Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Don't believe everything you hear

A friend has e-mailed me and others asking whether we knew anything about this:

Middle East
> Date: Tue Feb 12, 2008 2:39:14 PM Europe/London
> To: Resonance FM admin
> Cc: Richard
> Subject: This week on Resonance FM
> Wednesday between 9pm and 10pm (GMT)
> Sunday between noon and 1pm 104.4 FM (London)
> or
> "Can Hamas Liberate Palestine?". Views from the President of the > British Muslim Initiative, the Jewish Socialist Group, Azzam Tamimi > (historian and supporter of Hamas ), Gilbert Achcar, professor at the > School of Oriental and African Studies, London...
My friend on the Jewish Socialists' Group(JSG) national committee was puzzled because nobody had asked the Jewish Socialists' Group to participate in any programme on Resonance FM. If the Group had been approached to take part in a radio panel debate on Hamas or any other subject we'd have discussed it in the committee, and if we decided to accept the invitation, we would have decided who should go. We might also have wanted to discuss what our representative ought to say, or at least any points they should make.

Some while ago we were asked to help provide Ramadan Radio with a Jewish speaker for a listeners 'phone in discussion. We decided to ask writer Mike Marqusee if he would do it, since he is a good communicator and anti-war activist, gets along well with people, and has travelled in Asian Muslim lands. Sure enough Mike took part in the programme, discussing relations between Jews and Muslims and how they were affected by Israel, and fielding listeners questions (he is a cricket fan after all). Since it was a general discussion, and he was not billed as a spokesperson, we did not worry whether he stuck to any "party line". In a programme lating nearly two hours Mike seems to have gone down well ( see his article in Jewish Socialist No.53, Spring 2007, and also his book 'If I am not for myself').

This latest venture on air is different.

Having heard nothing about it, and seeing no name of who was purportedly speaking for the Jewish Socialists Group, my friend on the national committee, herself an experienced journalist and researcher for broadcasting, was not just bemused, but worried the whole thing might be fabricated, or we might even have been the victims of identity theft.

As it happens, I was able to put her mind at rest. To an extent. But not without incurring my own worries. Here is what really happened.

Late on Saturday afternoon, February 9, I went to Whitehall to join a demonstration against Israel's siege of Gaza, show solidarity with the Palestinian people and demand the British government stop supporting Israel's policy. While I was there I was approached by a young man whom I'd seen around before, who asked where the organisers were, then engaged me in conversation about the demonstration. When he produced a little mike and tape recorder I asked who it was for and he said Resonance FM and gave me a card. I'd never heard of the station before, but then I'm not up to date with the latest radio channels. I only recently started listening to old favourites on BBC7 and following Treasure Quest on Three Counties Radio. The guy assured me it was kosher, so to speak, and that he was a socialist himself.

I answered the questions, told him the siege of Gaza was inhuman and a war crime. He then turned to asking me what I thought of the slogan "Free Palestine!", and I said that of course I agreed though we might understand different things by it, but in my opinion if Israel did not wish to be part of one state it must at least withdraw to its own pre-1967 borders so the Palestinian people could be free to set up their own state. Then he started asking me how Palestine could be freed, and whether I thought Hamas could do this. In the course of our discussion I referred to Palestinian struggle not just since 1948, but going back to 1936-9, when they fought courageously but were defeated not just by the ruthlessness of the British but by the fact that the Zionists could establish themselves in their place. Now even more so the situation was not like South Africa, where the whole economy rested on the Black working class. The Palestinian people needed international support and they needed allies within Israel itself.

I argued that the Palestians who had voted Hamas did not do so because they wanted a religious state necessarily, nor because they didn't want peace, but because they were disillusioned with what had come from the so-called 'peace process' so far, and with corruption in Fatah. I thought Hamas would negotiate with Israel, and compromise on its aims, if it were given the chance. But then the interviewer pressed me; would a Hamas-run Palestine in the West Bank or Gaza be liberated and free, since it was what the Muslim majority want? I said there was more to democracy than this, since minorities must also be respected, and many Palestinians are Christians or non-religious, and people can also change. I also observed that, as we saw with the religious Jewish settlers in the West Bank, who do not respect democracy or recognise women's rights, those who believe in a higher authority may disregard human rights.

