Chris Hedges A Gaza Diary: Scenes from the
Palestinian Uprising, published in the September/October edition of
Harpers, is severely marred by material errors and grave
anti-Israel bias. Despite being an experienced journalist, Mr. Hedges
repeatedly offers verbatim Palestinian claims of Israeli misconduct without
providing either an Israeli response or independent corroborating information.
CAMERA has now fact-checked numerous allegations made by the reporter and has
found many to be false. Following are some of the major errors identified.
1). Hedges devoted most of his focus to events and
conditions in the Palestinian towns of Khan Younis and nearby Mawasi in the
Gaza Strip. He wrote:
In Mawasi many
wells have gone completely dry, but the Israelis refuse to allow the villagers
to drill new ones.
In fact, since the Gaza-Jericho Agreement of 1994 and Oslo
II of 1995, Israel no longer has any civil authority within these camps. Yoram
Barak, the spokesman for the Coordinator for Civilian Affairs in Gaza, stated
that Mawasi is completely under Palestinian civil control and Israel
therefore has no authority to prevent or permit civilian activity such as the
digging of wells there.
Many Israeli water experts have lamented the rampant,
unregulated Palestinian well- drilling that began after Israel ended its civil
administration of Gaza. Such drilling has severely damaged the aquifers used by
the Palestinian population, leading to infiltration of seawater.
2). Hedges wrote:
When I met a few
days earlier with Osama al-Farra, the mayor of Khan Younis, he explained to me
why the Israelis chose to build a settlement right between Mawasi and Khan
Younis. "They have thirty-two wells. They built a pipeline in 1994 to
carry the water into Israel. There are probably about 1000 people in the
settlement next to the camp, but they consume one third of our water
supply, though about 160,000 people live in Khan Younis."
First - according to Noah Kinarti, chief water
adviser to Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, and Mekorot,
Israels National Water Carrier, rather than 32 wells under one
settlement, Israel has built a total of 26 wells under all 17 of their
settlements in the Gaza Strip. Of those 26 wells, one is no longer in use, and
five were given to the Palestinians in the context of the Oslo Accords. Today,
Israel operates only 20 wells in the Gaza Strip.
While Mayor al-Farra claimed the Israelis built
a pipeline in 1994 to carry water into Israel, the truth is precisely the
opposite. The Israeli Kissufim pipeline pumps water from Israel into Gaza;
no water from Gaza is pumped into Israel.
Kinarti, who has also served as a water adviser to Ehud
Barak, Yitzhak Mordecai, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin, and who negotiated
with the Palestinians, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon over water rights in the
region, said on October 17: Israel pumps 5 million cubic meters (MCM) of
water annually from underneath the Mawasi/Khan Younis area in the Gaza Strip.
Of it, half is supplied to the Jewish communities of Gush Katif, and half is
supplied to Khan Younis and Mawasi. Israel pumps an additional 5 MCM from
within Israel to Gaza. 2.5 million is supplied to the Palestinians, and 2.5
million is supplied to the Jewish settlers in Gaza.
Thus - while Israel uses 2.5 MCM for its own settlements
from underneath Khan Younis and Mawasi, it returns it by giving the
Palestinians an equal amount of water from within Israel.
CAMERA also contacted the Palestinian Water
Commissioner Nabil A-Sharif on October 26 and asked if Israel takes any water
from Gaza into Israel. His response: The pipeline leads from Israel into
Gaza. Water is never taken from Gaza and brought into Israel. We sit down with
the Israelis to discuss water issues every month, and this has never come
up. Asked specifically about Khan Younis mayor Osama al-Farras
statement - repeated without qualification by Hedges - that Israel built a
pipeline in 1994 to carry water into Israel, he said let him prove it.
This statement [by al-Farra] has no proof.
In Oslo II, signed on September 28, 1995, Israel and the
Palestinians agreed that Israel would supply the Palestinian population of the
Gaza Strip with an additional 5 MCM of water per year, but to date the
Palestinians have not built the infrastructure for storage and distribution of
this additional water Israel has agreed to provide them. The Palestinians
have repeatedly told us to wait until they are ready before supplying them with
the extra 5 million cm said Kinarti on October 17.
