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The straw that broke the camel’s back

May 31, 2010

File:Lcamel.jpgT. E. Lawrence (as in ‘of Arabia’) in Wadi Rum, 1917.

It’s the kind of day where everyone is desperately trying to keep it together. I haven’t heard much laughter in Beirut today, just anxious faces and tightly wound mouths. We all know someone on the flotilla attacked on its way to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. The rage at the years of brutal, strangling Israeli siege is barely containable today.

But the L.A. Times broke this camel’s back.

Recently it had asked readers, via its Twitter avatar LAT Reader’s Rep, to comment on its coverage. I lamented that they have not given coverage to the BDS efforts at UC-Berkeley and UC-Davis. They responded that they were mainly interested in ‘local coverage.’ When I complained that the Kentucky Derby was given in-depth commentary while divestment, an issue of increasing social relevance, was eschewed, they retorted that the sports section of the paper was separate from news and opinion. This is one of the U.S.’s more ‘reliable’ papers when it comes to connecting national and international news, mind you.

So today, on the heels of the massacre, I was dismayed to see this Orientalist fantasy piece in the LAT. If this is what they view as adequate news coverage of the Middle East, the situation is fraught indeed.

The piece by Batsheva Sobelman focuses on two Israeli filmmakers making a film about Bedouin camel races because they ‘respect [the desert’s] harsh ways and want Bedouins and camels to stay part of Israel’s natural and cultural landscape.’ To make this point, the story features a picture of the filmmakers toughing it out in Wadi Rum, one of Jordan’s (i.e. greater Palestine’s) most important treasures.

Sobelman frames the filmmakers as two Sabra ‘men of technology’ who have something to teach in the land of ‘camel and Bedouin life.’ You couldn’t make this stuff up.

For the filmmakers, the Bedouin are not an autonomous people who have withstood Israeli occupation and attempts to get rid of them, but ‘a symbol of the land as the Star of David is of the state.’ Like annexed land, they are cultural (even agricultural) appropriations, Desirable Arabs in contrast to the Undesirable Arabs (i.e. Palestinians).

I don’t know which is worse: the mainstream U.S. press doing a fluff piece about the Middle East, or ignoring it altogether.

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