At what point are Washington Post readers better served by skipping rather than reading the paper's Arab-Israeli news coverage? Mid-December reporting suggests that point may be near. The Post periodically devotes considerable space to Israeli-Palestinian matters, but more often isn't better. Many articles skew to the Palestinian "narrative" of unmerited Israeli oppression.
1) "Sealed Off by Israel, Gaza Reduced to Beggary" (December 15) was a page one, 1,740 word excursion, not counting two sidebars, into that misleading narrative. By Post Jerusalem bureau chief Scott Wilson, it's summed up by its headline.
The article appeared the same day Hamas marked its 20th anniversary with a rally attended, according to some estimates, by 200,000 of the Gaza Strip's estimated 1.4 million people. The Post's Sunday, December 16 edition covered the rally with a two and a-half column picture of a man shouting and a two-sentence cutline.
"Sealed Off by Israel" focuses initially on deaf Palestinian students going without new hearing aid batteries. The first quote comes from an official for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, long considered an adjunct of the Palestine Liberation Organization, that "the humanitarian situation is atrocious." So the tone is set. Late in the text, Wilson notes that "but since the rocket attacks from Gaza began killing a total of 13 Israeli citizens since the start of the most recent Palestinian uprising in September 2000 the frequent closure of crossings to Israel has choked the export-reliant Palestinian economy." The health minister, a Hamas-approved official, gets to charge that Israelis "have turned Gaza into an animal farm we only are allowed to get what keeps us alive."
"Sealed Off by Israel" does include important information and did cite pertinent Israeli sources. But such material is secondary, getting neither the space nor priority warranted. Readers are not reminded that if the Palestinian Arabs had accepted the West Bank and Gaza Strip state offered in exchange for peace by Israel and the United States before launching their latest terror war in 2000, if they had focused on coexistence and prosperity after Israel's 2005 withdrawal rather than intensifying their attacks and electing the terrorist Hamas to lead them, the story and headline "Sealed Off by Israel, Gaza Reduced to Beggary" could have been much different.
In the real world, U.N. sanctions of Iran for its presumed nuclear weapons program may inconvenience innocent Iranians. In the real world, Palestinian terrorists hold hostage the Gaza residents among whom they are based when those residents are not supporters or collaborators. But in the unreal world of Post Arab-Israeli coverage, Israel's attempts to protect itself should cause no inconvenience, should impose no penalties.
2) Meanwhile, not only did The Post nearly miss the Hamas rally, it continued its avoidance of "the rest of the story" in this case the Palestinian reign of terror on Israeli towns and kibbutzim near the Strip. Eli Moyal, the mayor of Sderot a third of whose 24,000 residents reportedly have fled announced his resignation in protest of inadequate government efforts to protect his city. Where was The Post's interview with Moyal? Where was the article, notwithstanding a Post editor's unsupported claim of balance, headlined "Sderot Citizens' Endure Rocket Siege from Gaza"? Such news "from the Israeli side" actually, part of comprehensive coverage, rarely appears.
3) In "Conferees Pledge $7.4 Billion in Aid to Palestinian Authority" (December 18), The Post's Paris-based John Ward Anderson (one of Wilson's immediate predecessors in Jerusalem) reported that:
* "Some delegates [to the international donors' conference] said that pumping money into the West Bank and Gaza Strip would not led to long-term economic growth or political moderation as long as Israel continued expanding Jewish settlements and imposing a regime of checkpoints and closures that was strangling the Palestinian economy"; and
* "Events that followed the Nov. 27 Annapolis conference contributed to Palestinian resentment [emphasis added] here and in the territories leading up to the Paris meeting." The "event" specified is Israeli "construction of more than 300 homes on occupied land on the outskirts of Jerusalem." The construction is planned for Har Homa, a neighborhood inside Jerusalem, three-quarters of which was owned by Jews in the 1920. Har Homa and all of eastern Jerusalem was occupied illegally by Jordan from 1948 to 1967.
"Israeli resentment" at continued Palestinian incitement, terrorism, and insistence on deal breakers like the non-existent "right of return" for Arab refugees and their descendants goes unmentioned. So does the fact that "international donors have given more than $10 billion to the Palestinians over the past decade only to see large amounts wasted," as The Jerusalem Post reported a day earlier ("PM: PA negotiators, Abbas out of sync," December 17).
The Washington Post paraphrases Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad that the new "funding would help the government rebuild institutions, cut back on the state payroll, reduce subsidies and implement other economic reforms." But another Jerusalem Post article ("Analysis: PA aid no guarantee for boosting moderates," December 18) noted that others within PA President Mahmoud Abbas' government and the late Yasser Arafat's Fatah had thwarted Fayyad's reform attempts twice before and are in position to do so again. ".... [T]here's no guarantee that the financial aid would have a moderating effect" on many Palestinians. "This money is mainly designed to keep Fatah in power and prevent Hamas from taking over the West Bank. And unless the PA changes its rhetoric and starts promoting real peace and coexistence with Israel, the millions of dollars are not going to create new generation of moderate Palestinians." (See here for related details.)
4) In the midst of this Washington Post coverage, Associated Press reported that Israel's public security minister, Avi Dichter, criticized the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that claimed Iran halted a nuclear weapons program in 2003. The estimate "could lead to a regional war that would threaten the Jewish state," Dichter warned. In "Israel's harshest criticism yet of the U.S. report," he also said that NIE assessment "cast doubt on American intelligence in general, including information about Palestinian security forces' crackdown on militant groups. The Palestinian action is required as part of a U.S.-backed renewal of peace talks with Israel this month."
Like other news that would help explain why Israel sealed off Gaza, why it doesn't take Palestinian or Iranian declarations or even U.S. interpretations of them at face value, The Washington Post bypassed Dichter's warning.