Carter’s Allegations Too Good to Check

Christian Century, the house organ for mainline Protestantism in the U.S., recently published an article quoting former President Jimmy Carter as he falsely accused Israel of starving the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. The magazine obtained this false and inflammatory article from the Associated Baptist Press. While the ABP is responsible for its content, Christian Century should have known better than to publicize Jimmy Carter’s false accusations without challenge.


The code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists states quite clearly that reporters have an obligation to “test the accuracy of information from all sources” and to give “subjects of news stories … the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrong doing.” Neither the Christian Century nor the ABP fulfilled these obligations.


The article, which appeared in the July 14, 2009 issue of Christian Century, relays allegations leveled by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter against Israel. Of particular note, the article reports:

At Cairo University, Carter said that Palestinians in Gaza are being “starved to death” and that they receive fewer calories daily than people in the poorest parts of Africa.


The notion that Israel is starving the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip has been a persistent and oft-repeated trope of anti-Israel polemics.


It is a lie.


To be sure, Palestinians are suffering in the Gaza Strip as a result of a catastrophe of Hamas’ making, but anyone who asserts that people are starving to death in the territory needs to offer proof. Carter offers none. There is however, ample evidence to demonstrate that humanitarian goods have flowed steadily into the Gaza Strip since the fighting came to an end in January.


The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains a website detailing the flow of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip. This site reports that as of June 26, 2009, “about 376,148 tons of aid and over 47.878 million liters of fuel have been delivered to the Gaza Strip” since the end of fighting in the Gaza Strip on Jan. 18, 2009. The weekly summaries of goods allowed into Gaza include thousands of tons of food and medical supplies, along with substantial amounts of fuel.


Carter’s allegation that the Palestinians receive fewer calories than people in the poorest parts of Africa makes for good copy, but is also unsubstantiated. Where does Carter get his information? While Christian Century and the ABP may be sympathetic to Carter’s efforts to portray the suffering in the Gaza Strip as a unique and unparalleled humanitarian catastrophe, these institutions have an obligation to test whether or not this assessment is in fact, accurate.


In 2008, the International Food Policy Research Institute issued its annual “World Hunger Index.” According to IFPRI, “The Democratic Republic of Congo scored the worst on the Index, followed by Eritrea, Burundi, Niger, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Ethiopia.” Tellingly, IFPRI does not include either the West Bank or the Gaza Strip in its report.


This is not to say conditions are wonderful in the Gaza Strip, but it’s a pretty steep hill to climb to prove that hunger is more rampant in the Gaza Strip than it is in Ethiopia where according to a 2008 report from CNN, children are dying daily from a lack of food. To be sure, there are reports of children in the Gaza Strip suffering from anemia, but no reports of famine-related deaths, as Carter asserts take place.


Images from the Gaza Strip do not provide any evidence of starvation or of famine related deaths, as they have in other parts of the world. For example, this image, displayed by the BBC on Jan. 8, 2009 seems to contradict the notion that a famine takes place. And this satirical batch of images, posted on an Indymedia site in Sept. 2008, well after Israel restricted the flow of goods into the Gaza Strip from its borders, indicates that previous reports of a humanitarian cata strophe were exaggerations, as does this photo.


These are not the images one expects to see of a people experiencing a famine.


Instead of attempting to ascertain the truth about life in the Gaza Strip, the article continues to quote Carter’s allegations without challenge or scrutiny:

“It’s an atrocity what is being perpetrated as punishment on the people in Gaza,” said Carter, as quoted in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “It’s a crime. . . . I think it is an abomination that this continues to go on.”
Israel imposed a blockade two years ago when Hamas, an Islamist party that supports attacks on Israel, won elections in Gaza and thus gained control of the government there. Fatah, the more moderate of the two main Palestinian parties, retained control of the West Bank territories.
Israel says that its aim is to weaken Hamas, but critics say that the blockade punishes Gaza‘s civilians and increases their anger toward Israel.
United Nations officials have reported that months after fierce fighting between Hamas and Israel ended in January, Israeli officials are still allowing only basic necessities like food and medicine into Gaza.
“Never before in history has a large community been savaged by bombs and missiles and then deprived of the means to repair itself,” said Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize winner.


The fact that the article quotes Haaretz’s reporting does not absolve the ABP or Christian Century of their obligation to give Israeli officials the right to respond to allegations leveled against their country. The article only appears to give Israel an opportunity to respond when it states that “Israel says its aim is to weaken Hamas, but critics say that the blockade punishes Gaza’s civilians and increases their anger toward Israel.”


No individual Israeli is quoted, raising the question: Exactly who said these things?


Did the ABP actually talk to someone about these issues or is it merely providing atmospherics to portray itself as “evenhanded”? If ABP reporter had actually talked to an Israeli official, he might have mentioned the thousands of rockets that had landed in Israel from the Gaza Strip before during and after Israel’s withdrawal from that territory in 2005.


In fact, the article makes no mention whatsoever of these attacks. The word “rocket” appears nowhere in its text. Mentioning these rocket attacks would give some badly needed context to Israel’s decision to limit the passage of goods into the Gaza Strip.


And if the ABP reporter had actually talked to an Israeli, as opposed to merely reporting that “Israel says” he might have learned about Hamas’ practice of smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip in packages labeled as foodstuffs. And in April, an Israeli spokesperson, Yigal Palmor told NPR why Israel has refused to allow building goods into the Gaza Strip from its border.


In the past, some cement and other materials intended for civilian construction projects in Gaza were used instead for building military positions and bunkers, Palmor says.

“We can’t allow Hamas to rearm itself with materials coming from Israel,” Palmor says.

It’s an obvious point, one crucial to Israeli decision-making, but one left out of the article altogether.

And If the reporter from the ABP had spoken to an actual Israeli, he might have learned that Egypt also controls the passage of goods into the Gaza Strip. Egypt controls the Rafah crossing and kept it closed during the recent fighting. There is nothing (aside from its own fear of Hamas) preventing Egypt from opening up this crossing and allowing goods into the Gaza Strip, and yet former President Carter holds Israel, and only Israel, responsible for “starvation” in the Gaza Strip.

While the journalists at the Associated Baptist Press wrote article, it should never have appeared in the pages of Christian Century which is ultimately responsible for the content that appears on its pages. At the very least, the magazine should have done some reporting of its own to give Israeli officials the opportunity to respond, in detail, to Carter’s allegations.

Stories like this insult readers and minimize suffering experienced by famine victims in Africa.

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