Ten Things The Huffington Post Got Wrong About Gaza (Actually Thirteen, but Who’s Counting?)

The Hebrew name for Israel’s current retaliatory operation in Gaza is “Amud Annan” which is being translated as “Pillar of Defense” but actually means, “Pillar of Cloud,” in reference to the pillar of cloud mentioned in the Bible that protected the Israelites as they left Egypt and slavery.

A cloud does surround Pillar of Defense, however, a cloud of media misrepresentation and selective, misleading reporting. One particularly egregious example is The Huffington Post’s Nov. 15 piece, “Ten Things You Need to Know About Gaza,” written by Mehdi Hasan, political director of The Huffington Post UK. Each one of Hasan’s ten points is at best misleading, at worst, false.

But before we get to them, let’s begin with Hasan’s introductory paragraph.

Hasan uses quotation marks around the words “in retaliation” to describe Pillar of Defense. This implies that the operation is not in fact retaliation against rocket, mortar and missile fire into Israel. According to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, since the beginning of 2011, there have been over 1,100 rocket hits in Israel. Israel’s current actions are in retaliation for those attacks.

As President Obama stated in a press conference in Thailand on Nov. 18:

“Let’s understand what the precipitating event here was that’s causing the current crisis, and that was an ever-escalating number of missiles that were landing not just in Israeli territory but in areas that are populated. And, there is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians and we will continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Now to the ten (actually twelve) other falsehoods:

1) While calling Gaza a “prison camp” and “some sort of open-air prison,” Hasan admits that Israel withdrew its troops and civilians in 2005 and that Israel does not control Gaza’s boundary with Egypt, now ruled by a Hamas-friendly Muslim Brotherhood government. What sort of prison has no guards and an open door?

2) Hasan falsely claims that in Operation Cast Lead, Dec. 2008–Jan. 2009, “762 Palestinian civilians were killed, including more than 300 children, compared to three (yes, three!) Israeli civilians. We seem to be seeing a similar imbalance in bloodshed this time round.” He calls this “unfair.” Of the nearly 1,200 Arab fatalities in the Gaza Strip during Cast Lead, more than 700 were combatants, fewer than 500 non-combatants. If someone breaks into your home and attempts to kill your children but does not succeed, yet you struggle and kill him, is this unfair? Is it your fault? Of course not.

Furthermore, neither fairness nor the equality of civilian casualties is the relevant issue. Legality is the issue and as an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) study of Cast Lead notes:

Civilian deaths and damage to property, even when considerable, do not necessarily mean that violations of international law as such have occurred. In particular, the principles of distinction and proportionality are only violated when there is an intention to target civilians or to target military objectives with the knowledge that it would cause harm to civilians that is excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage. Hamas’ deliberate attacks against Israel’s civilian population violated such standards and thus constituted a violation of international law. The IDF’s attacks directed against Hamas military targets, despite their unfortunate effects on Gaza’s civilian population, did not.

Moreover, if one must focus on civilian casualty numbers, they must be kept in context. In an article in The Jerusalem Post, Colonel Richard Kemp, former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, wrote about Cast Lead:

The UN estimate that there has been an average three-to-one ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in such conflicts worldwide. Three civilians for every combatant killed.

That is the estimated ratio in Afghanistan: three to one.

In Iraq, and in Kosovo, it was worse: the ratio is believed to be four-to-one. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in Chechnya and Serbia.

In Gaza, it was less than one-to-one.

3) According to Hasan, residents of Gaza “dared to elect a Hamas goverment in free and fair elections.” The fact is that there never was an election, “free and fair” or otherwise, to determine who would rule Gaza. In 2006, there was a Palestinian parliamentary election in which Hamas won the majority of seats in the Palestinian Authority legislative council that was to administer both the Gaza Strip and Arab population centers of the West Bank. Subsequently, Hamas members and supporters of Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement fought a “five day war” with more than 100 fatalities resulting in the Hamas takeover of Gaza. Certainly, throwing people off the roofs of high-rise buildings was not what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he talked about elections.

