ASTANA, 26 May — The United Nations would spare no effort in supporting the quest for peace in the Middle East, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told participants in a two-day international media seminar today, stressing that a free, pluralistic media was essential in covering both the Israeli-Palestinian story and broader regional dynamics in a fast-paced digital world.
In a message delivered on his behalf by Cristina Gallach, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Mr. Ban said that for nearly a quarter century, the annual United Nations International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East had provided an opportunity to enhance understanding between Israelis and Palestinians and examine media dynamics as they related to the evolving situation in the region.
This year’s event would explore the challenges media faced in covering the Israeli-Palestinian story and examine the role of social media in reporting news and the role of media in times of conflict, including the fighting in Gaza in 2014.
“With your support and engagement, we can work together to let journalism thrive and continue to promote peace, understanding and mutual acceptance,” Mr. Ban said through his message. The occupation that started in 1967 must end. He had repeatedly called on all parties to resume peace talks and fulfil the aspirations of both Palestinians for an independent, sovereign and viable State and Israelis to live in a secure and safe nation.
In her opening remarks, Ms. Gallach said that this year, diplomats, journalists, bloggers, academics, experts and policymakers from around the world would discuss the evolving media dynamics in the region. They would consider the potential challenges of peacemaking, explore the difficulties — even dangers — journalists faced in covering the Israel-Palestine story and examine the landscape of creative media tools and technologies that enabled such work.
“We have a rich and stimulating two days ahead of us,” she said. The President of Kazakhstan had once called his country an “historical bridge” between East and West, North and South — the crossroads of cultures and civilizations. Likewise, discussions over the next two days would be living proof of that thought.
Against that backdrop, Dariga Nazarbayeva, Vice-Speaker of the Mazhilis of the Parliament of the Kazakhstan, said recent events pointed to increased violence against the media. She recalled the “barbaric” executions of journalists in Syria, Iraq, the Gaza Strip, and along the Palestinian-Israeli border in that context. Even at home, journalists were at risk, as the tragic shootings of staff at Charlie Hebdo in Paris had shown.
“Media revolutions have changed our world,” she said, with events in the Middle East and Ukraine offering examples of how social networks were influencing societies. Terrorist groups were also organizing their activities through Internet communities and social networks, transforming information into weapons.
With that in mind, Erlan Idrissov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, said his Government understood that the region was experiencing some of the world’s most pressing crises and it was watching them closely. At the same time, the mood regarding the Palestinian situation was changing, with growing recognition of a Palestinian State among European countries. “We believe this is a move in the right direction and we encourage peaceful settlement of this outstanding issue,” he said.
For its part, Kazakhstan supported the Arab Peace Initiative, he said, from a belief that there was room for two States to coexist: an independent State of Palestine living in peace with an independent State of Israel. The world was witnessing a new type of war — one of information — making objective reporting all the more essential in crisis situations. “We hope through your reporting the public will become more aware of the needs for peace,” he asserted.
To tackle those issues, the day featured three panel discussions with journalists, experts and policymakers who were at the frontlines of political and social events that carried both the prospects for peace and the dangers that accompanied them. Throughout, journalists spoke of their challenges in reporting on the diverse Palestinian experiences of war amid regular, and often severe, restrictions on the media. At points, they described how language and terminology were instrumental in framing readers’ opinions.
Deborah Seward, Director of the Strategic Communications Division of the United Nations Department of Public Information, who moderated the afternoon panels, called journalists “your ears and your eyes” into Palestinian realities. It was important that they have the freedom, opportunity and safety to practice their profession.
The annual International Media Seminar was first held in 1991 to provide a forum for dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian journalists, activists, film makers, academics, policymakers and others from around the world. It aims to enhance understanding among peoples with a view to achieving a just, lasting peace based on two States living side by side in peace and security. The 2015 event was organized by the United Nations Department of Public Information in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan.
The 2015 International Media Seminar will reconvene at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, 27 May, to continue its discussion.
