Bias and reporting in Gaza and “anti-semitism”

Lately there are a rash of articles regarding reporting in Gaza or regarding Israeli/Palestinian issues.  There is a very good article by Ed O’Loughlin, who spent 5 years in Gaza reporting there.  He wrote about the murder of Fadel Shana, the camera man who filmed the firing of the Israeli missile that killed him.  He says:

But if you Google any of the above names you will quickly learn — from armchair bloggers and Israeli Government spokespeople — that all of these stories are false, elaborate hoaxes concocted by anti-Semitic journalists to smear the state of Israel. Little wonder, then, that Israeli talkback was generally of the opinion that Fadel Shana got what he deserved.

When O’Loughlin was on a helicopter tour of Sderot, his pilot told him of the many Qassam rockets they had suffered from in Sderot:

“We had Qassam rockets coming yesterday, and the day before that, and nobody was killed in the Gaza Strip,” he said. The pilot, a veteran IDF aviator, could have been speaking for many ordinary Israelis when he complained that “we have to start fighting back: the problem is that our response wasn’t fiercer and more disproportionate seven years ago”.

But were not the people of Gaza already paying a terrible price for the militants’ rockets, I asked him. Instead of escalating the violence, why not explore the Palestinians’ latest offer of a ceasefire?

He smiled indulgently: most of the stories of suffering and death from Gaza were fake, he said. “All the reporters there are Palestinians. You give them cameras but what they do is not reporting, it’s propaganda. If you wanted to go to the other side and be a free reporter in the Gaza Strip you’d be kidnapped. You can only say what Hamas will tell you to say.”

I TOLD him that I’d been going to Gaza for more than five years and that no one there had ever tried to tell me what to write. The pilot just smiled and shook his head. He knew better.

The anecdotal experience of O’Loughlin counter’s the arguements of someone like Michael Coren of the Edmonton Sun.  He says:

The Gaza Strip probably receives more media attention per square metre than any other slice of land in the world. Journalists abound in this overcrowded territory with its underemployed population.

Hence our media are full of reports from generally biased reporters who know that if they ever did present a more pro-Israel position their ability to function, if not their lives, would be in acute danger.

Coren goes on in his article to spout all sorts of assertions with no sources or evidence to back them up.

Fortunately though, there are those like Johann Hari of the Independant, who recognize the smearing of reporters who try to accurately report the scene on the ground, sometimes at the expense of their career:

Ah, but wait. I have also reported from Gaza and the West Bank. Last week, I wrote an article that described how untreated sewage was being pumped from illegal Israeli settlements on to Palestinian land, contaminating their reservoirs. This isn’t controversial. It has been documented by Friends of the Earth, and I have seen it with my own eyes.

The response? There was little attempt to dispute the facts I offered. Instead, some of the most high profile “pro-Israel” writers and media monitoring groups – including Honest Reporting and Camera – said I an anti-Jewish bigot akin to Joseph Goebbels and Mahmoud Ahmadinejadh, while Melanie Phillips even linked the stabbing of two Jewish people in North London to articles like mine. Vast numbers of e-mails came flooding in calling for me to be sacked.

The former editor of Israel’s leading newspaper, Ha’aretz, David Landau, calls the behaviour of these groups “nascent McCarthyism”. Those responsible hold extreme positions of their own that place them way to the right of most Israelis. Alan Dershowitz and Melanie Phillips are two of the most prominent figures sent in to attack anyone who disagrees with the Israeli right. Dershowitz is a lawyer, Harvard professor and author of The Case For Israel. He sees ethnic cleansing as a trifling matter, writing: “Political solutions often require the movement of people, and such movement is not always voluntary … It is a fifth-rate issue analogous in many respects to some massive urban renewal.” If a prominent American figure takes a position on Israel to the left of this, Dershowitz often takes to the airwaves to call them anti-Semites and bigots.

The journalist Melanie Phillips performs a similar role in Britain. Last year a group called Independent Jewish Voices was established with this mission statement: “Palestinians and Israelis alike have the right to peace and security.” Jews including Mike Leigh, Stephen Fry and Rabbi David Goldberg joined. Phillips swiftly dubbed them “Jews For Genocide”, and said they “encourage” the “killers” of Jews. Where does this come from? She says the Palestinians are an “artificial” people who can be collectively punished because they are “a terrorist population”. She believes that while “individual Palestinians may deserve compassion, their cause amounts to Holocaust denial as a national project”. Honest Reporting quotes Phillips as a model of reliable reporting.

