Media Analysis

Radio waves at the beach

A CBC Radio report covers Palestinians escaping the West Bank to visit the beach in Jaffa as a cheery coexistence story rather than a result of the Israeli occupation.
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The daily lives of Palestinians under permanent, militarized apartheid rule are something one rarely hears about on Canadian public radio. I listen to CBC all the time, and am gobsmacked when a correspondent’s report or full-length interview on this topic pops up. Events of this nature are swiftly entered into an Excel spreadsheet I’ve had going since 2013.

Seven years of logging reveal a clear trend: Big Splash events get reported on (e.g. major bouts of Gaza conflict; annexation announcements; Israeli elections; official visits to Jerusalem or Washington, etc.), permanent occupation and colonization of the Palestinian territories don’t.

Now and then, a story or interview pops up – a half dozen over this time period, by my count. Most dispatches are devoid of context and packed with cliché. Feature interviews favour Israelis over Palestinians, by a wide margin. Diana Buttu and Hanan Ashrawi are go-to sources at CBC (I haven’t heard Mustafa Barghouti in years; he’s not in my spreadsheet). In seven years, CBC Radio has not produced a single story focusing specifically on home demolitions, forced evictions, nighttime kidnappings, settler violence or extrajudicial killings. None of the various human rights reports produced by UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk, or by independent experts, have been reported on or even cited by CBC correspondents. Perhaps I’ve missed these.

In this context, this past Sunday evening, listening to CBC Radio’s weekend news package over leftover steak a friend packaged up for me, because I wasn’t feeling well, my ears pricked up.

“For two weeks,” World This Weekend (TWTW) host Martina Fitzgerald began, “thousands of Palestinians have been crossing into Israel for a day out at the beach – and no one is stopping them!”

Startled, I dropped my fork and knife and cocked my head.

“Israeli soldiers seem to be turning a blind eye, as Palestinians head into Israel without permits, and without a Covid-19 check!” Fitzgerald continued, in her congenial way.

“Aha!’” I thought to myself, leaping over to the radio to turn up the volume. “Another puff piece from Irris Makler, entirely devoid of context.” Sure enough, the CBC’s Jerusalem-based freelancer had gone, “first to the border, and then to the beach, to see this unusual sight.”

I’ve never met Irris Makler, and am loath to criticize her. She’s clearly a competent reporter, and has been living in Jerusalem for years. What could she possibly say in a three-and-a-half-minute correspondent’s report that rises above cliché? Over the past seven years, I have heard a couple of good stories from her (most recently from the Jordan Valley).

Ms. Makler’s July 16 TWTW report focused on a phenomenon of current intrigue. For reasons only the Israeli military understands, hundreds of breaches have been appearing in Israel’s separation barrier, through which West Bank Palestinians have been slipping, heading to work or visiting family inside Israel, then back to their bantustans.

In her TWTW report, the intrepid Ms. Makler visits one of the few spots where Israel’s militarized barrier runs along the Green Line, rather than diving into the West Bank (a detail she doesn’t point out), and where, Makler tells us, “hundreds of Palestinians” are “streaming through a hole in the security barrier, which Israel has built to divide the Palestinian territories from the Jewish State.”

Pffaw, I thought to myself, chewing on my steak. The Jewish state extends all the way to the Jordan River! The ‘Palestinian territories’ are nothing more than a bunch of disconnected enclaves between the river and the sea, lands Israel has effectively annexed! 

Standing at the hole in the barrier, Makler speaks with a school principal named Mohammed Aziz, from the Palestinian village of Beit Liqya. Astonishingly, Aziz is heading to the sea for the first time in his life.

Then, even more startling news for CBC listeners to chew on: Aziz “doesn’t need to order a taxi,” Makler reveals. “His wife will pick him up. Mohammed’s wife is an Israeli Arab, and due to Israeli rules prohibiting family reunions, they live separately. She in Israel, he in the West Bank. Usually, his wife and children come to him. He doesn’t go to them – until today.” This will be the first time in twenty years that Mohammed visits his wife and children inside Israel proper, Makler adds, with no further explanation or context.

In forty seconds, Makler has revealed a handful of astonishing facts. CBC listeners who don’t read the Electronic Intifada or 972mag or Mondoweiss would surely scratch their heads: Israel won’t let this Palestinian school principal live with his wife and kids? They can visit him in Beit Liqya, but this is the first time in twenty years he gets to visit them? Beit Liqya is just forty kilometers away from Jaffa and the sea – a CBC listener could quickly ascertain on their smart phone – but Mohammed has never gone for a dip?