DARIGA NAZARBAYEVA, Vice-Speaker of the Mazhilis of the Parliament of Kazakhstan, said the Middle East was experiencing severe problems in the political, social and humanitarian spheres. The issue was increasingly affected by — and discussed in — bilateral and multilateral channels within the United Nations framework and beyond. Despite the collective efforts of the international community, non-governmental organizations and the public, the situation remained complicated. Kazakhstan supported peaceful settlement under United Nations auspices on the basis of two States living in peace with each other.
Amid those difficult conditions, media around the world continued to inform the public about current events, she said. Many journalists faced risks, including physical threats. Recent events pointed to increased violence against the media, including the “barbaric” executions of journalists in Syria, Iraq, the Gaza Strip, and along the Palestinian-Israeli border. Even at home, journalists faced risks, as seen in Paris at the start of the year, with the shootings of staff at Charlie Hebdo. Today, journalists faced dangers that almost equalled those faced by military police, she said, referencing Security Council reports stating that more than 60 media representatives had been killed in 2014 — 23 of them by shooting.
The main format for communication was the Internet, notably social networks, she said. The Internet was a source of information and a platform for communication, but also an opportunity to express an active position and influence political decision makers. Political processes in North Africa and the Middle East had shown the significance of global social networks. While those networks had turned into news agencies, that had not resulted in a loss of popularity for television and radio.
Many global television companies now placed video recordings on YouTube and other such outlets. “Media revolutions have changed our world,” she said, cautioning that such information could also negatively influence public opinion. The situations in the Middle East and Ukraine were examples of how social networks had influenced society. Terrorist groups organized their activities through Internet communities and social networks, transforming information into weapons. Today, participants would hear what representatives had witnessed, which reflected the situation.
In his opening remarks, ERLAN IDRISSOV, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, said: “We must mark today’s event with the political commitment and will to change the world for the better.” Welcoming media representatives and other Middle East experts, he said his Government understood that events in the region were among the world’s most pressing crises and it was watching them closely. Around the world, no reporting had left out the Middle East, whether about the lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations or violent events in Syria, Iraq or Libya. The biggest challenge to human rights was in the so-called Islamic State.
At the same time, he said the mood regarding the Palestinian situation was changing, with recognition by European countries of a Palestinian State. “We believe this is a move in the right direction and we encourage peaceful settlement of this outstanding issue,” he said. Kazakhstan supported the Arab Peace Initiative from a belief that there was room for two States to coexist: an independent State of Palestine living in peace with an independent State of Israel. No other viable solution could be found.
Turning to the situation in Syria, he said the solution lay with Syrians themselves, who must determine how to shape their future. Negotiations, hosted by Kazakhstan, had started yesterday, upon the request of several coalition groups that had written to the President. Kazakhstan had provided a platform and created the conditions for dialogue. “We are quite open,” he said, and in full contact with key players around. Senior officials had met with United Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura two weeks ago, as well as high-level representatives of the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Egypt and Jordan.
He said the destruction by Da’esh of Ramadi and Palmyra was a sign it was time to take action, welcoming that the Russian President and Foreign Minister had met in Sochi with the United States Secretary of State. “We see positive signs of engagement with global players to resolve the situation.” With 4 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, it was the responsibility of the United Nations and everyone else to contribute to a peaceful resolution of the situation.
More broadly, he believed negotiations around Iran’s nuclear programme would be an “important game changer”, as there was room for new forms of partnership in the region. His Government was against the Sunni-Shia divide, which it believed was an artificial construct. It was time for parties to realize that a dangerous point had been reached and that without political will, the situation could spin out of control. “These events have a global context,” he said. The world was witnessing a new type of war, one of information, which was among the most devastating. Objective, constructive and unbiased reporting was essential for media in crisis situations. “We hope through your reporting the public will become more aware of the needs for peace,” he said.
