Chris Hedges, Harper’s, and Israel

Chris Hedges’ “A Gaza Diary: Scenes from the Palestinian Uprising,” published in the September/October edition of Harper’s, is severely marred by material errors and grave anti-Israel bias. Despite being an experienced journalist, Mr. Hedges repeatedly offers verbatim Palestinian claims of Israeli misconduct without providing either an Israeli response or independent corroborating information. CAMERA has now fact-checked numerous allegations made by the reporter and has found many to be false. Following are some of the major errors identified.

1). Hedges devoted most of his focus to events and conditions in the Palestinian towns of Khan Younis and nearby Mawasi in the Gaza Strip. He wrote:

In Mawasi many wells have gone completely dry, but the Israelis refuse to allow the villagers to drill new ones.

In fact, since the Gaza-Jericho Agreement of 1994 and Oslo II of 1995, Israel no longer has any civil authority within these camps. Yoram Barak, the spokesman for the Coordinator for Civilian Affairs in Gaza, stated that “Mawasi is completely under Palestinian civil control and Israel therefore has no authority to prevent or permit civilian activity such as the digging of wells there.”

Many Israeli water experts have lamented the rampant, unregulated Palestinian well- drilling that began after Israel ended its civil administration of Gaza. Such drilling has severely damaged the aquifers used by the Palestinian population, leading to infiltration of seawater.

2). Hedges wrote:

When I met a few days earlier with Osama al-Farra, the mayor of Khan Younis, he explained to me why the Israelis chose to build a settlement right between Mawasi and Khan Younis. “They have thirty-two wells. They built a pipeline in 1994 to carry the water into Israel. There are probably about 1000 people in the settlement next to the camp, but they consume one third of our water supply, though about 160,000 people live in Khan Younis.”

• First – according to Noah Kinarti, chief water adviser to Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, and Mekorot, Israel’s National Water Carrier, rather than 32 wells under one settlement, Israel has built a total of 26 wells under all 17 of their settlements in the Gaza Strip. Of those 26 wells, one is no longer in use, and five were given to the Palestinians in the context of the Oslo Accords. Today, Israel operates only 20 wells in the Gaza Strip.

• While Mayor al-Farra claimed the Israelis “built a pipeline in 1994 to carry water into Israel,” the truth is precisely the opposite. The Israeli Kissufim pipeline pumps water from Israel into Gaza; no water from Gaza is pumped into Israel.

Kinarti, who has also served as a water adviser to Ehud Barak, Yitzhak Mordecai, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin, and who negotiated with the Palestinians, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon over water rights in the region, said on October 17: “Israel pumps 5 million cubic meters (MCM) of water annually from underneath the Mawasi/Khan Younis area in the Gaza Strip. Of it, half is supplied to the Jewish communities of Gush Katif, and half is supplied to Khan Younis and Mawasi. Israel pumps an additional 5 MCM from within Israel to Gaza. 2.5 million is supplied to the Palestinians, and 2.5 million is supplied to the Jewish settlers in Gaza.”

Thus – while Israel uses 2.5 MCM for its own settlements from underneath Khan Younis and Mawasi, it returns it by giving the Palestinians an equal amount of water from within Israel.

• CAMERA also contacted the Palestinian Water Commissioner Nabil A-Sharif on October 26 and asked if Israel takes any water from Gaza into Israel. His response: “The pipeline leads from Israel into Gaza. Water is never taken from Gaza and brought into Israel. We sit down with the Israelis to discuss water issues every month, and this has never come up.” Asked specifically about Khan Younis mayor Osama al-Farra’s statement – repeated without qualification by Hedges – that Israel built a pipeline in 1994 to carry water into Israel, he said “let him prove it. This statement [by al-Farra] has no proof.”

In Oslo II, signed on September 28, 1995, Israel and the Palestinians agreed that Israel would supply the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip with an additional 5 MCM of water per year, but to date the Palestinians have not built the infrastructure for storage and distribution of this additional water Israel has agreed to provide them. “The Palestinians have repeatedly told us to wait until they are ready before supplying them with the extra 5 million cm” said Kinarti on October 17.