I recall when a certain Dr. Longstreth, of San Diego (who works in a hospital I was rotating through as a fellow) traveled to Palestine and wrote an editorial in the San Diego Union Tribune, mostly laying down the factual situation of Palestinians sufferring on a daily basis.  The reaction I saw from physicians around me who were apparently largely pro-Israel, was quite striking.  They became very agitated and upset and some said they could never use Dr. Longstreth as their physician again.  I was suprised to see such a reaction to what was a fairly harmless article.  He said such things as:

Israel controls the water and, per person, Israeli settlers use several times as much as Palestinians who rely on rooftop reservoirs when the Israelis turn off the supply, as we experienced in Ramallah. Thriving vegetation in the settlements we saw contrasts with stark village landscape nearby. The only soccer field in Ramallah is bare dirt. A U.N. worker told us she worked with the Israel Defense Force for over two years before getting permission to bring electricity to a remote village (Jiflik) in the Jordan Valley.

Compulsory military service for men and women yields a continuous supply of young troops. They have unrestricted entry into the West Bank and destroy property – a soldier told us his job is to “bulldoze Arab homes in Nablus” – as well as threaten, arrest, injure or kill Palestinians with impunity. A nurse explained that when his 8-year-old sister displayed a Palestinian flag in resistance to an Israeli incursion, the soldiers locked him up for three days of beatings merely because he was her oldest brother. Parents recounted their recurrent fear and anxiety about the safety of their children.

Despite conscientious medical practitioners, much care that is standard in Israel is unavailable. Ordinary supplies are limited, current medical publications are scarce, EKG machines and respirators are antiquated, and modern intensive care is rare. Sanitary conditions and staffing levels at government hospitals are poor. A U.S.-based agency, the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, has to send physician teams to the West Bank and bring many injured children to the United States for care.

The Palestinians we met react to this life of deprivation, fear and humiliation with quiet resignation, saying, “The situation is very bad, and this is how we must live.” Many seem clinically depressed. Were it not for strong family ties and support, they could not manage. Despite their hardship, they treated us with overwhelming kindness and generosity. We never felt threatened or afraid.

Anyway, I leave you with a bit more of O’Loughlin’s reporting of the death of Shana as he was one of the first on the scene:

THE car was still burning when we came upon the scene. A bullet-proof plate from a flak jacket lay near the wreckage, its plastic layers peeled open like the pages of a book. My “fixer” recognised the silver Pajero at once, and he hurried over to a colleague to find out what had happened. When he came back he looked almost puzzled. “It’s Fadel,” he said. “He’s dead!” And he started to weep for his friend.

In fact four were already dead, men and boys, and two more were to die of their wounds a few days later. But 23-year-old Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana was the one who made headlines.

Hundreds of innocent people die in Gaza every year — far more than we bother writing about in the West. But footage from Shana’s camera revealed that he had actually filmed an Israeli tank firing the shell that killed him, as he stood in his clearly marked press flak jacket, by his clearly marked press vehicle.

A second tank shell, fired several minutes after the first, sprayed would-be rescuers with a second cloud of three-centimetre “flechette” steel darts, killing 19-year-old Khalil Dogmoush and injuring several others, including freelance photographer Ashraf Abu Amra.

We didn’t know all of this at the time, as we stood by the wreckage of Shana’s vehicle. All we knew was that a press vehicle had been targeted minutes earlier, that we were standing beside that vehicle, fully exposed to a hillside where Israeli tanks were operating, and that an Israeli drone was whining overhead.

And we knew from long experience that, whatever had happened, the Israeli Defence Force would deny responsibility. This it duly did, claiming that its troops had fired only at armed militants who had attacked them at close range.

I have covered quite a few stories like this over the past 5½ years, in Gaza and elsewhere. Since the present uprising began in 2000, close to 5000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli action, according to figures from the Israeli rights group B’tselem. Slightly more than 1000 Israelis were killed by Palestinians. In the first three months of this year, 11 Palestinians died for every Israeli civilian.

Eman al-Hams was a 13-year-old schoolgirl who was machine-gunned to death at point blank range by an Israeli officer, who admitted the act on army radio. The officer was subsequently acquitted, promoted and decorated. Asma al-Mughair, 16, and her brother Ahmed, 13, were both shot in the head on the roof of their home in Rafah, which was in the sights of an Israeli sniper’s nest, only 100 metres away. Seven members of the Ghaliya family were blown to bits while picnicking on a Gaza beach which Israeli artillery was shelling.

Truth is truly the first casualty of war and our media tends to swallow whole that which is spoon fed them by official government disinformation, but it is good to have reporters like O’Loughlin and Hari who tell us the truth of what they are seeing on the ground.  I do wish we would listen to them harder though.


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