CRISTINA GALLACH, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, then delivered a message from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said that, for nearly a quarter century, the annual seminar had provided an opportunity to enhance understanding between Israelis and Palestinians and examine media dynamics as they related to the wider ever-evolving situation in the Middle East.
On his behalf, she said this year’s event occurred just weeks after the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day, which had been held under the theme “Let Journalism Thrive towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality, and Media Safety in the Digital Age”, and emphasized the importance of ensuring a free, pluralistic media in a fast-paced and challenging digital world.
Participants in the 2015 seminar would deliberate the challenges media faced in covering the Israeli-Palestinian story and explore both social media’s role in reporting news and its role in times of conflict.
“The United Nations system will spare no effort in supporting the quest for peace”, she said, continuing to read out the Secretary-General’s message. The occupation that started in 1967 must end, which could only happen through a negotiated solution. The Secretary-General had repeatedly called on parties to resume peace talks and fulfil the aspirations of both Palestinians for an independent, sovereign and viable State and of Israelis for a secure and safe country. Towards those ends, the media had an important role to play. “With your support and engagement, we can work together to let journalism thrive and continue to promote peace, understanding and mutual acceptance,” she said.
Speaking in her capacity as Under-Secretary-General, Ms. GALLACH drew attention to a written message by Fodé Seck, Permanent Representative of Senegal to the United Nations and Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, included in participants’ information folder. The Committee, established by the General Assembly in 1975, worked to ensure that the question of Palestine remained at the forefront of the United Nations’ attention, carrying out a number of activities to promote support for the Palestinian people.
For two decades the seminar had become an annual occasion to raise public awareness about the question of Palestine and search for peace in the Middle East, she said. This year, diplomats, journalists, bloggers, academics, experts and policymakers from around the world would discuss the evolving media dynamics in the region. They would consider the potential challenges of peacemaking, explore the difficulties and dangers journalists faced in covering the Israel-Palestine story and examine the landscape of creative media tools and technologies that enabled such work. They would also analyse the media’s role in times of conflict.
“We have a rich and stimulating two days ahead of us,” she said. The President of Kazakhstan had once called his country an “historical bridge” between East and West, North and South — the crossroads of cultures and civilizations. The upcoming discussions — representing different cultures, backgrounds, walks of life and aspirations — would be living proof of that thought.
Participants started the day with a panel discussion titled “The prospects for peace in the Middle East: ongoing and emerging challenges”. Moderated by Ms. Gallach, the panel featured presentations by Yerzhan Ashikbayev, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan; Yossi Beilin, former Minister and Knesset member, President and Founder, Beilink; and Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations.
Mr. ASHIKBAYEV shared his Government’s views on the situation in the Middle East from “the outside”, saying it had a multiplying effect on security in the region and beyond. In proposing to host the seminar, his Government was aware that settlement could be strengthened only through various means at different levels. The seminar was his country’s contribution to understanding, including for an outside audience. Kazakhstan was known for its contribution to global peace and security.
He drew attention to an upcoming interfaith dialogue conference, to be held in Astana, a platform where representatives of various regions would discuss principles of peaceful coexistence. Leaders of Islam and Judaism were regular participants. Kazakhstan was taking a greater role and responsibility for regional and global stability. It had been a broker in various conflicts, including talks on the Iranian nuclear programme, which had been resumed in Almaty. Kazakhstan had provided the venue and push for dialogue. It had done so from a belief that the issue was relevant not only to Iran and those in close proximity but to the world.
Kazakhstan had become an independent State in 1991, he said, and many thought it would not be a prosperous one. Twenty-three years later, one could see that through political will it was possible to create an atmosphere where everyone could prosper. The goal was to bring a culture of tolerance and dialogue to the Middle East peace process. In that context, he cited efforts by Brazil and Turkey, which had negotiated the principles of settlement for the Iran nuclear issue.