CAMERA checked this with Nabil a-Sharif as well. Sharif responded that this was true. He added; “We have to build the north-south carrier which will receive the extra 5 MCM, plus some desalinated water. This pipeline will be built with US assistance, and hopefully partially finished – during the year 2002. To be honest, we have asked the Israelis not to start pumping water until we’re ready.”

• Hedges also cited the assertion that:

There are probably about 1,000 people in the settlement next to the camp, but they consume one third of our water supply, though about 160,000 people live in Khan Younis.

This statement is blatantly deceptive; the mayor must know, and Hedges could have easily discovered by checking, that the Palestinians have 100 MCM of their own water pumped to Palestinian communities in the Gaza Strip annually. The water which Israel does use in the Khan Younis/Mawasi area – 2.5 MCM – which is replaced by another 2.5 MCM from within Israel – is not the sole source of the Palestinians’ water. They have their own sources elsewhere within the Gaza Strip. Why does Hedges omit this essential information?

3). Hedges wrote:

The Egyptians, who first controlled Gaza, would not allow the camp to expand, nor would the Israelis, who gained control of Gaza after the war in 1967.

Hedges is right about the first part. It is true the Egyptians did not allow any expansion or new building for the Palestinians during their rule of Gaza (1948-1967).

He is wrong in his second assertion. Many nations – including Israel – have tried to help improve the lot of Palestinian refugees. The PLO has consistently rebuffed these efforts – particularly Israel’s, preferring to keep Palestinians angry and destitute as a way of maintaining and focusing their rage on the state of Israel. Arab states abetted this, regularly introducing resolutions in the United Nations denouncing Israel for seeking to move Palestinians out of squalid refugee camps. UNRWA’s Ralph Garroway said in August 1958:

The Arab states do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don’t give a damn whether the refugees live or die.

Hedges himself is well aware of these realities. In correspondence in February 1994 to his deputy editor at The New York Times, Steven R. Weisman, Hedges wrote:

The PLO did resist Israeli attempts to move Palestinians to housing units. And many people do charge the PLO with keeping Palestinians in squalor to prove a political point. (This correspondence came in response to a 1994 CAMERA query about another Hedges article on Gaza.)

If these facts were known to Hedges seven years ago, why did he falsify them in his October story?

Despite the opposition of the PLO and Arab countries toward improving the Palestinians’ lot, Israel did manage some modest improvements and expansion of the Palestinians’ housing needs in Khan Younis. In the Al-Amal “A” neighborhood Israel built 500 apartment units at the beginning of the 1980’s. In the Al-Amal “B” neighborhood Israel apportioned over 2000 plots of 250 square meters each for both private and public use, also at the beginning of the 1980’s. (Yoram Barak, Spokesman for the Coordinator for Civil Affairs in Gaza).

During the Israeli administration, despite tension, terrorism and war, authorities also did add new infrastructure, including roads, electricity, a sewage system and new schools.

Hedges, while he mentions that Israel “gained control of the camp after 1967,” neglects to mention – purposefully, it appears – that since the Gaza-Jericho Agreement of 1994, Israel no longer has any authority over the camp of Khan Younis. The Palestinian Authority does. If the camp has not been able to expand since 1994, this is solely because of the Palestinian Authority.

4). In an exceptionally incendiary passage, Hedges claims:

Children have been shot in other countries I have covered – death squads gunned them down in El Salvador and Guatemala, mothers with infants were lined up and massacred in Algeria, and Serb snipers put children in their sights and watched them crumple onto the pavement in Sarajevo – but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.

• First, the sheer malice of this comment speaks for itself; if the Israelis, with the most powerful army in the Middle East enticed “children like mice into a trap and murdered them for sport,” why was only one person killed on June 17 – as tragic as that was – when Hedges wrote his “diary” entry on the events in question?

