Amira Hass Spouts Vitriol on the CBC

Amira Hass, a Ha’aretz reporter who resides in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, is perhaps best known for her extreme hostility toward the Jewish state. She routinely villifies Israel as a brutal, apartheid state that practices terrorism against the Palestinians, and demonizes Israeli settlers as vicious abusers of their Arab neighbors. To that end, she has manipulated, distorted and even invented the “facts.” (For a sampling, see here.)

In 2001, she was found guilty in court of libel for presenting a false account of Hebron Jews kicking, spitting on and dancing around the corpse of a Palestinian shot by border police. Unfortunately for Hass, closed circuit television footage and a police investigation exposed her story as a lie, and she was ordered to pay 250,000 NIS in damages to the Jewish community.

An American correspondent guilty of this sort of journalistic misconduct would probably be fired on the spot, and certainly would be discredited. Hass, however, continues to find acceptance and even accolades in certain circles.

On June 19, 2011, CBC’s weekend program, “The Sunday Edition” hosted by Michael Enright, joined those circles with an acclamatory, hour-long interview with the Ha’aretz correspondent. Enright introduced her as a courageous maverick who has aroused the ire of her countrymen:

If I were to sit down with all the Jewish Israeli journalists who live and work full-time in the occupied territories, I’d need only one extra chair. And I’m glad I have it, because Amira Hass is here and she is the only person who fits that description. Ms. Hass is a correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. Her beat is the West Bank and Gaza, and for the past 18 years, she has lived in one of those two places covering the intifadas, the Oslo fallout, and, perhaps most importantly, the daily lives of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Her writing and her choice of residence have made her something of a thorn in the side of Israeli authorities. Many of her countrymen consider her some kind of traitor…

The CBC host neglected to inform listeners about Hass’ libel suit and the reason why her articles are rejected by most Israelis – not, as he implies, because she reveals Israeli abuses in the territories, but because of her deceptive reporting. Rather than providing this context, Enright instead urged Hass to recite her list of allegations against Israel, accepting her version as legitimate and true. For example:

“Why did you feel it was important for Israelis to know what was going on in the territories, not the big stories, but the daily lives of Palestinians?”

“Give me, if you can, a sense of daily life in Gaza and the West Bank? I’ve been to both places and I have my own views, but how would you tell somebody who doesn’t read newspapers or doesn’t know an awful lot about the situation between Israel and the occupied territories. How would you describe it?”

“I’ve seen in the early morning, in the West Bank, the lineups of Palestinians at the checkpoints, and there seems to be a system of petty, little humiliations and little irritants that seem to go on and on. Palestinians face that Talk a bit about these humiliations.”

“What do you think the average Israeli understands or misunderstands about the occupation and Palestinians, in general.”

Hass eagerly launched into her familiar litany of deceipts and distortions. Here are some examples:

On the Occupation

The occupation has become the main characteristic of Israeli society – to control for so long the life of around almost 4 million people who don’t have the right to vote, who are being governed by the government we vote for, but who have no right to vote for it, who live in the same territory but who do not have the same rights as we Jews have.

What Hass deceptively omits is that Palestinians did vote for their own leaders – in local, legislative and presidential elections in the West Bank and Gaza. (Palestinians have no desire to be part of Israel or vote for Israeli leaders.) Moreover, it was those elected leaders representing the Palestinian people who have repeatedly rejected Israel’s multiple proposals to end the occupation.

In 1996, Palestinians elected PLO chairman Yasir Arafat as president of the Palestinian National Authority. At the Camp David summit in 2000, Arafat rejected US and Israeli proposals to end the occupation. Nor did Arafat accept US President Clinton’s bridging parameters in 2001.  

After Arafat’s death, Palestinians voted for Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas as president of the Palestinian National Authority. A year later, Palestinians gave Hamas the majority of their votes in legislative elections. Hamas soon took control of the Gaza strip after forcing Fatah members out of a national unity government, and installed Ismail Haniyeh as prime minister of the Hamas government in Gaza. Hamas has consistently rejected negotiations with Israel, following in the footsteps of Arab leaders who after the 1967 war adhered to the three no’s policy toward Israel – no recognition, no negotiation and no peace.