Mr. BEILIN said that, unlike other conflicts, “we know the solution”. It would not happen overnight, “because the players in our game are not there to fulfil their needed roles”. Israel, under a new Government, believed in the status quo. The Palestinian players, which lost Gaza in 2007, were dealing with a dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), impacting their ability to solve problems. The United States, under President Barack Obama, had said all the right things and tried to foster negotiations. However, the frustration borne from low expectations had only made the solution more difficult. Recently, the United States President had spoken of confidence-building measures between Israelis and Palestinians. “With all due respect, we don’t need them,” he said. “We know each other.” President Obama had made a mistake by giving up on peace and going back to the 1980s.
He said Europe was interested in peace and financing the Palestinian Authority. For the United Nations, it was a huge mistake to be part of Middle East Quartet. If the United States was not advancing, everyone was waiting for it to move. As a result, the system had become paralysed. “It is our role to invent the wheel,” he said, to come up with solutions and not wait for the world to bring them. One of biggest mistakes was not to refer to Israeli-Palestinian confederation as part of the end result. Talk of a two-State solution in order not to see each other had created more hatred.
Rather, both sides should work on the basis of confederation, following the model of the European Union. The right-leaning Government in Israel was fragile and it would not take bold decisions to the right. There was an anti-peace camp in Palestine as there was in Israel. The most important thing that could happen, in the hands of Palestinians, was to end the Oslo Process. “It should end,” he said. “We keep a dead body alive,” with a huge price to be paid for that artificial situation.
When he began the peace process, he had not dreamt about 22 years. He thought about a genuine process that would be conducive to a permanent agreement in five years. “What we meant to become a corridor became a living room,” he said. The Israeli right was the strongest supporter of the Oslo Agreement because it felt it could continue its settlements. The practical solution might be to go back to an initiative already decided by Israelis and Palestinians and adopted by the United Nations: The Road Map for Peace in the Middle East, which spoke of a Palestinian State in provisional borders. “If we do not come with new ideas, it will be very difficult to ask the world to invent the wheel for us.”
Mr. MANSOUR said support for a two-State solution entailed recognition of the State of Palestine and support for a collective process that would allow for accomplishing that objective. “We don’t have peace and we don’t have a process,” he said, which was the biggest challenge. Lesser challenges included the settlements, the blockade of 1.8 million Gazans and other issues related to a wall that was suffocating people in East Jerusalem through a system that had numerous illegal aspects to it.
At the international level, he said there were options. France had proposed adoption of a Security Council resolution outlining a negotiation timeframe, terms of reference, political parameters and a process that involved the two parties, the permanent five Council members, relevant Arab countries and others. He supported the proposal, noting that the collective processes around Iran, Syria and Ukraine were showing positive results. Those were indications of the new approach Palestinians should follow. He hoped the Europeans would rally and pull the United States into playing a productive role. With the adoption of a French-led resolution and the United States part of that alternative, he could envision the two sides talking within a timeframe and a negotiation method that would not permit running away from responsibility.
He said option 2 would involve holding an international peace conference to implement the Arab Peace Initiative. If Europeans wanted a resolution on settlements, he suggested the one which had been vetoed in 2011 by the United States. Palestinians could consider a text on stopping settlements, provided that it was part of process leading to negotiations, and ultimately, the end of occupation. Option 3 involved submitting a resolution recommending to the Security Council and General Assembly full admission of the State of Palestine to the membership of the United Nations. He knew it would be vetoed. However, Israel had not received nine votes when it applied for membership. If Palestinians received 11 votes, they would be ahead of Israel in their process of United Nations admission. Each month, his Government would request an emergency session on settlements, protection and everything related to advancing the cause of Palestine.
