On November 19, we received a telegram from Kenny Rogers, the country singer, and his wife Marianne. Our March-April issue, “The Struggle for Food,” they told us, had won first prize along with Scientific American in the 1987 World Hunger Media Awards in the periodicals category. Jim Paul, Martha Wenger and Joe Stork attended the awards ceremony on December 7, at a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. The Media Awards are part of the work of the World Hunger Year foundation set up by the late singer and activist, Harry Chapin. The sold-out concert, featuring Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and others, was a memorial tribute to Chapin and raised funds for a worldwide Campaign to End Hunger and Homelessness. In making the presentation, Rogers cited MERIP’s “great work in reporting the story of hungry people.”
The judges who selected MERIP and the other winners included Marjorie Benton of Save the Children Foundation, Ann Crittenden of the Fund for Investigative Journalism and Djibril Dialo of UNICEF. Their choice is a public tribute to all the names on our masthead, people who have worked through the years to give MERIP and this magazine the presence they have today. All of us in turn congratulate the authors and photographers whose work appeared in the winning issue. And this is the right moment to give special thanks to Dick Anderson, our designer, who has worked with us on typesetting, design and layout from our very early days, for his consistently good work in making Middle East Report a more interesting and attractive magazine.
This present issue continues the theme of human rights. The Middle East, as we noted in our last issue, has been largely obscured from the scrutiny of human rights activists by a shroud of censorship and state repression there and by dehumanizing stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims here.
The problem for Palestinians under Israeli rule, as Penny Johnson observes, is less one of invisibility than of distorting visibility. The Palestinian profile in Western media is rather high, but it is largely a two-dimensional composite of victim/terrorist which invites outsiders to blame the Palestinians for the repression they suffer. One aspect to this is Israel’s invocation of Western anti-Semitism and Nazi persecution to secure a wide and long-lasting dispensation from the standards applied to most other occupying regimes — a sort of “affirmative action” program for the Jewish state. A variant on this holds the Palestinians liable for having a multiplicity of oppressors — Jordan and Syria, for instance, and the murderous militias of Lebanon. Since Arab regimes and outside (Western) powers share complicity in denying the Palestinians self-determination, Israel and its partisans absolve themselves of any major role in resolving the underlying conflict.
The United States, with the “quality of life” line of Secretary of State George Shultz, tried fitfully to turn the question of Palestinian rights into a welfare issue. Under this scheme, funds channeled through Jordan would buy political servitude from Palestinian middle-class aspirants. But the imperial budget went bust and buying off Palestinians proved less a priority than bankrolling the contras of Nicaragua, Angola and Afghanistan. Washington could not manage even the lip service to Palestinian rights that might persuade its Arab allies to pick up the tab. Meanwhile, US-funded Israeli troops go about demolishing Palestinian homes, commandants deport Palestinian writers and students who speak out, and settlers and soldiers murder Palestinian schoolchildren.
The prevailing wisdom in Washington, Tel Aviv and assorted Arab capitals seems to be that the question of Palestine has been eclipsed by the question of whether the Arab regimes of the Gulf will survive the war there. Israel, which for years countenanced the growth of Islamist tendencies among Palestinians in order to counter the PLO, now proclaims an Islamist hand behind the upsurge of popular resistance in the Occupied Territories. The label of Islam serves the function that the label Arab once served, to deny Palestinians the distinctive identity they have forged in their struggle for national rights. It is mainly Palestinians who must pay the human costs of this dangerous delusion now, but its victims also include numerous Israelis and even those Americans captured or dead in Lebanon. We are paying other costs as well, beyond the billions of dollars in arms aid that sustains this conflict. For it profoundly corrupts our intellectual life, and our capacity to live with other people in the world.