By Barry Rubin
If I had to pick one sentence to show what’s profoundly wrong with Middle East coverage in the Western mass media, this is the one I’d choose. It’s in a New York Times article entitled, “Israel: Tensions Rise Along Gaza Border” by Isabel Kershner. I’ll put the sentence in bold:
“A rocket fired from Gaza fell close to a kindergarten in an Israeli village on Tuesday morning. Earlier, the Israeli Air Force struck several targets in Gaza in retaliation for a recent increase in rocket and mortar shell fire. Small groups appear to be behind the fire, but Israel says it holds Hamas, the Islamist organization that governs Gaza, responsible.”
Why does this bother me so much? Because it seems to symbolize how the West–oh so well-educated, sophisticated people–fall for every trick, no matter how simple, of the terrorists and totalitarians of the world and do their propaganda work for them.
Hamas rules the Gaza Strip as a dictatorship. What it wants to happen happens; what it doesn’t want to happen doesn’t happen, or if it does someone is going to pay severely for it. There are smaller groups allied to Hamas, notably Islamic Jihad. Nothing could be more obvious than the fact that Hamas uses these groups so it can attack Israel and then deny responsibility for doing so.
But let’s assume that Islamic Jihad–which Hamas allows to operate freely in Gaza as its junior partner or some smaller groups or some Hamas people hiding behind some other name–fires rockets or mortars at Israel. Presumably, if Hamas didn’t like what they were doing, because they were provoking Israeli retaliation, it would arrest and perhaps torture those responsible. But when it does nothing month after month despite repeated attacks this is a signal that Hamas approves of the attacks.
That New York Times sentence could be used to argue that if Israel hits Hamas facilities in self-defense it is in fact lashing out against an innocent bystander. And every time some devious Hamas leader remarks about the group’s willingness to make peace in the ear of some useful idiot politician or reporter, it produces free publicity about Hamas’s alleged moderation. This, in turn, sets off other useful idiots to start chattering about how good an idea it would be to engage Hamas in negotiations, maybe even to make some concessions or give some rewards to prove Western credibility.
The radicals and terrorists never seem to have to prove their credibility.
You can substitute for Hamas such words as Iran, Hizballah, the Muslim Brotherhood, Syria, the Taliban, or other such forces.
A couple of years ago I was a consultant on a court case where someone denied that they worked for Fatah. On this basis, the person was admitted to Canada and has been supported by that country for two decades. It took me five minutes on the Internet to find documentary proof that the individual had lied, which had no effect on their status by the way.
More recently, I was an expert witness in the case of a person injured in a terrorist attack who sued the PA, Fatah, and the PLO. Their defense was that the group carrying out the attack, the al-Aqsa Brigades, had nothing to do with Fatah. If you go to the al-Aqsa Brigades website, however, it openly advertises that it is part of Fatah and there is much other evidence of these connections from previous statements by Palestinian leaders. For all practical purposes, though, the defense won the case.
I could cite hundreds of such examples of how Western governments, journalists, academics, courts, and at times public opinion have been fooled by having radicals and terrorists make fools of them.
Yet the truth is hardly well-hidden. In the case of Hamas, it has revealed its new strategy. Mahmoud Zahar, the group’s key leader in the Gaza Strip, which it rules, explains that Hamas’s medium-term goal is consolidating its hold on the area, thanks largely to help from the United States and Europe.
“We are not in a hurry to buy or to sell our national interest because this is not the proper market.” The group has a long-range strategy, rejecting both negotiations (selling) and all-out war (buying). The medium-term effort is to win broad support among Gazans by improving their lives (with aid money), then using this mass base to go to war with Israel in the future (thus making their lives much worse).
This is the counter to the U.S. argument that raising living standards and improving conditions in the Gaza Strip will inevitably make people more moderate and lead to Hamas’s downfall.
Personally, I’m putting my money on Hamas, not the Obama Administration, proving to be correct.
Zahar said Hamas is not planning to launch new attacks on Israel. Why should they? It is enough to let Islamic Jihad and other small groups allied to Hamas to fire mortars and rockets at Israel while trying to send small squads across the border to do terrorist attacks. If Israel tries to retaliate too much, Hamas will run crying to the Western media and governments to protect it.
Thanks to Western aid and to the lowered sanctions—despite the fact that it is officially listed as a terrorist group in the United States and Europe–Hamas can stay in power and build a strong support base by delivering the goods.
“They told me…`You cannot stay isolated and you are not going to survive more than two months. Now we finished five years and we survived, and we stayed, and we faced two wars,” Zahar said. “So we can stay, and we can withstand, and we can win.”
Of course, Hamas would not have survived if Israel was enabled to overthrow it during the December 2008-January 2009 war or perhaps if sanctions had remained tight. Hamas succeeded not because of its own ability—its military performance in the war was abysmal—but because the West saved it.
And why is Zahur saying the following: “Time is not important if you are not wasting this time,” he said, adding Israel was losing international support as the Palestinians gained legitimacy.
In other words, Western demonization and delegitimization of Israel is directly encouraging terrorist groups to be less moderate and to fight.
What is more, Western aid, pressure to reduce sanctions, and pressure to limit retaliation against Gaza is helping Hamas to build a genocidal-oriented, terrorist, repressive Islamist dictatorship on the shore of the Mediterranean, backed by Iran and determined to spread regional instability and anti-Western revolutions.
Does this make sense?
Finally, it is interesting how Zahur contrasts PA with Hamas strategy. Although he likes to complain that the PA is wasting time in negotiations with Israel, Zahur does understand that the PA’s real strategy is bypassing Israel and negotiations. The PA, Zahur explains, “says we are going to make the infrastructure for a state and then the international community will give us a state as a gift.”
Hamas’ view is, “We are not beggars here….We are the owners of this land.”
So neither side wants to make peace with Israel: the PA wants unilateral independence without conditions or concessions; Hamas seeks ultimate military victory. Western policy encourages both of them not to become more moderate and not to make peace. Even worse, Western misunderstandings and misreportings help make the world a worse and more dangerous place to live.
By the way, if you are interested here’s an essay by George Orwell, written in 1946, about how people are fooled by nonsense.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan), Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle Eastand editor of the (seventh edition) (Viking-Penguin), The Israel-Arab Reader the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria(Palgrave-Macmillan), A Chronological History of Terrorism (Sharpe), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).