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Mission A Guide to Perplexed

The Palestinian hunger strikers- like Rashomon

by Elhanan Miller  26.02.2013 The term rashomon, coined by the Japanese film from 1950, tells the story of a murder from four different points of view, has become a term which describes the same event that’s presented in several entirely different ways, according to the author’s subjective experience.

The media coverage of the four Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike and the support rallies for their cause is a kind of rashomon. The events that were covered in the Israeli press are consistently different from the events covered by the Palestinian and Arab-Israeli press, even when they both covered the same event.

The Israeli media covered the support demonstrations held on the 21th of January outside Ofer military prison emphasizing how this will affect the safety of Israel and its citizens. Have the security forces prepared well enough for handling a violent outburst? Asked the News presenter from Channel 2 studio the reporter for PA affairs, Ohad Hamo. Hamo replied that the security forces have arrayed themselves in an “optimal” formation and even the commander of the division is present there. The interview began with a report on the wellbeing of three Israeli reporters that were injured during the demonstration, which was described as a “riot”.

Hamu described the demonstration as ”Palestinian rabble that confronted the security forces” and described the success of the Palestinians to raise consciousness of the subject of the hunger striking prisoners to the top of the public agenda and reunite the ranks between the organizations of the Fatah and Hamas. The channel’s website didn’t mention at all the prisoners’ names, yet mentioned that in the Israeli city of Acre the Israeli flag was removed from the clock tower in protest. 

The news website Walla/MSN did mention the names of the hunger striking prisoners and elaborated upon the circumstances surrounding Samer Issawi’s arrest, who’s the leader of the hunger strike, yet still concentrated on the Palestinian “demonstration of thousands” and the stone throwing that accompanied it. ”If the administrative detainees (many Palestinian political prisoners are kept in prison under the authority of an administrative military order, that doesn’t require a trial and can be executed for long stretches of time) health is damaged, the entire West Bank will rise” Cried the headlines on Ynet, Yediot Ahronot’s news site (the English sites’ version is slightly toned down). Elior Levi’s article reported that the tense atmosphere in the West Bank is similar to the one that existed during last year’s hunger strike of Islamic Jihad prisoner Hader Adnan. Levi interviewed Adnan’s father, who claimed his son’s arrest goes against the tenant of the three monotheistic faiths regarding respect for human life.    

The news site affiliated with the Israeli right wing, Channel 7, unlike the more mainstream sites, has chosen to focus on Issawi, as their article’s headline pronounced: “The hunger striking terrorist will be released within two weeks”. The reporter Hagai Hoberman describes Issawi as “A terrorist belonging to The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) from the village Issawiya in east Jerusalem, the son of well know activists of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)”. According to him after his release Issawi has returned after his previous release to the “circle of terror”.

Unlike the Israeli media, which focused on the concern that the Palestinian demonstrations might lead to another round of hostilities (“the third intifada”) and reported extensively on the violence in the field, the Palestinian/Arab Israeli media focused on the suffering of the striking prisoners, headed by Samir Issawi, who was transformed into a proper cultural icon. The Palestinian/Arab Israeli media typically focused on the support rallies for Issawi and his personal story.  

The Israeli Arab site Arab48 displayed a video documenting Issawi exiting the magistrates court in Jerusalem on February the 22nd, and the Palestinian demonstration held outside the court’s walls. According to the site Issawi was hunger striking in protest of the “violations of the Israeli occupation perpetuated against him”. The article stresses that policemen standing outside the courtroom were blocking Issawi’s line of sight. 

The Egyptian columnist Fahmi Huwaidi described in his Op-ed Issawi’s hunger strike as “the longest in history” and a “prime example of the Palestinian insistence to protect their dignity and freedom”.  

“For his miraculous persistence, this man became a national symbol whom Palestinian youth can take pride of” Wrote Huwaidi. 

The Lebanese newspaper As-Safir, affiliated with Hezbollah, wrote that “The occupation toys with the fate of the prisoner Issawi,” while recounting the tale of his renewed imprisonment after his release as part of the Shalit prisoner exchange deal. The editorial column of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Jordanian branch newspaper As-Sabeel blamed Israel in Issawi’s “execution” and described him as “A living Shahid (martyr)”.

To conclude, the media coverage on both the Israeli and Palestinian side is typically and unashamedly one sided. While the Israeli media ignores the background of the Palestinian hunger strike and avoids a serious debate about the issue of the use of administrative military orders to hold Palestinians as prisoners indefinitely and without trial, the Palestnian media and its sympathisers focus only on Issawi’s personal narrative and hardly debates the wider implications of the hunger strikes, which are gradually developing into wide scale disturbances and possibly the beginning of a third intifada. Thus, the readers on both sides of the political spectrum are informed of only a very partial description of realty.     

Elhanan Miller is the Arab affairs correspondent of Times of Israel. A Graduate of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies M.A program at the Hebrew University, Miller has studied the subject of Palestinian refugees as an intern of the Atkin Fellowship program. He has taken part in dialogue programs between Israeli and Palestinians and volunteers as editor and contributing writer of Can think website, a current affairs site.  

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1 by Moran
Well, obviously both sides will report on this issue according to their own point of view. It only stresses the fact that there's an abyss between the narratives of both sides and it will take great efforts to come to an agreement about the issues. This article shows nothing that we didn't know before. The question is... How do we go over these psychological obstacles??
2 by Norman
The Palestinian hunger strikers issue has to be addressed by the Israelis and the Israeli government if any progress should happen between the two nations. How can they negotiate if they don't understand the importance of each other's issues??
3 by Josh
How is it possible that in the year 2013 in a 1st world country, people are still being detained and imprisoned indefinitely and with no trial? Israel should be ashamed and be taken to the ICC.
4 by Jennifer
“The military justice system” is not justice, is a fraud.
5 by Britney
How sad it is that after so long we still can't understand the plight of the other side and that they cannot understand ours. Our heads are stuck in the sand so deaply, that we are completely oblivious to the things that bother people who live so close to us, and even amongst us