Interview with Noura Erakat: Framing the Palestinian Narrative
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Large-scale Israeli assaults on Gaza create global media frenzy. The official Israeli discourse saturates the airwaves and the mainstream press of the United States, which remains Israel’s staunchest ally. At such times, an assortment of Palestinian voices provides a counter-narrative to Israel’s dominant and domineering narrative. Albeit without the stamp of officialdom, these voices are nevertheless critical as they offer a Palestinian perspective that is rarely heard in the U.S. media and one that constitutes a resource for a public that is otherwise largely shielded from this viewpoint.
During the summer 2014 attack on Gaza, one of the most prolific Palestinian voices on the media circuit was that of Noura Erakat. An attorney and legal scholar by training, Erakat is an assistant professor at George Mason University, teaching in the legal studies, international studies, and human rights/social studies concentrations. Her scholarly interests include humanitarian, human rights, refugee, and national security law. Additionally, she is a co-founder and editor of the widely respected e-zine, Jadaliyya. Along with other Palestinians (including Diana Buttu and Yousef Munayyer, both of whom have penned pieces for this special issue of JPS), Erakat has helped shape the Palestinian narrative in the English-language media, particularly in North America.
Erakat has long been an outspoken public figure on Palestinian issues. She has made regular appearances on television as an analyst and commentator, speaking about the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon as well as the three attacks on Gaza since 2008 (Operations Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense, and Protective Edge). With this summer’s attack garnering the dubious distinction of being Israel’s bloodiest and longest ever unleashed on the territory, the Palestinian narrative and media discourse took on even greater urgency. Consequently, JPS sought out Erakat’s views of, and experience with, the media as a Palestinian, an analyst, an activist, a public figure, and a woman.
This interview was born of an earlier informal conversation I had with Erakat, in which she had recounted anecdotes from her media appearances, including the kinds of programs that had invited her to appear and the types of questions her interviewers posed, as well her own observations about the U.S. media’s treatment of Palestine and the Palestinians. The formal interview took place on 4 September 2014, a little over a week after the 26 August cease-fire went into effect.
How early did requests for interviews and commentaries begin to come in? Did the news outlets initiate contact or was it the other way around? I’m curious about how these relationships began at the start of the offensive.
The really interesting thing is that the first interview request came in when the bodies of the three Israeli settlers were found. So first, the boys are kidnapped, somewhere around mid-June, and then their bodies are found two weeks later. And in that entire time a mystery caper about the location of the three boys was developing in the media which completely overshadowed Israel’s brutal offensive in the West Bank.
Nobody was talking to Palestinians at the time even though Israel had arrested eight hundred Palestinians (most of them Hamas members released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange in 2011), raided thirteen hundred commercial and residential buildings, and killed nine Palestinians. [*] That entire period, nobody is talking to me or to any other Palestinian commentator or analyst because it’s not about Palestinians, it’s about the missing settlers. Once the bodies were found, I got my first phone call from Al Jazeera America to debate the Israeli Consul General in New York. The discussion was ostensibly about the ongoing situation in the West Bank, but it did not focus on Palestinians at all. Instead, it was about whether Hamas was to blame and what Israel should do in response. At this point, the conversation is still centered on what is happening to Israel and what Israel needs to do. There’s no discussion of what is happening to Palestinians and what they should do.
Then, Mohammed Abu Khdeir is burned alive, his cousin, Tariq is brutally beaten by undercover Israeli police, and the story shifts. It becomes about a “cycle of violence,” despite the fact that Israeli military and settler attacks on Palestinians aren’t cyclical at all but constant. What we witness during specific periods of escalation is just an intensification of such attacks. Within a week of the three settler boys’ burial, Israel launches its bombing campaign against the Gaza Strip—without a shred of evidence that Hamas was responsible for the kidnappings and despite denials of responsibility at the highest levels of Hamas’s leadership. No one in the media is scrutinizing this story, not even after Israeli sources confirm that the kidnapped boys were known to be dead well before the offensive began and that Hamas was not responsible. Once Operation Protective Edge began, even short-term history seemed to dissipate. The most progressive of the media outlets framed what was happening as a cycle of violence between Hamas and Israel and the more conservative ones portrayed the situation as irrational attacks driven by Hamas’s hatred of Jewish people.
