Last Friday, the HBO Series VICE News aired a segment about President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which also focused heavily on the rift between Fatah and Hamas. While there is a lot in the 15-minute segment that is laudable, overall the piece suffers from many of the same problems we see so frequently in coverage of Israel and the Palestinians.
Reporter Gianna Toboni takes the unusual and commendable step of depicting the brutality with which Hamas expelled Fatah and took over Gaza in 2007, including with clips showing the violence in the streets. She acknowledges that “divisions between rival Palestinian parties” are partially at fault for lack of progress in peace talks with Israel up until now, and notes that Hamas allegedly attempted to assassinate the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister. She correctly attributes the lack of water and electricity in Gaza to tensions between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
In addition, Toboni presents a Hamas representative, Mahmoud Al-Zahar, extolling violent resistance, and interpreting Israeli restraint as weakness – “during the last war in 2014, they failed to enter one square meter into Gaza,” he says. Al-Zahar is also clear about the religious motivation behind Hamas’s actions – “this war is a holy mission, so if we are gong to die, this is not a loss,” he says, smiling.
Yet, the report telegraphed its bias when VICE Founder Shane Smith introduced the segment by saying that Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel “was especially contentious between Israel and Palestine,” and when a scene is captioned as occurring in “Ramallah, Palestine.” (A later caption correctly refers to Ramallah, West Bank.) Of course, there is currently no sovereign national entity of “Palestine.”
Another inaccuracy is that Toboni asserts that “conservative Israelis were thrilled” at Trump’s Jerusalem announcement. In fact, it was welcomed by Israelis from both the left and the right.
In addition, the piece lacks important context. Although the piece does quote Emmanuel Nahshon, of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, saying that “Jerusalem has been our capital since 1948, that’s almost 70 years,” it makes no mention of the 3000-year connection between Jews and Jerusalem, of the continuous Jewish presence in the city for almost all of that time, or of the ethnic cleansing of Jews from the city when Jordan captured it in 1948. While Tobani tells viewers that the Al-Aqsa Mosque is holy to Muslims because they believe that is where Muhammad ascended to heaven, and that the Church of Holy Sepulcher is where Jesus is believed to have been resurrected, she never explains why Jerusalem is holy to Jews. Instead, Toboni simplistically tells us, “For centuries, Jerusalem has been a holy city for three of the world’s major religions,” and that “different religious communities have been coexisting here for centuries.” Palestinians, she also tells us, are “united in opposing Israeli control over Jerusalem.” The fact that Jerusalem has never been the capital of a Palestinian state, or of any Muslim state, is never mentioned.
While, as noted above, Toboni does a good job of showing how violent Hamas is, the segment portrays that violence, and Hamas’s popularity, as a natural response to events. She interviews Hanan Ashrawi, whom she introduces as “instrumental in the peace process for more than 30 years,” without mentioning Palestinian rejection of peace and statehood offers in 2000, 2001, and 2008, without mentioning Palestinian failure to negotiate during the 2010 settlement freeze, and without mentioning Palestinian rejection of the Obama administration’s 2014 proposed parameters. Instead, she airs, with no push-back, Ashrawi’s claim that Hamas’s popularity is due to the “failure of the peace process to deliver.”
A more thorough report might have noted the possibility that Fatah corruption contributes to Hamas’s popularity. Hamas’s 2006 parliamentary electoral victory over Fatah has been attributed in part to Palestinians “looking for new leaders after years of living under a corrupt regime.” Even one Fatah member said that “the electoral loss … was caused by ‘mismanagement and the corruption by the mafia that came from Tunis’ when the PA was formed.” Such a report might also have mentioned that PA President Mahmoud Abbas was elected in 2005 to serve a four-year term, and has remained in office, without holding a new election, since then.
While ignoring these factors, Toboni makes much of Hamas’s ostensible popularity – showing the huge crowds at their rallies, interviewing ordinary Gazans and asking why they support Hamas. What she never does show is what happens to those who oppose Hamas in Gaza. In addition to the 2007 violent coup, Hamas has been known to put Fatah members under house arrest or shoot them, and to extrajudicially execute those it claims “collaborate” with Israel.
Israeli actions, moreover, are portrayed as gratuitously violent. “You can hear Israeli gunshots coming over,” Toboni reports at one point. “A couple of kids have already been taken away in ambulances.” One young man is interviewed while in the hospital with a gunshot wound. “Can you explain what happened?” Toboni asks him. “I was burning tires to help the guys go in,” he responds. Go in where? That question, like so many others, isn’t asked.