CAMERA checked this with Nabil a-Sharif as well. Sharif
responded that this was true. He added; We have to build the north-south
carrier which will receive the extra 5 MCM, plus some desalinated water. This
pipeline will be built with US assistance, and hopefully partially finished -
during the year 2002. To be honest, we have asked the Israelis not to start
pumping water until were ready.
Hedges also cited the assertion that:
There are probably about 1,000
people in the settlement next to the camp, but they consume one third of our
water supply, though about 160,000 people live in Khan Younis.
This statement is blatantly deceptive; the mayor must know,
and Hedges could have easily discovered by checking, that the Palestinians have
100 MCM of their own water pumped to Palestinian communities in the Gaza Strip
annually. The water which Israel does use in the Khan Younis/Mawasi area - 2.5
MCM - which is replaced by another 2.5 MCM from within Israel - is not the sole
source of the Palestinians water. They have their own sources elsewhere
within the Gaza Strip. Why does Hedges omit this essential information?
3). Hedges wrote:
The Egyptians, who
first controlled Gaza, would not allow the camp to expand, nor would the
Israelis, who gained control of Gaza after the war in 1967.
Hedges is right about the first part. It is true the
Egyptians did not allow any expansion or new building for the Palestinians
during their rule of Gaza (1948-1967).
He is wrong in his second assertion. Many nations
including Israel have tried to help improve the lot of Palestinian
refugees. The PLO has consistently rebuffed these efforts - particularly
Israels, preferring to keep Palestinians angry and destitute as a way of
maintaining and focusing their rage on the state of Israel. Arab states abetted
this, regularly introducing resolutions in the United Nations denouncing Israel
for seeking to move Palestinians out of squalid refugee camps. UNRWA's Ralph
Garroway said in August 1958:
The Arab states do
not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as
an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders
dont give a damn whether the refugees live or die.
Hedges himself is well aware of these realities. In
correspondence in February 1994 to his deputy editor at The New York
Times, Steven R. Weisman, Hedges wrote:
The PLO did resist
Israeli attempts to move Palestinians to housing units. And many people do
charge the PLO with keeping Palestinians in squalor to prove a political point.
(This correspondence came in response to a 1994 CAMERA query about another
Hedges article on Gaza.)
If these facts were known to Hedges seven years ago, why did
he falsify them in his October story?
Despite the opposition of the PLO and Arab countries toward
improving the Palestinians lot, Israel did manage some modest
improvements and expansion of the Palestinians housing needs in Khan
Younis. In the Al-Amal A neighborhood Israel built 500 apartment
units at the beginning of the 1980's. In the Al-Amal B neighborhood
Israel apportioned over 2000 plots of 250 square meters each for both private
and public use, also at the beginning of the 1980's. (Yoram Barak, Spokesman
for the Coordinator for Civil Affairs in Gaza).
During the Israeli administration, despite tension,
terrorism and war, authorities also did add new infrastructure, including
roads, electricity, a sewage system and new schools.
Hedges, while he mentions that Israel gained control
of the camp after 1967, neglects to mention - purposefully, it appears -
that since the Gaza-Jericho Agreement of 1994, Israel no longer has any
authority over the camp of Khan Younis. The Palestinian Authority does. If the
camp has not been able to expand since 1994, this is solely because of the
4). In an exceptionally incendiary passage, Hedges claims:
Children have been
shot in other countries I have covered - death squads gunned them down in El
Salvador and Guatemala, mothers with infants were lined up and massacred in
Algeria, and Serb snipers put children in their sights and watched them crumple
onto the pavement in Sarajevo - but I have never before watched soldiers entice
children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.
First, the sheer malice of this comment speaks for
itself; if the Israelis, with the most powerful army in the Middle East enticed
children like mice into a trap and murdered them for sport, why was
only one person killed on June 17 - as tragic as that was - when Hedges wrote
his diary entry on the events in question?