Thereafter, the media calls became more frequent. They came about in one of four ways, as a result of my social media presence; one of my television appearances; an informal contact who had a relationship with a particular producer or journalist; or the amazing work of the Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU), which has forged relationships with journalists, producers, and editors over many years. [†]
I cannot overstate the importance of IMEU’s work, and how the addition of Palestinian voices has contributed to radically shaping what is now a changing media discourse. The organization has been an absolute game changer in terms of how the issues are discussed and portrayed. It has mastered the skill of building relationships with media workers, quietly and steadily, and we can’t be grateful enough for that. It’s something Palestinians should be doing a lot more of. Media work is not just what we see on television and what comes out in print. It is also all what goes on behind the scenes.
Can you tell us more about the Al Jazeera America interview?
That first interview I did on Al Jazeera America was received with some enthusiasm because it broke with the standard media paradigm of infotainment, in which they ask questions, you give answers, and that’s the end of the conversation. Or, if you’re dealing with Fox News, there are no questions really, only shouting matches. Rarely is an interview also an educational space. And that was the opportunity I was given on Al Jazeera America. After that first interview with the network, I started to get calls from producers who had not invited me on their show before, like MSNBC’s Chris Hayes.
The other critical thing about the Al Jazeera America interview is that it was framed as a debate, not a discussion. One of the things I noticed afterwards was that I began getting invited as the guest who debates other guests. This shouldn’t be glossed over: I wasn’t the “analyst,” I was the debater, and I think that was a bit gendered. And this brings up another observation about how the media cycle works: once they see what you do and how you do it, producers want you to do a repeat of it on their station. There is a concern with providing information, but there is an equal, if not greater, concern with generating ratings.
Another debate took place on Democracy Now! Their producers contacted me to appear alongside Israel’s deputy ambassador to the United States. I protested, arguing that it should not be a debate, first, because they were creating a false parity by featuring so-called representative voices from each side as if there were parity between Israelis and Palestinians; and second, because the other guest on the show was an official representative of the Israeli government and I am a Palestinian-American attorney and professor who represents no government. In my view, there was no parity either in structure or in form. It would be different if they had paired me with an Israeli human rights activist opposed to the offensive. Moreover, since Democracy Now! is not beholden to the same kind of market forces that other more mainstream and corporate media are, there was no reason for them to give space to an arm of the Israeli state’s propaganda machine. They said they understood my point but wanted to balance things out given the number of programs they had aired without that official Israeli voice, and they wanted me to respond. After the earlier debate on Al Jazeera, I’d understood it was not the guest’s job to provide a corrective to the other guest on the program, but the host’s.
Unfortunately, the Israeli narrative is so deeply entrenched in mainstream discourse that it has actually come to define the lexicon on Palestine-Israel. This makes it very difficult for journalists to be able to say anything in response to loaded words like “terrorist,” for example. Using such language yields an immediate result: when Palestinians are terrorists, and Hamas is a terrorist organization, the opposing side conveys a lot without having to say much—a few code words speak volumes. So it’s a struggle for us Palestinians who have to work against this shorthand communication. An entire lecture would be needed to explain the history of Palestine, what brought us to this point, and what the missing context is. That is why I had not wanted the discussion on Democracy Now! to be a debate.
In any event, I went ahead with it, and it ended up being excellent, not so much because of what I said but because the debate exposed the bankruptcy of Israel’s propaganda machine. As soon as you subject their vocabulary to any kind of scrutiny, even spokespersons of the Israeli government like the deputy ambassador cannot provide the substance to counter basic facts. At one point, after all of his propagandizing failed, he actually went for a very emotional but irrelevant talking point, basically saying that a young woman like me, as well as his gay friends, would not be able to walk around Gaza freely and that he couldn’t understand why I was “defending” Hamas.
