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Spotlight on Gaza: There is a change in narrative

One of my all-time favourite movies is Spotlight, the 2015 Oscar winner film about the true story of the Boston Globe’s investigation into the children abuse within the local Catholic church. Sure, I am biased.

As a journalist, I tend to favour movies about journalism like Spotlight and of course All the President’s Men, the one about how two Washington Post reporters uncovered Watergate, the scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

However, one of the reasons I like Spotlight is its star, Mark Ruffalo, the 53-year-old, soft-spoken American actor whose an unassuming demeaner makes the character he plays so believable.

I like Ruffalo even as Hulk in the Avenger, which is not my type of films. There is something genuine about him- perhaps his charm and friendliness, like in the character he played in Just Like Heaven and Dark Waters.

More celeb voices speak up

Last week, his genuine self was for all the world to see and admire as he went on social media and TV stations to air his views on the bloody Israeli war on the Palestinians. He led several Hollywood celebrities who condemned the siege of Al Aqsa Mosque compound by the Israelis who had been trying to evict hundreds of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in the occupied East Jerusalem, and the vicious airstrikes and artillery fire on Gaza, which have killed so far more than 120 people, dozens of them are children.

“1500 Palestinians face expulsion in #Jerusalem. 200 protesters have been injured. 9 children have been killed. Sanctions on South Africa helped free its black people - it’s time for sanctions on Israel to free Palestinians. Join the call," Ruffalo wrote on Twitter few days ago, ending his post with the hashtag #SheikhJarrah.

Late last year, the American actor came live on a popular programme on the American NBC network, to call for holding Israel accountable for its reprehensible actions in the occupied territories. “There’s no reason why an ally of America [Israel] should not be held to the same standard as we would hold any other nation in the world,” he said.

Celebs rally for Palestine

Like Ruffalo, a number of celebrities, like the award-winning actress Susan Sarandon and signer Rihanna among others, have taken to social media to call for justice for Palestine. Several football players, artists and models have done the same. In today’s world, the opinions of these fine individuals count for more than useless United Nations statements, especially in the US, where celebrities’ views have considerable weight in addressing public issues.

For decades and until recently, the Palestinian struggle for independence had been projected, particularly in the Western world, as a violent movement intent on killing innocent Israelis. The Palestinians were always shown in the western pop culture as terrorists. The Israelis on the other hand are the victims of Palestinian savagery. This was just one part of the multi-faceted distortion of the actual Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The Canadian-US actor Seth Rogen last July was quoted by the Guardian newspaper as telling a Hollywood podcaster that he was “fed a huge amount of lies about Israel” as a young Jewish person.

He said as he grew up, his parents and teachers always omitted that fact that Israel was created on land where Palestinians were living. “They never tell you that, ‘Oh, by the way, there were people there’. They make it seem like [the land] was just like sitting there.”

Those few, like Ruffalo, who dared to speak up for the rights of the Palestinians and to challenge the decades- old prevailing Western one- sided narrative were accused of anti-Semitism. “I was called an anti-Semite about it, for doing that - which was really tough to hear.

The fact that so many people will take it to that extreme when you’re talking about that type of inequality, that type of oppression, that kind of apartheid: really!” he told the NBC network in October.

Viral raw videos and images

Today, with the phenomenal growth of social media, instant publishing, and citizen journalism, traditional spin doctors, those who for long monopolised the political narrative in the US and other western countries, are losing ground to viral raw videos and images that tell the story unfiltered.

Those interested in the region’s affairs, including celebrities like Mark Ruffalo, no longer have to rely on big name media outlets to realize what is happening in Gaza. The flattening of a 14-story residential tower in central Gaza, which was bombed by Israeli planes on the eve of Eid Al Fitr, was aired live on Facebook.

The reaction of celebrities to the events in Palestine, I think, is unprecedented and significant. The words of these popular figures are a great tool to deliver a critical message to the world, to tell the story right.

And that is a win for the Palestinians- these viral posts will pile pressure on governments to help stop the carnage in Gaza and the West Bank. It will also result, as the late Edward Said used to say, in the ‘humanisation’ of the victims of the occupation. They are no longer faceless statistics.

The Palestinian- Israeli conflict has always been about the narrative. The Israelis has for long had a monopoly on that through a sympathetic Western media and entertainment industry, henceforth, they were able to resist the pressure to commit to a peaceful settlement of the long running conflict. The current developments have seen some degree of change in the cultural attitude towards the conflict.

Although the change is still limited, it however represents a crack in the wall of the traditional anti- Palestinian narrative. Hopefully, the change will lead to real change in the narrative which will put pressure on all parties to bring justice to the Palestinians and ultimately realise the long elusive peace in the Middle East.