And when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert tried yet again in 2008 to renew proposals to end the occupation, with even farther- reaching concessions on the part of Israel, Palestinian Authority President Abbas did not even bother to respond to them.

On Water Resources

For them [the Palestinians] there is a quota on the quantity of water, unlike us Jews…there is a limit to how much water they may use…..Israel is in control of the water…the water is being taken from the West Bank aquifer for Israeli use. It is deprived from the Palestinians.

Contrary to Hass’ false charge, domestic water consumption is regulated, not by Israel, but by local Palestinian companies like the Water Department and Network in Hebron and the Jerusalem Water Undertaking in Ramallah, which operate and maintain water facilities and distribute the supply of water to Palestinians. The central Palestinian Water Authority, according to its website,  develops and regulates water resources for the Palestinians.

Hass also deceives when she suggests that under “occupation” Israel has stolen Palestinian water. It is quite the opposite. Most of the water stored in the Western aquifer (what Hass refers to as the West Bank aquifer) is under Israel, harnessed from springs within Israel’s pre-1967 borders, not the West Bank. These sources were unused until Zionist pioneers developed them as a water source at the turn of the last century, thus establishing Israel’s legal right to them under international law. Before the West Bank and Gaza came under Israel’s control in 1967, Israel used about 95% of the supply from the Western Aquifer. But since Israel gained control of the West Bank, its share of water from this source has decreased to 83 percent. Thus, far from depriving Palestinians of “their” water, Israel has decreased its own consumption of water from this source, while Palestinians have increased theirs. Moreover, despite water shortages of its own, Israel transfers more than 40 million cubic meters of water per year from sources inside its 1967 boundaries to Palestinian water providers. (See here and here.) 

Hass goes on to give an example of the alleged “deprivation”of water:

There are all these details, like what it is like to live in summer. In my apartment, in Ramallah in an area which is pretty well, it’s OK. Over the summer, the water does not reach the house every day, only once or twice a week.

It is rather strange that Hass would have access to drinking water only once or twice a week during the summer while no such problems are evident at the many Palestinian-owned and operated cafes, clubs, restaurants and swimming pools that attract a cosmopolitan crowd in Ramallah. For example, see the New York Times’ travel review, “Ramallah Attracts a Cosmopolitan Crowd” and the websites describing these hot spots – Al Snobar (retaurant/swimming pool), Vatche’s (garden pool and restaurant), Grand Park Hotel with its tropical pool, the large, heated swimming pool at Movenpick Ramallah hotel, the large 300-child swimming pool at Mukhmas Funland amusement park, among others.

If Hass is honest in her charge that Ramallah residents have limited access to water for their daily needs, surely she should protest about this inequitable water distribution to the Palestinian body responsible  instead of disingenuously blaming Israel.

On Checkpoints

Without referring to the Palestinian terrorism that necessitated the establishment of road blocks, or their effectiveness in reducing Israeli casualties, Hass pretends that they arose as part of a planned policy that was concomitant with the signing of the Oslo accords, as a sort of devious ploy by Israel to negate the agreements. She says:

The Oslo Process was in parallel to the Israeli introduction and development of a policy of restrictions on freedom of movement which started in ‘91. Until ‘91, there was relative freedom of movement for Palestinians, which means both Jews and Palestinians who live in the same territory exercised…Now Palestinians are caged in enclaves in the West Bank and Gaza, and actually since 2000, there is a replica. Gaza was a segregated enclave since ‘91 to 2000, developed as such and after 2000, the same process started in the West Bank, little enclaves were replicating the example of Gaza.

Hass’ description is extremely misleading. Restrictions on both Israeli and Palestinian movement within the territories have always been a direct result of the security threat presented to Israel.

