Gilad v. the Egyptian Media

By DANIEL TAUBER
Wednesday Oct 19, 2011

Gilad Schalit being interviewed while in transit to Israel.
EVEN BEFORE he returned to Israel, a clearly exhausted Gilad Schalit, who had just been released from five years of being kidnapped and imprisoned was forced to take on the media - in Egypt, in an interview which showcased his own personal strength as well as the level of Arab prejudice against Israel.

Despite the reporter's denials, the interview was for all intents and purposes forced on Schalit while he was in transit to Israel via Egypt (armed Hamas guards for instance brought him to the interview). It was typical of authoritarian society, in which the media is itself a political tool. In fact, at points during the interview, it seemed as if Hamas or the Egyptian government were the ones directing the questions.

In one “question” of the ten minute interview, the interviewer attempts to get Schalit to praise the Egyptian government for its role in the deal:

“It was the Egyptian national security that mediated for your release. There were previous failed mediation efforts including one by the Germans. Why do you think this time around the mediation was a success and what would you like to tell the Egyptian government?”

The interviewer knew full well, of course, that Schalit had no knowledge of what transpired in negotiations, why certain rounds of negotiations failed or succeeded and what mediators could have done wrong or right to ensure success. The last part of the question was practically a request that he thank Egypt. The interviewer, a famous Egyptian journalist who freelances for CNN, even later admitted that she aimed “to highlight Egypt’s role in bringing this about” and “give credit where credit is due.”

In another question, the interviewer sought to get Gilad to endorse Palestinian claims that Israel has imprisoned thousands of Palestinians unjustly:

“Gilad, you know what it’s like to be in captivity. There are more than 4000 Palestinian still languishing in Israeli jails. Will you help campaign for their release?”

The amazing thing is that Schalit, who was so exhausted that he had trouble breathing and keeping his head up, managed to avoid being used as a propaganda tool. In response to the first question, he merely stated that he supposes Egypt succeeded because it good relations with Hamas and Israel, offering no words of distinct praise for Egypt.

In response to the second question, he picked up his head, and in a singularly lucid moment  he stated that he “would be very happy if they were released . . . as long as they do not return to fighting Israel.” Not only did he avoid being used as propaganda tool here as well, but he actually offered a counter argument, essentially stating that these Palestinians were arrested for terrorizing Israelis and are being imprisoned because they pose a danger to us.

While the interview was a demonstration of the will-power of an ordinary individual under extraordinary stress, a more troubling take-away was the extraordinary level of hatred which Arab society has for Israel. The interviewer’s question on the subject of Palestinian prisoners implied that the Palestinians arrested for terrorism and jailed after trial are just as innocent as an Israeli soldier kidnapped while standing guard on the border – so much so that an Israeli victim of terrorists should “campaign for their release.” And while Israel was implicitly criticized for imprisoning Palestinians, there was no criticism of Hamas for kidnapping Schalit or suggestion that any of the one thousand Palestinians now being released should themselves campaign for an Israeli being held captive or against any other injustice which is done against Israel.

Yet in Egypt, the interview was criticized not for taking advantage of Schalit or being so blatantly biased against Israel, but for being too sympathetic to Schalit, for humanizing him and not focusing sufficiently on the Palestinians prisoners. (Some of her questions were indeed fluff questions: What are your plans for the future? Did you think you would ever be released? Has the experience made you stronger?).

To the Arab mind, apparently, it is only Israel that does wrong, and any wrong committed against it is either justifiable or not so bad as to warrant mention. This is the impression not only from this particular interview and the Arab reaction to it, but of many other reports and interviews in Arab media, which are dutifully translated by organizations like the Middle East Media Research Center and Palestinian Media Watch. The treatment of Israel in the Arab media has long demonstrated the level of hatred and demonization of Israel in Arab society, including in countries with whom we have signed peace treaties.  This hatred, which is largely beyond our control, is something that we must be keenly aware of when making deals with and gestures to our Arab neighbors which may jeopardize our security in the long term.

This article was originally published as a blog posting for the Jerusalem Post.

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