We see in that moment his desperate resort to mobilizing the emotional as opposed to the rational. Unable to deploy reason to compel the listener, he struck at racialized tropes. In this instance, while he raised only gender he was signaling to something much broader, namely that Muslims and Arabs, who are not all Muslims, are not fit to rule themselves. On a certain level, he lost the debate as that shallowness was exposed; but even the worst performer on Israel’s behalf still comes out on top because words like Hamas, rockets, tunnels, self-defense, Islamic terrorism, and so on have deep resonance. An entire discussion of how this came about would be necessary, exposing the relationship between media, government, and corporate interests, or the United States’ identification with Israel’s settler-colonial society, or the ease with which the dehumanization of Palestinians is accepted.
I also participated in a debate on Al Jazeera English. At first, I hesitated, thinking that since Al Jazeera English is no longer broadcast on TV in the United States, nobody would see it. I decided to go ahead anyway and I’m glad I did. That debate was with someone from the World Jewish Congress, who was advancing the Israeli narrative, and with the former Turkish ambassador to Israel, who didn’t say much beyond stressing the importance of the peace process. They put me in a dark room with an earpiece and I couldn’t see anything, I could only hear other people’s voices—they were interviewing me remotely. There was something very liberating about feeling like nobody was watching. Feeling invisible allowed me to be free and incredibly unfettered. I ended up debating in a very rational way: I was indignant without getting riled up, and my arguments were based on logic. After that interview, my phone, my twitter, and my e-mail were flooded for days with people from across the globe who had seen the interview, including diplomats, scholars, and private sector professionals. I can’t even begin to describe the extent and reach of that interview, and only then did I realize that everybody watches Al Jazeera English—everybody, that is, except for people in the United States. So Jadaliyya republished that interview in order to expand its reach to U.S. audiences. [‡] This is a new age where television censorship no longer dictates our access to information!
Did anyone cancel on you, or “disinvite” you? Can you talk about any cancellations or other negative incidents with the media?
There were two incidents where I was disinvited. One was with Ronan Farrow of MSNBC who invited me onto his show after my appearance on the PBS NewsHour with the former adviser to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and law professor Amos Guiora. Ronan Farrow’s producers invited me to debate Prof. Gabriella Blum of Harvard the following day. I was excited about this because I know of Blum through common scholarly networks; she’s interesting and she’s sharp, so I looked forward to the interview. On the morning of the interview, Ronan Farrow called me in person to tell me that Blum had refused to debate me. I thought, “Okay, great! I’m going to go on the show by myself.” But then he tells me that they are going to have her on alone. She refused to debate me, but I was the one they cancelled. To me, that is very telling.
The reason he called me personally was because he was worried about blowback: it was on his program that the controversy over Rula Jebreal had erupted. [§] So he was worried that I would expose the story on social media in ways that would really embarrass him, personally, as well as the network—which, by the way, is an instance of the impact that social media activism can have. In any case, he explained, he wanted this opportunity to challenge Blum and asked me for some talking points. I spent a good twenty minutes suggesting questions and talking points and while he did go on to ask her some of those questions on air, he did not once challenge her nonanswers. In response to questions about the implications of Israel’s military tactics, she provided mini-lectures on humanitarian law without comment on the incident in question. The producers told me they would have me on alone the following Monday but, in all honesty, I hoped they wouldn’t call. The real story here is not about the content or subject of the debate but the fact that one of the guests refused to debate, and the network obliged her. If a Palestinian had done that, it would not have worked out the same way! Although I had hoped to expose this, I didn’t get the chance because they actually did have me back that Monday. It was awful, though! The producers had told me the program would focus on the cease-fire, but it was about the laws of war. Farrow asked me three or four basic questions, each one a reiteration of the last, coming back to the charge again and again: Isn’t Hamas committing war crimes? Isn’t Hamas a terrorist organization? For a host to begin and end with that kind of question without any discussion of substance made it the most difficult interview of all and the one I was least proud of. There was no substance—and no response that I could provide without delving into substance. He kept repeating a position and I kept trying to engage him—it was a “poor fit.”