Moreover, Hedges account is at odds with those in
other media, including his home publication, the New York Times.
Reporting the events of June 17, Times correspondent Douglas Frantz
wrote: The Israeli military said soldiers had been under attack with
stones and bottles when they opened fire on a crowd trying to tear
down surrounding Jewish settlements in Gush Katif.
Other news agencies reported that the Palestinians began
throwing stones at soldiers in an Israeli settlement near Khan Younis after an
attempted suicide bombing near Dahaniya in Gaza the same day. Margot Dudkevitch
of the Jerusalem Post reported:
Near the entrance
to Dahaniya, soldiers became suspicious of a man driving a donkey cart. As he
approached the soldiers, the man jumped from the cart and detonated explosives
hidden in it...IDF sappers detonated the remaining bombs that failed to
explode, among them four gas canisters and two mines.
Soldiers on duty, already on edge, were aware that innocent
looking Palestinians had tried to blow up other Israeli soldiers elsewhere in
the Gaza Strip the same day. But Hedges did not even bother to report in his
diary of events the attempted suicide bombing aimed at killing
Similarly, an armed Palestinian gang shot and killed a 12
year old Palestinian on June 16 in the town of Rafah in the Gaza Strip. Hedges,
who was in Gaza at the time, makes no mention of this either. On June 18 it was
reported in The Jerusalem Post:
Palestinians, who had blamed Israel for the death of another 12 year-old boy
near Rafah on Saturday, admitted that the boy had been killed by an armed
opposition faction operating in Rafah. According to reports, a dispute broke
out between Palestinian security officials and an armed gang that shot at
soldiers near Rafah Yam. The Palestinian security officials demanded that the
armed gang leave, and as they drove off gang members began shooting at random,
mortally wounding Suliman Massari, 12, who was in a car, and wounding several
Notably, Thomas L. Friedman, a colleague of
Hedges at The New York Times, wrote an op-ed (Saudi Royals
and Reality, October 16, 2001) with what might have been an allusion to
Chris Hedges falsehoods and deceptions in A Gaza Diary.
[T]o suggest that
Israel is slaughtering Palestinians for sport, as if a war were not going on
there, which Israel did not court, in which civilians on both sides are being
killed... - is just a lie.
Friedman added that; Normally such casual lying
doesnt bother me. Its a staple of Middle East politics, but this
particular version is dangerous, because it masks a deeper lie that can hurt
us. I call it the virgin birth problem. Friedman was referring to a
lack of Arab accountability not only regarding the Palestinian violence
plaguing Israel for the past year but the larger problem of Arab hatred for the
West which was brought home on September 11.
5) Hedges claims Israeli soldiers shoot Palestinian children
with guns equipped with silencers. According to senior IDF
officers, including IDF spokesman Olivier Rafowitz, silencers are used only by
special forces troops in close combat situations, not by conventional troops in
guard-duty or riot-control circumstances. In addition, these same officers have
stated that the attachment used to fire rubber bullets might appear to a
non-expert to be a silencer. Finally, one might ask, since silencers are
employed for stealth operations in which the use of a gun is intended to be
concealed, why would Israeli soldiers use them openly where observers could see
6). Hedges presents all Palestinian fathers and
father-figures as strongly opposed to their children becoming martyrs or
suicide bombers. Thus, Faqawi, a Palestinian father of two, tells Hedges on
I can never say
that the way to fight Israelis is to blow ourselves up. I cant allow my
children to think like this.
On June 18, he talks to Murad Abdel Rahman, whose son was
killed while confronting Israelis:
This is what
I worked so hard to prevent,' he says, his voice hoarse and low...'I made him
promise he would not go the dunes to throw rocks.'
A Palestinian mother interviewed the same day says:
I tell the boys it
is useless, throwing stones and becoming a martyr.
On June 20 a Palestinian man is quoted as telling Hedges:
I cant stand
to see the children get shot...I dont care about the others. But when the
children get shot I cry. I cant take it.
