Canadian newspapers have responsibility to tell Palestinians’ story  

“The best newspapers are founded on good editorial pages where citizens engage in a lively give and take of ideas relevant to their lives and communities. That process can not, indeed must not, be centralized and corporatized,” says Paul Schliesmann, editorial writer for the Kingston Whig-Standard.


The focus of Schliesmann’s worry is the new owner of Canada’s largest newspaper chain, Izzy Asper of  CanWest Global.  Asper seems to think that the purpose of his newspapers is to serve as his mouthpiece.

Asper has decreed that his papers must carry editorials generated by his editorial staff from the centre of Canada, Winnipeg.   The pressure goes beyond carrying the gospel of Asper.

Editors and reporters feel that they have to carry the corporate line.  They censor themselves by not expressing contradictory views, says NewsWatch Canada.

An example of this kind of editorial pressure occurred when a TV columnist for one of Asper’s papers, the Montreal Gazette, decided to review a video documentary about Palestinian journalists in Israel.  Israel was painted as the aggressor. The Gazette refused to run the article.  Under pressure, the review was finally written.

Murdoch Davis, spokesman for CanWest Global admits that his papers are unapologetically pro-Israel.  Don’t get me wrong, the story of the Jews must be told.

It’s a story of the underdog who succeeds against incredible odds.  I still remember watching the movie Exodus in 1960.  Paul Newman plays a  Israeli resistance fighter who helps bring 600 Jews from Cyprus to the  newly-partitioned Palestine.  The movie is set in the year 1948,  right before the United Nations voted to make Palestine a Jewish homeland.

But we haven’t heard much about the heroic struggle of Arab Palestinians for a homeland.  We haven’t seen movies about the failure of the world to recognize UN resolutions for a Palestine. We need to hear more voices like Lebanese journalist Reem Haddad who writes:

“Ali Helou, 25, looked over his shoulder as he led his nine-month pregnant young wife, Amineh, over the hills of Lebanon.  Unbeknown to him, it was the last time that he would see his home.”

The year was 1948 and Jews were shelling Arab villages in preparation of the state of Israel.  Arabs were running for their lives.  On May 14, 1948, the state of Israel was declared.  Immediately, the U.S. recognized the newly created country, but the world ignored the fact that land and homes had been taken from the Palestinians.

“Ali’s wife gave birth under an olive tree, only kilometres from the Lebanese border.  They were part of 800,000 Palestinians who packed into refugee camps.  Eight months later, Ali’s baby contracted typhoid and died,” Haddad writes.

The proposed Palestinian homeland is shrinking.  In 1947, the United Nations proposed that Palestine be divided up with 53 per cent for the Jews and 47 per cent for the Arab state.  By 1949, Israel controlled 78 per cent and Palestinians who were driven from their homes and land would never get it back.

In the year 2000, Israel’s solution for a Palestinian home land reduced the Arab state further by breaking the West Bank into 29 pieces.  The Palestinians would have face the humiliation of passing through armed Jewish checkpoints to visit friends and family in other parts of their country.

Thousands of Palestinians now languish in refugee camps without clean drinking water.  They peer out of their tin huts at the luxurious Jewish homes in the Gaza Strip – – in territory taken by the Jews in the 1967 invasion.  If they are lucky, they will be able to work for those Jews as servants or grounds keepers.  Most won’t be so lucky.

But I won’t hold my breath waiting for the movie in which Brad Pit plays the freedom fighting engineer, Yasir Arafat.   The image of the Nobel Peace prizewinner Arafat doesn’t fit nicely into the world view of an Arab terrorist.

Only by hearing both sides of Middle East conflict can we understand earth shaking events like those of September 11.   Without that understanding, we can only clutch our heads in horror and shout to the skies “why do they hate us so much?”

Maybe Hollywood won’t, but Canada’s newspapers can and must tell the stories of the Arab Palestinians.


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