Since the end of the Gaza war on August 26th, many questions have been raised over the fairness of the media coverage. In an interview with Your Middle East, the Spokesman for the Palestinian National Consensus Government, Dr. Ehab Bessaiso, talks about the media's role, the government’s efforts during the war and a new plan for the reconstruction of Gaza.
The Western media coverage of the Israeli war on Gaza was criticized for being biased and one-sided. Do you agree?
When we look at the media coverage of the Israeli assault on Gaza in the Palestinian and Arab media, we see that it mainly offered a human perspective of the war on Gaza… the high number of casualties, the destruction, and the Israeli war machine’s indiscriminate targeting of mosques, schools, churches and civilian houses.
The international media, on the other hand, didn’t present the Palestinian narrative as clearly as the Israeli side. Although the Western media did cover some Palestinian human stories, but these stories were not presented or put in the context as the case in regional or local media. There were also a number of reporting mistakes, some Western media organizations presented some of the Palestinian casualties in Gaza as Israelis (the case of ABC news). Although, they did apologize afterwards, but the accident itself raised important questions about the complexity of war reporting and the level of professionalism media organizations have when covering war zones and their objectivity in presenting two sides of the story.
“The international media didn’t present the Palestinian narrative as clearly as the Israeli side”
But, we cannot generalize. In the USA, the media coverage of the Gaza war varied from one media organization to another, and we can’t ignore the other international media outlets like Russian, Indian, Iranian, South African, and Latin American that did offer a balanced coverage of the war in Gaza.
Social media had an important presence during the war on Gaza. What role did it play in shaping public opinion?
True, the Israeli war on Gaza 2014 witnessed a very clear important presence of the social media tools, although this medium was there in the 2009 and 2012 wars on Gaza, this year, the role of social media was much more clear in the media scene worldwide. Social media has definitely added an additional layer of information and this might have helped in changing the public opinion of the war on Gaza. I must note though, that there are other political factors that we need to take into consideration when talking about public opinion.
Over the last years, the Israel-Palestine question started to have a prominent political presence in the international media and this presence has contributed in creating a political understanding of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, with more and more people becoming aware of the roots of this conflict and that Palestinians deserve to have their own state.
During the first week of the war on Gaza, the Palestinian government in Ramallah was criticized for not doing enough for Gaza. How do you respond to that?
The Palestinian national consensus government was formed in June 2nd 2014, upon an agreement between all Palestinian factions. This government has two major goals; one is the unification of the Palestinians after seven years of division and two, the preparation for the presidential and parliamentary elections. So, the national consensus government has an economic agenda not political one, yet it’s committed to all agreements that have been signed by the PLO—a key to get international recognition.
But since the formation of the government, we faced many challenges. The Israeli government wasn’t pleased with the government and it even appealed to the international community not to recognize it. Then there was the disappearance of three settlers, the Israeli security campaign in the West Bank in which hundreds of Palestinians were arrested, and the murder of the Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir who was burned to death, and then the war on Gaza.
“Under Israeli occupation, the national consensus government has limited financial and economic resources”
I must stress that being under the Israeli occupation, the national consensus government has limited financial and economic resources, but since day one of the war, we started to facilitate all possible means to support our people in Gaza. The government called itself in a continuous meeting at the cabinet level, and we formed the general emergency room for relief which coordinated all the efforts with the UN agencies and the donors.
So what’s the government plan for the reconstruction of Gaza, and is there any plan to hold a cabinet meeting in Gaza?
After the ceasefire, we formed a committee for the reconstruction of Gaza to assess all the damages and prepare a report for the government’s plan for reconstruction. The plan is ready and it will be presented at a donors’ conference which will take place next month in Cairo to pledge for financial and political support for Gaza.
The Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah insisted since day one that we shall meet as a cabinet in Gaza. But there are different factors we need to take into consideration including the Israeli occupation and the fact that we have no control over the borders, in addition to the wider political context.
The cabinet meeting in Gaza is very important and we’re working on that with all the involved parties. We also need the Palestinian factions that signed the Cairo agreement to help us empower this government to achieve its goals. We’re working hard on getting the cabinet meeting in Gaza very soon – subjected to the political factors on the ground. But this day is getting closer and closer.
The views expressed are Dr. Ehab Bessaiso’s own.