This was me giving my off the cuff answers to questions in the street. Not participating in a panel discussion nor giving the considered views of the Jewish Socialists' Group or anyone else. I suspect the other persons promised in the Middle East Panorama discussion for Resonancde FM may have been in a similar position, since the young man who interviewed me was asking for them to be pointed out.

Had the JSG been asked to participate in a discussion about whether Hamas could liberate Palestine, we might have been flattered, as I was. but we'd also have been inclined to ask why?
We are not Palestinians, nor even Israelis.

The debate about Hamas and who can liberate Palestine is after all a debate primarily for Palestinians, and one in which they have been engaged, at the same time as they have rightly insisted on their choice of leadership being respected, and as they have all, regardless of party or belief, been suffering from Israeli occupation and siege.

Of course, as socialists, we may have our opinions and sympathies, just as we would when viewing elections in America, Poland, Argentina or France. But it is up to the Palestinian people to determine who leads them, and up to the Israeli government to negotiate with whoever they elect. If they had treated the Palestinian leadership with more respect before it might not have lost respect of the Palestinian masses and Hamas would not have risen to replace it. Our first job is not to play at offering solutions from afar, but to cease being part of the problem, by raising our voices against the Zionist Lobby, helping to educate the public about the realities of the conflict, and demanding different policies from the British government

if the programme maker was serious about a discussion on Palestininian perspectives, why not invite a cross section of Palestinians? Picking up whoever he happened to see on a demonstration, when we assumed he wanted voices on what it was about, the terrible siege of Gaza, is no way to proceed. There were other Palestinians in Whitehall, and even an Israeli or two if he wanted to bring another perspective in.

The Palestinian represestatives in Britain, such as envoy Manuel Hassassian, are devoting themselves to alerting the British public about the siege and to making their people's cause and aspirations better known and understood. Next month sees a Palestine Trade Fair opening in London which will aim to break the stereotypes of Palestinians as refugees or terrorists, and show them as producers, who want to be free to build a better life. They know that just as Palestinian workers and farmers face roadblocks and an apartheid wall, so the truth and especially anything positive about them often faces a media blockade.

It is a difficult enough job without having to face diversions, or attempts to import divisions into the Palestinian communities and supporters of their cause here. We don't want to be used as part of any diversion, or be misrepresented as such.

Hopefully the progranme maker Nadim Mahjoub was guilty of inexperience and being over-ambitious in the way he presented what he had, and nothing worse. So far as I can gather, Resonance is asically a music station, and Nadim' (Middle East Panorama) an enthusiastic freelance. We need journalists and media workers who will do everything to help the struggle for peace with justice, and not just see the struggle as an opportunity to advance their own careers. The "alternative media" should be better than the bourgeois media, not just cutting corners with the rules.

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At 12:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another great article -- I agree!

Resonance is an arts station run by some sort of artists' collective/non-profit. It's pretty good really, check it out sometime. You can listen online too.

The station as a whole is pretty "amatuer" (in the best posible sense of the word) and they give time to various and sundry, being pretty open. I would be inclined to give the guy the benefit of the doubt and put it down to inexperience.

They give Indymedia a hour a week for a pretty decent radio show (or they used to -- haven't listened in a while). Indymedia Pennie used to be one of the main people behind that.

At 4:05 PM, Blogger by Nèdeem al-Mahjoub نديم المحجوب said...

Hi there.
I find this outrageous! "We need journalists and media workers who will do everything to help the struggle for peace with justice, and not just see the struggle as an opportunity to advance their own careers."
I am not a freelance journalist and I have been doing the programme on Resonance on a voluntary basis (never paid for it). Regarding the content, it reflects my own objectives: to advance a progressive analysis.
It has nothing to do with experience, but an alternative analysis to the bourgeois media. My choice of interviees is based on that objective.
Nadim Mahjoub


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