Der Spiegel Mirrors Europe’s Monocled Perspective

Der Speigel (The Mirror) is Germany’s most prominent and Europe’s largest circulation news magazine, read by over one million readers a week. Its reach and influence is extended with an online version offering English translations of its cover stories and most important international feature articles. So when the magazine’s Web site runs a one-sided human interest article that excludes essential context, makes allowances for Palestinian violence, and implies that Israel is largely to blame for the “misery” of her neighbors, it just reinforces an existing European bias.

A recent example, entitled “One Big Prison: A Glimpse at Daily Misery in the Gaza Strip” by Ulrike Putz (Dec. 18, 2006), introduces the topic of Palestinian suffering by finding justification for the ongoing Palestinian internecine battles:

The 1.5 million inhabitants of the Gaza strip are trapped in poverty and hopelessness. The violence between the Palestinians stems not only from political disagreements, but from deep, daily despair.

And who does the article imply is mainly responsible for the despair fueling Palestinian violence? There is no surprise here to anyone who is familiar with European anti-Israel bias—the culprit is Israel!

The article attempts to convince readers that the Palestinians themselves bear no responsibility for their descent into violence, chaos and civil strife. All context indicating this is omitted—there is no mention of the firing of rockets into Israel, nothing about the smuggling of weapons into Gaza from Egypt, no reference to the kidnapping of a Jewish soldier inside Israel by Palestinians who had infiltrated the Gaza/Israel border via an underground tunnel they dug near the Kerem Shalom border crossing. There is no discussion of the opportunity for nation-building and development with which Palestinians were provided through Israel’s complete withdrawal of its settlements and troops from Gaza in 2005. Nor is there mention of how they squandered this opportunity by using it as a chance to terrorize Israelis within pre-1967 Israel.

Instead, readers are provided with an emotive recounting of 23-year-old Ahmed Kahlout, described as an intelligent, would-be teacher, now unemployed, who spends all his time sleeping and whose dreams have been shattered by “the reality of living in Gaza City.” Putz hastens to assure readers that Kahlout is “too apathetic to become a radical, despite things going so badly for him.” He is said to be  typical of most Gazans who are allegedly similarly moderate:

In this respect he is like most of the Gaza Strip’s 1.5 million inhabitants: they get on with lives that are marked by poverty and despair.

Who then are the gunmen, rocket shooters, bombers, weapons smugglers and terrorists who come from Gaza? The article does not acknowledge their existence. The reporter, however, does cite the accusation that Israel is to blame for the situation of the Gazans:

…Israeli pressure has ensured that the border crossing for people at Rafah is only open 14 percent of the time. And only 14 trucks get through the crossing at Kareni every day — instead of 400 originally planned. It is the only crossing for those goods not produced in Gaza and thus have to be imported from Israel.

“According to the Dec. 5 treaty on the freedom of movement, the Rafah border can be open if European observers are present,” says [UNRWA Director John] Ging. However, these observers live in Israel and Israel can use their discretion to prevent them from crossing into the Gaza Strip. “That’s how you close a border.”

Travellers are not the only ones affected. Farmers who used to export their fruit and vegetables to Israel are now stuck with them. That is the daily lunacy of the Gaza Strip: there are plenty of tomatoes in the markets, but no fish. The chunk of land is on the coast, but the fishermen are only rarely allowed to go out to sea by the Israelis. And frozen fish seldom makes it over the border from Israel.

Putz ignores the legitimate reasons for Israel’s strict control of the Gazan borders—successful and attempted terrorist attacks emanating from there, the smuggling of weapons for attacks against Israelis, the kidnapping of Israeli citizens, etc. The question of why Israel should support the economy of an authority sworn to the Jewish State’s destruction is never entertained. Why, for example, should Israel be obliged to purchase Palestinian goods and allow cross-border trade even while attackers attempt to infiltrate the border and Palestinians launch rocket attacks from Gaza on a daily basis?  Moreover, why should  Egypt, which also shares a border with Gaza, not be asked to act as a trade partner? Egypt is not threatened with destruction by the Palestinians. Yet Putz never suggests the possibility that Gazan farmers could export their produce to Arab countries via their southern neighbor.

Putz’s selective reporting supports a distorted European view in which Palestinians are not held responsible for any of their actions. Even Hamas is depicted positively. A December 19 article in the German online edition of Der Spiegel entitled “‘Hamas has adopted my Children’” provides a warm and fuzzy profile of the group’s charitable activities. The article attempts to explain why Hamas is popular among the Palestinians despite its designation as a terrorist organization by the West, and was filled with quotes about its social welfare activities and lack of corruption. Not surprisingly Hamas’ militant activities and involvement in terror and violence were not discussed.

The influential German media outlet does its readers a disservice by not providing a full and accurate picture of Middle East issues. In the U.S., these sort of articles would be dismissed as advocacy journalism. European news consumers deserve no less than their American counterparts.

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