Something similar happened with CNN. People on social media had been criticizing Jake Tapper for not having Palestinians on his show and after someone suggested my name to him, he tweeted publicly that he had invited me and that I had declined. So I immediately responded to his tweet that this was news to me because I hadn’t received an invitation. His producers had in fact contacted me to ask about my availability, but I never got an invitation. The issue became something of a comedic moment on social media and he ended up writing to me directly to set up an interview. Two weeks later, I had the opportunity to go after him publicly on social media, but chose to write to him privately first to give him a heads-up and ask whether this was a PR stunt to deflect criticism or a sincere invitation to appear on the show. He responded, saying that they had decided to go with government officials from there on out, both Palestinian and Israeli. But after that conversation, what began as one-off exchange between us became a daily exchange in which we discussed events and I sometimes provided him with questions for his guests. When he traveled to Jerusalem, I even suggested stories to him and gave him some contacts on the ground. He was actually receptive to that! So while I didn’t get to appear on his program in person, I was able to build that relationship behind the scenes, to suggest resources and questions for his Israeli guests, and to point him towards stories within Israel he might not otherwise have covered—including the story of Moshe Feiglin, the Knesset member who was fanning the flames of genocide. [**] So that’s another example of the work that is being done which is not visible. Providing journalists with information and developing relationships which benefit them are critical.
Many of these anecdotes point to both the successes and the failures of the Israeli narrative during this offensive. My guess is you were watching other folks engaged in the Palestinian narrative in both the U.S. and other media outlets. Notwithstanding the buzzwords, what you referred to as “code” or “shorthand,” that are pervasive in the Israeli narrative, where was the Palestinian narrative successful, where did it fail, and where is there room for improvement?
The Israeli narrative was not created during this offensive. Although the slightest challenge reveals how Israel’s official arguments lack logic, that narrative is very deeply entrenched in mainstream U.S. media and thus remains effective because it has become part of our lexicon. As I mentioned earlier, we associate a lot with just a few words. “Israel’s right to defend itself.” Or, “Israel’s right to exist.” And, “Who would tolerate rockets raining down on them?” All of these phrases have a particular and strong resonance. Hamas carries certain associations; terrorism the same. Despite its weakness in the face of thorough scrutiny, the discourse continues to express and deliver the Israeli message.
As for the Palestinian narrative, frankly we haven’t developed a media strategy. What we saw was a splattering of professional, educated, well-spoken Palestinians who just emerged as media go-tos on the basis of their history of advocacy. But we are not formally connected to one another, none of us has had any proper media training, and we do not have a uniform book of sound bites or talking points. We haven’t even discussed between ourselves the messages we should be trying to convey; each of us decides what to say on an individual basis. Thankfully, there is a good degree of alignment in our positions and, while our approaches may be different, our interviews end up being somewhat resonant with one another.
The primary challenge facing anyone who speaks about Palestine in the media is that we literally have to start from scratch every single time. We withstand the battle in individual interviews, but we never win the war because we aren’t able to influence the framework. We might influence that particular media conversation but the overall framework remains unchanged. Reframing the media discourse can’t happen during crisis moments alone. It takes many years of relationship-building, activism, and social media advocacy, as well as all the other interventions which impact the production of knowledge on Palestine.
Would you say that by and large the overall framework remains unchanged?
