City of Brass

As Israel’s war against Gaza rages on, the foreign media must watch from the sidelines. Israel has barred access to the Gaza strip for journalists and human rights monitors, as part of an attempt to impose political control on the reporting. The closest that the foreign media can get to the action in Gaza is Hack Hill, where Gaza burns “splendidly on the horizon” and clowns mock the correspondents. Real clowns, not just Joe the Plumber, mind you.

However, there is one media organization that is already on the scene in Gaza – Al Jazeera. For AlJ, the problem isn’t getting into Gaza, but rather getting their news out. Their solution? Embracing the new media of the Internet:

While getting to the story has not been an insurmountable problem
for Al Jazeera English’s journalists — they are, in effect, surrounded
by it — getting their reports to the English-speaking public has been a
bit trickier. The network is largely unavailable in the United States,
carried only by cable providers in Burlington, Vt.; Toledo, Ohio; and
Washington, D.C. (In Burlington, the local government last summer
rejected public calls for the city-owned cable provider, Burlington
Telecom, to drop the channel.)

By contrast, Al Jazeera’s
English-language service can be seen in over 100 countries via cable
and satellite, according to Molly Conroy, a spokeswoman for the network
in Washington.

Recognizing that its material from Gaza will have
influence in the United States only if it is highly accessible online,
Al Jazeera has aggressively experimented with using the Internet to
distribute the information it has gathered.

For example, Mohamed
Nanabhay, the 29-year-old executive who established Al Jazeera’s
new-media group, beginning in late 2006, said that Al Jazeera planned
to announce this week that all its video material of the war in Gaza
would become available under the most lenient Creative Commons license,
which basically means it can be used by anyone — rival broadcaster,
documentary maker or individual blogger, for example — as long as Al
Jazeera is credited.

Also, it currently streams its broadcasts in a variety of formats and has a dedicated channel on YouTube with more than 6,800 videos.

This isn’t just lip-service, mind you. Mohamed Nanabhay, the executive mentioned above, is on twitter (@mohamed) and also runs a dedicated Gaza twitter account (@AJGaza) for breaking news in addition to the regular Al Jazeera account (@AJEnglish). The AJ YouTube channel is among the most-viewed News and Politics channels, but what is even more exciting is the AJ Creative Commons Repository where daily video reports from Gaza are currently being filed. These videos are being released under the most liberal license, requiring only attribution to Al Jazeera for private, commercial and non-commercial use (including  remixing). For example, here is high-res MPG footage of Day 19, available directly for download to your personal computer, or embed directly into your blog posts:

Already, Wikipedia is using this footage for it’s own articles on the Gaza conflict.  All this is of course in addition to the regular english-language website (with RSS feed) and mobile-phone version.

It’s worth noting that Al Jazeera’s reputation as “Jihad TV” is wholly undeserved and unjust. Far from being a biased, pro-Islamist propaganda outlet, Al Jazeera is one of the most professional journalism outlets in the world, and a beacon of genuine reporting and commentary in the autocratic landscape of the Middle East. I’ve called Al Jazeera the NPR of the Middle East and Marc Lynch (aka Abu Aardvark) has been defending the channel for years. It’s telling that Al Qaeda routinely lumps Al Jazeera in with the BBC and CNN as media oppressors of the Islamic world! The innovative embrace of new media will help to earn Al Jazeera some much-deserved credibility in the eyes of the general news consumer, inshallah.

Having just returned from an overseas trip, I am particularly sensitive to the issue of racial profiling of muslims by airlines. Or more colloquially, “flying while brown”. There are any number of innocent things you can do on a plane that only seem suspicious when done by a brown; be they muslim or Sikh or even Jewish. The ultimate example of this was the case of Iraqi blogger Raed Jarrar, whose innocent shirt with Arabic lettering got him into trouble on a Jet Blue flight. That incident was enough for me to personally vow never to fly Jet Blue again; I am quite gratified to read that just last week, Raed was awarded $240,000 in damages from Jet Blue and the TSA for that violation of his civil liberties. It’s important to take two things away from this affair; one, that security profiling is not inherently bad, but when applied unjustly and hysterically does more harm than good to airline security, and two, that when the security procedures over-step their bounds, the justice system is there to redress the wrong. Those of us who are brown and fly often should take heart in this outcome and not wear victimization on our sleeves.