“If all of you in the international community admit that settlements are illegal but do not have the guts to force them to stop, Palestinians will take actions to bring them to accountability.” As to abolishing the Oslo Agreement, he said the Palestinian State was an expression of self-determination. “We will not ask for permission from anyone nor will we negotiate that right,” he said. The expression of independence as a form of self-determination was the sole domain of the Palestinian people. On 29 November 2012, the General Assembly recognized the State of Palestine as an observer State. The Oslo accord had not allowed for declaring a State, going to the General Assembly or joining international treaties. “We are creating legal facts on the ground and moving away from Oslo,” he said. He envisioned the day he would sit as an equal with 193 States in Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty negotiations, and Israel would sit as an observer, which would mean that Palestinians were joining humanity, while Israel was being exposed. “We ask you to support us.”
When the floor was opened for questions, Mr. BEILIN, responding, said the prospects for a Council resolution were feasible. There was a chance the United States would not use its veto to prevent a text. While it would have other considerations, there was potential for a majority in the Council that would have an impact.
To a related question, Mr. BEILIN added that if peace was not achieved by a certain date, the Palestinians should not keep the Palestinian Authority. The political power and daily responsibilities in the West Bank would return to the PLO.
Mr. MANSOUR said the issue of the Palestinian Authority was not a static one, but rather a “dynamic” one. The question centred on whether leaders were functioning as leaders of the Palestinian Authority or those of a State of Palestine. The situation would force those leaders to face issues they were delaying. When space was created for Palestinians and their institutions, that need for the Palestinian National Authority would gradually disintegrate. It was not just about setting a date. He was legislating rules in the international arena to advance the situation to a point that met requirements for statehood. As he was interacting daily with the world at the United Nations, he was perhaps among the few who had a clear vision of where Palestinians were headed.
To another question, Mr. BEILIN said Israel had breached United Nations resolutions, as had Palestinians, notably one that would have given them a much bigger area than the 22 per cent they were now willing to accept. There would have been no problem of Palestinian refugees. He wondered how the situation would have been different had Palestinians implemented that resolution. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had said publically it was a mistake. He was in the minority. “We can spend our lives accusing each other of not respecting United Nations resolutions. But it would not be constructive to butt heads on narratives on which the sides do not agree,” he said. The question was whether there were other options.
On that point, Mr. MANSOUR said he was not fixated on past narratives. Confidence-building measures from the 1980s were not relevant. The focus now must be on establishing an Arab State on 22 per cent of the land. There was a position emerging in Israel for a one-State solution. However, the option that would succeed, as it was available in 1948, was a global consensus on a two-State solution, which more than half of Israeli society supported.
As to how much Palestinians were willing to concede, Mr. MANSOUR recalled that Palestinians had in 2002 accepted the Arab Peace Initiative, another collective concession. “We are committed to it and willing to negotiate in that process,” he said. If a Council resolution was not possible, Palestinians were willing to negotiate peace on that basis. As for any negotiating parties, the agreement reached would not please everyone.
To other questions, Mr. BEILIN responded that desalination would solve the problem of water. No single issue was the impediment to peace. Rather, unwillingness and a fear of the other had stymied progress. He was against the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” movement which did not differentiate. There was a spectrum of beliefs in Israel.
Mr. ASHIKBAYEV said that reaching consensus through compromise should ultimately lead to peace and he encouraged participants to use the ideas presented today as the basis for delivering messages to the public. To a question on how the borders would be drawn, he said that would be up to the parties involved. In Kazakhstan’s experience, such work had been based on the principles of compromise reaching mutually acceptable solutions with different neighbours.
In the afternoon, the seminar held a second panel discussion on “Covering the Israeli-Palestinian story: access, protection and safety of journalists”. Moderated by Deborah Seward, Director, Strategic Communications Division, United Nations Department of Public Information, the panel featured presentations by Itai Anghel, War Correspondent, Channel 2 (Israel); Saorla McCabe, Division for Freedom of Expression, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); and Mussa Qawasma, Photographer, Reuters.
Opening the discussion, Ms. SEWARD said today’s panellists were “your ears and your eyes, telling you the story of Palestinians.” As such, it was important that they have the freedom, opportunity and safety to practice their profession. Given their access to daily war realities, they faced a number of difficulties and restrictions in their work.