No explanation from Ms. Makler. No short, sharp phrase or evocative word (e.g. occupation; two peoples, two sets of laws) to ease a puzzled brow.

What Ms. Makler’s script doesn’t get into at all (way beyond the scope of a three-and-a-half-minute dispatch) would be even more surprising: While our Palestinian school principal furtively slips through a hole in the Jewish State’s separation barrier, Jewish residents of Modi’in Illit colony, ten kilometers north of Mohammed’s Beit Liqya, or of smaller Mevo Horon, five kilometers to the southwest, are free to zip across the chimerical Green Line, up to Highway 1 and Tel Aviv, in a half hour (many of them commuting to work).

Nor does Ms. Makler reveal that, when Palestinians slip furtively through Israel’s militarized barrier, risking life and limb, they’re really just returning home, after seventy years of forced expulsion.  

Instead, Ms. Makler segues to the beach. There, she paints a pleasing picture. For those who know the back story, also deeply poignant:

“There are old women sitting fully clothed in the water – including one woman in a wheel chair!” Makler reports, her voice rising with surprise. “There are young men smoking shisha pipes, and there are families, of course, who’ve packed home cooked food.” Jalud Bashiti and her daughter-in-law Tamara, from Nablus, are “thrilled” to be at the beach, Makler goes on. It’s Jalud’s first time!

As anyone who’s strolled down the beach front strip from Tel Aviv to Jaffa knows, Jewish Israelis swim and lounge in trunks and bikinis and play their matkot racquet game along the north stretch; Palestinians bathe to the south, on the edge of Jaffa, women fully clothed. They don’t tend to mix. In Ms. Makler’s report they do — harmoniously. The Israeli lifeguard calls out in both Hebrew and Arabic. An Israeli woman (presumably Jewish) helps a Palestinian hire an umbrella at a pay machine.

“So far, the Israelis don’t seem to mind the influx of Palestinians,” Makler remarks, enthusiasm and a tinge of surprise in her voice. Indeed, they welcome them.

“If we go to the sea, they can come also,” one Israeli man tells Makler. His female partner concurs: “They can come also to the sea. The beach is for everyone!”

In a parallel radio universe, this would have been the moment Ms. Makler pivots from pleasant imagery to incisive, take-away context [vocal emphasis added]:

“’They can come also to the sea, the beach is for everyone,’ this Israeli woman says. In fact, this beach is not for everyone. Between this beach and the Jordan River – now effectively a single state, ruled by one sovereign – Jews have full rights, and Palestinians don’t. At this beach, Palestinians from the colonized territories bathe and relax at the pleasure of the Israeli military.”     

Had I heard Ms. Makler say this, last Sunday night, I might have swallowed my steak down the wrong tube. Instead, Ms. Makler simply reveals that the Israeli military has “turned a blind eye” as Palestinians stream through gaps in its separation barrier, probably “to show the Palestinian Authority’s lack of control.”

Another astonishing revelation, though the crucial point is left to listeners’ imagination: Israel subjugates and oppresses Palestinians at its pleasure – and it flaunts it.  

Then, her three-and-a-half minutes up, Makler ties a pretty bow on her TWTW piece about peaceful coexistence at the beach: “There isn’t much mingling, but Israelis and Palestinians enjoy the sea side by side, sharing the beach without friction. It’s a moment of grace, so rare here, and remarkable just for that.”

Another story about Palestine to enter into my database. I finished my leftover steak, potatoes and peas, and did so.

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Thank you for this corrective image. I have to say, though, so far as I can recall (not certain) there was NO mention of any – however surreptitious, clandestine they needed to be – visits by any Palestinians to any beach (Jaffa/Haifa) in their homeland on NPR…of the BBC World Service. Yep – those bombings (again and again and again) by the “Israeli” terrorists on the Gazan Palestinians (comprised as they are of not only… Read more »

It has been the case for years on end that Western media have told Israel’s story, not the Palestinian story. Especially true with public broadcasting be it BBC, CBC, PBS or NPR. Correspondents don’t need to be told what to cover, they just look around and see what editors take out and what happens when discipline is ignored. Similar in the political arena. It’s a safe bet these circumstances will not change much. Israel’s legions… Read more »

“A CBC Radio report covers Palestinians escaping the West Bank to visit the beach in Jaffa as a cheery coexistence story rather than a result of the Israeli occupation.” For the record: The majority of Canadians support the Palestinians, not “Israel.” Also: Omar Barghouti Thanks the Green Party of Canada for its Support of BDS: BDS movement co-founder Omar Barghouti, who has been deprived by the government of Israel of the right to travel abroad,… Read more »