Image as power


By Jenni Frazer
January 23, 2009
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Over at The Guardian's Comment is Free there is a bizarre...well, I hesitate to call it a debate because so much of what appears on CiF scarcely qualifies as a civilised exchange of views. It's much more of an extended rant because of the BBC's unusual decision not to broadcast a humanitarian appeal for Gaza lest it should compromise their journalistic impartiality. It's not, of course, the humanitarian appeal itself which the BBC is concerned about, more, I imagine, the kind of pictures they would necessarily be obliged to show, and the consequent inevitable complaints they would receive, thus obscuring the humanitarian message.

This got me thinking about the power of pictures and images and how they can be used to distort the truth. The latest series of viral emails may well have landed in your inbox by now: a particularly poisonous set of pictures purporting to draw a direct parallel between Israel's conduct in Gaza, and what took place during the Holocaust. The pictures claim an exact equivalence between the victims, carefully setting aside the fact that the Nazis intended systematically to annihilate every Jew on the planet, something which not even the most vicious anti-Israeli could believe is the intention of the Israeli government towards the Palestinians.

I wonder what those who disseminate such pictures think they are doing when they send them around the world. Do they think that they will do any good? Do they imagine that those who support Israel will suddenly gasp and say, Oh, goodness, now I have seen the light, I stand corrected about all my former stupid beliefs? And for those who already hate Israel, such pictures are one more confirmation, if that were needed, of the perfidiousness of the Jewish state. So, job well done, then. And, conversely, there is now an avalanche of the "pictures the world will never see" variety, showing saccharine shots of well-behaved Israeli soldiers holding the hands of ancient Palestinian women, for all the world like large overgrown boy scouts. Pity there're no roads left for them to see the ladies over.

Having said that, I do commend the front-page picture in this week's JC. It shows a Palestinian boy at the edge of one of the tunnels which are still, despite the best efforts of the IDF, being used for smuggling of goods, arms and people into Gaza. Anyone whose idea of tunnels is little scrabbly holes in the ground will have had their eyes opened when they see this picture: it's not just a tunnel, it's architecture.

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