Mr. ANGHEL began by saying that his fellow panellist, Mr. QAWASMA, was recently shot in the leg by an Israeli soldier. Had the wound been 30 centimetres higher, he would have died. Unfortunately, journalists were being killed in Gaza, Syria and other places. Many journalists sat in studios discussing places they had never been. Less and less were they doing “real journalism”, travelling to places where events were unfolding. He presented a video showing a journalist in Gaza filming a fireman extinguishing a blaze, when in an instant, the area was shelled. The journalist collapsed thinking it was intifada and that he was dying. Yet, he acted instinctually, taking his camera and documenting the carnage.
The Israeli Government at times tried to inflict fear. For example, when Yassir Arafat died, the Israeli security service issued a warning that Palestinians were planning to kill Israeli journalists attending the funeral in Ramallah. That proved not to be the case. “Everything seems threatening from far away, but through contact — with people, places, situations — you realize it is just fear,” he said. He had lost friends in Syria, one of them an American in Idlib, an area where he too had been smuggled from Turkey by the Free Syrian Army. “Syria and Iraq do not exist as we know them anymore,” he said. Six months ago, he returned to make a documentary, joining Kurdish guerrillas fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS) who had captured some members of that group, possibly those who had killed his American friend.
He also showed footage from Cairo of protesters calling for former President Hosni Mubarak to step down. Thinking that the revolution had succeeded, he went to the Nile River, where he encountered pro-Mubarak protesters taking over the city. Journalists were badly beaten. Al-Jazeera journalists in particular were being accused of fomenting the revolution.
Next, Ms. MCCABE said it was important to hear such stories, as they underpinned the statistics she was about to present. She described how activities by UNESCO to protect journalists fit into a wider United Nations approach, noting that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had singled out journalism as one of the most dangerous professions. On average, one journalist was killed each week, with 600 killed over the past 10 years. There had been innumerable non-fatal attacks and female journalists faced specific dangers.
Most abuses remained un-investigated and unpunished, she said. It was estimated that less than 10 per cent of cases had led to a conviction. Safety was a human rights issue linked to the right of all people to seek, receive and impart information, as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “An attack on a journalist is an attack on every individual’s rights to receive information,” she said. Since the adoption of the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity and its endorsement by the Chief Executives Board in 2012, UNESCO had requested States in which killings had occurred for judicial inquiries. There was a need for States to show political will to take advantage of the Plan.
On Palestine, she said UNESCO carried out projects to protect journalists and recognized the complex conditions in which they worked. The number of violations had grown, with 465 press violations in the West Bank and Gaza registered in 2014 — an increase over the 229 violations registered in 2013, making Palestine among the five deadliest countries in 2014. UNESCO would host a dialogue between journalists and security forces on their rights and responsibilities. Broader efforts were needed to support the adoption of a legal framework that would create an enabling environment in which media could operate.
Rounding out the panel, Mr. QAWASMA said that to be a successful journalist, “don’t pick a side. You have to be the voice of people suffering.” His role was to solve a problem, not to become involved with politics. The types of violations against journalists included death, assault, prevention of coverage, confiscation or destruction of equipment or cars, the targeting of offices or houses, arrests, use as human shields, prevention of travel, and closure of media organizations. He described the incident in which he was shot, saying he had been in an argument with the police. It was the method used by some forces, who at times attempted to intimidate journalists.
Violations in Palestine were not just perpetrated against Palestinian journalists, he said. Others from around the world were also at risk. “If you are a journalist, you are targeted by Governments, parties, sometimes by people.” Journalists were often hit by stones from rock throwers. Covering such a situation required training of those covering news stories. Showing a graph of the violations committed by Palestinians and Israelis against journalists, he said the figures were highest in 2008, during the first conflict in Gaza, in 2012 and in 2014, stressing that 158 journalists had been assaulted or injured last year.
