Washington Post Sanitizes Hamas

The Washington Post‘s new Israel correspondent, Scott Wilson, is not off to a good start. His “In Politics, Hamas Gains in the West Bank” (June 29) employs a customary Post practice: Selectively using sources in a way that allows Arabs to blame Jews for the Arabs’ self-inflicted problems, while keeping follow-up questions and other rebuttal context to a minimum.

Skewing the news

1) Wilson accounts for Hamas’ (the Islamic Resistance Movement) political growth in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) by quoting, directly and in his own paraphrasing, Hamas officials who blame Palestinian voter discontent on Israel’s new security barrier.

This is a basic cause-and-effect error. The correspondent misleadingly minimizes the terrorism that compelled Israel to build the barrier. He refers only to 28 Israelis killed by suicide bombers from Qalqilyah during the second intifada and quotes a senior Israeli army officer as saying that measures like the barrier stem from “a time when there was blood everywhere.” Graphic, but insufficient; Israel built the barrier as a result of Palestinian infiltration from throughout the West Bank that resulted in the murders of more than 1,000 Israelis.

2) Wilson reinforces the Hamas anti-barrier charge by quoting officials from Fatah, at whose expense Hamas has made political gains. “Some Palestinian officials say the economic hardship that has resulted from Israeli military operations in the West Bank, many of them designed to prevent attacks, has disillusioned former Fatah supporters ….” The basic story line: The barrier and Israel’s “irksome permit system” complicate Palestinian travel, impose economic hardships, and weaken Fatah in favor of Hamas. The implied conclusion: the problem – for West Bank Arabs and the “sputtering peace negotiations” – is effective Israeli self-defense against Palestinian terrorism, not the terrorism and the culture that foments it.

3) Wilson notes Hamas’ terrorist designations and terms it “a radical movement that refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist.”

Hamas does not just “refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist.” It demands an Islamic state in all the land west of the Jordan River, considers Jews “descendants of apes and pigs,” and conducts terrorism – a crime against humanity – against Israel and the Jews. Wilson softens Hamas’ fundamental nature also by writing that “Hamas political officials declined to discuss the operations of its armed wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades ….” as if two separate divisions comprised Hamas, one non-violent, the other perhaps violent but not necessarily terrorist.

4) The correspondent refers to “an unemployment rate [in Qalqilyah] that exceeds 70 percent by U.N. estimates” and quotes a resident who “is one of an estimated 17,000 people from Qalqilyah and its surrounding villages who lost jobs in Israel because they can no longer secure permits to cross into the country. He supports the new Hamas-linked leadership.”

Wilson describes separate puzzle pieces but avoids putting them together: Before the Palestinians launched the second intifada in September 2000, rejecting a West Bank and Gaza Strip state, with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, 150,000 worked in Israel. Now the figure reportedly is less than 30,000. Lost jobs in and around Qalqilyah, and throughout the West Bank and Gaza, are the Palestinians’ fault, specifically those terrorists from Hamas, Fatah’s al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade, and other terrorist groups. The permit system, like the security barrier, is a consequence of their actions, not an unwarranted Israeli imposition.

5) Wilson quotes a Hamas official who speaks of “countering the occupation,” without critically questioning him on the illegitimacy of terrorism. He says “Fatah … is now seen by many Palestinians as corrupt and powerless to confront the Israeli occupation,” and that Hamas “rejected the 1993 Oslo accords with Israel that established elected Palestinian government in parts of the occupied territories.”

This typical Post usage of and near-obsession with “occupation” and “occupied territories” typically fails to inform readers that, as recognized by U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 (1967) – the keystone of Arab-Israeli negotiations – and subsequent agreements including Oslo, the legal status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is disputed, not occupied. Israel and the Arabs both have claims there. Meanwhile, Israel remains the legitimate military authority in the territories until successful negotiations resolve the competing claims. But the Post again avoids the obvious: Palestinian violence – “countering” or “confronting” “the occupation” – causes and prolongs the very difficulties that Wilson reports the Qalqilyah residents face.

6) Wilson quotes a Fatah official who claims criticism of the PA for not doing “enough to control armed groups” in the territories “is all an Israeli game” to avoid helping Fatah deliver benefits of peace. The reporter uncritically does not question the official on escalating intra-Palestinian violence, described recently by Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia as "chaos" that PA security forces have failed to control. Wilson also fails to note that eliminating the terrorist infrastructure is a PA obligation under the international "road map" for Arab-Israeli diplomacy.

7) Wilson calls the pre-1967 Green Line "the Israeli border." The Green Line was the 1949 armistice line, a temporary boundary to be replaced in the future by a negotiated, internationally recognized border. But acknowledging that the Green Line was temporary would imply that the status of the land on the other side – the West Bank – between Israel and the sovereign state of Jordan, remains disputed and is not, de jure, Palestinian territory. And that would undermine the Post's virtually exclusive focus on "the occupied territories" and Israeli actions there, rather than lead the paper to report seriously on Palestinian behavior.

These errors of emphasis, omissions, imbalance, and lack of context make the story highly misleading. More important, larger related stories remain virtually unreported by the Post . These include the lawlessness within the PA territories, the rearming and regrouping of terrorist groups like Hamas for renewed anti-Israel terrorism, and the escalating attacks against Israelis, including several recent terrorist murders. A new Post correspondent in Israel is not enough; the paper needs a new paradigm in its Arab-Israeli coverage, one that treats the Palestinians as responsible for their actions and their consequences, the Israelis as too often victimized, not a priori victimizers.

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