Spotlight on the Guardian’s Guard: Clancy Chassay

Clancy Chassay, a freelance journalist based in Beirut, reports for several British publications, including The Guardian, The Economist, The Independent, and The Sunday Telegraph. Billed as a “multimedia journalist,” Chassay produced a series of five video reports from the Gaza Strip for The Guardian in May 2008.

The newspaper introduces the video series as a journalistic effort to address what it claims is “the one subject that won’t be on [George Bush and Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers’] agenda.” – that is, “the effects of the crisis on the ordinary people of Gaza.”

Far from providing a deeper or contextual understanding of the crisis, Mr. Chassay’s message is trite and superficial — namely, that Israel is to blame for all Palestinian suffering. There is no reference to Israel’s complete withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, nor to any inconvenient fact that might suggest Palestinian accountability for their situation. Instead, the journalist presents the standard propagandistic canards about Israel through one-sided accounts of Gazan suffering; he carefully selects a few Palestinians to air their grievances without any countering views, evidence, or questions. Indeed, Mr. Chassay frequently ignores or even twists the facts in order to present Palestinians as completely blameless.

The interviews often appear to be scripted and staged, with Mr. Chassay prompting his subjects, putting words in their mouths, and interjecting his own subjective comments.

The series includes the following reports:

  1.  “The blockade and the smugglers(May 11, 2008)
  2.  “Meet the Bakrs(May 13, 2008)
  3.  “There is no normal childhood (May 16, 2008)


1) “The blockade and the smugglers”(May 11): Lack of Context

Mr. Chassay sets the scene with dramatic white subtitles on a black screen that read:

Since Israel began its blockade, Gaza’s 1.5 million people have been living in a virtual prison, with almost nothing being allowed in or out of the coastal strip.

Restrictions on water, fuel, and electricity, have forced much of Gaza’s infrastructure to grind to a halt.

The report focuses, in emotive detail, on the effects of the restrictions (including a very sympathetic portrayal of those who smuggle fuel into Gaza from Egypt). But nowhere in the report does Chassay indicate the reason for those restrictions: no mention that Gaza’s government – a terrorist entity sworn to Israel’s destruction – supports and encourages the murder of Israeli citizens, as well as the almost daily barrage of rockets upon Israel’s southern population.

He further misleads by omitting essential information about fuel deliveries into Gaza. Mr. Chassay interviews Director of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) John Ging who complains that “no benzene or diesel has entered Gaza since the 9th of April,” but neglects to explain the reason for the cessation of fuel deliveries and the significance of the date they ceased. In fact, April 9th was the date on which the Nahal Oz fuel terminal was attacked by Palestinian terrorists who shot dead two Israeli workers unloading a fuel delivery bound for Gaza. In other words, the fuel crisis that Mr. Ging laments was created by the Palestinians themselves!

The video report ignores this troublesome truth, concluding instead with Ging’s lament:

The problems are identified. The solutions are known and yet nothing changes other than the situation continues to get worse and worse. And people are beside themselves with bewilderment about how this can be allowed to happen in our civilized world.

With the omission of all context and anything indicating Palestinian responsibility for the situation, the implication is that Israel is culpable.

2) “Who’ll look after my little ones when I’m gone?” (May 13): Deceptive Reporting

In his second pathos-filled report, Mr. Chassay forgoes context and accuracy in order to blame Israel for the tragedy of a young cancer victim. He interviews Karima al Daloul, a 34- year-old mother of five, who suffers from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He reports that Karima is dying from the disease because she has been denied entry into Israel to receive treatment – part of a complete “lockdown” he claims Israel is imposing in order to “punish Gazans for their support of Hamas.”

But Chassay has it wrong. Israel has allowed humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, even during the period he was filming these reports. And thousands of Palestinian patients have entered Israel from the Gaza Strip even after Hamas became the governing power. Nonetheless, Chassay introduces his report with the inaccurate premise that Israel is preventing Palestinian patients from receiving medical treatment in order to punish them for supporting Hamas.

Chassay similarly twists the facts about the percentage of Palestinians admitted into Israel for medical care since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip. This percentage has increased over the past two years. According to the Israel Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 7,226 exit permits were issued for Palestinian patients and another 7,922 for their family member escorts in 2007 – a 50% increase over 2006. The trend continues in 2008: during the first quarter, 2,317 exits were arranged for patients, with a similar number for relatives accompanying them.

