In the late 1940s, a Herculean effort was undertaken by Britain and its allies to deliver vital supplies to a helpless West German population surrounded by hostile Soviet forces.
Today, a flotilla of ships is somewhere on the Mediterranean Sea, sailing to the Gaza Strip in an attempt to deliver similarly vital supplies. In the Palestinian territory, a population of 1.5 million people lives in deplorable conditions, held at the mercy of Israeli and Egyptian-controlled borders.
It’s a controversial comparison to make, so please allow me to explain.
On May 20, the Straight published a story about a Victoria resident who was planning to take part in an aid mission for Gaza, which calls itself the Free Gaza Movement.
The following day, Kevin Neish flew to the Mediterranean Sea. A few days later, he joined the flotilla and set sail for the Palestinian-occupied territory.
Since then, the Straight has kept in touch with Neish and requested that he keep the paper updated on his efforts with the Free Gaza Movement.
Upon receiving that request, Neish e-mailed the Straight a frustrated reply. In part, that message read, “I’ll try. Personally I’d rather someone did a story about the lack of much mainstream coverage of this flotilla in general in Canada rather then me.”
Neish’s comments made me recall a speech that renowned journalist Robert Fisk recently made at the fifth Al Jazeera annual forum.
The Independent newspaper’s Middle East correspondent focused his address on the power of semantics, and how language can shape people’s perceptions of events. But Fisk also asked the same question that Niesh had.
“Yes, when it comes to history, we journalists really do let the presidents and prime ministers take us for a ride,” Fisk said.
Today, as foreigners try to take food and fuel by sea to the hungry Palestinians of Gaza, we journalists should be reminding our viewers and listeners of a long-ago day when America and Britain went to the aid of a surrounded people, bringing food and fuel—our own servicemen dying as they did so—to help a starving population. That population had been surrounded by a fence erected by a brutal army which wished to starve the people into submission. The army was Russian. The city was Berlin. The wall was to come later. The people had been our enemies only three years earlier. Yet we flew the Berlin airlift to save them. Now look at Gaza today. Which western journalist —and we love historical parallels—has even mentioned 1948 Berlin in the context of Gaza?
Fisk later concluded his remarks by saying:
Al Jazeera is giving good coverage to the flotilla—the convoy of boats setting off for Gaza. I don't think they are a bunch of anti-Israelis. I think the international convoy is on its way because people aboard these ships—from all over the world—are trying to do what our supposedly humanitarian leaders have failed to do. They are bringing food and fuel and hospital equipment to those who suffer. In any other context, the Obamas and the Sarkozys and the Camerons would be competing to land US Marines and the Royal Navy and French forces with humanitarian aid—as Clinton did in Somalia. Didn't the God-like Blair believe in humanitarian 'intervention' in Kosovo and Sierra Leone?
In normal circumstances, Blair might even have put a foot over the border.
But no. We dare not offend the Israelis. And so ordinary people are trying to do what their leaders have culpably failed to do. Their leaders have failed them.
Have the media? Are we showing documentary footage of the Berlin airlift today? Or of Clinton's attempt to rescue the starving people of Somalia, of Blair's humanitarian 'intervention' in the Balkans, just to remind our viewers and readers—and the people on those boats—that this is about hypocrisy on a massive scale?
The hell we are! We prefer 'competing narratives'. Few politicians want the Gaza voyage to reach its destination—be its end successful, farcical or tragic. We believe in the 'peace process', the 'road map'. Keep the 'fence' around the Palestinians. Let the 'key players' sort it out.
The concept of framing is always a favourite of journalism students. The question of whether an armed Kurdish separatist is a terrorist or a freedom fighter is a fun one to debate. But it’s also a question for which the answer has real consequences.
It is likely that the flotilla currently on its way to the Gaza Strip will not make it to land. The Israeli Defense Force has promised to intercept any unauthorized ship attempting to deliver supplies to the territory.
If the ships are turned around or captured, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll hear a word about those events on CNN or even BBC News. And it’s almost unimaginable that any Western government official would comment on the affair.
As Fisk asked, is this a failure of the media? If so, why is it happening? And perhaps most importantly, what will be the consequences on the ground in Gaza?
You can follow Travis Lupick on Twitter at twitter.com/tlupick.