MintPress founder and editor-in-chief, Mnar Muhawesh, discusses the profound personal effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Read the MintPress News exclusive report and whitepaper on the Gaza Conflict with resources and timeline here.
UPDATED 07/22/14: This article has been updated to reflect the most recent events and statistics
From 2000 to 2007, about 1,000 Israelis have been killed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and nearly 6,000 Palestinians have been killed. Since the recent assault on Gaza under Operation Protective Edge, nearly 600 Palestinians have been killed, including nearly 121 children plus over 1,400 wounded and over 120 houses destroyed — those numbers continue to rise. Israeli death toll has reached 27, nine of which are soldiers.
According to the Palestinian Ministry of Information’s latest report on civilian casualties, one Palestinian child has been killed by Israel every three days for the last 13 years.
As an American who has lived in Jerusalem, I struggle between the want to share what I feel is the vast media cover-up of the Israeli-led violence and the want to stand up and say, “enough.” Both messages echo truths, from those trapped within the violence to those silenced for reporting the violent assault.
All rocket fire should be condemned, whether it be by Hamas or Israel, that much I know is true.
The deaths of Israeli teens Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah represent a tragedy- one that no family should have to face. Violence touches communities deeply and does not spare race, creed or intellect. What I grapple with, is the reaction to their deaths — Israeli lawmakers calling for a genocide and vengeance against Arabs, the torture and murder of 17-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdair by Israeli settlers, Israeli settlers’ continued kidnapping and abuse of Palestinian children, and now the Israeli military operation and violent assault against Gaza that is collectively punishing 1.7 million people who are already living in poverty. Gaza has been described by human rights groups as an open air prison with no where to escape. It has to end.
This massacre will only continue to bring pain and suffering to a conflict that has taught both Israeli and Palestinian youth that a roadmap for peace has been shattered.
As I watch the media play headline games and act as a lapdog to a U.S. ally, it takes me back to the year 2001, when I returned to the U.S. after living in Jerusalem for about four years.
As we were about to head to the airport to go back the U.S., where I was born and raised, my father received a call from a relative, panicked and scared about evacuating the all-girl elementary school where this relative was working as a principal at the time because Israeli settlers had planted a bomb in the school. At the same time, this relative explained, their sons’ school, an all-boy elementary school, was also being evacuated because Israeli settlers had planted a bomb there as well.
That day, Israeli settlers had been planting bombs throughout Palestinian schools and no child was safe. Feeling extreme shock and fear that innocent children were being targeted by these extremist acts of hate and violence, it was beyond traumatizing for me and my family, as I was only 13 years old at the time.
I understood then, in my teens that I had a right to be angry at those that perpetrated the violence. But, I also felt great responsibility.
This was not the first time I would witness a relative panicked and scared, and it would not be the last, either. During my nearly four years living in Jerusalem as an American from Minneapolis, Minnesota, I witnessed war crimes no child should never have to witness. I lived under the occupation. We had our water and electricity cut off regularly, and we lived under martial law — curfews were placed on most cities and soldiers bearing guns, even pointing them at civilians, ruled the streets.
By the time I was 13, I had already witnessed Israeli war planes dropping bombs on major cities in the West Bank like Ramallah, destroying homes of Palestinian families and killing children. I had crossed through checkpoints in cabs and the driver would yell “Duck!” because Israeli soldiers were shooting at schoolchildren who were throwing rocks at them — those same children were barred from crossing the checkpoints placed by the Israeli Defense Forces to visit their family members after school and responded with resistence by throwing rocks. At my American school in Jerusalem, half my classmates missed school most days and were essentially denied an education because they had been turned back at checkpoints because they lived in the West Bank and were Palestinian, Muslim and/or Christian.
I would hear stories from neighbors and friends of other junior highschools’ being raided by IDF soldiers and rounding up all the teenage boys and indefinitely detaining them with no charges, because they could be potential ‘terrorists’ in the future, which is illegal under international law. When I last visited Jerusalem when I was 18 years old, I was stunned by the devastation of the apartheid wall that was built tearing families apart and destroying agriculture and land many were depending on. The wall sepearated families from each other, and prevented many children was attending school. I remember going to the city of Hebron in the West Bank to visit the Abrahamic mosque where Muslims, Jews and Christians visit regularly, and having settlers throw garbage at us while yelling racist slurs directed at us for no reason.
During this visit, we ironically had to be escorted by Israeli soldiers to get near the mosque, because they warned us that the Israeli settlers become violent if non-Jews visit and have, at many times, kidnapped young children and women, and even killed them. Because I’m an American citizen, the soldiers said they’d make sure to protect my group and I.
