New Documentary Tells the Truth About Gaza
The Gaza Strip has been a flashpoint between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs for many years — but especially since 2005, when Israel unilaterally withdrew its military and civilians from the territory it had conquered in the Six-Day War. The Israeli withdrawal — calculated at once to divest Israel of the headache of ruling a tinderbox and as an earnest gesture of goodwill — actually proved a fillip for Hamas, the radical Islamic movement that is committed in its charter to destroy Israel, and murder the country’s Jews.
As a history lesson, it’s important to know that since its founding in 1988, Hamas has been a challenger to Fatah — a party founded by Yasser Arafat, and the dominant power within the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, in 2007, Hamas seized control of Gaza, ejecting Fatah forces and throwing their officials and loyalists from the tops of buildings. After the coup, rocket fire into Israel increased exponentially, leading to three major Israeli military incursions into Gaza since then. The latest, the Gaza War of 2014 and the issues arising from it, are the subject of a new documentary produced by Robert Magid.
Eyeless in Gaza investigates how the outside world and mainstream media outlets arrive at the popular perceptions that have prevailed over the Gaza conflict. At its basic core, the prevalent international perception of Gaza is of a dominant Israeli power, unwilling to grant independence to stateless Palestinian Arabs, who have taken up arms as a result. As a corollary, there is much sympathy for the residents of Gaza, who have found themselves in the midst of Israeli-Palestinian firefights. There is also much anger against any Israeli military action, which results in dead and shattered Gazan lives. It is the contention of Eyeless in Gaza that this version of events is the product, in large part, of profoundly and systemically flawed international reportage and media bias.
Eyeless in Gaza opens with a flourish of footage from protest rallies against Israel during the 2014 war, seeking the origin of the passions that the conflict unleashed. The film then embarks on a journey through news footage; interviews with journalists, researchers and participants, both local and foreign; an examination of the methodology of reportage; and telling excerpts of Arabic language interviews with Hamas officials that undermine the prevalent international perception of Gaza.
There is a good deal of footage that may be familiar — of Hamas terror tunnels dug into Israel for mass-casualty attacks, mayhem on Gaza streets during fighting and injured Palestinian youth. But there is also much footage that will be new to many viewers, such as the lines of hundreds of trucks entering Gaza daily from Israel, filled with food and medicine.
No less interesting is the footage we do not tend to see — such as Hamas launching missiles from hospitals and schools, thereby endangering all non-combatants around them. Still more uncommon footage shows Israelis scrambling for bomb shelters as Hamas fires rocket barrages into Israeli towns. Equally rare are interviews and footage of Israel blanketing Gaza suburbs with leaflets informing residents of impending attacks on Hamas installations — showing that Israel takes all manner of measures to minimize civilian casualties.
Interviews with foreign reporters also show a good deal of censorship and self-censorship is at work; these reporters are clearly under Hamas intimidation. The little of what we do see of Hamas rockets launched from civilian neighborhoods and the like, emerge from reports filed only after the foreign journalists had left Gaza — and felt safe to share them with the world. Furthermore, much of the breaking news footage we tend to see, while presented by foreign media outlets, is not actually produced by them: it is Palestinian media sources who report the stories. Often times, they are already critical of Israel — or must, in any case, continue to live in the Hamas-controlled enclave of Gaza.
Hamas officials tend to be sufficiently savvy in foreign interviews, reliably reproducing a litany of Israeli sins and avoiding the more blood-curdling statements that emerge at their rallies — although the odd refusal to accept Israel’s existence when pressed emerges from time to time. However, Hamas interviews with Arabic language media outlets shown here tell a different story — of unbridled hatred and antisemitic hallucinations of world Jewish control. Hamas figures speak of the Holocaust as simply an exaggerated episode in history, the product of a stupendous Jewish conspiracy to frighten Jews into leaving Europe and taking over Palestine. They also tell stories of evil Jews having no raison d’être other than controlling the world through finance and vice.
That this thinking also infects Hamas’ overseas supporters becomes evident in the case of Lauren Booth. Booth, sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and a convert to Islam — whom we see stridently supporting the “resistance” at a pro-Hamas rally in London at the start of the documentary — insists with calm certitude in an interview that BBC editorial policy on Israel is determined by the Israeli embassy.
It is to the documentary’s credit that it seeks not only to expose that a systemic bias against Israel is at work in the international media, but to probe its origins. Here, the results are unnerving. The journalists concerned do not share the relative ignorance of the public they misinform. Therefore, one is obliged to conclude — as researcher Matt Friedman does when interviewed — that the media is not merely conforming to Hamas’ wishes and directives in Gaza. Rather, it is predisposed to cooperating with Hamas in promoting a false narrative of Jewish moral failure in a conflict that is actually devoid of resolution so long as Palestinians insist on Israel’s removal from the map.
The Jews as examples of moral failure has been a preoccupation of non-Jews for centuries. The late Irish statesman and scholar, Conor Cruise O’Brien, once wrote that the West tends to perceive Jews through the eyes of Christian antisemitism, which posits that the Jews were once holy people, who are now very unholy. Eyeless in Gaza shows that this thinking — what Friedman calls a “deep thought pattern” — often prevails when it comes to how stories about Israel are reported to the world.
As a corrective to a bias that poisons as it misinforms, Eyeless in Gaza is overdue — and has much to offer to viewers who are willing to keep an open mind.
A version of this article was originally published by The Big Smoke.