Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The media fanned the flames

Salman Masalha

The media fanned the flames

It wasn't only pinecones that burst, flew far from the trees and ignited more fires in the forests. The media also set up studios and sent out reporters who stoked another fire, on top of those that engulfed the Carmel.

Faced with the tragedy of the bus that went up in flames with its occupants, the evacuation of residents from their homes and the appeals for aid from other nations, their mission this time was to transmit, in live broadcasts, "information" received from anonymous sources about the existence of some kind of "conspiracy." The reporters were quick to report outbreaks of fire in various places and point to an alleged "guiding hand" behind the fires.

But the "guiding hand" was not a hand, but rather an anonymous arm of the government, which leaked this "information" to reporters on the scene in a desperate attempt to obscure the authorities' inability to deal with the fire and distract attention from their own negligence and failures by collectively accusing the residents of Isfiya and Daliat al-Carmel, and through them the entire Arab community, of responsibility for the fires. Facing off against these anonymous sources were "knowledgeable sources" in ultra-Orthodox circles who pulled out the default mantra of Sabbath desecration, which for the ignorant explains everything.

Against the background of general panic over the fire department's helplessness, broadcasters reported willingly for a kind of media reserve duty. Every reporter who had a chance to face the camera was quick to report, whether maliciously or innocently, the alleged information he was getting by text message from those anonymous sources.

The media, in all its forms and outlets, must do some thorough soul-searching. The irresponsible behavior we witnessed, in the form of transmitting "information" without bothering to check its veracity, is the type of ember that will continue to glow under the surface long after the flames die down. Such embers whip up the flame of hatred between Jews and Arabs, and they will ignite an even greater fire when the opportunity arises. And there is no lack of opportunities for an eruption in this security-conscious land.

On the other hand, the fire can serve as an opportunity for leaders of the Arab community to do some soul-searching and demonstrate wise civic leadership on behalf of the people they are supposed to represent and all the country's residents. The heads of Arab local councils often complain, justifiably, about the central government's failure to deal with the Arab sector's problems: the rising crime in Arab communities, the relatively high number of Arab drivers involved in car accidents and other ills that must be thoroughly addressed. Here is a chance to encourage young Arab men and women to volunteer for national service in the fire department. Because, as we just saw, evil flames of all kinds can devour everything good.

Volunteering for the fire brigades will send various civic messages: We're all in the same boat in the battle to preserve nature. We're all in the same boat in the battle to save life and stop the killing on our roads. Both nature and the roads belong to all of us, and it is our duty to safeguard them not only for ourselves, but for future generations.

National service in the fire department also has an educational aspect that is no less important: contributing to the general good regardless of petty, populist politics. Such national service could also open many fields of interest and study to young men and women later in life.

If everyone joins together to do some soul-searching, maybe there will be a silver lining in the cloud of smoke.
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Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, December 7, 2010
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