PM: It’s very difficult, in the helter-skelter, daily evolution of a story like this, to pull in all the relevant bits. And it’s very hard to pull them in particularly, as I said, when the parameters of the narrative are being constructed by the key players, be it the Palestinian leadership, be it the Israeli leadership, be it the regional heavyweights like Egypt, or be it Washington for that matter.
So what you have to be able to do is take the eyes of the big-picture story and be able to infer it, use them as counterpoints in writing. If you tell a foreign readership that this poor soldier is being held in Gaza and he’s been held for years, isn’t this shocking? It is shocking. But is it more or less shocking than the plight or circumstances of the 11,000 Palestinians who are being held in Israeli prisons?
KB: So, how should they describe those individuals? Are they civilian members of Hamas or militants?
PM: Half the elected Hamas government is in prison. So there are Hamas prisoners, there are Hamas sympathizers, there are Hamas militants. You name it, there is every range of them. They’re not all entirely Hamas, but there is a good number of Hamas representatives of the other Palestinian factions and also of Fatah. But every time Israel feels that it needs to make a gesture to the Fatah leadership, what they do is they release a handful of Fatah prisoners—never Hamas prisoners.
KB: My sense has been that everyone who is identified as a member of Hamas is automatically categorized as a member of the militant arm of the organization, as opposed to people who might be part of the public service branch.
PM: That’s very true. In the writing of the narrative, the objective of the spin on all sides is to cast the other side in simple, bad terms. Make it all black, make it all white, try to airbrush out the gray. Now there’s a lot of gray that has to be dealt with and has to be considered.
Look at some of the names of the people who before and after the recent Gaza crisis have said that Hamas has to be allowed a seat at the table, Hamas had to be brought into the negotiating process. You’re talking about people like Efraim Halevy, former head of Mossad. Not a fly-by-night or a shallow man. He makes a very clear and careful distinction between Hamas as national patriots, as opposed to an Al Qaeda-type terrorist group. People like Tony Blair this week, people like Colin Powell before this whole crisis, people like Prince prince Turki Al-Faisal, former head of Saudi intelligence, who is not a lightweight in the region.
These are people, and I’m giving you names from all sides there, who have weight and reputation and savvy in their sense of what’s happening on the ground or what needs to happen. But one of the things that has happened in the Middle East for the last sixty years is that people have been talking about what has to happen, and nobody has ever made it happen.
KB: What is the conversation like in Australia?
PM: It varies. There is a range of opinion and levels of sympathy for Hamas or for Israel. There’s an attempt to tell both sides of the story. I’ve had the luxury of writing a book and immersing myself in the twenty years of Hamas’s existence. So for me, I’ve been able to come to it with this broad sense of the history as opposed to the daily cut and thrust. And reporters and commentators, a lot of them writing about it these days get locked into that bigger narrative that is being crafted around them and, in quite in a deliberate way, for them.
KB: Talk about what it’s like to report in Gaza. What are the challenges for a reporter working there?