Related – post on this from the Upgrade: Travel Better blog and another by Amy Sullivan at TIME: Swampland. Also, my classic post, “suspicious things I’ve done on an airplane

The idea of the state of Israel is one I support wholeheartedly. A nation for the Jewish people, a homeland where they can engage in the same right of self-determination and chart their own destiny. However, this right and this dream cannot be attained at the expense of the same dream and rights of other peoples; in fact doing so is fundamentally antithetical to the ethos of the Jewish people themselves. Throughout their long (and persecuted) history, the principle of Justice is the defining trait, by which the Jewish people might legitimately be called a light unto nations. What terrible irony, then, that Israel acts to undermine that legacy and heritage!

ijv.jpgIsrael is, by any reasonable definition of the words, an apartheid state, engaged in an illegal military occupation, employing collective punishment against a civilian population. Note that these terms are used without any hesitation by Israelis of all political stripes themselves; it is only in the peculiar US media and political milieu that such terms elicit such a defensive, denialist reaction. But this too is no surprise; the US political establishment sees Jews as a political asset to be cynically used for their own purposes, whereas the Israeli political establishment lays claim to the Jewish intellectual heritage of truth and self-critique). That heritage is celebrated by A Time to Speak Out, a new compilation of essays by leading Jewish intellectuals that serves as a sobering analysis of the cognitive dissonance of modern Israeli society and also a truly inspiring demonstration of the commitment to Truth and Justice that remains at the core of Jewish identity.

All of this is my prelude to the assertion that Israel’s actions in Gaza are profoundly non-Jewish, not only because it violates the very spirit of the Jewish character, but also in a more literal sense because it undermines the ostensible goals of the state of Israel itself – partly because the founding vision of Israel contains a fundamental contradiction. The idea of Israel in the abstract is a noble one, but in terms of providing a safe haven for Jews, is hardly unique to Israel – arguably, the United States itself is a superior home for the Jewish people to thrive and prosper, with free expression of their culture and faith. For similar reasons, I have also argued that America is the greatest Islamic country on earth; at its most basic, freedom is the key attribute, and nowhere else in the world are Jews (or muslims) more free to be Jews (or muslims) than in the United States.

Israel, however, was founded not on ideals of simply being a haven for Jews, but also with the Zionist goal of being an exclusively Jewish entity. This is a concept that is simply not compatible with modern liberal ideals. In a nutshell, Zionism in its modern form (to which all major Israeli poitical parties subscribe implicitly) requires three qualities: 1. Democracy, 2. Jewishness, and 3. Greater Israel. All three of these are under tension with each other, however, and the Gaza conflict has brought these tensions to the forefront. In subsequent posts, I intend to explore the intersection of these three concepts. The simple truth, however, is that Israel cannot survive as a meaningful political entity if it attempts to pursue all three. For survival, Israel must pick any two, or lose them all.

Note – I have blogged extensively about these issues in the past. I intend to reformulate my arguments more cohesively now and will draw upon those older posts as well, so if you are looking for some preparatory reading material, check them out. Also, I highly recommend Paul Rosenberg at Open Left and this essential New York Times editorial by Rashid Khalidi for some basic background fact-checking on the Gaza conflict.

I’m sure that was the pessimsitic sentiment in some circles. Such naysayers were proven wrong, of course – or at least, mostly wrong:

Portions of the frostbitten United States are feeling the coldest air
so far this winter and forecasters predict the cold snap could extend
into the weekend.

Frigid conditions were expected for Inauguration Day Tuesday in Washington, CNN reported Thursday.

Raw, subzero surface temperatures and winds driving wind chill
readings to the minus-40 range settled in along a path from the
Canadian border to the lower Midwest, with some cities posting record
overnight lows. 

An Alberta Clipper preceding
a numbing shot of Arctic air was expected to leave 1-3 inches of
powdery snow along the Interstate 95 corridor from New York City to
Boston Thursday, reported.

Orrison said most temperatures Thursday would be below zero in the
Upper Midwest through the Great Lakes and into the Northeast — and the
cold snap isn’t over.

The coldest air of the season was expected to blast through the
Upper Midwest and settle over the East and South during the next two
days and last through the weekend before a warm-up begins, he said.