Moreover, Hedges’ account is at odds with those in other media, including his home publication, the New York Times. Reporting the events of June 17, Times correspondent Douglas Frantz wrote: “The Israeli military said soldiers had been under attack with stones and bottles” when they opened fire on “a crowd trying to tear down surrounding Jewish settlements in Gush Katif.”

Other news agencies reported that the Palestinians began throwing stones at soldiers in an Israeli settlement near Khan Younis after an attempted suicide bombing near Dahaniya in Gaza the same day. Margot Dudkevitch of the Jerusalem Post reported:

Near the entrance to Dahaniya, soldiers became suspicious of a man driving a donkey cart. As he approached the soldiers, the man jumped from the cart and detonated explosives hidden in it…IDF sappers detonated the remaining bombs that failed to explode, among them four gas canisters and two mines.

Soldiers on duty, already on edge, were aware that innocent looking Palestinians had tried to blow up other Israeli soldiers elsewhere in the Gaza Strip the same day. But Hedges did not even bother to report in his “diary” of events the attempted suicide bombing aimed at killing Israelis.

Similarly, an armed Palestinian gang shot and killed a 12 year old Palestinian on June 16 in the town of Rafah in the Gaza Strip. Hedges, who was in Gaza at the time, makes no mention of this either. On June 18 it was reported in The Jerusalem Post:

Yesterday, Palestinians, who had blamed Israel for the death of another 12 year-old boy near Rafah on Saturday, admitted that the boy had been killed by an armed opposition faction operating in Rafah. According to reports, a dispute broke out between Palestinian security officials and an armed gang that shot at soldiers near Rafah Yam. The Palestinian security officials demanded that the armed gang leave, and as they drove off gang members began shooting at random, mortally wounding Suliman Massari, 12, who was in a car, and wounding several other passengers.

• Notably, Thomas L. Friedman, a colleague of Hedges’ at The New York Times, wrote an op-ed (“Saudi Royals and Reality”, October 16, 2001) with what might have been an allusion to Chris Hedges’ falsehoods and deceptions in “A Gaza Diary.”

[T]o suggest that Israel is slaughtering Palestinians for sport, as if a war were not going on there, which Israel did not court, in which civilians on both sides are being killed… – is just a lie.

Friedman added that; “Normally such casual lying doesn’t bother me. It’s a staple of Middle East politics, but this particular version is dangerous, because it masks a deeper lie that can hurt us. I call it “the virgin birth problem.” Friedman was referring to a lack of Arab accountability not only regarding the Palestinian violence plaguing Israel for the past year but the larger problem of Arab hatred for the West which was brought home on September 11.

5) Hedges claims Israeli soldiers shoot Palestinian children with guns equipped “with silencers.” According to senior IDF officers, including IDF spokesman Olivier Rafowitz, silencers are used only by special forces troops in close combat situations, not by conventional troops in guard-duty or riot-control circumstances. In addition, these same officers have stated that the attachment used to fire rubber bullets might appear – to a non-expert – to be a silencer. Finally, one might ask, since silencers are employed for stealth operations in which the use of a gun is intended to be concealed, why would Israeli soldiers use them openly where observers could see them?

6). Hedges presents all Palestinian fathers and father-figures as strongly opposed to their children becoming martyrs or suicide bombers. Thus, Faqawi, a Palestinian father of two, tells Hedges on June 16:

I can never say that the way to fight Israelis is to blow ourselves up. I can’t allow my children to think like this.

On June 18, he talks to Murad Abdel Rahman, whose son was killed while confronting Israelis:

‘This is what I worked so hard to prevent,’ he says, his voice hoarse and low…’I made him promise he would not go the dunes to throw rocks.’

A Palestinian mother interviewed the same day says:

I tell the boys it is useless, throwing stones and becoming a martyr.

On June 20 a Palestinian man is quoted as telling Hedges:

I can’t stand to see the children get shot…I don’t care about the others. But when the children get shot I cry. I can’t take it.