Travel limitations were implemented during a period of rising anti-Israel violence starting in 1987 with the first intifada, followed by the 1991 Gulf War when Iraq – supported and encouraged by the Palestinians – targeted Israel with scud missiles. It continued during increasing suicide bombings and terrorist attacks, and from 2000 and onwards, with the second intifada, when thousands of Israelis were killed or wounded in small and large-scale attacks by Palestinians from the territories. The freedom of Israeli Jews to travel within the territories was also curtailed due to security threats.

These restrictions were not established “in parallel” to the Oslo process, but  as a direct result of Palestinian terrorist attacks that violated the agreements. But then, Hass expresses reluctance to view Palestinian attacks through the prism of terrorism..

On Palestinian Terrorism

In answer to Enright’s oblique inquiry about Palestinian terrorism (while he clearly implies it, he avoids directly attributing terrorist acts to Palestinians), Hass rejects labelling Palestinian attacks as terrorism and deflects blame to Israel with vague, unsubstantiated and incoherent accusations:

… Before there were Palestinian attacks, there were Israeli attacks. Now of course the definition – Palestinians would say that Israelis killing children at checkpoints or not allowing –before 2000, already in the Hebron area in the 90’s — Israeli soldiers not allowing pregnant women to reach hospital on time or shooting at workers coming at night by mistake is also, is a state terror. Palestinians would say that taking the land of somebody just in order to expand a settlement or a road which doesn’t serve everybody, it’s also terrorism so the very concept, the very definition, the very term “terror” I think is not, I would like to put it aside, I would like to relate to the content. Yes, Palestinians have retaliated to Israeli occupation, to Israeli violence ….But if we think about the egg and the chicken, what comes first, I think there is Israeli occupation.

Hass is clearly wrong. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was established in 1964 and carried out terrorist attacks against Israeli infrastructure and civilians long before Israel gained control of the West Bank and Gaza.. (See “Yasir Arafat’s Timeline of Terror“)  

On Hamas

To Enright’s question about whether she talks to Hamas terrorists, Hass replies

As I told you, I have my strong reservations about the very term [“terrorist”]. I talk to many armed people, be it Israeli soldiers, Israeli officers and Palestinian armed men. And I do think, for example, that the intifada, the second intifada I call it sometimes, has been a competition over whose is bigger.

By comparing Hamas terrorists to Israeli soldiers, and deadly terrorist attacks to the IDF’s military responses to stop suicide bombings and attacks against civilians, Hass demonstrates an extremist, marginal perspective that minimizes terrorist attacks and equates it with counter-terrorism measures.

At one point, Hass compares Hamas’ rejection of a Jewish state to Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s “issu[ing] a series of anti-Palestinian laws in Israel — frightening, anti-democratic laws.”

Hass is apparently referring to Lieberman’s proposals for Israeli diplomats to have participated in either Israel’s military or national volunteer services – which would exclude both Jews and Arabs who opt out; for Israeli citizens to pledge loyalty to the state – which many Israeli-Arabs and some ultra-Orthodox Jews are reluctant to do; and for the elimination of state funding from Israeli citizens’ tax dollars for ceremonies that commemorate the establishment of the Israeli state as a “Nakba” or catastrophe.

These proposals cannot be construed as “anti-Palestinian” since they do not apply to West Bank and Gaza residents who neither are nor wish to be citizens of an Israeli state. Nor have they been passed as “laws.” And they are hardly “anti-democratic” or “frightening” – they are similar to the practices of other democratic nations that demand an oath of allegiance or require that representatives register or participate in some sort of national service. But to Hass, adhering to the truth is neither necessary nor desirable when it comes to demonizing Israel as an apartheid state that views itself as a “master nation,” as she puts it.

Hass is an Israeli version of a “red diaper baby”– the product of radically anti-Zionist, Communist parents who found refuge in Israel after the Holocaust. While she presents herself as a courageous whistle-blower, what Hass is really doing is sacrificing her own professional integrity to further a fanatical, political agenda.

The question is why a discredited extremist such as Hass was invited to expound upon her views, or, at the very least, why the CBC did not bother to advise its audience of Hass’ record and reputation.

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