By the time I was 13, I, a young girl from Minneapolis, Minnesota, had witnessed apartheid and military occupation, but I knew, I had to do something.
When we arrived back to the U.S. to neat green lawns and my classmates wondering when the next party was, or what was on television or how much booze they could down compared to their fellow classates, I felt lost and alone.
By this time, I was suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. All I could think about and all that consumed me was the war that I had just left behind, and the families being torn apart from the war. Guilt overtook my body, since we were now living a comfortable American lifestyle in a quiet and manicured suburb, but I knew my friends, classmates, American and Arab teachers and family that I had just left back in Jerusalem were living under occupation and living in fear.
There was no one to talk to about the war I had just left behind, and I found no comfort in our American media. Then, as now, the media framed the story as if Palestinians and Israelis were fighting each other on an equal level playing field. It was framed as Muslim versus Jew, and the Palestinians were referred to as terrorists or militants in most media coverage. However, the majority of our neighbors in Jerusalem were Palestinian Christians suffering from the same military occupation as their fellow Muslim Palestinians. This was no Muslim versus Jew fight.
I blamed the media for my fellow Americans’ lack of understanding and lack of awareness of what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict really is. I blamed the media for the lack of empathy Americans had for the civilian life under occupation in 2001. I still blame the media for inaccurately reporting on major human rights issues we know are taking place around the world today.
The media is referred to in our Constitution because in a democracy, journalism’s role is to protect the interests of the people to essentially hold those in power accountable. When our media portrays murder as defense, and defense as murder, we know the media is not being truthful to its citizens and is not acting as a government watchdog, but rather as a government lapdog. As the Obama administration pledges to continue aid to Israel at a rate of $3 billion a year, despite calls by Israeli lawmakers for a genocide of Arabs in this conflict, many journalists of conscience can’t help but ask: Is the U.S. government complicit in these calls for genocide?
In the last month alone, our media has ignored the truth about the violence in Gaza and what led to this current round of violence. Why are we staying silent? When Israel’s assault began on Gaza nearly two weeks ago, American media headlines manipulated the narrative of this conflict to make Israeli lives seem more valuable than that of Palestinians. Here are few headlines told half truths:
- The New York Times led with “Death Toll Rises in Gaza, as Hamas Hits New Targets in Israel,” placing all blame for Palestinian casualties on Hamas’ actions instead of saying that the Israeli bombing attacks is a form of collective punishment that actually killed those civilians.
- The Wall Street Journal led with “Israel Targets Gaza Rocket Launchers,” not mentioning the Israeli rockets that have targeted civilian homes in Gaza.
- The Los Angeles Times ran “Palestinian rockets reach farther into Israel,” reporting that the homemade rockets have not killed a single person, but failing to mention the American-funded Israeli missiles that have left over nearly 600 Palestinians — mostly women and children — dead in Gaza.
Although the majority of alternative and independent media organizations have started to refer to Israel as an apartheid state in the last 5 years, the mainstream media is trailing far behind and does not question the U.S. government’s complicity in apartheid.
My story of what I witnessed and what I lived through is only one of thousands of life under occupation. As I watch the events unfold in the Holy Land today and how the media continues to be complicit in Israeli war crimes in Gaza, many journalists, academics, human rights groups and peace advocacy groups wonder if this is to numb America to the real horrors our military aid is contributing to in the land that is so dear to the entire world.
I found courage and catharsis in pursuing journalism to speak up not just for Palestinians, but for all people around the world who are suffering and being oppressed, people who are being massacred in the name of power, money and greed whether it be in Sudan, the Congo, Burma, Syria, Iraq, Central African Republic, China, Mexico and many more under-reported regions across the world.
Journalism has become my outlet for the helplessness that I grew up feeling when I suffered from PTSD for several years, the anxiety that I live with every single day because of what I’ve endured, for the trauma that I carry because of my life in a war zone and knowing that so many people I left behind are still suffering whether it be in Palestine and Israel or anywhere in the world.
Providing a voice to the voiceless and covering national and international stories through the lens of social justice and human rights is the whole reason I started MintPress News, and I hope more of us can come together in the cause of human rights and know that every life is precious. We are humans struggling in a life for freedom, in a world divided by nations.
Join me in helping independent journalists tell the whole story of the violence in Gaza. We are proud to partner with Jewish Voice For Peace in helping to end the violence in Gaza and to hold Israel accountable for it’s massacre as well as for it’s occupation. Feel free to share their “End The Violence” campaign with your network or audience. Click here to sign the petition to bring peace to the Holy Land.
Founder and Editor-in-Cheif of MintPress News