The only thing that has changed is that there used to be a taboo about criticizing or even questioning the Israeli stance. Frankly, now that the two-state solution is dead, there are no more suicide bombings, and very few missiles being directed at Israel, especially since the November 2012 cease-fire; and with continuing settlement expansion which drove U.S. Secretary of State Kerry’s peace efforts into the ground, the security and terrorism framework has become less compelling. It was a very compelling framework during the second intifada, which began in September 2000, a year before the 9/11 attacks, and continued until about 2005. That was when Israel started to claim that it didn’t have a partner for peace in the Palestinians, and it began building its annexation wall. [††] But now that Israel has been exposed as the primary cause behind the failure of the peace process and the two-state solution more generally, security doesn’t seem a compelling framework to anyone anymore. For the rest of the world, even in those countries that are generally sympathetic to its position, Israel appears like a conundrum: What is Israel doing, they ask? Why is it its own worst enemy? What is the endgame? How far will it go? This gathering skepticism is slowly helping to shift the conversation.
Nevertheless, while the orthodoxy that shields Israel from criticism is increasingly put into question, the conversation is still about its battle for security—although it should be about the morality, legality, and the political value of an enduring settler-colonial project that necessitates the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. In a perfect world, the discussion would be about Palestinian self-determination! But the most that mainstream journalists are willing to say is that Israel has gone too far, and none of them ever attempts to begin the conversation by stating that Israel should not have done this at all, or that the siege on Gaza is itself an unjustified form of warfare on an occupied people.
Unfortunately, we never get to that point in the discussion because we, as Palestinians, have not succeeded in framing the issue. We have not agreed amongst ourselves on a unified framework for our narrative, reflecting the fissures within our own communities and societies—between our government and the diaspora, and between Gaza and the West Bank. There are a lot of internal fractures that impede the development of a more uniform message which activists, media workers, and civil society could deploy.
As you mentioned, the Palestinian voices partaking in the media discourse are neither unified nor official, yet they are in conversation with official Israeli voices. So what is the next step?
I would answer the question of where we go next and what we do about the media in the context of a much broader conversation about how to develop a national liberation strategy rooted in an ethos of resistance and a vision for a political solution in which each of us has a role to play. We clearly have the interest, and we clearly have the desire and the motivation to have that conversation, but lack the opportunities and the forums for doing so because of the estrangement between our formal Palestinian leadership and Palestinian society at large.
We have yet to adequately respond to the collapse of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) which, for all its faults, managed to represent Palestinians the world over with a compelling narrative of liberation and self-determination for decades. Since the process set in motion by Oslo in 1993, the Palestinian polity has been arbitrarily truncated to a third of its size, encompassing only those Palestinians who live inside the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The discussion has therefore shifted from national liberation to state-building. As a result, we Palestinians have not even responded to, let alone addressed, some of the most significant events in recent Palestinian history—most notably the forced displacement of Palestinian refugees from Iraq after the U.S. invasion in 2003, and from Syria during the course of its civil war, especially since 2012.
We lack a robust media strategy. We also lack a robust legal strategy. Our grassroots strategy is somewhat better because it is dominated and led by the Boycott National Committee, which has spearheaded the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign (BDS). But in every forum, individuals have intervened on an ad hoc basis in place of an authoritative leadership body with a vision.
One of my concerns whenever I was asked to appear or speak on the media was the question of representativeness. Due to the internal fractures within our community, there can be a lot of resentment and competitiveness rather than an appreciation for folks who do speak out. So I asked myself, how much do I want to put myself out there and am I taking up too much space? Because, who am I? I haven’t been elected, I live in the United States, professionally I’m a scholar and a lawyer, and this is my opinion. Granted my own opinions have been shaped by grassroots organizing with the Palestinian community in the United States, in Palestine, and beyond, and are therefore representative in some informal way. Something I found very comforting and empowering was the response that I kept getting from our community, almost like an unofficial endorsement to continue.
Can you talk about the discourse in the print media?
