Narrative Engineering: Spectacle and Reality in Gaza

Saul Bellow called it “event glamour” — the recursive process, endemic to the news cycle, whereby spectacle becomes news and news in turn feeds the spectacle. 9/11, for example, would have been unthinkable- literally unthinkable- in an age without television. These days, in other words, no one is allowed to be eyeless in Gaza: It is vital to Hamas in particular that events be seen, and, moreover, seen through the partisan lens of a tame global media.

The Israeli-Canadian journalist Matti Friedman once observed that the world doesn’t react to what’s actually happening on Israel’s borders, but, rather, to the media’s description of what’s happening on Israel’s borders. There is no journalism here. Only narrative engineering. The iconography and visual grammar of recent reportage is a case in point. Here in the UK, for example, the BBC’s coverage of Gaza invariably involves children, double amputees, little old ladies being wheeled out in iron lungs or whatever, bravely but futilely defying the pitiless might of the IDF. The idea of course is to reinforce the myth of a helpless civilian population being ground to offal beneath the Israeli juggernaut. And, one has to say, it works. A lot of bystanders who are otherwise disinterested (in the proper sense of the term) in the whole Israel-Palestine issue still have a vague, prefabricated, reflex-action idea of the contours of the conflict (Palestinian infants lobbing stones at Israeli tanks in a hopelessly one-sided battle etc) thanks to ceaseless indoctrination by the MSM.

The reality is that Hamas has once again been profligate with the lives of its own people, casting men, women, and children centre stage in flashmob theatre of a deadly — and breathtakingly cynical — kind. Journalists who in any other context would know better look on with willful credulity, peddling their flat-pack narrative of victim/oppressor, good/evil, occupied/occupier, with Israel always and forever on the wrong side of the forward slash.

Even ostensibly sympathetic commentators tend to miss the point, and by some distance; having prefaced their virtue with their pro-Zionist credentials (“Speaking as a friend of Israel…”) they then proceed with no sense of irony to fall into the trap of saying that Israel is falling into Hamas’ trap- a ludicrous concept which would have us believe there are vast untapped reserves of goodwill for the Jewish State out there which Israel is somehow squandering. The technical term for this is probably unprintable in these pages. Israel is hated- and hated viscerally- because it exists. It will always stand condemned before the tribunal of global opinion regardless of its actions or inactions.

The media’s morbidly obsessive interest in this little corner of the world notwithstanding, the bigger geopolitical picture is surprisingly encouraging. By all accounts the violence on the Gaza border only began to deescalate following some stern words in Cairo, whereto the Hamas leadership was summoned at short notice and told in the vernacular to Cut The Crap.

Indeed, the reaction from the Arab world as a whole hints at increasingly depleted supplies of patience. True, the squawks of indignation are still there, but not quite so indignant nor quite so loud as they once were. It’s of note in this respect that the Palestinians’ most vocal regional champions are now non-Arab actors, namely Turkey and Iran, widely despised in the Arab street as the old hegemon and the pretender to a new hegemony respectively. The Palestinians in their turn are perceived as Iranian marionettes, a people with grievances for hire to the highest bidder, and who have almost exhausted their inevitably finite utility as a safety valve for domestic discontent. Astonishing events are fast overtaking once-impregnable certainties- be it Trump’s transfer of diplomatic primacy to Jerusalem or the general reconfiguration of the Near East around an Israel-Saudi axis of mutual self-interest.

Regardless, and like a tired old performing monkey with an accordion, the media will continue to grind out the only tune it knows- that of eternal Israeli culpability contrasted with eternal Palestinian innocence. Yet so long as the Palestinians are infantilized by the bigotry of low expectations as morally nescient, devoid of agency, merely reacting to “injustices” heaped upon them by the Jews, no genuine progress in this debate is possible. The only fact that really matters is the urgency of a liberal Jewish democracy islanded by extremist forces pledged to its destruction, and which will always defend itself accordingly. All else is white noise and tyre smoke.

About the Author
Freelance writer and commentator, blogger for the Huffington Post and the Jerusalem Post, contributor to Quillette magazine
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