Australian media is erasing murdered Palestinian student's heritage

Australian media is erasing murdered Palestinian student's heritage
Comment: The only thing Israeli about Aiia Maasarwe was a passport she was forced to use. Why can't Australian media acknowledge her Palestinian identity? asks CJ Werleman.
5 min read
21 Jan, 2019
Not a single Australian newspaper mentioned the fact Aiia Maasarwe was Palestinian [AFP]
At approximately 10:50pm on Wednesday evening, 21-year-old Palestinian Muslim student, Aiia Maasarwe boarded a tram after spending the earlier part of the evening at a comedy club in Melbourne, Australia. 

A little more than an hour later, however, she would be dead, after being sexually assaulted and brutally killed by a known sex offender.

These are the basic facts of a murder that has captured the attention of the Australian public, with both television and print media outlets providing round-the-clock updates during the hunt and arrest of the alleged killer, as the country comes to terms with what has been a nationwide outpouring of sorrow and grief.

"Melbourne community mourns murder of Israeli student," "Hundreds mourn murdered Israeli exchange student Aiia Maasarwe," while other headlines share emerging details of the attack, including, "Israeli student on video call with sister when attacked."

Left out of every mainstream media headline in the country, however, is her Palestinian or Muslim heritage.

In fact, not a single Australian newspaper mentioned the fact she was Palestinian, leading many I have spoken to here in Melbourne to wrongly believe Maasarwe was an Israeli Jew.

On the media describing Maasarwe as an "Israeli," her mortally aggrieved father, Saeed Maasarwe, told a journalist, "First, we are all human beings. Then we are Muslim. Then we are Arab. We are Palestinian. This is our political situation (having Israeli passports), but this is our identity (Palestinian)...We cannot change the political situation."

It would appear the erasure of Palestinian existence remains standard media operating procedure

On the media refusing to describe her as either Palestinian or Muslim, Saeed added, "Whatever they call me, I know myself (inside). In our hearts we are Palestinian."

Even in death, particularly when it's they who are the victims, Palestinians and Muslims are stripped of their identity and culture. This reality is made even more glaring by the fixation of their identity in the media whenever a criminal so happens to be Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, or all three.

For instance, when a Somali refugee who was known to authorities for a string of crimes attacked shoppers with a knife in a Melbourne mall in November, days after pledging allegiance to the terror group IS, the media and politicians held 400,000 law abiding Australian Muslims collectively responsible for the attack of one.

Seemingly, collective guilt is totally unrelated to collective innocence, at least in popular media and political discourse.

Maasarwe was an Israeli citizen only because of happenstance, and by that I mean the colonisation of the land on which her grandparent's home stood by a western superpower, backed by settler communities. 

She was Israeli only because she carried an Israeli passport, noting that all 2 million Palestinian citizens of Israel and 4.5 million Palestinians residing in the occupied Palestinian territories are denied a Palestinian passport.

Palestinians have had their identity erased in the media since the World Zionist Organization convinced Britain to grant European Jews a land that belonged to neither in 1917; Palestine, and one that was then home to nearly a half-million Palestinian occupants.

"A people without a land for a land without a people" became the Zionist created slogan that was picked up and perpetuated by western media outlets around the globe in the early 20th century. In erasing Maasarwe's Palestinian identity from the story of her death, it would appear the erasure of Palestinian existence remains standard media operating procedure.

When Palestinians are presented in the western media, it's only in aggressive caricatures, such as negatively stereotypical "angry Arabs," "terrorists" or Hamas sympathizers, and never when they're confronted with what has become a permanent state of Israeli occupation and repression.

Seemingly, collective guilt is totally unrelated to collective innocence, at least in popular media and political discourse

We are told of Hamas fired rockets, and we are shown the Israeli victims of sporadic Palestinian resistance against their occupier, but we are never told or shown the cruel realities of Israel's siege of Gaza; its repressive measures in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

This includes the day-to-day humiliation and grind of Israeli military checkpoints, home demolitions, settlement construction, land theft, destruction of Palestinian olive farms, arbitrary arrests, administrative detentions and military courts, all of which are ignored by the western media.

In reporting the conflict this way, the media is entirely guilty of mischaracterising the distribution of power, and thus confusing the occupied with the occupier, and the oppressed with the oppressor in the minds of western audiences.

Moreover, this ongoing media narrative; one that indelibly favours Israel's occupation and colonisation of what is objectively Palestinian land, sustains the violence in the region, while hampering legitimate Palestinian efforts to resolve the conflict.

Peace can never come about when the Palestinian people are entirely erased from stories that give honest and accurate accounts of their victimhood. This lies at the root of the heartbreaking injustice the Australian mainstream media has done to the life and memory of Aiia Maasarwe.

How can one truly sympathise with her and her family without seeing the broader context of injustice and suffering they experience in their daily lives?

In placing her Israeli passport before her Palestinian or Muslim identity, the media simply reinforces the false notion Israelis are the perpetual victims in a conflict that has them positioned as the occupier and coloniser, and thus denies the Australian public a rare opportunity to empathise with the plight of Palestinian people.

CJ Werleman is the author of 'Crucifying America', 'God Hates You, Hate Him Back' and 'Koran Curious', and is the host of Foreign Object.

Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.