Israeli shipments of industrial diesel fuel and humanitarian supplies to the Gaza Strip resumed today, but the intensive news coverage of the strip’s electrical, medical and food situation continues, not all of it balanced, accurate or containing sufficient context. While some media reports now include statements from Israeli officials maintaining that Hamas manufactured the disputed crisis and accusing the terrorist group of responsibility for hardships, almost all continue to ignore similar statements from Arabs themselves. In short, all too many media outlets continue to mislead.
For instance, the headline of Rory McCarthy’s article in today’s Guardian reads: “Palestinian crisis: No light, no heat, no bread: stark reality for the powerless in Gaza: Besieged civilians pay the price for Israel’s hardline response to rocket attacks.” McCarthy wrote: “Large parts of the overcrowded strip had no power, leaving it without lights and heating, closing bakeries and forcing hospitals to rely on generators and their own limited fuel reserves.”
Underscoring the alleged severity of the crisis, McCarthy writes today:
Osama Nahal, a paediatric doctor in the European hospital’s special care baby unit, looked resigned. “Politics is politics, but the care of human beings must be away from politics,” he said. His unit now has 10 newly-born patients, of whom two are on ventilators.
The hospital in Khan Yunis, which was built with European and UN funding, takes most of its electricity from the power plant, so it was largely without any yesterday. The hospital’s own fuel reserve, normally 120,000 litres, are down to 10,000 litres following Israel’s economic boycott of Gaza over the past two years.
The UN sent emergency fuel supplies from its deport inside Gaza. It was enough to power the hospital’s smallest generator and to provide electricity for the intensive care units and emergency operations. But when those last reserves run dry, the power will stop. “If new supplies don’t come, we’ll have to put the patients on manual ventilations. All of us will have to work at it non-stop, 24-hours a day,” said Nahal.
“It’s a very serious situation. If it continues, we will stop being able to give our service,” said Mohammad Abu Shahla, the hospital director. “Do you think we have anywhere else to move the patients? There is nowhere.”
Yet, if the European hospital is low on fuel, that is the fault of Hamas, charged the Palestinian health ministry last month. The independent Palestinian news agency Maan reported on Dec. 6, 2007:
The Palestinian health ministry of the Ramallah-based caretaker government said on Thursday that “Hamas militias” have looted the fuel stores destined for hospital vehicles in the Gaza Strip.
A statement released by the health ministry said that fuel from the European hospital in the Gaza Strip had been stolen by the director of the hospital drivers to supply the Hamas-affiliated Executive Force.
The statement explained that the fuel reserve had been supplied by the ministry to enable the hospital to continue working for as long as possible.
Of course, Hamas’ theft of the fuel meant for the hospital kills two birds with one stone – practically, it gives the Hamas terrorists the fuel it needs to continue its attacks against Israel, and strategically, it creates a humanitarian crisis for which the United Nations, “human rights” groups, and reporters like McCarthy are all too willing to blame Israel.
In another example of Hamas’ media manipulation of the situation, Oakland Ross of the Toronto Star reports today: “A Hamas official said yesterday that five patients died over the weekend in Gaza hospitals because of the latest fuel embargo.”
Likewise, Steve Inskeep reported on NPR’s “Morning Edition” yesterday: “Now Hamas officials, who are in charge in Gaza, say at least five hospital patients have died, but Israeli officials say Hamas is exaggerating this crisis for political gain.”
But it’s more than Hamas just “exaggerating this crisis”: Hamas has created the crisis. And it is not just Israeli officials who dispute Hamas’ claims. As AP’s Ibrahim Barzak reported yesterday: “Hamas claimed that five people had died at hospitals because of the power outage. However, health officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were contradicting the official line, denied the claim.”
Bakery Shut Downs: Feeding Misinformation
Similarly, when it comes to the bakeries shutting down, many journalists blame the Israeli fuel cuts while ignoring contradictory statements by Palestinians. For example, Ibrahim Barzak of the Associated Press reported yesterday:
Gaza bakeries stopped operating because of the blockade, bakers said, because they had neither power nor flour. Residents of the impoverished strip, which as a population of some 1.5 million, typically rely on fresh pita bread as a main part of their diet.
Waiting in a line at the only open bakery for miles around, Mohammed Salman said he had spent far more on a taxi getting to the shop than he would on bread.
Yet, Khaled Abu Toameh, reporting in the Jerusalem Post, quotes a Palestinian Authority official who insists that the bakeries are sufficiently stocked with fuel and flour:
The official also accused Hamas of ordering owners of bakeries to keep their businesses closed for the second day running to create a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. “Hamas is preventing people from buying bread,” he said. “They want to deepen the crisis so as to serve their own interests.”
The official said that contrary to Hamas’s claims, there is enough fuel and flour to keep the bakeries in the Gaza Strip operating for another two months. “Hamas members have stolen most of the fuel in the Gaza Strip to fill their vehicles,” he said.
Abu Toameh also pointed out that Hamas leaders directly played a part (literally) in the staging by artifically creating a need for candlelight. “They had closed the curtains in the rooms to create the impression that Hamas leaders were also suffering as a result of the pow er stoppage,” one journalist told The Jerusalem Post. “It was obvious that the whole thing was staged.”
Overall Responsibility – Who’s to Blame?
Beyond responsibility for this or that particular aspect of the blockade, some news reports reported Israel’s position that the blockade itself is the product of Hamas’ continued assault against Israel. None of the Western journalists, however, reported that this Israeli view was shared by a prominent voice in the Arab world. As Abu Toameh reported yesterday (Jan. 21) in the Jerusalem Post:
A prominent Arab editor on Monday blamed Hamas for the ongoing crisis in the Gaza Strip, saying the Islamist movement had acted “stupidly” by firing rockets at Israel. . . .
Abdel Rahman Rashed, a Saudi national serving as general manager of the pan-Arab Arabiya news channel, said Hamas was responsible for the suffering of some 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.
“Hamas committed a stupid act when it gave the Israelis an excuse to launch attacks in retaliation for a few antique rockets,” Rashid wrote in the London-based daily Asharq Al-Awsat.
“Prior to that, Hamas committed a big crime against the Palestinian people by overthrowing the Palestinian Authority [in the Gaza Strip]. The Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have suffered a lot because of Hamas’s actions. Hamas is bringing Israel back into the Gaza Strip after it was liberated by the Palestinian groups.”
Rashed questioned the wisdom of firing rockets and mortars at Israel which, he said, was only increasing the suffering of the Palestinians, let alone that they were not causing much harm to Israel. He pointed out that “only” 10 Israelis were wounded in the recent attacks as opposed to the “huge disaster” that has befallen the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Rashed is regarded by many Arab journalists as an unofficial spokesman for the Saudi royal family. He previously served as editor-in-chief of the Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper and his writings regularly reflect the views of the Saudi establishment.
The readiness of Western journalists to assign blame to Israel for Gaza’s hardships while ignoring information to the contrary – even from Arab sources – is not a new phenomenon. Last November, for example, the New York Times’ Steven Erlanger blamed Israel for an impending recurrence of the Gaza sewage disaster and ignored Palestinian evidence which pointed to Palestinian culpability. Whether the subject be human waste or fresh pita, it’s unconscionable that journalists allow Hamas spin to drown out opposing Arab voices.