There will always be reductive, dangerous and reactionary responses to different forms of oppressive violence by our western, often biased, mainstream media. These reactionary responses purposefully distract from the real issues and those who are at the root and the cause of the violence. Through doublespeak the perpetrators are turned into the victim by a mass media – who become complicit in the crimes of others.
We have witnessed these purposeful distractions and complicity in our media’s response to the violent assault being carried out by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip which started a few weeks ago.
The predictable knee jerk reactions by the mainstream media of: “Palestinians commit violence too” have ensued; As if the violence committed by both sides is of equal force. Always forgetting to mention the Israeli army is the second largest in the world. Never saying this army is funded to the tune of $4 billion a year by the Obama administration. Before this, Bush financed Israel’s ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people which has lasted 66 years to date. Palestinians do not have an army. Any “fire power” comes from Hamas. So you can imagine the means of defending the Palestinian people, is not comparable to the damage that Israeli forces have caused.
This disproportionate fire power is reflected in over 1000 Palestinians killed, all mainly civilians, compared to the 42 Israelis killed, who were mostly soldiers.
One would hope people would stop saying stupid shit in response to horrific violence. But no such luck.
In a recent interview with grass roots activist and Internet Party leader Laila Harre on Wednesday night during the Internet’s Party Party, Paul Henry bought up the burning of a flag at Auckland’s first protest. Paul Henry wasn’t so much upset about the mass killings being carried out against a mainly defenceless people in the name of “security”, but by a few protesters at the march who burnt a flag. Yeah, I am serious. Thousands turned up that day and protested peacefully, free of antisemitism, violence and racism. I was there I know this to be the truth. But please Paul Henry do not focus on a few people burning a flag and distract from the reasons why people hit the streets – you know, like the mass genocide of Palestinian people and the bombing of hospitals and schools by Israeli forces. During his interview with Harre, Paul said:
“I want to draw your attention to what I think was an unfortunate protest which took place on Saturday, it was a pro-Palestinian protest and as you can see [he shows Harre a picture of an Israeli flag in which the star has been replaced with a swastika] it is a very offensive flag it is a swastika in place of the Israeli flag and that is highly offensive and insensitive to many people.”
“I saw a picture of a burning flag, I did not see a picture of that flag… I would say that three thousand people marched up Queen Street, there well might have been some individuals trying to bring the issue into disrepute but I know a huge majority of people there were raising concerns about the actions of Israel in the Gaza strip are doing that from a position of peace.”
Instead of knee jerk reactions, we need to take a moment to understand what the adaptation of the Israeli flag with a swastika represents; Jews survived a holocaust at the hands of Nazis and now many Israelis are complicit in causing (silence can be deadly, just as it was in Nazi Germany) what many social commentators have called a holocaust against Palestinians. The flag symbolised this position. It was a reminder of history repeating itself. The Israeli flag itself is a symbol of Palestinian oppression and lost statehood. The one person in the protest who bought the flag which has caused outcry was told many times to leave by organisers of the protest such as Nadia Filistin, as she said:
We slugged our guts out to create an anti-racist event that was safe, I spent sleepless nights explaining clear boundaries around the differences between anti-semitism and anti-zionism over and over and over and yet STILL, despite a crowd of thousands embracing the clear anti-racist message we were explicit about – one single person with a swastika emblazoned on an Israeli flag (who I literally told to leave- as did multiple other organisers- and he said “fine I will” then joined in regardless) is still the story here, while people die this very moment in Gaza.
After Paul Henry railed at Harre on her opinions about swastikas on flags he went on to cry bloody murder over those who burnt an American flag and, not an Israeli flag, but an adaptation of the Israeli flag with a swastika – I was there I watched it burn:
Paul Henry was very VERY upset by this action.
There is something seriously wrong with the humanity of a person when the burning of a fucking flag, is more upsetting for them than the burning of innocent unarmed Palestinian civilians by the white phosphorus and fragmentation bombs of Israeli forces. Weapons that are illegal to use in civilian areas as England’s TV4 reported. If a flag means more to you than a human being Paul, then I think it might be time to look in the mirror and hand in your resignation. After all you are a reporter, you are meant to give a shit about humanity, aren’t you? Or are the lives of Palestinians worth less than a flag? They are ‘the other’ – just collateral damage in the name of security and peace?
Of course this peace and security only extends to the Israelis. Just as security and peace only extended to Americans not Iraqis when Bush invaded Iraq. Some lives seem to have more worth than others. Our mainstream media encourages our commitment to this false narrative – this comforting belief permits us in the west to accept the most horrific of actions committed against other humans in far off countries. In the words of Hala Nasr an Egyptian spoken word poet who speaks in solidary with the Palestinian people and helped organised the protest on the 19th of this month:
/ not down with others policing my politics
/ not down with apologising for the shit anti-semitic politics of others
/ they are NOT my allies
/ but neither are YOU, if you:
corner a collective of a diverse many and (from your white-high-horse, never-organised-a-damn-thing-in-your-life keyboard hacktivist pedestal) offload assumptions & expect excuses
/ NAH mate, this aint my baggage. This is YOURS
The outrage Paul felt at a flag being burnt, unfortunately, did not stop at him. An article published by Stuff last Wednesday ‘Flag Burning Defended’ started off with John Minto, candidate for Mana and veteran activist for Palestine who spoke at the protest on the 19th, defending the flag burning he said,
“I think in the context of what I would call the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians I think nobody should show the slightest surprise that an Israeli flag was burned.”