Finally, Hedges describes and then quotes a Hamas sheikh who
opposes children fighting Israeli troops.
[E]ven the sheikh
has used his time during Friday prayers to implore the young boys not to go out
on the dunes..."I know that every father tries to keep his children away
from the fence," he says. "The teachers and the imams tell the
children not to go. When I preach in the mosque I tell them to stay
Hedges does not quote one Palestinian adult supporting their
children becoming martyrs. Yet for years not only Hamas but the
Palestinian Authority has exhorted children via its media, schools, mosques and
political statements to become martyrs - to die for the sake of Palestine. With
regard to the extreme expression of martyrdom in the form of suicide bombing, a
June 2001 poll unmentioned by Hedges found 76% of Palestinians
support suicide bombings. (The Palestinian Center for Public
Opinion, based in the West Bank and directed by Dr. Nabil Kukali. The
survey was taken between May 24-26. The margin of error was 4%.)
Does the omission mean Hedges is unaware of such views among
the Palestinians? In fact, we know otherwise from his own writing. Seven months
prior to A Gaza Diary, in the January/February issue of Foreign
Affairs, Hedges wrote very differently about the Palestinians. While
extremely critical of Israel, he did not spare the Palestinians either.
In an article entitled The New Palestinian
Revolt, Palestinian parents are quoted by Hedges in support of
their children becoming martyrs. The reporters interview with a
Palestinian woman contained the following:
Tell the man
what you want to be, said Hyam Temraz to her two-year-old son, Abed, as
she peeped out of the slit of a black veil.
A martyr, the child answered.
She said that another son had been talking about
liberating Palestine since he was four.
He has always told me that he would be a martyr and that
one day I would dig his grave.
Hedges spoke to a Palestinian man, Nezzar Rayan, in that
Today, his three
sons - ages 12, 15, and 16 - daily join the youths who throw rocks at Israeli
checkpoints. All three, according to their father, strive to be one thing:
martyrs for Palestine.
I pray only that God will choose them,' he said.
In Harpers these voices endorsing martyrdom
have been eliminated. Hedges has evidently made a conscious choice to omit
information damaging to the Palestinian cause.
7). Alleging further murders by Israel, Hedges wrote:
I watch Jihad Abu
Mousa, twenty-two, kick at a few pieces of rubble. He is morose and silent...On
January 29 his twenty-three-year-old brother was shot dead by Israeli soldiers,
while, Jihad says, playing a game of soccer.
A Nexis search reveals that one Palestinian was
killed on January 29, Muhammad Abu Musa, and he was not playing a game of
soccer. On January 30, Agence France Presse reported:
Hamas military wing, Ezzadin al-Qassam, claimed responsibility
during the funeral for a Palestinian shot dead by Israeli soldiers the day
before at the Khan Younis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip. Around
10,000 people attended the funeral of Mohammed Abu Musa, 21, many shouting
death to Israel and praising both Hamas and the militia wing of
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafats Fatah movement.
That is, Muhammad Abu Musa, brother of Jihad Abu Musa, was a
member of Hamas.
On January 30 The New York Times reported that
a Palestinian was killed in a clash in the Gaza Strip. The same
day, The Chicago Tribune reported Israeli troops shot dead a
21-year old Palestinian man in a confrontation in the Gaza Strip. Neither
The Times nor The Tribune mentioned that Abu Musa
was killed playing a game of soccer.
The Jerusalem Post, which generally covers clashes in
Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip in greater depth than American papers,
wrote on January 30: ...violence continued in the Gaza Strip yesterday,
with Palestinians claiming that 21-year-old Mohammed Abu Mussa was killed near
Khan Younis during an exchange of fire with soldiers. (Note that while Hedges
reports the age of Mohammed Abu Mussa as 23, all other media surveyed put it at
21.) The IDF Spokesman said soldiers shot and killed an armed Palestinian who
had loaded his gun and aimed at them.
Even Adameer, the Palestinian web site, and
Btselem, the Israeli group highly critical of Israel, do not claim that
Muhammad Abu Mussa was shot by Israeli soldiers while playing soccer.
