Old Canards Die Hard at AFP

Someone reading the Dec. 6, 2007 news dispatches from Agence France Presse (AFP) is likely to conclude that the news agency’s Jerusalem bureau is grappling with a bad case of cognitive dissonance about the Gaza Strip.

Cognitive dissonance, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, is “the mental conflict that occurs when beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new information.”

AFP’s belief or assumption,  it seems, is that Israel has more control over the Gaza Strip than it actually does. In a Dec. 6 story about the deteriorating health situation in Gaza, the news agency claimed that after June 2007, when Hamas took over the territory, “Israel further upped the strict travel restrictions in and around Gaza, from where it removed troops and settlers in 2005 but whose borders it still controls.”  

This belief, though, is contradicted by other information, setting the stage for cognitive dissonance. First of all, Israel could potentially restrict travel “around” the Gaza Strip; but with no troops or settlers in the territory, it does not and cannot impose travel restrictions “in” the Strip. Any checkpoints or other travel restrictions inside Gaza would be imposed by Hamas, which has full control over the territory.

More striking, though, is the new information that plainly shows, contrary to AFP’s reporting, that Israel does not  control Gaza’s borders. A recent news report explained:

Israel said on Thursday that it has protested to Egypt for opening a border crossing with Gaza for the first time since the Hamas takeover to allow Muslim pilgrims to leave on the annual hajj.

“Israel expressed its dissatisfaction and its preoccupation to Egypt” via diplomatic channels … .

Another official said: “Israel is worried about the risk that terrorists may slip through among the pilgrims to go train in Iran.”

Since Monday, some 2,000 Palestinians from Gaza have been allowed to cross into Egypt via the Rafah border crossing. That is the only crossing that bypasses Israel and it has been closed since Islamist Hamas seized power in the territory in June.

If Israel can do nothing more than file a diplomatic complaint when Egypt, against Israel’s wishes, permits 2,000 Palestinians to cross the Rafah crossing out of the Gaza Strip, then it obviously does not control the border between the Strip and Egypt. 

In other words, the inconsistency between AFP’s belief about Israeli control of Gaza’s borders and the reality demonstrated by this incident — namely that Egypt and the Gazans are in fact the ones in control — could create, if AFP knew about the incident, cognitive dissonance for the news organization. And AFP definitely knew about the incident. The above excerpt, in fact, was taken from a Dec. 6 story by AFP itself, which was sent out a few hours before its other story claiming that Israel controls Gaza’s borders. That is, just hours after AFP documented Israel’s lack of control over the crossing point between Gaza and Egypt, the same news organization alleged that Israel controls Gaza’s borders.

The Encyclopedia Britannica article on cognitive dissonance explains how people react when information contradicts their entrenched beliefs:

The unease or tension that the conflict arouses in a person is relieved by one of several defensive maneuvers: the person rejects, explains away, or avoids the new information, persuades himself that no conflict really exists, reconciles the differences, or resorts to any other defensive means of preserving stability or order in his conception of the world and of himself.

AFP, too, appears to be engaging in defensive maneuvers to resolve its cognitive dissonance about Gaza. Although CAMERA brought the discrepancy between its two Dec. 6 reports to the attention of AFP’s Jerusalem bureau, the inaccurate language about Israeli control over Gaza’s borders was not corrected. In fact, the false information continues to be published. On Dec. 10, AFP again claimed that “Israel still controls the territory’s borders.”

One might forgive an individual — a non-journalist — for ignoring information as a means of “preserving stablility … in his  conception of the world.” But reporters are expected to adhere to ethical guidelines which hold accuracy, and not stability, as a core value.

Two Reuters photos of Palestinians passing through the Rafah crossing from Gaza into Egypt reveal who are actually in control of this border. The caption to the photo on the left explains: “Security forces loyal to Hamas welcome a Palestinian pilgrim as she leaves through the Rafah border between Gaza and Egypt December 3, 2007. Egypt opened its border with the Gaza Strip on Monday to let Muslim pilgrims bound for Saudi Arabia leave the Palestinian coastal enclave, officials said.” The caption to the other photo reads: “A Palestinian pilgrim walks past Egyptian riot police as he leaves through the Rafah border between Gaza and Egypt December 3, 2007.”
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