Mana is the ONLY political party in parliament that is unequivocal about taking the side of the oppressed on the issue of Palestine. The action of flag burning at the protest was condemned by Labour, NZ First and the Greens. Predictably National has remained silent – and complicit. “When the truth is replaced by silence,” the Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko said, “the silence is a lie.” All these political parties are yet to find the courage and the clarity to speak out and condemn the atrocities being committed by the Israeli forces. Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer said
I completely condemn what they’ve done. I completely understand why they want to march but let’s march in a way that respects everybody but at the same time makes the point. We should not want to see this sort of thing that I don’t think does us any good and it takes it to a new level in New Zealand which I don’t think is appropriate.
David Shearer does not think burning a flag is an appropriate action? Really? Given the context the flag was burnt, I tend to disagree. As Nadia responded to his words,
People who have ended and destroyed human life under the name of nationalism & respective flags, and their complicit allies, giving stronger condemnation statements to the people burnin’ pieces of synthetic fabric in protest of war crimes than they give to those responsible for the murder of hundreds of Palestinians. David Shearer, I’m looking at you with your spineless “two-sides are wrong” bullshit.
What is inappropriate is David Shearer using the reductive and reactionary “but Palestinians use violence too” arguments in defence of Israel’s murderous actions. This narrative as Nadia points out “willfully distorts the deeply unequal reality of disproportionate violence, apartheid, occupation, siege, ethnic cleansing, bombardment and continued illegal settler colonialism being carried out by Israel.” While our government and those around the world stand idle. While the whole world watches inhuman acts being carried out against Palestinians, as Billy Hania an activist who is Palestinian points out, “the political establishment covers up these crime against humanity through the colonial mouthpiece; a mainstream media that is complicit in this devastation and destruction.”
Palestinians are media unpeople, their suffering and the atrocities committed against them minimised, or suppressed. When people show more outrage at the burning of a flag than Israeli forces bombing hospitals, schools being used as UN Shelters and mosques–places of refuge–while Palestinians are still inside, you know we have a collective problem as a society in connecting with our own humanity.
This minimising of the Palestinian experience, who are indigenous to their land, is a narrative that should be familiar for us in New Zealand. Something Paul Henry confirms after his interview with Laila Harre. When he finished his whinging about how offended he was about a flag being burnt he decided to bring-up a statement by Mana leader Hone Harawira who had drawn parallels from the current situation in Palestine and the act of colonial brutality committed by the New Zealand government against Māori in Parihaka. To which Paul shacked his head and said “Really, Hone? Really? God almighty, there is a man looking for a protest”. Because hell, Paul had come this far he may as well go for the ~racist of the year~ award.
Natalie Robertson an indigenous rights activist, artist and AUT lecturer who I had the privilege of being taught by for 5 years, said in response to Paul Henry’s profound ignorance:
I just wrote this post on the Facebook page of The Paul Henry Show. It has disappeared without being posted, so luckily I copied it before posting: I stopped watching TV3 Nightline news when it became the Paul Henry show. Tonight I watched other TV3 shows then The Paul Henry show came in. It didn’t take long for Paul to display his utter ignorance and arrogance and casual racism. He read out a statement by Hone Harawira drawing a connection between the NZ settler government’s treatment of Parihaka, with the situation in Gaza. Paul groaned and complained and said, “really?”.
Well, really Paul, do you any in-depth understanding of the bombing of Parihaka, of the invasion by ground troops, by the encircling and capture of the people, of the civilian deaths, of the five-year army occupation and the continued rapes and systematic oppression of the citizens of Parihaka, of the suspension of habeas corpus with the imprisonment of the leaders, held without trial? Obviously you don’t because if you did, you wouldn’t say such ill-informed things. My bigger problem is with TV3 giving you air time. Why, TV3, why?
Parihaka is a perfect parallel to what is happening in Gaza; an indigenous people heroically defending what little is left to them. If anyone is still unconvinced of the connection between Parihaka and Palestine these graphs should clear-up any remaining doubt you might have:
Paul Henry who, like me, comes from white privilege and has benefited so greatly from white imperialism found it so easy to brush off indigenous stories, histories and opinions with a shake of his head; “It doesn’t matter. Get over it.” As if indigenous history was not worth remembering, “The struggle of people against power” wrote Milan Kundra “is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
Paul Henry’s commitment to ignorance and dismissal of the connection Hone drew from Palestine to Parihaka, is not only an embarrassment to ethical reporting but it is deeply coded in racism. I know, as a white person, my anti-racist education will always be ongoing. It is our duty as thinking feeling human beings to eradicate racism within ourselves and in our societies whenever we can and wherever we go. It is our duty to rail against the enforced forgetting and minimising of indigenous history in Aotearoa – Paul Henry should be ashamed. Many of us should feel ashamed. When I was much younger I used to brush off Maori land claims as if they held no meaning – at least, not to me. I now look back on this and cringe. I am embarrassed. As Qwul’sih’yah’maht (Dr. Robina Thomas) profoundly asserts,
“Becoming a racist is painless, but unbecoming a racist is excruciatingly painful.”
Our duty to stand against intolerance and racism should not finish with just ourselves or at the edge of the shores of Aotearoa. Like so many people have already in our country and around the world, we need to stand united against the racist Zionist Israeli government who acts with impunity and has, in less than a month, displaced over 100,000 Palestinians and massacred over a thousand innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip as well as injuring over 5,000 more Palestinians.
On Saturday just passed thousands again marched in protest for Gaza in Auckland, Paul Henry will be happy to know no flags were burnt. The mainstream media has little choice now than to report on this second protest in a positive light. Mohamed Hassen, the spoken word poet read his poem, ‘For Gaza’ at the end of the march he finished with these words:
//you will never cleanse us from your hands
never shake us from your dreams
we will never stop fighting to breath
we will never stop living
never submit to you
we will never stop
we will never stop
Burning the Israeli flag is not the issue, it is a legitimate response to the issue.
*If you would like to learn more about what’s going on in Gaza, and the History of the Israeli occupation there is a forum this wednesday: