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Protesters gather outside the Athens City Building call for a ceasefire in Gaza, Athens, Feb. 19, 2024.

Experts discuss media coverage on Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, call for peace

Since Oct. 7, the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza has taken the lives of over 29,000 Palestinians, according to an AP News report. 

Two Ohio University professors, Loren Lybarger and Thomas Hayes, have stepped up to display solidarity for Palestine as they pull from their research to work to provide education and call for peace.

Lybarger, a professor of classics and religious studies, has published two books on the Palestinian experience: “Identity and Religion in Palestine: The Struggle Between Secularism and Islamism in the Occupied Territories” and “Palestinian Chicago: Identity and Exile.”

“The books are taking up the big question of what the impact of what I have called the ‘Islamic Shift’ in Palestinian society has had on Palestinian identity, social identity, political identity (and) national identity,” Lybarger said. 

He said the reason he was motivated to ask this question was because he wanted to examine how the rise of the Islamic resistance movement, known as Hamas, has affected how Palestinians think about who they are as a people. This inquiry plays into the larger, overarching question of how the “vast dispossession” affects Palestinian identity. 

Lybarger said his published works can broaden perspectives on the social, political and religious context for the current conflict in Gaza. 

Thomas Hayes, a professor of film, has produced three documentary films revolving around the longstanding Israel-Palestine conflict: “Native Son: Palestinians in Exile,” “Two Blue Lines” and “People and The Land.”

To create these films, Hayes spent years in Gaza and the West Bank, connecting with the individuals directly impacted by Israel’s military occupation. 

“Watching human beings, abused, systematically abused, organizationally abused … it's just disgusting,” Hayes said.

Hayes felt compelled to continue his activism through film, despite the intense emotional labor that went into his Israel-Palestine-centered documentaries.

“About two weeks after I get back, after watching the news and reading the papers here, I just feel like I was being just immersed in a bath of bulls- - -,” Hayes said. “There just isn't any real connection between how things are reported here and the realities on the ground.”

For Hayes, Western media’s coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict has been historically distorted. 

“I don't find any credible information about the depths of the savagery, but that's been that way for years,” Hayes said.

On the other hand, Lybarger is optimistic that the media landscape is evolving, accounting for more Palestinian perspectives. 

“Something has changed in the last 30 years, and I think it has a lot to do with a generational shift: younger journalists who are much more willing to examine Israel with a critical lens,” Lybarger said.

With the rise of the internet and social media, Lybarger and Hayes both agree there has been a far greater capacity for Palestinians to share their first-hand experience.

Content creators and Gaza-based journalists like Ahmed Hijazi, Bisan, Motaz Azaiz and AbdulHakim Abu Riash have taken to social media platforms to share the realities of the situation in Gaza.  

“They are speaking to the world directly, and it's no longer possible for established media outlets to continue to serve as a kind of filter or gateway,” Lybarger.

Lybarger and Hayes both explained part of advocacy is education and thoughtful media consumption.

“How do we find out what's going on in the world?” Hayes asked. “It's not an easy thing. Sometimes you got to go to the library. Read books by people from those communities and see what they have to say about their lives and their situation.”

As tragedy continues to strike in Gaza, Lybarger and Hayes show their support here in Athens. 

“At a moral level, it's a problem for me because I pay taxes, and therefore I am willingly or unwillingly complicit in the abuse of this group of people abused on the basis of their ethnicity,” Hayes said. 

According to the U.S. News & World Report, the United States has given Israel over $260 billion in military and economic aid since World War II– the most granted to any other country throughout this time frame. 

To make change on an individual level, Hayes has attended demonstrations and has encouraged the founding of the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at OU.

Lybarger has been giving lectures at churches and academic settings. He also recently helped organize a panel of activists at Northwestern University. As Lybarger explained, these conversations are important to make a change, but they must be carried out with careful consideration.

“Racism is alive and well,” Lybarger said. “We need to be really careful that in our public statements, and in our attempts to get ceasefire resolutions, in our public debates, in our speaking in front of rallies, at our protests, that we do not allow symbols and slogans that trade in antisemitic and anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism.” 


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