I don't attempt in any way on this blog to do what very fine Middle East-related blogs like Abu Aardvark or Angry Arab or Informed Comment or Just World News (see my "Fellow Travelers" on the right) do--keep up a running account and commentary on current events. Yet when a crisis like what is going on in Gaza breaks out, I spend most of my time obsessing about it and reading, listening and watching the news. And so before I post on my usual, "frivolous," culture-related subjects, I feel somehow compelled to comment on what is going on. So to put my mind at rest, and before I move on to the normal if irregular flow of comment on kufiyas and music and whatnot, I do have a few things to say about Gaza.
First, one of my favorite commentators is Frank Rich. For the last few years, the virtually first thing I have done every Sunday is to get the New York Times off the front porch and go straight to Rich's column and read it over tea and, usually, pancakes. During the Bush years, the commentary has been bracing and incisive. But this Sunday, my disappoint over Rich was almost as great as my disappoint about Rachel Maddow's Gaza coverage. In the case of Rich, it was not what he said but what he didn't say. In a column that was a postmortem on all of Bush's failures over the past eight years and the horrific mess he has left the US in, he failed to address the effect that Israel's Gaza outrage is having--and will continue to have into the foreseeable future--on the US image in the Middle East. He does actually mention Gaza but he states that Bush's failure here was to push for elections in Palestine, which brought Gaza to power in a landslide. In other words, Bush's failure when it comes to Palestine is that he brought Hamas to power. Not his failure to do anything to limit Israel's ongoing colonization of the West Bank or its embargo of Gaza and its periodic deadly assaults. So Rich goes right along with the US media and political elite consensus on Gaza: it's all Hamas' fault. Not even a word about Palestinian civilian casualties.
I read this article later in the day, from Editor & Publisher, which makes clear that Rich's failure to say anything really, is quite in line with what the New York Times has been doing ever since the invasion began:
Israel launched its much-anticipated invasion of Gaza on Saturday. For over a week, U.S. media had provided largely one-sided coverage of the conflict, with little editorializing or commentary arguing against broader Israeli actions.
Most notably, after more than eight days of Israeli bombing and Hamas rocket launching in Gaza, The New York Times had produced exactly one editorial, not a single commentary by any of its columnists, and only two op-eds (one already published elsewhere). The editorial, several days ago, did argue against the wisdom of a ground invasion - - but even though that invasion had become ever more likely all week the paper did not return to this subject.
Amazingly, the paper has kept that silence going in Sunday's and even Monday's paper, with no editorial or columnist comment on the Israeli invasion -- beyond a hawkish pro-invasion contribution by William Kristol. It's as if the Times is waiting for the invasion to be over and adapt its position to the outcome.
So where do you go if you want to follow the crisis and get decent information? (And feed the obsession...) I keep finding new sources. I mentioned some last week, and of course there are the blogs I mention in the first paragraph. The Guardian and The Independent are regularly producing good reporting and commentary, quite unlike anything we have access to in the US. And one of my favorite blogs, Kabobfest, has really been on top of this one, updating constantly. And as
One of my most recent discoveries is that you can watch Al Jazeera English's streaming broadcasts, in real time, on the internet. You can go to their website and do this, but better yet, download the Livestation application (which works on PC and Mac--yay!) and you can watch it, full screen. If you are interested at all in Gaza, and don't have satellite, you really want to do this. Why? Because Al Jazeera is the only international network with reporters inside the Gaza Strip. So unlike watching all the other networks, where the reporters are standing around on the border with Gaza and watching the bombing taking place from the position of the aggressor, from Al Jazeera you get actual footage and reports from the inside. It's really horrific and appalling and infuriating and tear-inducing. You must watch it!
What I wonder sometimes, however, if all this information that is available--if you know where to get it--doesn't turn us into, well, passive observers. I wonder whether I don't spend way too much time trying to stay up to date and read and watch and listen to all the commentary. As opposed to, say writing letters to the editor, trying to convince others who know next to nothing about what is going on, or organizing protests. I have to admit, I have trouble keeping myself away from the (not mainstream US) media coverage...Don't get too hooked.
On the other hand I don't have much trouble staying away from the mainstream media, because every time I watch or read, I am infuriated. Angry Arab is doing a great job of exposing how horrible a job Taghreed El Khodary is doing for the New York Times. Just because an "Arab" is reporting doesn't mean it isn't basically Israeli propaganda. I had the unhappy experience of watching Octavia Nasr comment on CNN for a few minutes yesterday. She is unbelievably dumb, and does nothing to correct the most basic, Orientalist, anti-Arab prejudices of the anchors.
But here is a brief ray of hope: check out this report on CBS, where they do a phone interview a Norwegian doctor, Mads Gilbert, who is working in a Gaza Hospital. He says it's hell, like Dante's Inferno. That he's seen only one military casualty. That fifty percent of the 2500 wounded are women and children, and so on. (I should add that if you watch Al Jazeera English, you are likely to see, as I did, an on-camera interview with Mads Gilbert, at the hospital, with a nonstop stream of wounded showing up. Much more vivid, much more compelling. But then, Israel won't let foreign correspondents into Gaza, to better manage the spin of the news. And none of them are complaining.)
I learned about this CBS broadcast from Juan Cole's Informed Comment. He suggests that you take this information about civilian casualties and write your Senators and Congresspeople and President. He also gives a link making it easy to do so. I took a bit of time off from watching the news flow and sent notes to Bush and Sens. Lincoln and Prior and Congressman Boozman. Please do the same and write your elected representatives.
(I promise, more future posts on music and culture and the like. But with a political flavor...)
UPDATE: I just found this youtube video of an Al Jazeera interview with the Norwegian physician, from Dec. 31.