Palestinian U.N. Statehood: Global Media and Diasporas
Right away my disclaimers are first that I am neutral on the Palestinian-Israel conflict, I’m not emotionally invested in either side. Second, I am not an expert in the history of the Middle East and the formation of the state of Israel, so for purposes of this blog I’m writing about Palestine/Israel purely in the context of the idea of and self-concept of nations, diasporas, and media. I have nothing particular insightful to say, but I do think it’s a current world event from which to observe how media shapes opinion, and also how Diaspora’s view themselves.
In considering the media, one cannot escape the role that media has on perceptions vis-à-vis this conflict. In Silvio Waisbords Media and the Reinvention of the nation it is said that the media nurtures national sentiment in several ways such as availing cultural forms identified with nations, providing shared experiences, and institutionalizing national culture. I’d suggest this nurturing is not just for how one views their nation but also that media can play a role in nurturing perceptions of other nations (peoples). As I argued previously, this can have a compounding effect due to the likelihood that people increasingly consume media in a way that reinforces existing viewpoints.*
For example, how would American attitudes towards Palestinians be affected by the shared experience of terrorism (9/11 was a shared media event in a sense) or by the American media’s notorious tendency to sensationalize? How often are Americans seeing coverage like the BBC clip below on prominent US media outlets?
Imagine someone in Europe is regularly exposed to many accounts such as the one in the above video, and lets assume they’re in a society that has underlying anti-semitic tensions (assume this is a hypothetical example if you’d like). Probably then, the generic European here would have a different attitude towards Palestinians than the American would. This is the backdrop through which Palestine’s current application to the UN for statehood is received by the global audience.
For Palestinians themselves, as a community in which half of the Palestinians in the world live outside of their ‘designated territories’ there is the issue of self-identity. Waisboard touches on the idea of the imagined community. The ‘imagined community’ popularized by Benedict Arnorld, Professor of International Studies at Cornell and known “guru” on nationalism/nations, is different from real community as it isn’t and can’t be based on everyday interaction, but is just a mental image. The notion of a nation existing in headspace is now not uncommon. Karim Karim in a contribution to the International Communications Reader, says “nations are willed into existence by belief and action. They’re imaginary”. Specifically on the Palestine issue, Robert Fisk in The Independent (warning: unlike myself, Fisk is clearly not neutral on this issue) applies this idea in saying, “States – not humans – give other states the right to exist. For individuals to do so, they have to see a map. For where exactly, geographically, is Israel?”
This raises issues such as the how satisfactory a “social-legal” framework is in sorting out the nation-state-community mess, for example what if many different parties claim ownership of a similar statehood? Also while a diaspora shares identification with a nation, they’re not homogenous in interests and characteristics amongst themselves or with those still resident in the ‘designated territory’. Michael Weiss in The Telegraph captures the of this complicated nature of this situation very well, and I’ll let quote him at length to conclude:
Yet the PLO, which effectively controls Palestine’s foreign policy, will become obsolete after September because how do you represent a nationless people who suddenly find themselves in possession of a nation?
Here’s the second hiccup: the PLO doesn’t just represent Gazans and West Bankers and East Jerusalemites but the entire Palestinian diaspora, from Algeria to Jordan. If it is abolished or rendered obsolete, then that diaspora stands to become disenfranchised. Have Arab League countries pushing the statehood bid and hosting on their soil scores of refugees – in some cases, the great-grandchildren of expelled or fugitive inhabitants of Israel from the 1948 and 1967 wars – properly understood that this deal may legally nullify the Right of Return?
*Last year, a HUGE animated debate in the US political blogosphere erupted on the issue of confirmation bias, dubbed, “epistemic closure”. It all started here, but I highly recommend you google the phrase as pretty much every prominent political blogger across the political spectrum had something to say on this.