Indeed, no news source reported Muhammad Abu Musa was killed
while playing soccer; rather the accounts told of his involvement in violent
confrontation with Israelis.
8) Hedges stated: The latest intifada erupted in
September 2000, when Ariel Sharon, then the Israeli opposition leader and now
the prime minister, visited the al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in
Ariel Sharon did not visit the al-Aqsa Mosque. He walked on
the Temple Mount, the plaza where the first and second Jewish Temples stood,
the holiest site in Judaism. The al-Aqsa Mosque is located on the large plaza,
but Sharon did not enter or visit it. Hedges omission of the meaning and
sanctity of the Temple Mount to Jews and his inaccurate account of
Sharons actions falsely suggest Sharon intruded on an exclusively Islamic
9) Hedges stated: From 1987 to 1993, during the first
intifada, Hamas targeted only Israeli soldiers and settlements. It began to
attack individual Israeli civilians after a Jewish settler, Baruch Goldstein,
gunned down twenty-nine Muslim worshipers in the Ibrahimi Mosque in
Hamas targeted civilians before Goldsteins shooting of
Muslims in February 1994. For example, on July 2, 1993 Hamas terrorists
attacked a Jerusalem bus killing two and wounding two others. They used assault
rifles and carried bombs concealed in bags. One woman was murdered on the bus
and another when the fleeing Hamas members seized a car, then shot the driver
and threw her out of the vehicle. Hamas murders of civilians in Israel did not
begin, as Hedges seems to imply, as a consequence of Baruch Goldstein's
shooting Arab civilians.
In summary, the material errors identified are as follows:
1). Israel does not allow Palestinian villagers in
Mawasi to drill new wells. Israel, as stated, has no jurisdiction over
the matter of well-drilling in Palestinian-controlled territories, of which
Mawasi and Khan Younis are a part.
2). Israel has 32 wells under one settlement
between the Palestinian towns of Mawasi and Khan Younis. In fact, Israel
operates only 20 wells, and they are under 17 settlements.
3). Israel built a pipeline in 1994 to carry water
into Israel. Israel does not take any water from Gaza into Israel - but
rather supplies the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip with water.
4). Israel would not allow the [Khan Younis] camp to
expand. Israel did initiate a modest expansion program in the camp in the
1980's and was consistently thwarted by the PLO, as were other nations, in
efforts to do more.
5). Israel entices children like mice into a trap and
murders them for sport. One Palestinian was killed on June 17, when
Hedges was in Gaza reporting this lurid passage. It was the same day that a
Palestinian bomber had attacked Israelis nearby in Gaza, an event unmentioned
by Hedges. According to The New York Times and other news agencies the
Palestinian fatality occurred in the midst of violence - not as
6). Israeli soldiers shoot [Palestinian children] with
silencers. The Israeli military denies this allegation.
7) Hedges quoted only Palestinians who say they oppose their
children becoming martyrs - and dying for the sake of Palestine.
This is a highly misleading characterization, as we know from Hedges own
writing in the January/ February 2001 issue of Foreign Affairs.
8). Mohammed [Abu Musa] was shot dead by Israeli
soldiers while... playing a game of soccer. Mohammad Abu Mousa, a Hamas
member, was reported in numerous news outlets as having died in a violent
confrontation with Israelis.
9) The latest intifada erupted...when Ariel Sharon
...visited the al-Aqsa Mosque... Sharon did not visit the al-Aqsa Mosque.
10) Hamas targeted only Israeli soldiers and
settlements before Baruch Goldstein gunned own twenty-nine Muslim
worshipers... Hamas targeting of civilians in Israel pre- dated
Chris Hedges account was marred by other serious
deficiencies, including the gross omission of context with regard to violence
against Israelis in Gaza failing to mention there had been nearly 3000
Palestinian attacks launched between October 2000 and June 2001 and the
total absence of any Israeli voice to challenge specifically the grave
accusations against its people and policies.