A missile is launched by an 'Iron Dome' battery in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod. Photo: Getty
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Where are the diplomats, policy-makers and peace envoys? They're not in Gaza

The BBC's former Gaza Strip correspondent on the way the world views the Palestinians, and how Israel transformed from a young David of a fledgling state to the Goliath of the occupation.

"Of course, the problem we had in those days was the terrorists," explained the aged former soldier. It was late 2002, and I was visiting the UK – back from my post as the BBC’s correspondent in the Gaza Strip.

"Terrorist" was then one of the most used-words in international news. Israel used it to describe the suicide bombs and other attacks it faced during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising against Israeli occupation. George Bush and Tony Blair were then preparing to order an invasion of Iraq as part of their "war on terror".

The veteran of D-Day, and of the last days of Britain’s Mandate in Palestine, had something else in mind. 68 years ago next week, on 22 July 1946, fighters of the Irgun – a Jewish armed movement seeking to drive British forces from Palestine, and hasten the creation of a Jewish state – blew up a wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. The hotel served as the headquarters of the British military and political authorities. As such, it was also a meeting place for journalists.    

"I owe my life, and the fact that I am able to write this story of the bloodiest terrorist outrage, to the cool courage of a British military policeman," began Barbara Board’s story on the front page of the following day’s Daily Mirror. Board went on to describe how as "a great charge of dynamite" went off, the military policeman, who had been guarding the hotel entrance, threw her to the ground "and shielded me with this body."

In the following days, reporters pieced together what had happened. The explosives, it turned out, had been placed in milk churns – and carried to an underground hotel kitchen by Irgun fighters disguised as delivery men. 

A huge military operation to find the attackers and their accomplices follows. Newspapers – outraged at the attack – follow events with enthusiastic headlines. The Daily Mail’s "Palestine Army to crush terrorists" from the 25 July, as the search got underway, is typical.

Weapons are reported found in a synagogue; Tel Aviv residents are dragged from their beds in their nightwear by British paratroopers looking for the bombers.

Less than two years later, the British Mandate is over. The State of Israel has come into being. The United Nations estimate that in the war which made that possible, more than 700,000 people fled their homes in what had been Mandate Palestine.

In the decades between then and now, in the land between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean, there have been large-scale wars in 1967 and 1973; two intifadas; several attempts at negotiated peace.

Countless episodes of bloodshed, each false dawn and failure, have been covered in detail by the international press. "It’s very clear that Israel for sure and that this conflict in general gets vastly more coverage than anything else," says the Jerusalem bureau chief of a leading US news organisation.         

From the deadly blow to British imperial personnel and pride suffered in 1946; to Europe’s guilt over the Holocaust; to international sympathy for both Israel and the Palestinians; to the United States' attempts of recent years to seek a diplomatic solution, this is a part of the world with countless global connections.   

"A lot of countries, a lot of peoples, feel that they have got a stake in this story and it’s a story that they engage in, and are committed to over and above any other conflict for religious reasons, for historical reasons – you know, so many European, American countries deeply involved here over a long period of time," another senior member of the Jerusalem press corps told me during my trip there last month.    

Journalism and history are concerned with processes of change, and now the region around Israel and the Palestinian territories is changing as never before. In history as told by journalism, Israel has been admired for its struggle for existence; criticised as the young David of a fledgling state became the Goliath of the occupation. The Palestinians have been pitied for their suffering; reviled as terrorists as the Jewish fighters of the 1940s once were.  

Much has changed in the way journalists work, too. In 1948 and 1967, reporters fretted over whether bombs and bullets would keep them from a post office or telex machine. Now they worry about wi-fi, and whether they will be trolled on social media.

The journalism itself has been praised, and rubbished. Yet their fascination with the story means that journalists have been there, often travelling to places others cannot, or will not. Where, for example, have the diplomats, the policy-makers, the peace envoys been in the last couple of weeks? They have not been in Gaza.
    

James Rodgers is the author of ‘No Road Home: Fighting for Land and Faith in Gaza’ and ‘Reporting Conflict’. His next book, ‘Headlines from the Holy Land’ is due to be published next year by Palgrave MacMillan. He teaches journalism at City University London.

Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons
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Donald Trump brings home his dark vision of America at the Republican convention

The Presidential nominee pledged: "Safety must be restored."