In addition to media interviews, I had several opportunities to write, and the writing became another very important platform. The piece that I wrote for the Nation, for example, was shared about fifty-seven thousand times, and it was translated into Arabic, French, and Swedish. [‡‡] I thought that what I had written was so self-evident I was hesitant to even submit it for publication: I was countering Israel’s top five most salient talking points, which I had been responding to in nearly all of my media appearances. Although what I wrote seemed rather basic and straightforward to me, I realized that it was something people were actually thirsting for—and that wasn’t obvious at the time. Thus, the rebuttal to those Israeli talking points became a tool and a resource that people began using. That article then created other writing and interview opportunities.
It sounds like the print medium was less antagonistic than the others. What was the difference in terms of impact? I realize these are big questions, but who are the consumers of the different media and what, if anything, does that mean?
You can get up to fifty thousand people to watch any one episode of a TV interview, which is a low number for television, but it’s also an average number. More people watch television than read print media, which is much more self-selective and doesn’t reach as wide an array of people. That being said, what print media does is that it lives on. Unlike other media, newsprint remains available to the public as a resource for longer periods of time and is a useful classroom pedagogical tool.
I remember when I decided to spend more time on writing than on speaking. I was traveling internationally for a speaking event, and it had taken me almost eighteen hours to get where I was going. When I got there, I was attacked by the audience that had invited me to speak. That was when I told myself that I would never again waste so much time on a speaking event when I could spend an equal amount of time writing and have what I had to say reach more people, and also live on.
You were on the media circuit during previous offensives on Gaza. Can you reflect on the differences in the media coverage and in the discourse between them? Do you think palpable and measurable improvements have been made, even unintentionally? And if so, what were they?
In 2008–9 [Operation Cast Lead], the narrative was awful and we had no way to combat it. It wasn’t the first offensive against Gaza—the Strip has been attacked repeatedly since 1948, and the fourteen separate Israeli military campaigns between 2004 and 2008 did not get the same kind of media attention. [§§] It was the scale and savagery of the 2008–9 offensive that made it feel like a turning point. Right now, Israel can incrementally confiscate ten dunams of Palestinian land every day without anyone saying anything, but the moment it announces the confiscation of one thousand dunams in one fell swoop, everybody is up in arms—which is literally what happened recently. [***] The reactions of the public to Israel are not about the principle of Israeli actions but about their scale and brazenness.
Also, in 2008–9, Hamas and Fatah were still at odds with each other and we had a peace process that the then newly-inaugurated Obama administration promised to shepherd with vigor. A lot was going on at the time and most people were caught off guard. Even the PA [Palestinian Authority] was colluding with Israel at that point. [†††] At the time, Israel hadn’t yet deployed its talking point about Hamas causing Palestinian deaths, as it would do during the summer 2014 offensive. Except for parts of the online media, everybody was talking about Israel’s right to defend itself even as they watched the humanitarian toll mounting on the Palestinian side.
The 2012 offensive [Operation Pillar of Defense] saw the beginning of change. Folks started thinking, “Wait—Israel did this already. Is that what it’s going to do every few years in lieu of finding a sustainable or viable solution?” And that’s exactly what Israel appears to be doing: it calls it “mowing the lawn”—that is, since it cannot uproot the resistance, it will “mow the lawn” periodically. To observers around the world, what they had thought of as an exceptional circumstance began to appear as a state of perpetual war. It became the new normal and it no longer made sense.
So it is only after 2012 and the understanding that Israel feels it has a license to go to war on Gaza every couple of years that there is the beginning of a shift in media coverage. The media question becomes, “Israel, we understand your problem, but can you find another way to solve it?”— although exploring the legitimacy of Hamas’s position, or any situation of resistance, remains out of the question. By the 2014 offensive, Israel has developed new and, sadly, effective talking points. One of these sought to convince audiences, for example, that Israel was somehow helping the Palestinians against their common enemy, Hamas. We watched over and over again as anchors failed to challenge that narrative.
What was that failure about? And does it point to larger issues in the U.S. media?
