- The Arab-Israeli Conflict in the Arab Press: The First Three Decades by William W. Haddad
No conflict has claimed such global media and political attention as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has seen successive American governments grappling with possible solutions. The most recent effort has been that of the current president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who spearheaded his own vision to solve this conflict, the "Peace to Prosperity" plan (also referred to as "the deal of the century").1
Policy-makers' preoccupation with finding a solution that would address present and future challenges implies that rarely would the historical development of this conflict take center stage of political endeavor or media coverage. It is here that William Haddad's recent volume fills this gap by focusing particularly on the coverage of the conflict between the 1940s and mid-1970s in the Arab press. This is the period immediately preceding the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and following the 1973 war between Israel and an Arab coalition led by Egypt and Syria, which saw the use of Saudi oil as a political weapon. Haddad's account also aims at providing a succinct history of the Arab press, drawing on editorials from about 60 Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian, Lebanese, and Palestinian newspapers, although it ends up highlighting selected Egyptian and Syrian editorials more robustly than others.
Prior to 1948, Arab editorialists refused to accept Jews' right to migrate to Palestine (p. 22), but when it came to finding a political solution, Arabs were far from united. The early signs of fracturing Arab unity, argues Haddad (p. 34), appeared as a result of the Arab defeat in the 1948 war, in which Arab volunteers engaged in fighting side-by-side regular armies. The defeat stirred a movement that rebelled against the old order and resulted in a series of coups in all Arab nations involved in the war (p. 34). While Syria urged a concerted Arab military effort—seeing its own sacrifice as the greatest in the region—the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan was suspected of harboring expansionist ambitions, heightened by the annexation of the West Bank in 1950 and its renaming as Jordan (p. 61). The Saudis were concerned that the Hashemite ruler might want to revive his family's old hegemony on parts of the Arabian Peninsula, and Syria feared that Transjordan might wish to recapture Damascus to resuscitate the old Greater Syria plan (p. 53). The rising Islamist movement in Egypt, meanwhile, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, played a role in inciting animosity against the newly formed Israeli state. The Brotherhood press is not included in Haddad's study; however, my own study of the Brotherhood press before and immediately after 1948 demonstrates the strong relationship between the movement's founder, Hasan al-Banna, and Palestinian mufti Hajj Amin al-Husayni, who formed a Palestinian government in Gaza in 1948 that was dissolved by Egyptian president Gamal 'Abd al-Nasser a decade later.2
Although many Arab states gained their independence in the 1950s, the Arab press suffered continuous attacks on its own independence. In Egypt, for instance, Nasser's government (1954–70) took over the national press, and appointed military men as editors in chief (p. 101). Egyptian journalists were not allowed to practice the profession without official affiliation to the national syndicate controlled by the government (p. [End Page 661] 79). Haddad argues that the prevailing censorship across the region made it difficult to freely discuss many political issues, particularly the Israel-Palestine conflict (p. 41), but he does not discuss in detail the various forms of this censorship.
On the other hand, Haddad does provide a fascinating discussion of the 1970s and the key changes the region and the whole world witnessed during that decade. The year 1970 alone witnessed several transformative events: Nasser's death, Hafiz al-Asad's seizure of power in Syria, the hijacking of four airliners bound for New York and London by members of the Popular Front for...