What Chassay completely neglects to tell viewers is the reason why Israel no longer issues unrestricted entry permits to Palestinians seeking medical care inside Israel. It is because of the security threat from would-be suicide bombers who feign illness in order to obtain entry into Israel. For example:

*In August 2004, Nabil Maher Halil Misri attempted to enter Israel using medical documents stating that he suffered from testicular cancer, when in fact he was perfectly healthy. After being arrested, Misri admitted that he was planning to enter Israel in order to carry out terrorist attacks.
*In December 2004, Hassan Ahmed Ali Toum crossed into Egypt through the Rafah crossing after presenting medical documents. Toum was arrested after he infiltrated from Egypt into the Negev with the intention of carrying out a suicide bombing in Israel.
*On December 20, 2004, Hamed A-Karim Hamed Abu Lihiya, was arrested after entering Israel using forged medical documents that claimed that he was a cancer patient in need of urgent medical treatment at an Israeli hospital. He said was planning to carry out a suicide bombing.
*On June 20, 2005, 21-year-old Wafa Samir Ibrahim al-Biss was arrested at the Erez crossing after attempting to smuggle through an explosives belt. In 2004 Al-Biss had received medical treatment in Israel for extensive burns. She said she intended to use her medical authorization for entry into Israel in order to carry out a suicide attack at the crowded Israeli hospital in which she was being treated.
*On May 30, 2007, Fatma Zak, a 39-year-old pregnant mother of eight and her niece Ruda Haviv, a 30-year-old mother of four, attempted to enter Israel through the Erez crossing using false medical documents. They confessed that they were planning a double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv and in Netanya under the guidance of the Gaza-based Islamic Jihad.

Instead of accurately informing readers of this context, Chassay turns to Ran Yaron of the organization “Physicians for Human Rights” to criticize Israel for “sharply reducing” the number of permits granted to Gazans to receive medical treatment in Israel. Yaron has made it his mission, as director of the Physician for Human Rights’ “occupied territories project,” to condemn Israel for allegedly preventing sick Palestinians from receiving the treatment they need in Israel – even when this is not the case.

In May 2008 when Chassay filmed this video report, Yaron was making the media rounds trying to drum up sympathy for Palestinian cancer patients allegedly prevented by Israeli authorities from receiving the care they needed. Yaron brought as a poignant example the case of Muhammed el Harani, a father of six, who was told he would die within weeks unless he received the proper treatment within Israel, but was unable to “withstand the wait” and allegedly died. Yaron blamed Israel’s secret service (Shin Bet) for “continuing its harmful policy against cancer patients” and voiced deep concern “for the fate of 12 others who have requested entry to Israel for treatment.”

But, in fact, el Harani was still alive and scheduled for questioning by the Shin Bet to obtain his entry permit into Israel. In order to avoid being questioned, el Harani’s family informed Yaron’s organization that the patient had died. And Yaron evidently did not bother to investigate or corroborate his “facts” before condemning Israel in the media. Factual accuracy is apparently insignificant when it comes to defaming Israel. No wonder Chassay interviewed him for his video report.

To embellish his point, Chassay manipulates statistics to suggest that if not for Israel, the young cancer patient he is profiling (Karima al Daloul) would almost certainly survive. He states that “usually with Karima’s form of cancer, nine out of ten patients can survive, but without treatment, her doctors give her less than six months to live.” Karima’s mother is then shown backing this up by saying “She would have been cured by now if they had allowed her to receive treatment.”

But this is misleading, since the 9/10 cure rate cited by Chassay refers to a five-year survival rate for patients who are given a course of treatment upon diagnosis (not ongoing treatment over many years) and Karima states that she did receive treatment for five years. Since Chassay claims that Karima is now in the advanced stages of the disease, it would appear that the 90% recovery rate is not applicable in her case.

That a young mother of five was stricken with such a virulent form of the disease is indeed tragic, but it is unethical for Mr. Chassay to exploit her suffering as a tool to besmirch Israel.

3) “Meet the Bakrs”(May 13): Scraping the barrel to blame Israel

In the third video, “Meet the Bakers,” Chassay attempts to show how even “middle class” families are being victimized by Israel’s policies. To that end, he introduces us to the Bakrs – two physicians, a university student and a 14-year old budding journalist– who complain of “living in a prison.”

“We don’t have dinner parties. We don’t have anywhere to go,” bemoans the patriarch, Dr. Bakr, sitting in an elegantly appointed salon. “The one thing we can do is to sit in front of the TV and watch TV every night.” Settled in his plush, white brocade chair, the doctor inexplicably chuckles as he delivers what Chassay calls his “grim diagnosis”:

We live in despair and depression and deprivation. We live in danger of violence. This is the situation in short.

Chassay blames this on Israel. He also criticizes Israel for the fact that the two younger children are forced to walk to and from school, instead of being driven by bus (due to the fuel shortage).

Chassay also condemns Israel’s “blockade” for “severely hindering” the education for Gaza students. He reports that the blockade in Gaza is forcing schools to change their curriculum – dropping classes, such as IT and science – because of the “high energy consumption” and claims that there is now an 80% failure rate. He implies that this too is Israel’s fault.

