not written the way most Arab books are written, as factual but boring academic dissertations. Sadly the truth can be boring, and boring is not read. The pro-Israel books neutralize the Palestinian narrative. The Israelis succeed in connecting with their audiences, in this case American readers, far better than Palestinians and Arabs have been able to. Very few Palestinian and Arab writers have told their stories in a personal way that might connect with American readers.
It is not just the print industry that is the problem. It is everywhere. The gap between how Israelis present their story and how Palestinians and Arabs present theirs is immense. It exists in movies, theater and on television, not just in popular sitcoms but in documentary channels. Yet the Palestinian story is very powerful; it makes for great books and movies. I have written about the power of the fictional story Leon Uris wrote about the birth of Israel, called “Exodus.” Uris was commissioned by Israel to create a narrative, a myth that would draw in American audiences. Where is the Palestinian “Exodus”? Do we not have the money? We certainly have the stories. The nightmare in Gaza alone could tug at American heartstrings.
The gap in the effectiveness of the Israeli and Palestinian narratives is based on delivery, not substance or facts. 
The latter is handicapped by ineffective communications that lack some fundamental basics when speaking to Western audiences, especially Americans. Here are millions of victims throughout the Middle East region, numerous bereaved families, constant streams of refugees and a human toll that cannot be understood or expressed through typical media narration: a gripping headline, couple of quotes and a paragraph or two by way of providing context.
The price is too high for this kind of lazy journalism. There is too much at stake for journalism not to be fundamentally redefined by those who are experiencing war, understand the pulse of the region, fathom the culture and speak the language of the people.
The Arab people have, indeed, spoken and, for years, their words were filled with anger and hope. The haunting cries of Syrians and other Arab nations will forever define the memories of this generation and the next.
But how much is our journalism today a reflection of this reality? This harrowing, blood-soaked reality?
American author and journalist, Ernest Hemingway, once wrote, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
But modern journalism – at least, the way it is communicated in the Middle East at the moment – hardly bleeds. Under the guise of false objectivity, it remains detached, removed from its immediate reality and is rarely expressive of the seriousness of this difficult transition of our history.
The truth is, however, journalism has not failed. We did. We are the ones still unable to appreciate the gravity of what has befallen our region and, by extension, the world at large. We are the ones still singing the praises of the elites and defending the interests of the few.
As for the people, if we do not neglect them altogether, then we turn their misery into fodder in our political feuds. Equally inexcusable, we pay little attention to history as if the most significant component of our story is the least relevant one.
It is no secret that orientalist history still defines the way that history is written in the Middle East and about the Middle East. We should reject that, not only as a matter of principle, but also because it is both impractical and false.
Eurasia Review

The writer is a political commentator 


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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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