A CNN Article Tries to Explain Away Palestinian Support for Hamas’s Atrocities

A recent December poll from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) included a shocking finding: nearly three-quarters of Palestinians think Hamas’s decision to carry out the October 7 terrorist attack – which saw the murder, rape, torture, mutilation, and kidnapping of over 1,400 Israelis and foreign nationals – was “correct.”

CAMERA has long encouraged networks like CNN to report honestly about Palestinian societal attitudes. Instead, a December 21 article (“Palestinians support Hamas decision to go to war with Israel, survey suggests, with no political solution on horizon”), by Abeer Salman and Andrew Carey, misleads readers about what the survey results really mean.

In their own words, and by extensively quoting the head of PCPSR, Khalil Shikaki, the authors spin the disturbing results by suggesting that widespread Palestinian support doesn’t actually mean they support the atrocities that characterized the attack.

Their argument rests on three data points. In short, the argument is: (1) nearly 80% of respondents said “that killing women and children in their homes is a war crime”; (2) 85% of respondents said “they had not watched videos shown by international news outlets of acts committed by Hamas on October 7; (3) “only 10% of those surveyed said they believed Hamas had committed war crimes that day; and thus (4) they don’t actually support atrocities; they just don’t know that the atrocities occurred.

This is an incredibly dishonest spin.

The 80% figure wasn’t about what they think is or isn’t a “war crime,” but rather what they think international law says. The survey asked:

Based on what you have heard or seen, do you think international law allows or does not allow the following measures during war?

Attacking or killing civilians (sic) women and children in their own homes

When it came to asking about Hamas’s actions, it was worded very differently:

In the current war against Gaza, did Israel in your view commit war crimes?

And did Hamas commit war crimes in the current war?

One question was a factual question (would international law prohibit these acts?), the other was a personal opinion question (do you view these acts as war crimes?).

Why does this matter?

Consider two other data points the article ignored:

  1. In September, the month before the October 7 massacre, PCPSR asked Palestinians whether they support or oppose “armed attacks against Israeli civilians inside Israel.” 54% said they supported such attacks. (Notably, while the article mentions widespread support among Palestinians for “armed struggle,” it omitted the recent and more relevant survey data that specifically addressed the question of violence against civilians.)
  2. Respondents in the December survey were also asked whether international law allows “taking civilians (sic) prisoners of war.” 52% said “no.”

Now also consider that imagery and reporting of both acts during October 7 were widespread in Palestinian and Arabic media. Imagery of Hamas’s barrages of rockets targeting Israeli civilian centers was everywhere in Palestinian and Arabic media. Even just a couple days after the attack, Al Jazeera – far and away the most widely watched Arabic news channel for Palestinians – was reporting figures that clearly indicated the vast majority of those Hamas killed were civilians. Similarly, the capture of civilian hostages has been widely publicized in Arabic media. For example, within hours Al Jazeera was already showing the kidnapping of Shiri Bibas and her two small children.

Just because they didn’t watch the same videos as the world did doesn’t mean they weren’t aware of many of the atrocities that occurred. Their own media was reporting on Hamas’s crimes, too, even if they omitted the particularly horrific images.

Moreover, one need only look at the survey itself to show that the respondents were aware that Hamas had taken Israeli civilians, including women and children, hostage. One of the questions asked in the exact same survey was “whether they support or oppose the release, now before the end of the war, of the detained Israeli women and children among the civilians in the hands of the resistance groups, in return for the release of Palestinian women and children in the Israeli prisons.”

Now put it all together.

If nearly 80% think “attacking or killing women and children in their homes” is not allowed by international law, but also 54% had just said they support killing Israeli civilians, that suggests the respondents don’t much care for what international law has to say. And if 52% think kidnapping civilians is against international law, but only 10% think Hamas committed war crimes, that suggests their opinion regarding what is and isn’t a “war crime” isn’t tied to what international law says.

Only by ignoring these important, but inconvenient, considerations can the authors try to get away with their nonsense narrative that tries to excuse Palestinian society for embracing and celebrating terrorism against civilians.

Skewing History

The article’s bias manifests in other ways, too.

It gives a deeply skewed and inadequate history under the subheading: “Separated territories, divergent attitudes,” where it claims:

Since 2005, when Israel moved its soldiers and settlers out of Gaza and essentially sealed off the territory with help from Egypt, the day-to-day experiences of Palestinians in Gaza have diverged even further from those of Palestinians in the West Bank.

Politically, the territories are split. The Palestinian Authority under aging President Mahmoud Abbas has partial control over the West Bank, while Hamas controls what goes on inside Gaza – or it did until Israel invaded.

Omitted is that Israel’s blockade didn’t begin in 2005, but in 2009, and only after some 5,000 rockets had been fired from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory. Similarly, the authors curiously skip over why the West Bank and Gaza Strip are split politically: because Hamas violently overthrew the Palestinian Authority and turned the territory into a base for its terrorism, much like Islamic State did in Iraq and Syria.

Excusing/Erasing Palestinian Terrorism

The article also quotes Shikaki to claim that the divergences between Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank in their answers to survey questions “reflect the rise in attacks by violent Jewish settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank.” But as pointed out by CAMERA again, and again, and again, this narrative omits that there was a much larger, and much longer, rise in Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis in the West Bank. That is, the problem of terrorism and extremism in the West Bank both preceded the apparent rise in settler violence and has dramatically outpaced it.

Notably, this isn’t the first time that Salman has engaged in this brand of deceptive reporting. In July, the reporter wrote about another PCPSR survey showing declining the popularity of Mahmoud Abbas. In writing about it, Salman blamed it on “increasing settler violence and frequent, deadly Israeli military incursions…” Then, like now, Salman hid the full picture regarding the surge in Palestinian violence.

But most disturbingly, Salman and Carey, in their own words, then use Shikaki’s misleading attempt to blame Israeli settlers to justify Palestinian support for Hamas, writing: “Hamas, unsurprisingly perhaps, finds growing support, especially among West Bank Palestinians.”

Aside from being a morally reprehensible line, it’s an inversion of reality and the timeline.

“Skewed Perspectives”

It’s also notable that the authors make what is plainly a false equivalence between Israeli and Palestinian media, seemingly in order to explain away the problem of Palestinians claiming they have not seen evidence of atrocities. They tell readers: “To a considerable extent, Palestinians, just like Israelis, are getting a skewed perspective from their media.”

Anyone who has any familiarity with Israeli media knows that press freedom there is vibrant, even taking into account issues like military censors. On the other hand, whether in Gaza or the West Bank, Palestinian leadership is notorious for restricting media freedoms. Were there to be a Palestinian version of Haaretz – a notoriously far-left Israeli outlet known for fierce and often unhinged criticism of Israel – it is a safe bet the entire staff would be beaten and thrown in prison within hours.

Individually and together, the misleading and erroneous claims and omissions suggest this article was less an exercise in professional journalism and more an attempt at damage control for Palestinians. The result is that now it is CNN’s audience that is “getting a skewed perspective,” rather than just the Palestinians.

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