A much larger threat to Gazan students’ education and transportation are the Palestinian thugs who maliciously vandalize schools and destroy their vehicles, but Chassay makes no mention of this. There is nothing about the Palestinian gunmen who smashed windows, burned buses and looted computers that belonged to a private American school in Gaza in January of 2008; no word about the attack a month later by Palestinian Muslims on the Christian El-Manara School in Gaza. (That school was attacked again and a schoolbus stolen by Muslims shortly after the video report was posted on the Guardian Web site.) Of course, these facts do not fit Mr. Chassay’s message of blameless Palestinians suffering at the hands of Israel and so they are left out.

Similarly omitted is any mention of the humanitarian aid that crossed from Israel into Gaza on the very same day Chassay was decrying Israel’s “blockade” (May 13): 82 trucks delivered food and medical equipment;; 5 trucks of cement were delivered through the Sufa crossing; 145 trucks delivered sesame seeds, sand and gravel through the Karni crossing; 354,000 liters of diesel fuelfor transportation, 562,000 liters of diesel for the power station, and 172 tons of gasoline were all delivered through the Nahal Oz depot.

4) “They Say They Have the Right to Shoot Us and Kill Us”(May 15) and
5) “There is No Normal Childhood” (May 16): Disguising the same incident under a different cloak

Chassay amplifies his examples of Palestinian ‘victims’ by presenting the same incident in more than one report, without informing the audience that they are the same.

In t he fourth video report, “They say they have the right to shoot at us and kill us’” (May 15), 14-year old Samir Zakout recounts the death of his 19-year-old brother, Muhammed, from an Israeli rocket attack. Then, halfway through the fifth video, entitled “There is no normal chidlhood,”(May 16) about a psychotherapist’s efforts to “counsel Gaza’s traumatized children”, Mr. Chassay suddenly reveals that he has “learned something incredible when [he] was with Insherrah Zakout (the psychotherapist).” He describes his revelation:

This woman who works day in and day out to help others manage their grief is herself still reeling from her own loss. Just eight weeks ago, her eldest child, Muhammed, had been killed by an Israeli rocket strike whilst going about his day in Gaza.

Chassay never mentions that the Muhammed described in his earlier video report and the Muhammed mourned by the psychotherapist are one and the same. Indeed, his apparent surprise about the loss of Insherrah’s eldest son seems rather disingenuous given that in the previous video, Mr. Chassay interviewed the psychotherapist’s younger son at length. That earlier video includes several different clips of the younger son, including one that shows him entering his home adorned with a large “shahid” (martyr) poster of Muhammed and another of him studying at his desk. Was Mr. Chassay unaware of who Muhammed’s mother was or did he knowingly choose her to be the subject of his next video in order to re-emphasize the same incident from a different angle? If so, why did he not clearly disclose this to his audience?

To bolster his point, Mr. Chassay quotes the pro-Palestinian rights organization B’tselem, which keeps detailed statistics on Palestinian casualties. He intones:

Israeli human rights organization B’tselem says that in the past eight years, nearly half the people killed by Israeli forces in Gaza were bystanders caught up in the violence. Almost 600 of them were children.

The problem is, B’tselem’s figures are notoriously unreliable – particularly in their mischaracterization of Palestinian combatants as bystanders. (See “In 2007, B’Tselem Casualty Count Doesn’t Add Up“)

Most disturbing, however, is the misrepresentation of why Muhammed was killed. Chassay reports that he the 19-year-old was killed “whilst going about his day in Gaza.” And according to younger brother Samir’s account, Muhammed and his friends

were just sitting around smoking a water pipe…The Israelis…assumed they were making rockets but all they were doing was making some tea and smoking and so the Israelis fired a missile at them.

The clear implication is that Israeli forces targeted innocent youngsters going about their typical adolescent lives.

But according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, in addition to the major wire services, there were four Palestinians – all Islamic Jihad activists – who were killed in the Gaza Strip on the Saturday in question, all in an Israeli helicopter attack. There were no reports of any other Gaza fatalities that day. (The video describes the day Muhammed was killed as a Saturday, eight weeks earlier — i.e. March 15, 2008).

According to the Israel Defense Forces spokesman’s office, the group was on their way to launch a rocket attack and was also responsible for the rocket attack a month earlier in which 9-year-old Osher Twito of Sderot lost his leg. The aforementioned sources, in addition to B’tselem, note a Muhammad was killed that day, but they identify him as Muhammad Salah Saleh a Sha’er.

Chassay’s series of video reports for the Guardian can hardly be considered journalism. It should more appropriately be labelled pro-Palestinian agitprop.

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