Donald Trump brought home the Republican convention Thursday night with a dark vision of contemporary America – a darkness he claimed only his leadership could lift. It was a lengthy, tightly-scripted speech framed around polarities – insiders and outsiders, criminals and victims, the United States and the rest of the world – and infused with righteous anger. And yet against the darkness, he offered not lightness but “greatness” – a bombastic, personalistic vision of how through sheer force of will he could right the American ship before it plunged irretrievably into the depths. “I alone can solve,” he famously tweeted earlier in the campaign. This was the 80-minute version.

Any presidential challenger, of course, has to lay out a set of problems they believe need fixing and a case for why their leadership might make a difference. It was the breathtaking scale and intensity of Trump’s diagnosis, and the lack of optimistic alternative to counterbalance it, that was notable compared to other acceptance speeches. He portrayed the United States as a country riddled with crime and corruption, a “rigged system” in which politicians like Hillary Clinton can evade justice, while police officers trying to protect its citizens become targets; a fearful country, its economy sluggish, its infrastructure crumbling, its security an illusion, and its international stature in freefall

For a candidate who has mocked the soaring rhetoric of President Obama (the “hopey-changey stuff,” as Sarah Palin once called it), it was perhaps not surprising that Trump’s speech would be short on uplift. It was at least more disciplined than his other campaign speeches, if in keeping with their tone and content – the much-maligned teleprompter rolling a script to which he largely stuck. (“He sounds presidential,” a lady behind me remarked, though his press conference Friday morning marked a reversion to free-wheeling form).

It was short on substance too, though acceptance speeches aren’t designed to be policy laundry lists like a State of the Union. Still, there were few specifics, beyond a pledge to revise tax laws which inhibit religious groups from political advocacy, and a newfound concern with student loans. It was daughter Ivanka’s speech that had the greater substantive heft, promising her father would push for new labour laws to help working mothers, and for affordable childcare in the US. Neither are traditional Republican positions, but the crowd seemed on board for anything Trump might offer.

He even had them cheering for LGBTQ rights, after recalling the tragedy in Florida last month, and the need to protect gay Americans from a “hateful foreign ideology” in radical Islam. “It is so nice as a Republican to hear you cheering for what I just said,” he commended the delegates in an unscripted moment. But whether they had really embraced this unexpected message – or if it was the anti-terror chaser that really got them on their feet – remains to be seen. In either case, it was a rare grace note in an otherwise bruising speech.

Presenting himself repeatedly as the candidate of “law and order,” Trump evoked Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign. At a time when American cities were erupting in race riots and protests over the Vietnam War, Nixon had pitched himself as the face of stability and security. Likewise Trump has reacted to the simmering racial tensions and terrorist attacks this summer with a hard-line stance on “lawlessness.” “Safety must be restored,” Trump said, in one of the eerier lines he delivered. Yet in his convention speech, Nixon had balanced his tough talk with a positive message – speaking of love, courage, and lighting a “lamp of hope” in partnership with the American people. 

Trump channeled another president in his speech, too, when he promised to give voice to “the forgotten men and women of our country” – drawing on the language of Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt had promised to aid “the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid” during the 1932 campaign. But Roosevelt’s solution to the forgotten man’s distress was economic internationalism – tearing down tariff walls and trading freely with the world – which the Republican Party then opposed. Trump’s solution is the protectionist policies Roosevelt had railed against.

Trump’s economic and security philosophy is encapsulated in another, more notorious phrase associated with that era: “America First.” A rallying cry for isolationists seeking to avoid US entanglement in World War II, it acquired an anti-Semitic taint. But Trump has employed it nonetheless, capturing as it does his core argument that America must do more to protect its own citizens against threats from within and without – from illegal immigrants, from radicalized Islamic terrorists, from the downsides of free international trade. Little wonder that former George W.

Bush staffer Nicolle Wallace announced that the Republican party she knew “died in this room tonight.” In embracing elements of isolationism, protectionism, and nativism, however, it is perhaps truer to say that Trump’s Republican party reverted to an earlier form.

Often disconcerting, at times mesmerizing, the question remains how effective this speech will be. The delegates responded enthusiastically to Trump’s fierce rhetoric, but many prominent Republicans had stayed away from the convention altogether. Combined with Senator Ted Cruz’s non-endorsement, Trump goes into the general election campaign without a fully united party behind him. For both partisans and the public, Trump’s speech offered a cast of villains to rally against, but no positive, unifying vision to rally behind – beyond the much-touted yet elusive “greatness,” of course. In a typical election year, that would seem a critical flaw in a campaign – but Trump loves to confound the naysayers. As his convention speech showed, he thinks the formula that got him this far - showcasing his fame and fanning Americans’ fears – can land him in the White House.