Tom Friedman gets page 1 treatment in this week’s Sunday Review of The New York Times, and serves up a column full of myths and distortions. In his piece titled “The Last Train,” Friedman purports to put forth a model for cooperation between Israel and its neighbors but actually works hardest at demonizing Hamas and deflecting criticism of Israel.
It’s too much to correct every egregious claim in Friedman’s column, but we can begin with this statement: “The fact that Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and Hamas took over there in 2007 and then devoted most of its energies to fighting Israel rather than building Palestine does not inspire” efforts to change the status quo.
Israel removed settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005 but went on to seal off the strip by land, air and sea. This was not a “withdrawal” but a redeployment, and Israel thus maintains a military occupation on Gaza. Moreover, since 2007, Israel has strangled Gaza’s commerce by preventing exports and imports and periodically destroying infrastructure, and yet Friedman has no problem blaming Hamas for its economic straits.
He then claims that Israel offered a ceasefire eight days into the conflict this summer but Hamas rejected it, thus exposing “its people to vast destruction and killing for 43 more days.” So it wasn’t Israel that was responsible for the carnage, as Friedman sees it, it was Hamas that “exposed” the people of Gaza to Israeli firepower.
Friedman gives no voice to the people of Gaza, who made a clear statement that they were behind Hamas in its rejection of the ceasefire. He ignores the words of nearly 100 academics, professionals, writers and community leaders who signed an open letter declaring to the world that “Hamas represented the sentiment of the vast majority of residents when it rejected the unilateral ceasefire proposed by Egypt and Israel without consulting anyone in Gaza.”
Their statement continues, “We share the broadly held public sentiment that it is unacceptable to merely return to the status quo—in which Israel strictly limits travel in and out of the Gaza Strip, controls the supplies that come in (including a ban on most construction materials), and prohibits virtually all exports, thus crippling the economy and triggering one of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the Arab world.”
Friedman, however, claims to speak for the people of Gaza. He writes that the rejection of the first ceasefire offer “was sick; it failed; and it’s why some Gazans are trying to flee Hamas rule today.”
It is true that many have fled since the Israeli attacks began this summer, and many continue to leave (via smuggling routes through Egypt), but it is the Israeli stranglehold and recurring assaults that are driving them out. As a recent United Nations report states, “The ongoing blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip combined with the recurrent rounds of hostilities over the past eight years have led hundreds of Palestinians, especially the youth, to leave the strip in pursuit of normal living conditions and a better future.”
Friedman manages to inject some criticism of Israel into his piece. He dislikes the seizure of 1,000 acres of West Bank land announced in late August not because this flies in the face of international law but because Israel has failed to “delineate the area Palestinians would get—and stop building settlements there, too.”
To Friedman, it is fine to colonize Palestinian land, it just has to be done right. Thus he quotes a member of the Kerry negotiating team, David Makovsky, who says that “most Israeli settlement activity over the last year has been in areas that will plausibly be Israel in any peace map” and therefore it is “ironic” that this has fueled a “European delegitimization drive.”
Israel’s error, Makovsky says, is not in stealing Palestinian land and defying international law, it is in “refusing to declare that it will confine settlement activities only to those areas.” This would show that Israel is serious about a two-state solution, he adds, and silence the critics.
Neither Makovsky nor Friedman finds anything to say about the Palestinians who have lost their fields, homes, water sources, livelihoods and mobility to the illegal settlements. Nor do they address the fact that the settlements and the segregated roads that connect them have left only fragmented pockets of Palestinian land in the West Bank, thus destroying any chance for a viable state.
In his final paragraphs, Friedman gets around to extolling a group called EcoPeace Middle East, which fosters cooperation between Jordan, Palestine and Israel in environmental projects. This is the model for real peace, he says, but even as he puts forth this thesis, he is busy deflecting blame from Israel.
Some members of the group visited Washington to urge action on the water crisis in Gaza, he writes. Access to potable water is a critical problem there, and Friedman notes that “Gazans have vastly overexploited their only aquifer” and “waste management has also collapsed.” In other words, the residents of Gaza just can’t manage things right.
What goes unsaid is that Israel has bombed water treatment facilities, wells and power plants during its periodic assaults on Gaza. The 2008–2009 attack (Operation Cast Lead), caused some $6 million worth in damage to major water and sanitation infrastructure. Over three weeks, Israeli bombs and mortars damaged or destroyed over 30 kilometers of water networks, 11 wells and more than 6,000 roof tanks.
Combine this destruction with Israel’s embargo on materials needed for construction and repair, and the reason for the water crisis becomes evident. The numbers for the latest operation are still coming in, but they promise to exceed even the grim statistics from 2009.
Friedman has little use for data such as these, and the Times is his enabler. The news pages hide or omit the facts that would alert readers to the discrepancies in Friedman’s columns—the full story behind the ceasefire offer, the military control of Gaza and the West Bank, the attacks on Gaza’s basic infrastructure and the role of international law. In their omissions and obfuscations, Times reporters and editors are complicit in Friedman’s myth-making spin.