By Barry Rubin
I can’t help remark that there is going to be a donor conference at which the Palestinians hope to get $2.8 billion, $900 million reportedly from the United States, to rebuild Gaza. A lot of this money will end up buying arms for Hamas and financing its regime–no matter how many safeguards–impressive on paper–are put into it. More important, Hamas will of course act in a way to destroy most of this again. (Not to mention the PA’s record with aid money.) There is something remarkably silly about this behavior, involving as it does great “statesmen,” “brilliant” thinkers, and powerful leaders.
Which brings me to this week’s coverage. Apparently the AP’s official style for covering the war is as follows, drawn from the February 25, “Rockets, airstrikes in absence of firm Gaza truce,” by Matti Friedman:
“The Palestinian prime minister said the international community will be asked to donate $2.8 billion to rebuilding Gaza after Israel’s offensive last month, and talks started in Cairo on a reconciliation of the feuding Palestinian governments seen as essential in securing the foreign aid.”
This phrase of “Israel’s offensive” seems to lack something, sort of like referring to rebuilding Tokyo after America’s offensive would be as a description of World War Two leaving out Pearl Harbor. Is it really so hard to recall that:
- Hamas renounced the ceasefire when Israel said it preferred that situation would continue and
- Hamas began a large-scale rocket and mortar attack on Israeli soil.
I mean, if the AP cannot even get straight who started the war what hope is there for them?
Well, once we know that the war was an Israeli attack it is not surprising that, as we are told on the same day, “Palestinians seek $2.8 billion for rebuilding Gaza,” by Karin Laub.
The article is 12 paragraphs long. I counted because here is what the last one says:
“In other developments Wednesday, Gaza militants fired two rockets toward Israel, and Israeli aircraft struck seven smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.”
Most readers wouldn’t get that far. Nor is the fascinating conclusion drawn about the nature of the conflict: Israel is trying to stop Hamas from smuggling in rockets which are then fired at Israel, forcing Israel to retaliate.
You could call that the cycle of violence, but note the starting place of the loop. Israel’s attacks are trying to stop the violence; Hamas’s to keep it going. It is a rather obvious point but one you won’t see in AP stories.
Returning to the first eleven paragraphs, the story begins:
“The rival Palestinian governments, U.S.-backed moderates in the West Bank and the Islamic militants of Hamas in Gaza, presented competing plans Wednesday for rebuilding war-ravaged Gaza, each seeking roughly $2.8 billion in foreign aid.”
It is amusing—though in this case harmless—to see the way the AP reporter deftly tells the reader what to think. The good guys are U.S.-backed and moderate; the bad guys are Islamic and militant. Of course, they are all Islamic, meaning Muslim. The reporter might better have said “Islamist.” That’s the kind of mistake that get people labeled Islamophobic in other circumstances. In this case, except for the one changed word, I agree with the characterization. But I’m so old-fashioned it makes me uncomfortable as a sign of how the media signals readers what they are supposed to think from the start. Shows how even-handed I am, though.
Note also that the article doesn’t say why Gaza is “war-ravaged” but after being constantly told that Israel started the war the reader can guess.
“The moderates, led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas,” expect to raise almost $3 billion at a donor’s summit, with the United States contributing one-third. (Wonder if that generosity will win America appreciation points in the Arab and Muslim parts of the world. What do you think?)
In this case, since the PA is being set up as the good guys, the author writes—something we usually don’t see when they are being counterpoised to Israel:
“Hamas is widely shunned as a terrorist group….”
But of course that has to be balanced by:
“…and Israel and Egypt have kept Gaza cut off from the world since the militants violently seized the territory in June 2007, leaving Abbas only in control of the West Bank.”
Well, we have the violent seizure so that’s good—I’m tired of hearing that Hamas took over Gaza by an election, but “cut off from the world” is a bit too extreme and of course leaves out the motivation for doing so. The reader then thinks: why are those mean people turning the Gazans into prisoners in a massive jail cell? See where these ideas come from?
Well, to be fair we are told that the damage happened after, “Israel’s three-week military offensive, waged to halt Hamas rocket fire on Israeli border towns. The fighting killed some 1,300 Palestinians and damaged or destroyed thousands of homes.”
So Israel’s attack is after all here given a motive but still no mention of Hamas breaking the ceasefire, which is a matter of public record. And of course no mention of Hamas using civilians as human shields and civilian buildings to shelter their bases, munitions’ dumps, and firing positions.
Why then shouldn’t people conclude that Israel wantonly did all this damage out of pure spite? And thus, $2.8 billion should be spent to rebuild everything until the next time Hamas decides to go to war and repeat the cycle.
Not to let the point be missed, the story continues:
“”More than five weeks since the end of the war, most Gazans left homeless are still scrambling for basic necessities.”
Might that have something to do with Hamas’s refusal to make a new ceasefire?
“Amid the rubble of homes demolished by Israeli army bulldozers in neighborhoods close to the border….”
Why were these destroyed? Perhaps they were already damaged and perhaps they were being used by Hamas as military positions and shelters from which to fire rockets.
“Israel is not allowing cement, steel and pipes into Gaza, for fear Hamas militants will use them to build bunkers and rockets.” Well, they have used it this way before so Israel has evidence for this assertion.
“”John Ging, the top U.N. aid official in Gaza, urged donor countries to push for open borders, saying anything less would only worsen Gaza’s dire situation. Even before the war, the border closure wiped out private industry in Gaza, and some three-quarters of the 1.4 million Gazans depended on aid handouts.
“The humanitarian problem here is huge and day by day it’s getting worse and worse, because there is no solution until the crossing points open,” Ging said.”
Again, it was Hamas’s fault these things happened but the story is written to imply that it is due to Israel. As for Ging, who functions usually as a Hamas employee in practice, we remember all his misleading, erroneous, and fabricated stories of the past. Of course, opening crossing points is always stated as an unconditional requirement.
So how does AP teach readers the Gaza war can be stopped? Israel stops fighting and gives Hamas everything it wants; Hamas does nothing different. Seems to me that the reporting is rather pro-Hamas almost down the line
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To subscribe to Gloria Center publications for free, write [email protected].