It’s been over a hundred years since Rudyard Kipling penned the lines of his famous poem, “The White Man’s Burden”, in which he called for the American white man to join his European compatriots in fulfilling a solemn duty towards the inferiors. Kipling implored his countrymen to extend the White Man’s deep sense of humanity and generosity to “Half devil and half child” heathens everywhere, by kindly plundering their lands and pillaging their homes. Naturally, the goal was to unburden the savage of his property and resources, thus relieving him of any discomfort. And even though the White Man would be forced to increase his wealth and power as a most unfortunate result, it was a sacrifice he had to make.
Today of course, this racist sentiment is unacceptable. Anyone who dares promote this idea now would be castigated as a mindless reactionary. Indeed, America no longer believes that whites are special, superior beings that must heal the darker-skinned demons of the world with an ethereal touch. We have evolved and developed quite a bit since those most primitive days. Or so they say.
In reality, the mainstream media reports on American foreign policy-related issues with the underlying assumption that Western ‘civilized’ countries always act in accordance with unquestionable moral values. Nowhere is this clearer than in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where America’s strongest ally is always portrayed in a light so favorable it is truly blinding. But instead of launching into an exposition of how the media paints Israel and Jewish settlers with Orwellian brushstrokes, I will let the distortion speak for itself.
It is often argued that Israel’s existence is constantly under threat by a pack of enemies surrounding it on all sides. In specific reference to Palestine, pundits always point to the denial of Israel’s right to exist by extremist militants. . But what is the reactionary frothing of a few angry sheikhs compared to Israel’s methodical policy of the last few decades: military occupation, settlement expansion, and disproportionate violence on the Palestinian populace?
For the tragedy of 1948, when 800,000 Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homes and hundreds more were massacred in a terror campaign to make room for Jewish settlers seeking to establish a state, there is not a whisper of recognition in our media-apparently no one worries about Palestinian desires for security. In 1967, when thousands more had their homes torn down and their property stolen by Israel in an illegal annexation of Jerusalem, there was no outcry over this pogrom either. And in the last 16 months, when hundreds more homes have been demolished in the refugee camps and over 2,000 Palestinian children have been left homeless in the Occupied Territories, few ‘experts’ have raised a finger: a true testament to the insensitivity of the American media to the Palestinians’ plight.
How absurd it is, then, to wax poetic about Israel’s existence being supposedly “endangered”, when in fact the Israelis, in possession of a constantly-expanding, expropriating, and aggrandizing state with no defined borders, increases her possession daily by carving up the very dwellings of the state-less Palestinians. Why is it never asked why the Israelis do not accept a Palestinian state-and continue constructing illegal settlements on Palestinian land for fanatical settlers who hoard the available resources? For those who are new to American reporting, the answer is clear: the Palestinians just don’t count.
A similar note of silence is sounded for the absolutely miserable, ghetto-like conditions Palestinian civilians suffer daily thanks to the suffocation of blockades and checkpoints. A 50% poverty rate pervades the Occupied Territories, meaning that, half of the people live on less than just $2 a day. The 40%-70% unemployment rates in the region give us an even greater picture of the suffering. A few months ago, Christian aid workers found that 40% of Palestinian babies were born blind, deaf, or anemic in the Territories. This is complemented by the 100% moral and professional blindness and deafness of our media in its failure to examine or report any of these disturbing statistics. Instead we learn only of Israel’s fears and Israel’s anxiety.
Worst of all in the so-called reporting is the de-contextualized images of Palestinian suicide bombers “laying siege” to Israel. The gross disparities of casualties in this conflict attest to its true nature: over 1,000 Palestinians have been killed and 17,600 have been injured in the last one and a half years. In fact, since 1987, Palestinian civilian casualties have exceeded Israel civilian casualties five-fold. So what could possibly explain the one-sided media coverage of violence that often points only to Israel’s suicide-bombing victims, complete with photos of the Israeli victims and moving accounts from relatives? What could explain the silence over the slaughter of 28 Palestinians in December after Arafat declared a cease-fire, which the media only reported as “shattered” when Israelis died weeks after? How has it come about that this one aspect of Palestinian violence is “the attack”, while Israel’s tanks, missiles, bombs, and troops’ daily presence and destruction is “the reprisal”? Clearly, the media is fit to pretend that some lives are simply worth more than others.
Last but not least, is the scorn heaped upon Arafat by op-ed writers nationwide. Arafat is seemingly the source of all problems; not a shot will be fired in the region without him being held responsible for it and all its consequences. Arafat whispers strange things into the ears of IDF gunmen, forcing them to mow down pregnant women and their husbands; he appears falsely as Moses to the rabid settlers, with messianic messages to beat Palestinian women and burn their crops; he guides Israeli tank turrets towards targets like schools and homes; he levels Palestinian houses in refugee camps by the dozens with Israeli bulldozers. Yes, apparently Arafat can do all these things, and not only that but he can do them while Israel blows up all his security and policing facilities. A remarkable man, indeed.
And thus is the Brown Man’s Burden in Palestine. The burden of a mother who cannot bring her sick child to a hospital because of military checkpoints; the burden of an injured man bleeding to death unable to receive medical attention because of a roadblock; the burden of a father unable to work, unable to provide, forced to shield his child from Israeli bullets with his own body–to no avail. It is a burden made all the more dreadful by a media spin machine whose gears turn in sync with the treads of an Israeli tank, whose wheels churn in harmony with the screaming sound of IDF missiles, and whose axles grind to the tune of Kipling’s call.
Mr. Junaid Alam is an Undergraduate of Political Science, Northeastern University, Boston MA.