The media – perpetuating peace or war

After a visit to the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel in 2005, I stopped listening to the mainstream media. Having gained a deeper understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship during the visit, I was painfully aware of bias, distorted framing of the conflict, hypocrisy, and lies in news stories carried by the British media.
But that wasn’t the only reason I tuned out. It was the unstated agenda that disturbed me – an agenda that goes beyond the reporting of events to one that selects only those events that fit the agenda of perpetual war, confusion and despair. Many peacemaking initiatives are never covered by the media and the context in which acts of violence occur are rarely made clear. The consequences of the relentless attention to violent conflict is to reinforce a negative view of human nature, to effectively perpetuate a state of war. In Israel, it is even more blatant than in Britain. Through the media, Israeli leaders “taught us to scoff at belief in peace and any hope for change in our relations with the Arabs. They convinced us that the Arabs understand only force, and therefore that is the only language we can use in our dealings with them. (David Grossman, Ha’aretz, January 2009). The effect is to legitimate the belief that our collective identities (Jew, Muslim, Israeli, Palestinian) reflect real differences between us. In this version of reality, the media make peace that much more unattainable.
Is it possible for the media to have a peacemaking agenda? The visit in 2005 showed me that it is. That visit was with a compassionate listening delegation led by a US organisation (www.compassionatelistening.org). It was a unique opportunity to listen to Israelis and Palestinians as they spoke their deepest truths. The experience opened my eyes and my heart to a different reality – that we have more in common than separates us and that beneath our opposing beliefs are the same fears, hopes, values and needs. What I heard from both Israeli Jews and Palestinians were cries for help and calls for love – to be heard and accepted, to escape the tyranny of fear and victimhood, to be free of demonisation and misrepresentation, to have the chance to live in peace, harmony and justice.
Shortly after the visit, my rabbi invited me to become involved in Radio Salaam Shalom (www.salaamshalom.org.uk), a community media project that does reflect the version of reality I want to create. Based in Bristol (UK), we have an internet radio station staffed by volunteers with one paid co-ordinator. We started with music and discussion-based live shows and now produce fortnightly Jewish-Muslim talk-focused podcasts. Our mission is to “create a multimedia resource dedicated to Jewish and Muslim dialogue, to promote understanding and share awareness of common community values, and to be an innovative broadcaster for constructive Muslim and Jewish communication everywhere”.
We don’t make statements or release official positions and we don’t try to find a common position that we all agree with. We act as a resource to support and encourage dialogue about whatever issues people feel are relevant. There is no censorship. Not surprisingly, Israel/Palestine is one of the topics we discuss. It’s not the only one but with the attack on Gaza, it’s been in the forefront of our awareness. We talk to each other; we interview people working for peace; we highlight projects focussed on non-violent, peaceful change and cooperation.
I’ve used my slot to listen to alternative Jewish voices about Israel, Zionism and Jewish identity. These include a woman whose experience as a hidden child of the Nazi Holocaust led her to support the Palestinian cause; a rabbi explaining why Judaism and Zionism are incompatible; a Jewish woman who campaigns for Jews to boycott Israeli goods; and a volunteer with the Ecumenical Accompanier Programme in Palestine and Israel.. I’ve also provided a platform for Palestinians, including Maha Taji Daghash, peacemaker and academic living in Israel and a woman from the Bay Area Jewish Palestinian Dialogue Group. It’s not all talk – I produced Dove, a drama by a Jewish playwright that explores the pain felt by mothers whose children kill and are killed in violent conflicts.
Every programme leaves me feeling inspired and hopeful. But what really lifts my spirits is the cooperation, openness and harmony between the Muslim and Jewish volunteers in Radio Salaam Shalom. During the latest crisis in Gaza, we kept talking and worked together to produce several podcasts sharing our reactions. As Gandhi says, “be the change you want to see in the world.” We are doing just that.

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