He said every journalist working in Palestine had scars. In his case, he had been targeted by a sniper and the bullet remained lodged in his leg. Journalists needed Governments and the United Nations to create a system for punishing the perpetrators. The minds of children also had to be changed to show them how important journalism was to humanity. He encouraged new journalists to be trained, especially in first aid, noting that he had produced a video on the risks of reporting.
Taking questions, Mr. ANGHEL said he had developed a personal style of reporting by disclosing the fact that he was Israeli.
Mr. QAWASMA said he had become a journalist out of a passion for photography and a need to deliver a message about the people who suffered during conflict.
Mr. ANGHEL added that it was not a journalist’s job to please Governments and it was not a compliment when a Government said they were doing a good job. “Nothing is more interesting than what I am doing,” he said. Luck was part of the equation, as was adrenaline. Journalists experienced places that others would never see and were often exposed to histories and cultures that were unknown to most people. Journalism was also a creative expression that involved using music and light to convey a story.
Mr. QAWASMA said photo journalists in war situations challenged themselves to take the best picture, tell a story and freeze time for one moment.
As for steps taken to protect the identities of journalists and ensure that self-censorship was not hindering their work, Ms. MCCABE said UNESCO was carrying out numerous digital training and capacity-building activities. On the issue of self-censorship due to excessive constraints placed on journalists, UNESCO worked with Governments, advocating for legal frameworks that were in line with international standards. It also worked with journalists to develop professional standards that ensured reporting was not impeded.
The day’s third panel — “Words and their meaning: the role of media and discourse in the midst of conflict” — was moderated by Ms. SEWARD and featured presentations by Gideon Levy, Columnist, Haaretz; Malak Mansour, Senior Editor, WAFA News Agency; and Noam Sheizaf, Co-Founder and Manager, +972 Magazine.
Opening the discussion, Ms. SEWARD said panellists would focus on the conceptions of language and terminology and how they formed subjective opinions. It would also explore ideological patterns and the influence of power.
Mr. LEVY said the occupation was absent in Israeli discourse. “It’s as if it doesn’t exist.” Framing the Israeli-Palestinian situation as a conflict between two partners with a territorial dispute had shaped peoples’ consciousness. “It is not about a conflict,” he said. “It is about an occupation that must end. It is about justice.” By suggesting symmetrical responsibility, the media shaped the picture. In 1967, Israelis did not know what to call the territories they conquered. No one called them “occupied”. The Israeli media doctored automatically and blindly the work of the military establishment.
Citing examples, he said the term “administrative detention” was meant to convey detention in “better conditions” — a misleading term. In reality, it meant detention without a trial. However, the use of those words in the media would raise questions about its legality. Everything was done to soften the message for the reader. “A child was killed” was an oft-used phrase, suggesting it may have been by an act of God, incident or accident. Without the collaboration of Israeli media, the occupation would not have lasted so long. Most of the Israeli media was owned by private commercial hands and had little interest in ideology.
He said the second systematic campaign was the dehumanization of Palestinians, which helped Israelis to live in peace with the occupation — to feel good, not ask questions or have doubts, and to be convinced that the Israeli army was the most moral in the world. Never had there been an occupation in which the occupier presented itself as the victim — the only victim. Israelis would say the occupation was forced on them. But they were in denial, provided mainly by the Israeli media, voluntarily and for commercial reasons. The Israeli media contributed to Israelis’ belief that they were the chosen people, that international law applied everywhere but in their country. It also liked to spread fear. The current President had made his career in so doing, recently telling European Jews to come to Israel for shelter, and later saying Israel was a dangerous place under threat from Iran.
Ms. MANSOUR gave a brief history of Palestinian media, explaining that while it was relatively new, it had experienced many phases in the way people expressed their views and addressed certain events. The Palestinian media had become strong by supporting revolution and struggling against occupation. The terminology was around standing against Israel, and focused on fighting. It was created by the revolution and served the revolution. After the PLO signed the Oslo accords, and the peace process became something to accomplish, the terminology became less focused on resistance and more on how to coexist as two nations.