Finally, Hedges describes and then quotes a Hamas sheikh who opposes children fighting Israeli troops.

[E]ven the sheikh has used his time during Friday prayers to implore the young boys not to go out on the dunes…"I know that every father tries to keep his children away from the fence," he says. "The teachers and the imams tell the children not to go. When I preach in the mosque I tell them to stay away."

Hedges does not quote one Palestinian adult supporting their children becoming “martyrs.” Yet for years not only Hamas but the Palestinian Authority has exhorted children via its media, schools, mosques and political statements to become martyrs – to die for the sake of Palestine. With regard to the extreme expression of martyrdom in the form of suicide bombing, a June 2001 poll – unmentioned by Hedges – found 76% of Palestinians support suicide bombings. (“The Palestinian Center for Public Opinion,” based in the West Bank and directed by Dr. Nabil Kukali. The survey was taken between May 24-26. The margin of error was 4%.)

Does the omission mean Hedges is unaware of such views among the Palestinians? In fact, we know otherwise from his own writing. Seven months prior to “A Gaza Diary,” in the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs, Hedges wrote very differently about the Palestinians. While extremely critical of Israel, he did not spare the Palestinians either.

In an article entitled “The New Palestinian Revolt,” Palestinian parents are quoted by Hedges in support of their children becoming martyrs. The reporter’s interview with a Palestinian woman contained the following:

‘Tell the man what you want to be,’ said Hyam Temraz to her two-year-old son, Abed, as she peeped out of the slit of a black veil.

‘A martyr,’ the child answered.

She said that another son had been talking about liberating Palestine since he was four.

He has always told me that he would be a martyr and that one day I would dig his grave.

Hedges spoke to a Palestinian man, Nezzar Rayan, in that same article:

Today, his three sons – ages 12, 15, and 16 – daily join the youths who throw rocks at Israeli checkpoints. All three, according to their father, strive to be one thing: martyrs for Palestine.

‘I pray only that God will choose them,’ he said.

In Harper’s these voices endorsing martyrdom have been eliminated. Hedges has evidently made a conscious choice to omit information damaging to the Palestinian cause.

7). Alleging further murders by Israel, Hedges wrote:

I watch Jihad Abu Mousa, twenty-two, kick at a few pieces of rubble. He is morose and silent…On January 29 his twenty-three-year-old brother was shot dead by Israeli soldiers, while, Jihad says, playing a game of soccer.

• A Nexis search reveals that one Palestinian was killed on January 29, Muhammad Abu Musa, and he was not “playing a game of soccer.” On January 30, Agence France Presse reported: “Hamas’ military wing, Ezzadin al-Qassam, claimed responsibility during the funeral for a Palestinian shot dead by Israeli soldiers the day before at the Khan Younis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip. Around 10,000 people attended the funeral of Mohammed Abu Musa, 21, many shouting ‘death to Israel’ and praising both Hamas and the militia wing of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement.”

That is, Muhammad Abu Musa, brother of Jihad Abu Musa, was a member of Hamas.

On January 30 The New York Times reported that “a Palestinian was killed in a clash in the Gaza Strip.” The same day, The Chicago Tribune reported “Israeli troops shot dead a 21-year old Palestinian man in a confrontation in the Gaza Strip.” Neither The Times nor The Tribune mentioned that Abu Musa was killed “playing a game of soccer.”

The Jerusalem Post, which generally covers clashes in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip in greater depth than American papers, wrote on January 30: “…violence continued in the Gaza Strip yesterday, with Palestinians claiming that 21-year-old Mohammed Abu Mussa was killed near Khan Younis during an exchange of fire with soldiers. (Note that while Hedges reports the age of Mohammed Abu Mussa as 23, all other media surveyed put it at 21.) The IDF Spokesman said soldiers shot and killed an armed Palestinian who had loaded his gun and aimed at them.”

Even “Adameer,” the Palestinian web site, and B’tselem, the Israeli group highly critical of Israel, do not claim that Muhammad Abu Mussa was shot by Israeli soldiers while playing soccer.

