The popular virtual reality video game Second Life is described as a “3D online digital world imagined and created by its residents.” Perhaps, then, the version of the Gaza Strip imagined and described by journalist Tim McGirk in the Feb. 4, 2008 issue of Time magazine should be called Second Gaza; because even though readers are left to believe McGirk’s short piece, entitled “World Spotlight: The Gaza Siege Breaks,” is about the real Gaza Strip, the article paints a picture that only superficially resembles reality.
Also in McGirk’s virtual world, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak appears as a reformed defender of human rights who boldly resisted pressure to “attack” Palestinian women “protesters.” That pressure, according to McGirk, came from the United States and Israel:
[On Jan. 22], Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had faced the Arab world’s wrath when his riot police attacked Palestinian women protesting the closed border. Mubarak wasn’t about to do it again, despite pressure from Israel and the U.S.
It should go without saying that, at least in the real world, the American and Israeli governments didn’t pressure Egypt to beat women protesters. And there are other incongruities between what actually happened on Jan. 22 and what Time reported. For example, however heavy-handed the Egyptian police might (or might not) generally be, it is simply a distortion in this particular case to report only that Egyptian police “attacked” Palestinian women who were doing nothing more than “protesting the closed border.”
According to wire service reports, violence came from both sides. The Associated Press noted that
tensions erupted over Egypt’s closure of its Gaza border, with Palestinian protesters breaking through the crossing and clashing with Egyptian guards.
Ten Egyptian police and about 60 protesters were hurt as protesters hurled stones at the Egyptians and Palestinian gunmen fired briefly in the air. Hundreds of protesters briefly broke through the border terminal, pushing back helmeted Egyptian riot police who fired in the air to try to contain the crowd. (Ibrahim Barzak, 1/22/08)
And according to Agence France Presse, one Egyptian policeman was shot, and others were hurt by when Palestinians hurled rocks at them:
At least five people were wounded on Tuesday when a Hamas-called protest at Gaza’s Rafah border crossing turned violent with an exchange of fire between Egyptian forces and Palestinians.
Gunfire erupted from both sides as helmeted Egyptian security forces tried to push back hundreds of Palestinian protesters, many of them women, who were trying to force their way to the Egyptian side of the crossing.
At least four Palestinians were shot and wounded, medics said. Egyptian security sources said 11 policemen were injured, including one from gunfire. The other 10 were hurt by rocks thrown at them. (Joseph Krauss, 1/22/08)
But in Second Gaza, thanks to McGirk’s retelling, the Palestinians don’t have guns or stones, just like they don’t have Qassam rockets.
McGirk wasn’t entirely unfair to Egypt in the article, though. He did alter reality so that Israel alone, and not Egypt, is responsible for sealing Gaza’s borders. The “siege of Gaza,” the journalist asserted, was “imposed by Israel,” and “Israel corralled Gaza’s 1.5 million people behind a 40-mile-long (64 km) concrete barrier” — never mind the fact that by closing its border crossings with Gaza Israel can only affect that territory’s northern and western frontiers. In the real world, Gaza’s southern border is run by Hamas on one side and Egypt on the other, with Israel nowhere to be seen. That being the case, any closure or “siege” must have Egypt’s full participation. AP’s Ibrahim Barzak understood this geographic reality when he wrote on Jan. 22 that “Egypt has joined Israel in severely restricting access to Gaza, largely keeping its border terminal closed out of concern about a spillover of Hamas-style militancy into its territory.”
And that “40-mile-long … concrete barrier” surrounding McGirk’s Gaza? Not surprisingly, that doesn’t actually exist. Most of Gaza’s border is marked by a metal fence, and not a concrete wall.