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Symposium on Gaza: a year since the war, a decade of siege

January 2010, by Veronica Sartore

On the evening of January 17th, WAS-NS commemorated the Gaza War of January 2009 with a symposium that was open to the general public. The evening included speakers and a video link to Gaza.

The purpose of the evening was to study not just the Gaza War itself, but the broader context of the war, including the closure and blockade that preceded it,the same severe restrictions that followed it, and the role of the media in shaping Israeli views towards Gaza during the entire period.

Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish retraced for the audience in WAS-NS the tragedy that hit him exactly one year ago, when an Israeli shell hit a room where the doctor’s daughters were gathered, killing three of them and a cousin. His agony was broadcast live on Israel’s Channel Ten TV, since he was a voice from the war zone, telling Israeli radio and television stations in fluent Hebrew about life under fire as Israeli troops pursued a ground offensive against Hamas.

Before the tragedy, Abu al-Aish, who is a gynecologist, worked three days a week at Sheba (Tel HaShomer) Hospital near Tel Aviv as a health policy researcher, where he had friends and acquaintances. Now he lives in Canada. Dr. Abu al-Aish told us about his personal tragedy and how this had affected his outlook on the prospects for peace.

Following these words of Dr. Abu al-Aish, an expert on the Israeli media, Dr. Yitzhar Be’er from Keshev (the Center for the Protection of Democracy in Israel), analyzed the way in which disinformation regarding the incident spread through the Israeli media in the days and weeks that followed. Before eventually admitting responsibility for the incident, the Israeli military at first claimed that they were returning fire towards snipers hidden in the building, and later claimed they were investigating the possibility that the shell that struck the building had originated on the Palestinian side. Dr. Yitzhar brought slides of newspaper articles from the time as testimony. The immediate need, he said, was to prevent the emergence of an iconic story that would place Israel in a negative light, as had the story of Muhammad El Durra in the Second Intifada.

An even more terrifying story than that of Dr. Abu al-Aish, though one which failed to achieve the same media impact in Israel (but see PIWP database) was narrated by Raed al-’Athamna

As a Gaza citizen, al-’Athamna couldn’t be physically present, but we were able to reach him through an internet link. In 2006 the house where he lived in Beit Hanoon was bombed by Israel: he lost 18 faily members -another 45 were injured. Following the incident, he moved far away from the border, to central Gaza. In January 2009 he once again became a victim, losing his house to the bombing. As a taxi driver, al-’Athamna also lost his source of income, when his taxi was destroyed.

Another speaker brought to us by video link from Gaza, Saleh Abed al-’Ati, a member of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights based in Gaza City, described the work of his organization, a year after the War.

The cause given by Israel for the Gaza War had been eight years of Palestinian rocket fire at towns in the Negev, principally the city of Sderot. From Sderot we invited Eric Yallin, founder of Other Voice, a group of residents of Sderot and nearby communities that promotes the cross border dialogue and calls for a civil solution to the conflict. Yallin talked about the efforts of his group’s two year effort to promote citizen action and maintain open lines of communication with Gaza residents, despite the ongoing conflict.

Grass roots organizations like Other Voice face the difficulty of indifference towards their activities and towards the situation on the ground in Gaza and the West Bank. This was brought out rather forcefully by veteran Israeli TV journalist and author Yoram Binur who was present for the whole evening, helping with translation and presenting the story of his own career with Israel’s Channel 2 TV. Binur had been employed first as a field reporter from Palestinian areas, and later as a studio commentator on Palestinian affairs. He claims to have been fired because he did not agree to establishment dictates on reporting from the Occupied Territories and insisted on bringing authentic reportage. Binur provided us with a glimpse of the mechanisms at work behind Israeli TV news coverage of Palestinian issues.

The event was organized by the Municipal Society and the Association of Educational Institutions of WAS-NS, and hosted by the WAS-NS Hotel. Thanks to all those who helped.

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