I think pro-Israel bias is so ingrained that for most journalists, the argument that Israel is bombing the Palestinians for their own good doesn’t sound odd. You and I hear that kind of argumentation and it sounds ludicrous. But for much of the media, it doesn’t sound strange. To them, Hamas is evil. There is absolutely no credence given to the reality that Hamas is an elected political party, with a military wing, and a strong presence in Palestinian society. Or to the fact that Hamas’s removal would not significantly alter Israel’s coercion of and violence against Palestinians. So when journalists hear that Israeli talking point, they don’t cringe, they don’t think—wait a minute, this sounds crazy. The journalists who thought it did sound crazy were, for the most part, not Americans.
Which brings me to my next question: what do you think the difference was between international and U.S. media?
International media have more wiggle room. Although they are subject to similar presuppositions, they have fewer pressures to contend with and can be more honest about the conflict. Some of the basic facts are accepted—that Palestine is occupied, that the Palestinians are a stateless people, and that Israel does as it pleases with impunity—even if their understanding is shaped by mostly humanitarian considerations. This understanding doesn’t fundamentally change the way that Israel is perceived: among European countries, Israel is still not seen as a settlercolonial state; it still has the right to defend itself. The problem for them is merely how it does so.
This is a layered question, but was it all too predictable? Or was there a moment when you were surprised both by the Israeli narrative and the U.S. media’s response to it?
In terms of the media, I didn’t experience anything that I thought was completely new. The one thing that I remember was the first question that the host of the PBS NewsHour, Judy Woodruff, asked the Israeli attorney. Before the program started, we were exchanging a few niceties and I mentioned something to the effect that we’re having this discussion about Hamas using human shields without Israel ever having proved it, and the Israelis just keep using this as a talking point. To my pleasant surprise, the first question she asked her Israeli guest was about the evidence for Hamas using civilians as human shields or hiding weapons amongst civilians. This was my first time on a media appearance where the opening question addressed to the Israeli guest was hardhitting. “Is there evidence for what you’re saying?” Woodruff had asked. Imagine! And in fact that entire segment of the PBS NewsHour, which was supposed to be about the law, turned into an opportunity for me to emphasize the shallowness of Israel’s talking points. That was the only thing that really took me by surprise; everything else was more or less expected. All the same talking points were covered over and over again and the most anybody could suggest was going back to the two-state solution. Nobody even talked about how the two-state solution is basically dead or about how Israel’s government has explicitly rejected it and recently proposed annexing Area C, which comes to 62 percent of the West Bank. [‡‡‡]
I’m curious about your personal process in preparing for interviews. What would you be prepared to discuss? Everybody on the media circuit had a different approach during their interviews. What was yours?
The way that I approach media work is by appealing to logic and reason. I still get nervous every time I do an interview, which is what compels me to prepare so much. I write down exactly what I think the opposing side is going to say, and then I write what I am going to say in that moment to counter it. When I think an interview is going to be hostile, I look for trigger words. When I went on Bill O’Reilly in 2006, for example, I knew that his tactic was just to repeat the same thing over and over and over again. I wanted to use his trigger words as a cue formy talking points, which is the way you should do media: don’t answer the question posed to you, use it as a prompt to share your talking points. So I prepared my talking points in response to the theme of the program in ways that were rich with facts and evidence. That is what I try to do each time.
By and large, my appeal is to logic and reason. I try to persuade by providing facts, sources, and citations. I’m not telling stories. Others do that better than I can—that is, recount the narrative of Palestine and the righteousness of the Palestinian struggle. I do very much what a lawyer would do: I try and give you all this information and walk you to its logical conclusion. That was my approach, and depending on the theme of the interview, I would write down the few things that I wanted to focus on, usually no more than three points. I occasionally appeal to emotion when it is necessary or can be useful or I when I can’t help myself. I did that on the program with Chris Hayes, for example, when I asked whether President Obama would have mourned two hundred children had they been Israeli and not Palestinian. [§§§] That immediately changed the tone and the tenor of the conversation because Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director of J Street, and Marc Ginsberg, the former U.S. ambassador to Morocco, had both come onto the program primed to talk about Hamas. But as soon as I had the opportunity, the first thing I said was, “Why has President Obama not mourned the dead? He certainly would have mourned two hundred children (the death toll at the time) had they been Israeli.” That was an appeal to emotion that I would describe as necessary. In that moment, my message was that we needed to humanize this conflict.
