May 19, 2004
London’s Guardian newspaper is notorious for its anti-Israel bias. Apparently indifferent to journalism’s code of ethics, many Guardian reporters tend to value advocacy journalism over unembellished fact. For example, correspondent Chris McGreal routinely uses his reports from the Middle East to blame, deprecate, and attack Israel and its leader, presenting Palestinian claims as fact. His articles, with such titles as “The Real Obstacle to Peace is Not Terror, But Sabotage by Sharon-Backed Army” (6/20/03), “Caged” (9/3/03), “Israel’s Deadly Thirst” (1/13/04), ” and “Land Grab in Gaza Casts Doubt on Pullout” (2/27/2004) are frequently reprinted on Palestinian websites.
It is to this partisan journalist, however, that NPR turned on Tuesday morning, May 18, 2004, to discuss Israel’s military actions in the Gaza Strip. There was not a single Israeli voice heard on this segment to explain Israel’s perspective. McGreal was introduced as a reporter for London’s Guardian in Rafah giving listeners the impression that they would be hearing an objective journalistic account of events in the region. The segment was anything but that.
McGreal presented Israel as a brute aggressor, ignoring the context of Israel’s military action and attempting to cast doubt on Israel’s stated motives. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Al Aqsa Brigade leaders were referred to by McGreal as “fighters.” When asked about the network of weapons-smuggling tunnels which were the target of Israel’s actions, McGreal replied:
Well they’re not finding very many, and critics of Israeli policy say that the level of destruction bears no relation to the number of tunnels found. I think that over the past year, in the Rafah area, they discovered perhaps a dozen tunnels. In the past eight months, they destroyed more than 600 homes.
In fact, Israel has thus far uncovered and destroyed over 85 weapons smuggling tunnels on the Philadelphi route since the beginning of the intifada — 34 in 2002, over 40 in 2003, and 11 since January 2004. Terrorist groups such as Hamas and PFLP, as well as the “rearmament network” of the Palestinian Authority use the Rafah tunnels to import illegal weapons into the Gaza Strip and arm their members. According to the IDF, dozens of RPG rockets and launchers, hundreds of kilograms of explosives, hundreds of AK-47 Kalashnikovs, tens of thousands of bullets, and thousands of cartridges have been smuggled into the Gaza Strip via the tunnels. There have also been efforts to smuggle in more advanced weapons via the tunnels. According to the IDF, Israel’s military actions are not to demolish homes but are aimed at stopping the transfer of smuggled weapons, arresting the tunnel builders, and ending the large-scale smuggling of dangerous weapons used against Israelis.
|An illustration of the Rafah Weapon Smuggling Tunnels. (IDF) |
Click to enlarge
|A photograph of actual tunnel found in Rafah. (IDF)|
McGreal’s numbers are suspect, aimed at minimizing the threat to Israel and maximizing the effect of Israel’s military measures on Palestinians. For example, he states that on Friday, May 14 alone, “the Israelis destroyed about 200 homes in an assault on 2 areas of the refugee camp.”
However, on Sunday, May 15, the United Nations stated that the IDF had demolished 88 homes in the Rafah refugee camp, and a later UN report stated that fewer than 200 homes (191) were demolished in all of Gaza during the first 15 days of May.* (see update) The Israeli army differed, saying that it had demolished 40 houses that Palestinian gunmen had used for cover. But McGreal does not allow facts get in the way. He proclaims to listeners his opinion of the true motives behind the military actions in Gaza, vaguely attributing it to Israel’s critics.
I think that there is a consensus among Palestinians and amongst many Israelis, including left-wing MP’s who describe what’s going on as illegal, as a war crime, that, in fact, the excuse that they are hunting for weapons-smuggling tunnels is actually a cover for the wholesale destruction of parts of the refugee camp, and what the Palestinian prime minister actually described as ethnic cleansing.
With no Israeli to refute or supply context to McGreal’s reporting, listeners are left with a one-sided, anti-Israel account of events and a repetition of McGreal’s credentials as a Western journalist.
Just in case NPR listeners did not catch McGreal’s biased report on Morning Edition, the network’s evening “All Things Considered” featured him once more, again casting doubt on the Israeli military’s purpose by misleadingly suggesting that Israel changes its plans as it goes along. He said:
Well, the stated goal of the Israelis has actually changed. On Sunday, the Israeli army chief of staff, Moshe Yaalon, said that the government intended to demolish hundreds more houses in Rafah refugee camp…The stated goal of the operation now, according to the Israelis, is to discover tunnels used for smuggling weapons from Egypt into the camp, and also to capture or kill Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade leaders.
In fact, reports on that Sunday, May 16, 2004 indicated that Israel even then was stating its goal to be the halting of weapons smuggling operations. On Sunday, May 16, Israel Radio reported that while Lt. General Moshe Yaalon said that hundreds of Palestinian houses were targeted for demolition in the area, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the cabinet that the army would take these actions to create “a different reality” along the Gaza-Egypt (Philadelphi) corridor to prevent arms smuggling by Palestinian terrorists across the border. And Israel TV’s Channel Two stated that same day that the army was considering the possiblity of digging a trench between the camp and patrol road in order to prevent Palestinians from digging tunnels through which weapons are smuggled. Also, according to a May 16 AP article, Yaalon told the Cabinet that the army only carries out demolitions when the house in question conceals the mouth of a weapons-smuggling tunnel or is used as cover by gunmen. (“Israeli army chief says plans in place to destroy hundreds of Palestinian homes” Laurie Copans, AP, May 16, 2004.) Nevertheless, McGreal portrayed Israel’s statements as ever-changing, thus casting doubt on their veracity.
Similarly, McGreal attempted to question Israel’s claim that most of those dead were Palestinian gunmen by making it seem like an unsubstantiated assumption. He said:
A lot of the dead are men, youth or men. They would be widely likely to be seen by the Israelis as gunmen
NPR has taken a further step in the wrong direction as it turns to a known Israel-basher to provide its material.
UPDATE: May 26, 2004
UNRWA later (May 25, 2004) issued a press release stating that 45 buildings were demolished during all of the IDF’s 6-day military operation in the Rafah refugee camp, with a total of 155 buildings destroyed over the entire month. (This was consistent with the IDF statements.) On the following day (May 26, 2004), UNRWA issued yet another press release, stating that 167 buildings were destroyed during the IDF’s military operations, with a total of 277 buildings demolished during the month of May. Both the May 25 and May 26 press releases are available on UNRWA’s Web site.