News Comment

Saturday 23 August 2014

Deja vu all over again as our memories play tricks on us over the Palestinian crisis

Robert Fisk

Published 14/07/2014 | 02:30

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An explosion is seen in the northern Gaza Strip after an Israeli air strike July 13, 2014. Israeli naval commandos clashed with Hamas militants in a raid on the coast of the Gaza Strip on Sunday, in what appeared to be the first ground assault of a six-day Israeli offensive on the territory aimed at stopping Palestinian rocket fire. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
An explosion is seen in the northern Gaza Strip after an Israeli air strike. Reuters
Israeli soldiers from the Nahal Infantry Brigade walk across a field near central Gaza Strip July 12, 2014. Israel pounded Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip on Saturday for a fifth day, killing nine people including two disabled women according to medics, and showed no sign of pausing despite international pressure to negotiate a ceasefire. In Israel, a Palestinian rocket seriously wounded one person and injured another seven when it hit a fuel tanker at a service station in Ashdod, 30 km (20 miles) north of Gaza. Islamist militants in Gaza warned they would launch rockets at Tel Aviv's main international airport and warned airlines to stay clear.  REUTERS/ Baz Ratner
Israeli soldiers from the Nahal Infantry Brigade walk across a field near central Gaza Strip. Reuters
The son (L) of one of the Palestinian members of Tayseer Al-Batsh's family, who hospital officials said were killed in an Israeli air strike, mourns during their funeral in Gaza City July 13, 2014. The Israeli air strike on the family home of Al-Batsh, Gaza's police chief, killed 18 people on Saturday, Gaza's health ministry said, and Hamas fired the largest salvo of rockets yet on Tel Aviv since the start of the Jewish state's offensive in the Palestinian enclave. The strike on the home of Al-Batsh in Gaza City was the deadliest bombing since Israel launched its offensive on Tuesday to end Palestinian rocket fire into its territory. Thousands fled their homes in a Gaza town on Sunday after Israel warned them to leave ahead of threatened attacks on rocket-launching sites, on the sixth day of an offensive that Palestinian officials said has killed at least 160 people. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
The son (L) of one of the Palestinian members of Tayseer Al-Batsh's family, who hospital officials said were killed in an Israeli air strike, mourns during their funeral in Gaza City. Reuters

We used to keep clippings, a wad of newspaper cuttings on whatever we were writing about: Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Gaza. Occasionally, we even read books. Maybe it's because of the internet, but in most of our reports, it seems that history only started yesterday, or last week.

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For snobs, it's called the loss of institutional memory. We journos seem to suffer from it more than most. Our readers, I suspect, do not. So here we go ...

"Israel has ignored mounting international calls for a ceasefire and said it will not stop its crippling assault on Gaza until 'peace and tranquility' are achieved in southern Israeli towns in the line of Palestinian rocket fire ... Arab delegates have met with the United Nations Security Council in New York, urging members to adopt a resolution calling for an immediate end to the Israeli attacks and a permanent ceasefire." This is from a Press Association report.

Now here's an editorial from the right-wing Canadian 'National Post': "We (sic) have a great deal of sympathy for the ordinary people of Gaza. Israel's attacks this week on the terrorist infrastructure within the tiny, heavily populated area are undoubtedly extremely hard on them ... as Hamas officials and operatives use them as human shields. But remember: all that was ever required to forestall these attacks was for Palestinians to stop their violence against Israelis."

And here's the 'Guardian': "Yesterday, as three of his children were laid out dead on the hospital floor, Samouni was in a bed upstairs in the Shifa hospital, recovering from wounds to his legs and shoulder and comforting his son, Mohamed, five, who had suffered a broken arm ... 'It's a massacre,' Samouni said. 'We just want to live in peace.'"

And, just for good measure, here's Reuters: "Israel expanded yesterday its fiercest air offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in decades and prepared for a possible ground assault, after a three-day bombardment that has killed 300 Palestinians ... The planes also attacked the homes of two top commanders in Hamas's' armed wing. They were not there, but several family members were among the seven dead."

And last but not least, here's writer Robert Fulford in the Canadian 'Post': "Israel has already proven itself the most restrained nation in history. It has set an all-time record for restraint."

Now, of course you are familiar with everything you've just read above. Since last week, Israel has been bombarding Gaza to prevent Hamas rockets hitting Israel. Palestinians suffer disproportionately, but it's all Hamas's fault. But there's a problem.

The Press Association report was published on January 6, 2009 – five-and-a- half years ago. The 'Post' editorial was printed on January 2 the same year. The 'Guardian' dispatch was on January 6, 2009, and Reuters on December 30, 2008. Fulford's nonsense was published on January 5, 2009.

Oddly, however, no one reminds us that today's carnage is an obscene replay – by both sides – of what has happened before, and indeed before that. The leftist Israeli historian Illan Pappe has recorded how on December 28, 2006, the Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem reported that 660 Palestinians had been killed in that year alone, most in Gaza, including 141 children; and that since 2000, Israeli forces had killed almost 4,000 Palestinians with 20,000 wounded.

But scarcely has there been a single mention of all of this in a single report on the latest slaughter in the Gaza war.

There's nothing new about this memory-wipe. Take this warning of civil war in Lebanon, published in 'The Independent', no less: "For Lebanon, these are tense times ... Since the Alawite community which dominates political power in Syria is in effect Shia and the majority of Syrians are Sunni, it is not difficult to understand the darker nightmares which afflict the people of this region. If the civil conflict in Iraq were to move west, it could open up religious fault lines from Baghdad to Lebanon ... an awesome prospect for the entire Arab world." Alas, this was written by one R Fisk, published on July 7, 2006 – almost exactly eight years ago.

But just to finish off, here's a Reuters report from Mosul: "Insurgents have set police stations ablaze, stolen weapons and brazenly roamed the streets of Mosul as Iraq's third largest city appeared to be sliding out of control..."

This Reuters dispatch was filed in 2004. On that occasion, it was the US military, not the Iraqi army, which had to recapture Mosul from the rebels.

I'm afraid it's about context, this memory-wipe. It's about the way that armies and governments want us to believe – or forget – what they are doing, it's about a historical coverage, and it's about – and I quote the wonderful Israeli journalist Amira Haas "monitoring centres of power".

The question we should be asking – a question many readers and viewers of television have been asking – is: haven't we been here before? And if so, why the repeat performance? (© Independent News Service)

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