* See the Quarterly Update in JPS 162.
† The IMEU, founded in 2005, is an independent, 501(c)(3)-registered nonprofit organization based in the United States. According to the group’s website, their mission is to provide journalists “quick access” and “expert sources” on Palestine and the Palestinians.
‡ Noura Erakat, “Jadaliyya Co-Editor Noura Erakat Debates Whether Diplomacy Can End the Conflict in Gaza on Al Jazeera English’s ‘Inside Story,’” Jadaliyya, 15 July 2014, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/18547/jadaliyya-coeditor-noura-erak....
§ On 21 July, frequent MSNBC contributor Rula Jebreal appeared on Ronan Farrow Daily to comment on the Israeli assault on Gaza. She criticized the network for its slanted coverage in favor of Israel and denounced several MSNBC hosts—Andrea Mitchell in particular—for allowing Israeli officials an inordinate amount of air time. Following the episode, Jebreal tweeted that her scheduled appearances on MSNBC had been cancelled in response to her comments.
** See “C3. MK Moshe Feiglin, ‘Letter on the Future of Gaza,’ Jerusalem, 1 August 2014” in Documents and Source Material in the back of this issue for more.
†† The “annexation wall,” as Erakat refers to it here, is also frequently referred to as the “apartheid wall,” the “separation barrier,” or simply “the wall.”
‡‡ Noura Erakat, “Five Israeli Talking Points on Gaza—Debunked,” Nation, 25 July 2014, http://www.thenation.com/article/180783/five-israeli-talking-points-gaza....
§§ See Filiu’s essay, “The Twelve Gaza Wars,” in the analysis section above.
*** For more, see Chaim Levinson and Jack Khoury, “Israel Appropriates Massive Tract of West Bank Land,” Haaretz, 31 August 2014, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.613319; Isabel Kershner, “Israel Claims Nearly 1,000 Acres of West Bank Land near Bethlehem,” New York Times, 31 August 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/01/world/middleeast/israel-claims-nearly-....
††† According to WikiLeaks cables, Fatah had prior knowledge of the coming war and failed to do anything to stop it. During the offensive, Fatah also maintained security in the West Bank to help free up Israeli soldiers to be deployed to the Gazan front. See Daniella Cheslow, “What Happens to Hamas-Fatah Reconciliation after Gaza Conflict?” McClatchy DC, 30 July 2014, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/07/30/234917/what-happens-tohamas-fatah-... “WikiLeaks: Israel Tried to Plan Cast Lead with Egypt, PA,” Jerusalem Post, 29 November 2010, http://www.jpost.com/Defense/Wikileaks-Israel-tried-to-plan-Cast-Lead-wi... Ravid and the Associated Press, “Palestinians: Gaza War Claim Exposed by WikiLeaks Is Untrue,” 29 November 2010, Haaretz, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/palestinians-gaza-war-clai....
‡‡‡ Formore, see: Herb Keinon, “In Wake of Talks’ Collapse, Bennett to Present PM with Proposal to Annex Area C,” Jerusalem Post, 15 May 2014, http://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/In-wake-of-talks-collapse-Be... “Bennett: Israel Should Annex 60 Percent of West Bank,” Yedioth Ahronoth, 27 April 2014, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4513888,00.html.
§§§ The segment Erakat mentions, titled “On the Ground in Gaza,” was broadcast on All in with Chris Hayes on MSNBC on 17 July. It is available at http://www.msnbc.com/all-in-with-chris-hayes/watch/on-the-ground-ingaza-....