Imagine that a bomb exploded on Cumberland Avenue. Imagine the noise, the flash and the fear. Now, imagine if such destruction was considered commonplace, a part of daily life.
For modern-day Palestinians and Israelis alike, no imagination is necessary.
Former journalist and political advocate Allison Weir conveyed that message in her lecture, "What the Media Leaves Out," on Wednesday night in the UC.
Though she is now a seasoned veteran of the field, Weir admitted she was not always so informed. She, like many, felt no responsibility to involve herself in foreign affairs.
"Thirteen years ago, I knew very little," Weir said, "The Middle East seemed confusing, distant and irrelevant to my daily life. But in fall 2000, after seeing these images from the Second Uprising, I began to ask questions and that changed my life and brought me here tonight."
On behalf of the Students for Justice in Palestine, UT Middle Eastern Student Association, Amnesty International UT and the Department of Political Science, Weir discussed the prevalent misguiding news coverage of the Israel-Palestine struggle and how that affects our ability to make informed economical and political decisions.
To begin her presentation, Weir asked two guests to share their individual experiences with the conflict, emphasizing the importance of visceral, personal accounts. Amira Sakalla, president of Students for Justice in Palestine and a half-Palestinian freshmen student, recalled visiting relatives in the Gaza Strip last summer.
"You can hear drones buzzing during the day and at night from wherever you are," Sakalla said. "This past summer, the airplanes you can see flying over head were doing surveillance.
"Other times, they're dropping small bombs."
One night, Sakalla was outside when a bomb was dropped a mile away, sending her to the ground.
Amjed Dweik, UT alumnus from the class of 2007, encountered similar danger after moving back to his childhood home to "rediscover" his heritage. While attempting to visit a holy site, the Dome of the Rock, Dweik was asked to prove he was Muslim by reciting the Quran.
Dweik engaged the Israeli guard, asking him, "Why don't you recite for me to check if you're Muslim?" and was nearly shot as a result.
Despite bloodshed beginning in the late 19th century, Weir has found the majority of newscast reports to be not only "one-sided," but also inaccurate and lacking crucial historical and contextual facts.
Weir displayed line graphs comparing yearly death tolls in Israel and Palestine to those distributed by reputable sources such as the New York Times. She also presented a San Jose Mercury headline that reversed the number of Israelis and Palestinians killed. The statistics were artificially skewed toward Israel as the greater victim.
"What if the news had reversed the numbers from the World Series?" Weir asked, gesturing toward the inflated curves. "They would have been made fun of on late night talk shows. And yet here ... no one notices it."
One of her timelines revealed a three-month delay before a single Palestinian child was reported dead in 2000. Later analysis showed Palestinian children were, in fact, killed first and in much larger quantities throughout the conflict.
"Palestinian children were dying for three months and no one knew," Weir lamented. "I like to think had we known what was going on, we would have stopped that killing."
To Weir, such instances are the root of the problem with America's financial contribution to the Israeli effort. After traveling to Palestine and witnessing bullet-riddled residential villages, ancestral date farms bulldozed on purpose, hospitals overflowing with wounded innocents, and the constant, oppressive surveillance by armed Israeli guards, she could no longer condone the funding of Israel's military presence.
"American taxpayers give Israel 8 million dollars per day," Weir said, "And yet most of us don't know about that. I saw people being destroyed with American money. Americans don't know their doing this to them. Our media doesn't tell us."
The trip also shattered Weir's misconceptions about Palestinian citizens. Though she was initially concerned for her safety, upon arriving, Weir recalled only being greeted warmly wherever she went, with smiles and offers to stay the night.
To combat polarized journalistic practices, Weir suggested simply reading from many sources, including international ones. But the issue of negative American influence is much harder to address, due to the prevalence of manipulative pro-Israel lobbyists and ambitious politicians afraid of them.
"Our government is playing a major role in the imbalance," Weir explained. "If we stop doing that, then there could be real negotiations for the first time ever. But right now, that's not the case."
What was most important to Weir, though, was to simply remember that "we are responsible," for consequences of our ignorance, as well as the actions of our government in the absence of concern.
From the entirety of her time in Palestine, one woman's request in particular stood out to Weir. Even displaced from her home, the woman showed her hospitality.
"She brought me into her tent in the dirt and gave me mint tea," Weir said. "She asked me to tell the Americans about her, and I said I would."