Last month, at least eight Muslim Palestinian female journalists were physically beaten with clubs, iron chairs, and fists, stabbed, and tortured with electric shocks by male Hamas security forces in the Gaza strip. Their cell phones, laptops, documents, and cameras were confiscated. They were also arrested. Some were forced to sign a document “pledging to refrain from covering such events again.”
The “events” were a series of pro-unity rallies organized by Palestinian youth on Facebook (!) which demanded an end to the dispute between Islamist Hamas and a presumably more moderate Fatah.
So much for the Arab “spring,” and the purposefully misguided Western (and these heroically naïve youthful demonstrators’) belief that the increasingly well organized Islamist Middle East will really rise up on behalf of human rights and women’s rights—without which there can be no democracy.
But this is not my main point.
The mainstream media did not cover this male-on-female atrocity in Gaza. In the English-speaking world, only a handful of journalists, including two Israelis, one writing in the Jerusalem Post, one writing at Big Peace, covered it. A few smaller newspapers in America and an English-language Egyptian paper did so as well.
To be fair, Reuters had an article which featured their own agency in Gaza having being attacked by “armed men.” Later on, we learn that these “armed men” were Hamas officials. And near the end of the piece, we also learn that Hamas also beat “photographers and camera men.” They do not mention female journalists, nor do they give us their names.
Slate also had an article about how Fatah is undermining Islamism on the West Bank. Parenthetically, later on, they mention that Hamas raided the offices of Reuters and destroyed equipment. They do not mention the attack on the Palestinian women journalists.
It did not happen, it is not important. The mainstream media does not really care about what happens to Arabs, Muslims, or Palestinians—not even when they are fellow or sister journalists, women, and feminists. The media only cares when and if Israelis are allegedly the perpetrators, the murderers, the checkpoint “humiliators.” Even when Israelis kill an armed Iranian-backed Palestinian member of Hamas in self-defense, even when Israelis accidentally, with no malice aforethought, kill a British journalist or an American “activist,” the Israelis are not only blamed—films, plays, and documentaries are made about the “martyred” American Rachel Corrie or the “martyred” British filmmaker James Miller or British “anti-war” activist Tom Hurndall. Countless demonstrations have been held. In Miller’s case the British government insisted on an investigation, and his family brought a civil lawsuit against an Israeli soldier.
The media was all over this even though an investigation strongly suggested that James Miller was killed by Palestinians “from the direction of the populated Rafah.” Although people know that Palestinians routinely hide behind civilian hostages, deliberately target Israeli civilians, especially children, create their own “martyrs” (the Muhammad al-Dura case as well as the Rachel Corrie case immediately come to mind)—nevertheless, the media refuses to hold Palestinians accountable and refuses to believe that the Israelis are innocent. The media knows full well that they will be killed or not allowed to “report” in Palestinian areas if they publish anything negative, anything true. By now, this habit is ingrained.
One of the recently beaten, tortured, and arrested Palestinian female journalists, Asma Al-Ghoul, is someone whom I first interviewed in 2009. Al-Ghoul is a secular feminist and a journalist who has written brave articles about honor killings on the West Bank and in Gaza. She asked me to edit and publish some of her work and I proudly did so. Al-Ghoul has been harassed and arrested by Hamas before. Why? Ostensibly because she dared to laugh, wear jeans on the beach, and entered the sea, fully clothed, to swim. These were her crimes—plus the fact that she was a single woman (divorced, actually), out in public, not wearing hijab, and relaxing on the beach with—unbelievably—male friends.
It took the left-wing Mother Jones about a year and half after my interviews to find Al-Ghoul. Guess what the journalist, Ashley Bates, immediately focuses upon? You guessed it. In her third paragraph she writes: “For three years, Israel has enforced a devastating blockade of the Gaza Strip aimed at isolating Hamas.” One might hope that she would leave well enough alone and focus on Al-Ghoul’s heroism and Hamas’ Islamist persecution of women. But not exactly. She sees Al-Ghoul as a heroine primarily because she has remained a “secularist,” and of all the things they may have talked about, Bates instead writes this:
Asma wrote her way through the trauma of the 2008-2009 war between Israel and Hamas militants, which claimed the lives of 13 Israelis and about 1,400 Gazans. Often, she slept at her office for fear of getting killed on the way to her home, a mere five-minute walk away.
“I felt as if Israeli military planes were blind,” Asma recalled. “They attacked everything and everybody. I saw dead children…As a woman and as a human being, I don’t believe in revenge, because it just brings more blood. But people said to me during the war, ‘You see? This is your peace.’”
While Asma has befriended liberal Jewish activists in Gaza, she has never entered Israel. In 2003 and again in 2006, the Israeli government denied her permission to travel through Israel to the West Bank, which is territorially separate from Gaza, to receive awards for her writing.
Yes, we know that Mother Jones is a left-wing magazine. But, in case we forget it—the reporter is careful to remind us that, despite Hamas’ Islamification, she is pro-Palestinian, not pro-Israeli. When I interviewed Al-Ghoul I was careful not to bring in Israeli-Palestinian politics.
What can one do? How can we be proactive, visual, informative, preemptive?
Earlier this week, Artists4Israel and members of the Birthright Israel Alumni Community just did something amazing in Washington Square Park in New York City’s Greenwich Village. They erected a bomb shelter and decorated it just as they’ve done in Sderot, Israel, a city which has absorbed thousands of Hamas rocket attacks in the last ten years, including many after Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza. The graffiti artists and muralists spoke about Sderot and about Israel and talked about how people have only 15 seconds to find a bomb shelter after the “code red” siren goes off. They talked about how permanently traumatized the Israeli children are. Here is a video of this wonderful demonstration/performance art, and of the wonderful artists.
Sadly, Artists4Israel were unable to sound the siren every fifteen seconds (to simulate what life is actually like in Sderot and in southern Israel) for more than a half hour. Equally sadly, this brave band of artist-warriors were also forced to contend with an almost immediate, pro-forma counter-demonstration which shouted, yelled, insulted, and behaved in every way like the Arab Street at its bullying worst. The counter-demonstrators were not respectful, did not engage in dialogue, and did not listen to anything having to do with the suffering of innocent Israeli civilians at the hands of Hamas.
Perhaps they are all journalists or will become journalists when they graduate from college.
Prof. Phyllis Chesler is the author of fifteen books, including Women and Madness (Doubleday, 1972), The Death of Feminism: What’s Next in the Struggle for Women’s Freedom (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) and most recently, The New Anti-Semitism. She is the co-founder of the Association for Women in Psychology and the National Women’s Health Network.