She noted that following the division between Fatah and Hamas the media discourse had become sectarian. She was a member of the Palestinian media and “this is our reality”, she said. Now that Palestinians were seeking “admission to the world”, terminology had again changed. Discourse was any form of interaction — even an image. The Palestinian media had a one-sided discourse, as journalists did not have access to Israeli officials or society. They were denied permits. Israel was “a ghost hiding behind a wall”. As Israeli officials could not be sourced, it gave the impression that the media was biased. The Palestinian media outlets that reported in English relied on inexact translations from Arabic.
She followed media outlets that published in English. Describing differences, she said Israeli settlers who attacked a house in the West Bank were referred to as “extremists”, whereas Palestinians who committed the same act would be labelled “terrorists”. Palestinian journalists would not use the word “Jewish” or “Zionist”, rather leaving it to the reader to determine what to believe. In reporting the story of three Israelis who had been kidnapped, the Israeli media had portrayed Palestinians as the “evil side”. Yet, when a Palestinian boy was burned alive, the media said it had been committed out of frustration and could be rightly expected from someone who had just been attacked.
Mr. SHEIZAF said problems recognized in the Israeli media also existed even in The New York Times and other outlets considered critical of Israel. The ground situation represented irrefutable facts. In a population of 11 million people, Jews and Palestinians were almost equal in number, living together in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, in the south and other places. In the West Bank, 80 per cent of the people were Palestinian and 20 per cent were Jewish settlers. Questions about “who gets what” had revealed that Israelis carried all the rights — to vote, purchase land, participate in public debate, travel and work. A Palestinian living in the “green line area” was discriminated against informally. One could vote and purchase land, but there were limits to citizenship.
He said a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem could live in the area but not purchase land or vote for national parliament. One living in the West Bank under military law could not vote or participate in public debate. In Gaza, he or she might be more free to move inside the area, but was among the besieged, unable to leave without a permit. Even before discussing the use of violence and force, the situation was an unequal one in which one group had all the rights and the other faced a complicated system of determining whether it had any at all.
In the political system, he said Palestinians had no sovereignty. Yet, reading a newspaper, one would believe they had it. How the situation was understood lay within the media and the universities that duplicated its stories. The story of civilians living under Israeli sovereignty was often covered in the Israeli media by a military or foreign correspondent. It was important to understand that reporters covering Palestinians in the West Bank often physically stood alongside or just behind soldiers — facing the protesters — who sometimes threw stones at them. It was rare to see an Israeli reporter stand among the protesters. “We need to ask ourselves how rights are allocated,” he said.
When the floor was opened for questions, Ambassador MANSOUR said he was impressed by Mr. LEVY’s principled position. He also discussed the growing role of social media.
Mr. LEVY, in response, described the “dark side of the moon” in explaining that Israeli social media had written and legitimized the “garbage” sent into the public domain. When four children were killed on a Gaza beach, the level of aggressiveness and animosity on Israeli social media would never have been published by traditional outlets. Exposing such views created the hatred, dehumanization and sick expressions that people would not otherwise dare to express. Social media had created a frightening new reality.
Offering another view, Mr. SHEIZAF agreed that social media created an echo chamber, but believed it offered more promise than problems. Ultimately, the occupation was the Israeli army. The killing of people would never compete with its systematic violence. Social media challenged the institutions.
Ms. MANSOUR asked Mr. SHEIZAF why he used the term “Jews and Palestinians”, when Judaism was a religion and Palestinian was a nationality.
Mr. SHEIZAF responded that he identified the term “Jewish” with nationality. He was referring to the way the sovereign power allocated and defined rights.
He did not reject the two-State solution. In his presentation, he had set it aside to look at the territory — Jews had all the rights and Palestinians had almost none. He defined himself as Israeli. He was not very religious. His connection was to the territory and the modern definition of existence. In the intellectual discourse, he saw a denial of such an identity.