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Middle East Issues





More Bad Journalism from Sojourners


A few weeks ago, Sojourners, a magazine that caters to liberal Evangelical Protestants in the United States, published an article that falsely portrays Israel at the center of a crisis for Christianity in the Middle East.

Through a combination of factual omissions, misinformation and the deceptive use of layout, the article (published in the July 2013 issue of the magazine) portrayed Israel as if it were driving Christians out of the region when in fact it is violent jihadists who are doing that. Blaming the Jewish state for consequences of Islamist violence against Christians in the Middle East is a sneaky, deceptive and ugly thing to do, but that's what Sojourners did.

Instead of mending their ways, the editors at Sojourners have published another deceptive article involving Israel in the next issue of the magazine. And again, the magazine relied on factual omissions and a deceptive layout to put its story across.

The article, written by Ryan Rodrick Beiler and titled “Gaza: The Persistent Paradox” (which appears in the Sept-Oct 2012 issue of the magazine) highlights the undeniably tragic deaths of Palestinian civilians (such as 10 members of the Al Dalu family) during Operation Pillar of Defense, which took place in Nov. 2012.

The deaths of Palestinian civilians is a tragedy, but the fact remains, terrorists in the Gaza Strip attack civilians while hiding behind civilians, thus guaranteeing that civilian casualties will result. The whole point of the rocket attacks from Gaza is to disrupt Israeli life, provoke an armed response and then use the deaths of Palestinian civilians to demonize Israel. This is what they do.

Like many other writers in the West, Beiler, a photojournalist associated with the Mennonite Central Committee, an institution known for its anti-Israel bias, is all too willing to cooperate with terrorists who attack Israel.

This is particularly evident with the text of his story, which fails to report that prior Israel's attack, Hamas had launched hundreds of rockets into Israel and terrorized an increasing number of people living in southern Israel. Oddly enough, in his story, Beiler  doesn't mention Operation Pillar of Defense by name, or the uptick in rocket attacks that preceded it, anywhere in his story.
 
These omissions leave readers with the impression that the attacks, and the deaths that they cause, are random acts of violence that Israel perpetrated without rhyme, reason or provocation. (Oddly enought, Beiler's omits dates of when the people have died, making it difficult for his readers to place the tragedies into historical context. More about this below.)
 
After invoking a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, Beiler recounts the death Yusuf Jilal Arafat's five year-old daughter, who was killed “when Israeli warplanes bombed their home.” The girl, Runan, was reportedly killed when Israeli airplanes bombed the home she was living in.
 
No Rockets Fired?
 
The story doesn't say exactly when she was killed but quotes her father as saying “I don't know why they targeted us. No rockets were fired from our neighborhood.”

A caption to the story reports that Runan was killed “when 10 Israeli missiles struck [the] mostly agricultural area in the Al Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City.” One of Beiler's photos shows Arafat standing with children in front of a now demolished house, which presumably is his home. The photo can be seen in another venue – 972 Magazine – here.

The way Beiler and Sojourners tell the story, it's as if the Israelis attacked the Arafat's home/farm out of the blue.

A little digging reveals that Runan was killed on Nov. 14, 2012, when Hamas launched 74 rockets into Israel. Twenty seven of these rockets were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome; 47 landed in Israel.

The neighborhood, which Sojourners and Beiler describe as “mostly agricultural” is also a hotspot for rocket attacks against Israel. In fact, rocket teams use the groves and fields of Zeitoun as places to launch its longer range rocket (the Fajir 5) into Israel. Here's an IDF map of the neighborhood.

All these facts, taken together, cast serious doubt on Arafat's assertion that “No rockets were fired from our neighborhood.”

Of course, Arafat could be taken to say that no rockets were being fired from his neighborhood when his daughter was killed.

But as it turns out, the Palestinian Committee on Human Rights (PCHR) reports that Runan was killed five minutes before Omar Mishrawi was killed on Nov. 14.

Omar Mishrawi, whose death was memorialized in an iconic photo showing his father weeping as he holds his son's lifeless body, was initially thought to have been killed by Israeli rockets, but subsequent investigations cast serious doubt on that conclusion. Numerous reports citing a UN investigation indicate that is possible that Mishrawi was in fact killed by a Hamas rocket (intended for Israel) that fell short. (For a details, go here, here, and here.)
 