Indeed, no news source reported Muhammad Abu Musa was killed while playing soccer; rather the accounts told of his involvement in violent confrontation with Israelis.

8) Hedges stated: “The latest intifada erupted in September 2000, when Ariel Sharon, then the Israeli opposition leader and now the prime minister, visited the al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam…”

Ariel Sharon did not visit the al-Aqsa Mosque. He walked on the Temple Mount, the plaza where the first and second Jewish Temples stood, the holiest site in Judaism. The al-Aqsa Mosque is located on the large plaza, but Sharon did not enter or visit it. Hedges’ omission of the meaning and sanctity of the Temple Mount to Jews and his inaccurate account of Sharon’s actions falsely suggest Sharon intruded on an exclusively Islamic site.

9) Hedges stated: “From 1987 to 1993, during the first intif ada, Hamas targeted only Israeli soldiers and settlements. It began to attack individual Israeli civilians after a Jewish settler, Baruch Goldstein, gunned down twenty-nine Muslim worshipers in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.”

Hamas targeted civilians before Goldstein’s shooting of Muslims in February 1994. For example, on July 2, 1993 Hamas terrorists attacked a Jerusalem bus killing two and wounding two others. They used assault rifles and carried bombs concealed in bags. One woman was murdered on the bus and another when the fleeing Hamas members seized a car, then shot the driver and threw her out of the vehicle. Hamas murders of civilians in Israel did not begin, as Hedges seems to imply, as a consequence of Baruch Goldstein’s shooting Arab civilians.

In summary, the material errors identified are as follows:

1). “Israel does not allow Palestinian villagers in Mawasi to drill new wells.” Israel, as stated, has no jurisdiction over the matter of well-drilling in Palestinian-controlled territories, of which Mawasi and Khan Younis are a part.

2). “Israel has 32 wells” under one settlement between the Palestinian towns of Mawasi and Khan Younis. In fact, Israel operates only 20 wells, and they are under 17 settlements.

3). Israel “built a pipeline in 1994 to carry water into Israel.” Israel does not take any water from Gaza into Israel – but rather supplies the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip with water.

4). Israel “would not allow the [Khan Younis] camp to expand.” Israel did initiate a modest expansion program in the camp in the 1980’s and was consistently thwarted by the PLO, as were other nations, in efforts to do more.

5). Israel entices children like “mice into a trap and murders them for sport.” One Palestinian was killed on June 17, when Hedges was in Gaza reporting this lurid passage. It was the same day that a Palestinian bomber had attacked Israelis nearby in Gaza, an event unmentioned by Hedges. According to The New York Times and other news agencies the Palestinian fatality occurred in the midst of violence – not as “sport.”

6). Israeli “soldiers shoot [Palestinian children] with silencers.” The Israeli military denies this allegation.

7) Hedges quoted only Palestinians who say they oppose their children becoming “martyrs” – and dying for the sake of Palestine. This is a highly misleading characterization, as we know from Hedges’ own writing in the January/ February 2001 issue of Foreign Affairs.

8). “Mohammed [Abu Musa] was shot dead by Israeli soldiers while… playing a game of soccer.” Mohammad Abu Mousa, a Hamas member, was reported in numerous news outlets as having died in a violent confrontation with Israelis.

9) “The latest intifada erupted…when Ariel Sharon …visited the al-Aqsa Mosque…” Sharon did not visit the al-Aqsa Mosque.

10) “Hamas targeted only Israeli soldiers and settlements” before “Baruch Goldstein gunned own twenty-nine Muslim worshipers…” Hamas targeting of civilians in Israel pre- dated Goldstein.

Chris Hedges’ account was marred by other serious deficiencies, including the gross omission of context with regard to violence against Israelis in Gaza – failing to mention there had been nearly 3000 Palestinian attacks launched between October 2000 and June 2001 – and the total absence of any Israeli voice to challenge specifically the grave accusations against its people and policies.

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