Washington Post Airbrushes Exchanged Palestinian Prisoners

The Washington Post resumed its habit of white-washing Hamas (the Palestinian “Islamic Resistance Movement”) in a page one article “In Gaza, former prisoners land in the lap of luxury; Men who can’t go home stay in first-class hotel, courtesy of Hamas” (October 25).

The news-feature, by Post foreign correspondent Ernesto Londono, attempts to spotlight some of the Palestinian terrorists exchanged for Israeli captive Sgt. Gilad Shalit. However, the article stumbles with its first paragraphs and never gains journalistic footing:

“A week ago, Yahya Dabassa Ibrahim was on a hunger strike, rotting away in an Israeli prison where he expected to spend the rest of his life.

“But the Oct.18 prisoner swap between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas landed the Bethlehem native in a surreal place: the Gaza Strip’s brand-new luxury hotel.”

Though dramatic, “rotting away” doesn’t describe Ibrahim. He, like the rest of the first 450 of 1,027 Arabs to be exchanged for Shalit, left prison comparatively well-treated and well-fed. The recent hunger strike by some, including Dabassa Ibrahim, came in reaction to prison authorities withholding television and visitors privileges.

It had been Shalit – denied visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies – who had been rotting away. He emerged from more than five years of Hamas confinement pale, thin and dazed.

Palestinian hunger strikers like Ibrahim, on the other hand, were under daily medical supervision in Israeli prisons. Available to Red Cross representatives, they enjoyed access, when practicable, to their lawyers.

The Post’s first reference to Hamas as “the Palestinian militant group” is carried throughout the 1,021-word article. Readers are not told that the United States, Israel, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia and other countries consider Hamas a terrorist organization. Terrorists, of course, threaten or use force against non-combatants in violation of international law. Militants is a vague term The Post has applied to union members, environmentalists and Israeli settlers, among other non-terrorists.

The newspaper describes Ibrahim as “a convicted bomb-maker.” It reports that he is 50 and “served roughly 10 years of a life sentence” and “he was accused of manufacturing explosives that were used in attacks in Israeli cities, according to news reports. Ibrahim said he did want to discuss the incidents that led to his incarceration, but he made it clear that he didn’t regret participating in militancy (emphasis added).”

“‘We sacrificed part of our lives not to stay in hotels like these, but to liberate Palestine,’” he said.

One of “the incidents that led to his incarceration,” in The Post’s genteel language, was building the bomb that destroyed Jerusalem’s Café Moment on March 9, 2002, murdering 11 Israelis and wounding 54, 10 of them seriously.

Parsing the Post

Here The Post indirectly defines the term “militancy”: Evidently, it describes unprovoked attacks on non-combatants resulting in mass murder and infliction of mass non-lethal injuries. That is, it’s synonymous with the crime of terrorism.

The Post also indirectly identifies what Palestinian terrorists mean by “liberating Palestine”: “Freeing” places like west Jerusalem, where Café Moment was located, from Jewish control. In other words, for them “Palestine” is not only the Gaza Strip and West Bank, but also Israel proper.

The Post does not report this with straight-forward journalism. By choosing words that support or at least do not contradict the “Palestinian narrative” to describe this aspect of the prisoner exchange, it tip-toes around Palestinian irrendentism and aggression. The paper thereby forces readers to parse its vocabulary and dissect the article to get the essence of the news.

* The article says Israel blockaded the Strip “after Hamas assumed power in 2007. The blockade was widely seen by Palestinians as punishment, driven in large part by the outrage that Shalit’s abduction in 2006 generated in Israel.”

But if Shalit’s capture generated outrage in 2006, why did Israel wait until 2007 to embargo unscreened shipments and tighly restrict frontier crossings? The thousands of terrorist mortars and rockets launched from Gaza into Israel, primarily at civilian targets, began in 2000. They continued even after Israel’s withdrawal from the Strip in 2005. They had much to do with the blockade, but The Post does not mention them. To do so might suggest that the blockade is less “punishment” for the seizure of one Israeli than the consequence of large-scale, chronic Palestinian aggression.

* Hamas did not just “assume power in 2007” — it drove out the rival Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a bloody five-day civil war. Again, if readers don’t already know the context of Israeli-Palestinian news, individual Post dispatches like this one are likely to mislead by omission.

* In the article’s third paragraph, The Post informs readers that in the Strip “dozens of bombed buildings lie in ruin, heaps of garbage dot nearly every street and the Mediterranean shoreline is speckled by evidence of the tons of raw sewage dumped into the ocean every day.” But there’s no mention why this is so: the priority Hamas and its allies assign to terrorist warfare against Israel rather than to competent governance and development.

The Washington Post is one of the last major American news organizations to maintain a significant network of foreign correspondents. But if articles like “In Gaza, former prisoners land in the lap of luxury” (repeating similar flaws seen in “Palestinian elation is mixed with Israeli anguish,” October 19, also by Londono) meet foreign desk standards, what’s the point?

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