Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Journalism, History, and War: Sit, Type and Bleed
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, June
Syrian trails of tears in Europe after the destruction of their
homeland by NATO-Russian-Iranian-regime forces.
The typical newsroom set-up, where journalists chase
after news headlines dictated by some centralized news gathering agency
- often based in some western capital - does not suffice any more.
In the case of the Middle East, the news narrative has been defined by
others and dictated on Arab journalists and audiences for far too long.
This hardly worked in the past but, in the last a few years, it has
become even more irrelevant and dangerous.
There are millions of
victims throughout the Middle East region, numerous bereaved families,
constant streams of refugees and a human toll that cannot be understood
or expressed through typical media narration: a gripping headline,
couple of quotes and a paragraph or two by way of providing context.
The price is too high for this kind of lazy journalism. There is
too much at stake for journalism not to be fundamentally redefined by
those who are experiencing war, understand the pulse of the region,
fathom the culture and speak the language of the people.
Arab people have, indeed, spoken and, for years, their words were filled
with anger and hope. The haunting cries of Syrians and other Arab
nations will forever define the memories of this generation and the
But how much is our journalism today a reflection of this
reality? This harrowing, blood-soaked reality?
and journalist, Ernest Hemingway, once wrote, “There is nothing to
writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
modern journalism - at least, the way it is communicated in the Middle
East at the moment - hardly bleeds. Under the guise of false
objectivity, it remains detached, removed from its immediate reality and
is rarely expressive of the seriousness of this difficult transition of
The truth is, however, journalism has not failed.
We did. We are the ones still unable to appreciate the gravity of what
has befallen our region and, by extension, the world at large. We are
the ones still singing the praises of the elites and defending the
interests of the few.
As for the people, if we do not neglect
them altogether, then we turn their misery into fodder in our political
Equally inexcusable, we pay little attention to history
as if the most significant component of our story is the least relevant
It is no secret that orientalist history still defines the
way that history is written in the Middle East and about the Middle
East. We should reject that, not only as a matter of principle, but also
because it is both impractical and false.
depiction has afflicted journalism, as well. Why do we allow others to
define who we are when we are in the most urgent need to define
Palestine for nearly 25 years, I have experienced this strange and
persistent dichotomy in both journalism and academia.
is reported as a recurring, seemingly never-ending ‘conflict’. Media
coverage of the ‘Palestinian-Israeli conflict’ always adheres to the
same rules, language and stereotypes.
An urgent issue that
requires immediate resolution, least because of its regional and global
impact, is relegated as if a redundant, uninteresting story.
Many people tend to have short-term memory when the rights of the
Palestinians are in question. This feeds quite well into the Israeli
narrative, which has aimed to displace Palestinian history altogether,
and replace it with something entirely different, albeit a construct; a
The latter is not my own conclusion, but a
fact, reported in Israeli media itself.
Although files relating
to the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestinians are still hidden in Israeli
archives, one document, according to Israeli newspaper, ‘Haaretz’, has
escaped the keen eye of the Israeli censor: file
This file shows the process of how
Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, resorted to Zionist
historians in the early 1950s to forge an alternative story as to how
Palestinian refugees were expelled. He chose the most convincing one,
and that became ‘history’.
This rewriting of history is ongoing
and has tainted the present, as well.
How can journalists, then,
unearth the seemingly complex truth, without understanding history – not
the version conveniently fashioned by Israel, but the history of pain,
suffering and the ongoing struggle of the Palestinians?
report on Palestine and Israel, without fully fathoming the historical
roots of the tragic story, is to merely be content with providing a
superficial account of what ‘both sides’ are saying, which often favors
the Israeli side and demonizes the Palestinians.
scenario is now repeated everywhere. The narrative on Syria and other
conflicts are guided by preconceived wisdom.
Journalism is still
failing to break the stronghold of the old paradigm that relegates the
people and focuses, instead, on the rulers, the politicians, the
governments and the business elites.
This is the media version
of what is known in academia as the ‘Great Man Theory’, a defunct
discipline that is sadly used abundantly in the Arab press.
without the people there is no history, there is no story to be written
and change to be expected.
Arundhati Roy is quoted as saying,
“There's really no such thing as the 'voiceless'. There are only the
deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”
Palestinians and the Arab people already have a voice, and an articulate
one. But that voice has been deliberately muted through a massive
campaign of misinformation, distortion and misrepresentation.
When Israel and its allies say ‘Palestinians are not a people’, they
essentially say that Palestinians have no identity, no legitimate
demands, thus deserve no voice.
When the media silences the
voice of the people, they relegate their rights, demands for freedom,
change and democracy.
Our answer should not be speaking on
behalf of the people, but to actually listen to them; truly listen to
them and empower their voices so that they articulate their own
aspirations and rightful demands, and express their own identity.
Journalism is not a technical profession, a skill to be honed without a
heart, without compassion and a deep understanding of the past and the
True intellectuals cannot operate outside the realm of
history and the Arab region is now undergoing its greatest historical
flux in a century.
For journalists to be relevant, they must
abandon their position of dictating the news in the same predictable
pattern, and delve deeper into the story.
They need to
understand that a narrative is lacking - if not at all irrelevant - if
it does not begin and end with the people, whose story is not a
soundbite, but rooted in a complex reality, in which history should be
at center stage.
To be a journalist reporting on the Arab
upheaval and not fully fathom the history of the region and the hopes
and aspirations of the people, is no longer excusable.
entire nations are bleeding, it then becomes necessary for journalists
to heed Hemingway’s advice: “sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
- Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20
years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media
consultant, an author of several books and the founder of
PalestineChronicle.com. His books include “Searching Jenin”, “The Second
Palestinian Intifada” and his latest “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter:
Gaza’s Untold Story”. His website is
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