Here is how the Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported the events (prior to the controversy regarding the actual cause of Mishrawi's death):
At approximately 16:50, an Israeli warplane fired 3 missiles at a house belonging to Salah Jalal Arafat in al-Zaytoun neighborhood in the east of Gaza City. The house and a neighboring one belonging to Arafat's brother were destroyed. One of Arafat's children, 5-year-old Ranan, was killed and another two children and two women were wounded.
 
At approximately 16:55, an Israeli warplane fired a missile at a house belonging to Ali Nemer al-Masharawi in al-Zaytoun neighborhood in the east of Gaza City. Two members of the family (a woman and a toddler) were killed: Hiba Aadel Fadel al-Masharawi, 19, and Omar Jihad al-Masharawi, 11 months. Additionally, a child from the same family was wounded.

While the PCHR's times are approximate, it is clear that the two children were killed within minutes of one another. Given that a Hamas rocket likely killed Mishrawi, this indicates that rockets were being fired from the Al Zeitoun neighborhood at the time of Ranan's death. This is further confirmed by two other sources.

The first source is an Associated Press article published on March 11, 2013. This article reports that a UN official, Matthias Behnke, “said Palestinian militants were firing rockets at Israel not far from the al-Masharawi home.”

Then there is an article from Electronic Intifada published on May 1, 2013. The article, based on the testimony from Mohammed Suliman, a sometime contributor to Electronic Intifada, reports the following:

Palestinian armed groups were firing rockets towards Israel half a kilometer from the Masharawi home and Israeli strikes were targeting the sites of the rocket-launchers at the time of the incident, he said.
 
“Now, what happened is that during this short period of exchange of fire between Palestinian groups and Israeli war planes, Masharawi's house was hit. So it was very ambiguous what the cause of that attack was — it could be Palestinian rocket fire or Israeli war planes,” Suliman explained.

This raises a few questions:

How close together are the Mishrawi and Arafat homes? They are both in the Zeitoun neighborhood, which reports indicate isn't very big. If the two homes are close to each other, this casts serious doubt on Arafat's assertion that no rockets were being fired from his neighborhood.

Was Arafat's home actually hit by Israeli rockets? Or was it hit by Hamas rockets?
 
The fact that Runan was killed at about the same time and in the same neighborhood as Omar Mishrawi raises serious questions about the circumstances of her death, questions that would complicate and undermine the "Israelis bad, Palestinians innocent" story Sojourners told in the pages of its magazine.
 
The Layout
 
The notion that the Palestinians are innocent victims is clearly communicated in the manner in the story is laid out and displayed in the print version of the magazine. In the first two pages of the four-page story, the magazine juxtaposes a photo of a Palestinian surfer catching a wave in the Mediterranean Sea with a photo of Yusuf Jilal Arafat standing with three children in front of his demolished home.
 
The last two pages of the story shows a total of four images. At the top of the magazine there are three photos. The first shows Palestinian laborers gathering crushed stones from roads destroyed roads, presumably destroyed by Israeli bombs. The second photo shows several Palestinian men clapping and singing "around a campfire in a sea side shack near Gaza city." The third photo shows an "Israeli remote-controlled sniper tower in the wall along Gaza's northern border." And the fourth photo at the bottom of the page shows a fisherman untangling his nets on the beach.
 
The implicit message put forth by the photos and the manner in which they are arranged is that the Palestinians want to get on with their lives but can't because of the malevolant Israelis. They want to surf, they want to farm, they want sing on the beach and mend their nets, but the Israelis blow up their homes and kill their children for no reason and menace them with sniper towers.
 
This isn't journalism. It's propaganda. A more honest approach to the subject matter would provide imagery of the threats Israel faces. A picture of a Hamas rally for example, or maybe the aftermath of a Hamas rocket attack.
 
Conclusion
 
This is the second issue in a row that Sojourners has provided its readers with distorted coverage about Israel and the Middle East.
 
This is starting to look like a pattern.

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