“Devastated Gaza'”: Mark Twain and the Washington Post

Mark Twain observed that “it’s not what we don’t know that gets us into trouble, it’s what we know that isn’t so.” That’s a useful reminder to readers of rhe Washington Post‘s “U.S. Talks Tough on Gaza Aid” (March 2) and “Tough Options For Clinton on Trip to Mideast” (March 1), both by diplomatic correspondent Glenn Kessler.

1) Through its word choice and omissions, “U.S. Talks Tough on Gaza Aid” misinforms readers, leaving them “knowing” much that isn’t so. For example, Kessler reports that:

* “Gaza … was devastated by the recent war, which Israel launched after a cease-fire broke down and Hamas’s rockets rained down on Israeli towns.”

Parts of the Gaza Strip were damaged heavily by Israeli forces. But most of the area was not “devastated.” The Daily Telegraph (U.K) reported (“Gaza has been hit hard, but has it made any difference,” January 20), for example, that most Israeli strikes were by precision munitions, limiting collateral damage . Correspondent Tim Butcher wrote that “for the most part, I was struck by how cosmetically unchanged Gaza appeared to be.”

The Post itself said the fighting forced approximately 50,000 people into shelters, of whom 15,000 remained just after the three-week campaign (“No Home to Return to in Gaza,” January 23)  . Those figures suggest that a large majority of the Strip’s estimated 1.4 million population lived in neighborhoods not devastated by Israel’s offensive.

* The cease fire did not “break down.”

Hamas publicly refused to extend it. Hamas rockets did not “rain down on Israeli towns” only then, as the article implies; the “cease-fire” often had been violated by terrorist rocket and mortar fire at non-combatant Israeli sites before its formal expiration.

* In Gaza, “unemployment tops 40 percent and 80 percent of the population lives below the poverty line ….”

Unmentioned is that such conditions are a consequence of Hamas rule (chosen by Palestinian voters in 2006 elections) and the Iranian-backed group’s determination to use the Strip as a base for anti-Israeli attacks – especially given that Palestinian Arabs are the world’s highest per capita recipients of international aid. As recently as 2003, according to a U.N. report, Palestinian Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank had higher standards of living than Egyptians, for example.

Also omitted was the economic growth enjoyed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip between the 1993 start of the Oslo “peace process” and the “second intifada” in 2000. High unemployment and poverty rates in the Strip result from Palestinian aggression against Israel, and its consequences in the form of Israeli retaliation, as well as from Palestinian Authority and Hamas mismanagement, corruption, diversion of funds (including for terrorism) and failure to develop private sector economic activity.

* “Israel maintains tight control of crossings into Gaza and will not allow entry of any items that it says could be used by Hamas to rearm. Israel bans or restricts the importation of cement, steel rods and other material necessary for construction.”

This easily could be understood to mean that Israeli controls all crossings into the Strip. Egypt controls the Rafah crossing and, like Israel, greatly restricted transit after Hamas ousted its Fatah partners in a Palestinian Authority unity government in five days of fighting in 2007.

Omitted also is direct reference to Hamas and its allies using cement, steel rods and other material necessary for construction to build bunkers, rockets and other items in preparation for violence with Israel before and during the cease-fire.

* The Post describes Hamas once in its own words as a “militant group” and without any adjectives or other explanation eight times.

The fact that the United States, Israel, the European Union and other countries have designated Hamas a terrorist organization for its practice of attacking non-combatants — a crime under international law — is not mentioned.

2) In the otherwise informative “Tough Options For Clinton on Trip to Mideast; Analysts Urge Radical New Approach To Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process,” the Post::

* quotes Nadia Hijab, “senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies in Washington,” as saying “it would be great to hear an American official say that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law …. But I don’t think I will ever live to see that day.”

If she doesn’t, it may be because settlements are not illegal, not to the United States, Israel, or according to relevant international law. Readers get no information that the British Mandate for Palestine made clear Jews are entitled to “close settlement of the land” now disputed between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs; that the Israeli foreign ministry’s legal department, which is at least as authoritative as Ms. Hijab, has cited international law to uphold settlements’ legality; or that the U.S. government, while viewing settlements as a diplomatic obstacle to negotiations, has – with one quickly rescinded exception – not held them to be illegal.

* reports that “U.S. policy dictates that there can be no contacts until the group [Hamas] renounces violence and recognizes Israel ….”

U.S. policy dictates there can be no contacts until Hamas renounces violence, recognizes Israel’s legitimacy, and agrees to uphold previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements reached by the Jewish state and the Palestinian Authority when controlled by Fatah, Hamas’ rival for power. The full American position is more specific and of a higher standard than that relayed in shorthand by the newspaper.

* again fails to describe Hamas as a terrorist group as designated by the United States, Israel and other countries.

The paper refers once to “the militant group Hamas” and five other times simply to Hamas.

Readers can learn much that is newsworthy in the two articles. But not enough with balance and in context.

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