3a) Hasan writes that “a UN panel, led by distinguished South African judge and self-confessed Zionist Richard Goldstone,accused Israel of imposing ‘a blockade which amounted to collective punishment’.” However, he neglects to mention that Goldstone discounted his own report writing “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.” Furthermore, the U.N.’s Palmer Report affirmed the legality of Israel’s blockade.

4) Last month it came to light that in 2008, Israeli defense officials calculated how many calories would be needed per Gaza resident so that there would not be a humanitarian disaste
r. Hasan frames this as an attempt by Israel to starve Gaza. He neglects to mention that the guidelines were never implemented and that the calorie count was determined to be 2,279 calories per resident. Here is a calorie calculator. Plug in your information and find out how many calories you should eat per day. You’d probably gain weight if you ate that much. This calculation was made to protect Gazans, not to hurt them.

The fact is that Israel facilitates the transport into Gaza of hundreds of truckloads of supplies every single week. According to Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the week of November 4-10, while rockets fired from Gaza were raining down on Israel, Israel trucked in over 42,000 tons of goods, including 330 truckloads of food.

5) Hasan reports that, according to the World Health Organization, “10% of children under five in the Gaza Strip have had their growth stunted due to prolonged exposure to malnutrition.” This sounds like a terrible figure until you find out that, also according to the World Health Organization, 29 percent of children under five in Egypt had their growth stunted.

6) According to Hasan, the unemployment rate in Gaza is 28 percent and youth unemployment is 58 percent. These figures, too, lack context. According to the International Labor Organization, Arab countries have the world’s highest unemployment rates and the International Monetary Fund reports that “young people account for nearly 60% of all unemployed people in Syria and Egypt.”

7) One in five children in Gaza suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), reports Hasan. Unfortunately, more than two in five Israeli children suffer from PTSD due to the effects of terrorism.

8) Hasan describes Ahmed Jabari as a man friendly to Israel, who ensured Gilad Shalit’s “welfare and safety” (while he was held illegally for five years without visits from the International Red Cross). Far from protecting Shalit, Jabari planned the attack that resulted in his kidnapping and the deaths of two other Israeli soldiers. He also directed dozens of terrorist attacks and suicide bombings that killed hundreds of Israelis.

9) In Gaza, 80 percent of households receive some form of financial assistance, reports Hasan. This sounds horrible. However, nearly 50 percent of American households receive some form of financial assistance. And while he notes that 39 percent of residents live below the poverty line, Hasan utterly ignores the more than 600 millionaires that live in Gaza and the fact that in recent years shopping malls and resorts have opened there.

10) In an entry cynically entitled, “1948 and All That,” Hasan reports that two thirds of Gazans identify themselves as refugees. Because of the unique way Palestinian refugees are defined – which is different from the way refugees from any other conflict anywhere in the world are defined – that may be true. Only Palestinian Arab refugees have a U.N. organization devoted to their subsistence and perpetuation as refugees – the United Nations Relief and Works Administration – and only they are entitled to inherit refugee status from generation to generation ad infinitum. All other refugee groups fall under the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and none tend to be maintained multi-generationally.

While roughly 500,000 to 600,000 Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes when Israel was created, approximately 850,000 Jews were driven out of their homes in Arab lands, nearly 600,000 migrating to Israel and, after some years in refugee camps of tents and tin-roofed huts, being absorbed into the Jewish state. If the Arabs had absorbed their refugees as Israel absorbed Jewish refugees, there would be no refugee issue to this day. To watch a video on the subject, click here.

10a) Not satisfied with all of the above distortions, Hasan ends by calling the establishment of Israel “the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of 1948” and citing thoroughly discredited revisionist historian Ilan Pappé. The truth about 1948 is that Arab leaders intended to annihilate the Jews, as evidenced by the words of Abdul Rahman Azzam Pasha, Secretary-General of the Arab League, who on Oct. 11, 1947 declared to Egyptian newspaper Akhbar al-Yom, “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.”

Mehdi Hasan and The Huffington Post can’t get “Ten Things” right about Gaza. In fact, they don’t get anything right.

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