Urgently needed – a ‘Palestinian-Montrealer’!

How and why Canadian public media sent me on a wild goose chase.

Palestinian flag at a protest in Toronto
In Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, several thousand people took to the streets to express their solidarity with the Palestinians and denounce the war crimes committed by Israel on May 15, 2021 [Cole Burston/ AFP]

On May 11, as Israel was unleashing its military machine in occupied Jerusalem and elsewhere, I was put into contact with CBC Radio-Montreal who were looking for someone to interview to discuss the violent events in Sheikh Jarrah. After offering myself to speak on one of their programmes on the requested day of May 12, I was told that they would love to book me on the show.

Alas, the person had to be specifically, and I quote, a “Palestinian-Montrealer”. Apparently, it is their strict policy that all guests on the show had to be Montrealers. Moreover, I now had one hour to search for this specific sub-species of a Palestinian.

Fine. In 40 minutes, I found not one, but two Palestinian-Montrealers, able and willing to be interviewed. I even checked with these two people. And they confirmed to me that every day they wake up, they think: “Wow, isn’t it great to be a Palestinian-Montrealer!” Only when those two words are combined, do they feel complete! Their combination is the defining feature of their very existence and the source of all of their expertise and knowledge about what was happening in Sheikh Jarrah!

Fantastic, CBC Radio-Montreal intimated. All within the hour too. We can’t believe it. Thank you.

The Palestinian-Montrealers I found were so kind, they cleared their busy schedule for the time slots that suited CBC Radio-Montreal not just for the on-air interview but also for the prescreening interview. Schedule cleared. Preparations made. Wonderful.

May 12 comes and goes. But there is not so much as an email or a call from CBC Radio-Montreal to tell this Palestinian-Montrealer that they will not put them on the air or even preinterview them.

This story is far from an outlier in the landscape of mainstream Canadian media, and indeed media landscapes across Europe, North America, Australia, and elsewhere.

Over the span of three days, between May 11 and 13, I found for CBC, Palestinians in Palestine, Palestinian-Canadian experts, Palestinian-Montrealers, and Palestinians in Palestine who are not a “journalist voice” but are just a “local voice” – whatever that means, but still, I found one. And every time I found one of these ever-more specific Palestinian sub-species, I was either simply ignored or told, no, today, we are actually looking for another sub-species. And on and on it went.

If it was not for the fact that this is structural concealment of settler colonial brutality and a form of harassment to the people who give up their time to find available Palestinian interviewees, as well as the Palestinians who dedicate hours of their time to prepare for the interviews for nought, these stories would only be comical.

Within media landscapes in Canada and beyond, there are of course courageous and conscientious journalists who are working extremely hard to break through the wall of silence and tell Palestine’s story to their audience. They are everywhere. They are working within mainstream media, within CBC News, and some are creating their own media platforms and succeeding at it.

We all should support these journalists, both the independent ones and those who are working from within the mainstream. When they break through, when they put a Palestinian on the air and give them actual time to speak and explain the situation, when the journalist’s own language in how they frame the events on the ground moves away from the misleading cliches of “both sides”, “real-estate dispute”, and “Israel’s right to self-defence as a justification for everything and anything”, and whatever else government propaganda is disseminating, this is when we need to stand behind these conscientious and real journalists.

Write to your news stations. Tell them that you appreciated the work of such journalists. Ask them to do more. Help these journalists break the silence. Break the fear barrier.

Throughout the last two weeks and still going, young Palestinian journalists and activists are on social media providing a more accurate and comprehensive picture of what is happening on the ground than the entire Euro-American media landscape combined.

This does not mean that censorship is not happening on those digital platforms. It most certainly is. Instagram and Twitter accounts and Facebook groups are being deactivated, blocked, and censored. Therefore, these platforms will not serve as a panacea for these serious, structural, and foundational problems in the media landscape. Digital platforms are also a space that is policed and built to ultimately serve the powerful.

The CBC and other news organisations may think that they are sending us on a wild goose chase, running after Palestinian-Montrealers for phantasmic interviews. But we understand their games and tricks. We understand how they will respond to what I am sharing here. They will now point out how they have invited two, three, maybe even 10 Palestinians to speak on-air over the course of these days and maybe even coming weeks, and attempt to use that as an exoneration from these charges.

But we know and understand that inviting Palestinians of the various sub-species for a few minutes here and there will not really break through hours on top of hours of daily cementation of the narrative of powerful states like Canada, the US and Israel (and there is almost no daylight between their positions).

And we also understand that the old guard at the CBC and other media organisations are on the wrong side of history. Any and all gains which will be made in the coming weeks, all of the breakthroughs that are happening already and will hopefully intensify, will happen despite entrenched state interests within the mainstream media. These gains are being made by people coming together both inside and outside of the mainstream media, pushing these structures of power towards much-needed change. But much like the Israeli state, the mainstream media will respond to this pushback with structural violence.

In an open letter last week, some 500 conscientious, fair, and balanced Canadian journalists rightly called out “the lack of nuanced Canadian media coverage of forced expulsions and indiscriminate airstrikes” against Palestinians, making the following simple request: “That all the tenets of journalism should apply to Canadian coverage of Occupied Palestinian Territories moving forward. Fair and balanced coverage should include historical and social context, reporters with knowledge of the region and, crucially, Palestinian voices.”

And how does the old guard in the upper echelons of mainstream media respond? By banning some of the signatories from covering Palestine/Israel.

Let that sink in. A call for a more nuanced, fair, balanced, and actually legitimate journalism results in the punishment of those journalists.

And so indeed something is urgently needed, and it is not that ever elusive Palestinian-Montrealer. Urgently needed is a clear-eyed, open, honest, participatory, and deliberative public discussion across this planet on how structures of oppressive governmental rule are built and maintained with and through mainstream media institutions.

Never forget this: our story is not just a Palestinian story. It is the story of all peoples who are oppressed, killed, imprisoned, maimed, enslaved, colonised, and erased. It is the story of Indigenous struggles across Turtle Island, in Bolivia, Mexico, Chile, Australia, and beyond. It is the story of Black Liberation struggles across the entire world. It is the story of Kashmir’s struggle for freedom. It is the story of the yet unfinished struggle to dismantle the structures of economic and social inequality left by apartheid in South Africa.

It is the story of the struggle for freedom and democracy in Thailand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and beyond. It is the story of all people struggling to overcome the yoke of postcolonial authoritarian states in Guinea, Uganda, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Algeria, Tunisia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and beyond. It is the story of working-class struggles in Italy, Spain, Brazil, China, Egypt, Greece, the United Kingdom and beyond. It is the story of the Jewish struggle against the destructive monstrosity that is anti-Semitism which Europe created.

We are all the dominated in this world, which was erected in and through colonial modernity. The tactics and strategies that are used to silence and dominate Palestinians are the same ones that all oppressed people also face or will come to face, and that includes the structural violence that is practised by mainstream media.

Nelson Mandela once said, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” True. But let me also add this: all of the people caught in those struggles above are not free. The Palestinian struggle for freedom is in fact also the struggle of so many people around the world for freedom. We either all get there together, or no one goes.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.