Fearful in Gaza? The NY Times Says It’s All in Your Head

To hear Jodi Rudoren tell it in the Times, there is nothing to fear in Gaza. Those who think they have to stand guard over the tiny strip are deluded would-be warriors, aiming their rifles at imaginary targets.

This is her take in a recent story, “Islamic Jihad Gains New Traction in Gaza,” where she writes that although “no Israeli soldier has set foot in Gaza City in five years,” a group of fighters stands there nightly, armed and ready to protect residents from any “incursion.” The quote marks are Rudoren’s own, and they deliberately cast doubt on the word, as if it is an invention of the fighters themselves.

She fails to tell readers that although Israeli soldiers may not have entered the confines of Gaza City since the attacks of 2009, they invade the strip weekly in what the international community calls incursions (without quote marks). She also omits the fact that only days before the story appeared, Human Rights Watch released a statement asking Israel to stop shooting at Gaza civilians, and the United Nations published data showing that Israeli forces had killed 11 residents of Gaza and injured 137 in the first four months of 2014.

Rudoren’s story is one of several recent Times articles with the focus on Gaza, where we find live people at work and play but where we hear never hear the word “blockade” even though Israel sealed the borders in 2006 and has ever since kept tight control over whatever goods and people move in and out, refusing passage to students, medical patients, bereaved family members and all but the very few with connections or luck.

The Times stories, however, omit this context and provide no sense of what it is like to live under constant Israeli pressure, with drones above, gunships at sea and troops firing at civilians along the perimeter fence, and with the threat of airstrikes that target Islamic Jihad members in extrajudicial executions, often wounding and killing bystanders.

In the past month the Times has introduced us to a marathon runner, a two-state activist and women featured in a photo essay, as well as members of Islamic Jihad, but in all these stories, the newspaper avoids or downplays Israeli responsibility for the hardships in Gaza.

Thus, in a story about Israel’s refusal to let runners out of Gaza to compete in a Bethlehem race we find the headline, “Mideast Tensions Sideline a Gazan Marathon Runner” and the pull-quote “A case in which athletics is unable to transcend politics.” Who’s at fault here? Not Israel, according to the large print. It is all due to “Mideast tensions” and “politics.”

In the photo essay, “Female in Gaza,” the text by photographer Monique Jaques mentions “the conflict with Israel” and the drones at night, the walls and barbed wire and soldiers on patrol, but Israeli responsibility, once again, is omitted, the word blockade (or siege) never appears, and there is no mention of airstrikes nor of civilian deaths near the border fence.

And then there is Rudoren’s article, “Pushing the 2-State Path in Gaza,” where we meet Ezzeldin Masri, who lobbies for the two state solution. Here we get one paragraph about life in Gaza, and we learn that residents chafe at “restrictions on travel, farming and fishing” and that they have a “longstanding sense of siege.” Not a real siege, mind you, just a feeling.

With all this attention to Gaza, the Times could have educated readers about conditions there. The United Nations, the Israeli monitoring group B’Tselem, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and others, including agencies such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, keep track of the deaths, injuries and damage caused by the Israeli blockade and attacks, but the Times fails to include any of it.

Instead we have Rudoren’s put down of the Islamic Jihad fighters, who, according to her deliberate spin, stand waiting for an attack that ended five years ago. If the Times had seen fit to draw on official data, readers might have viewed this scene in a different light.

For instance, a UN report states that in the week before her story ran Israeli forces shot and injured four civilians; targeted and destroyed a livestock barn, killing 18 sheep, 10 chickens, 10 rabbits and a cow; carried out an air strike in a densely populated area; fired at Palestinian fishing boats at least 19 times; and “ordered two fishermen to jump into the water before arresting them and confiscating their boat and fishing equipment.”

Also during that period, Israeli tanks and bulldozers entered Gaza to level land. These incursions are frequent events, and they leave a swath of destroyed farm buildings, crops and topsoil.

Last year Rudoren wrote about Gaza farmers and their fears of these Israeli forays, giving this description of the land near the border fence: “The bumpy hills are dotted with destroyed wells and faint traces of long-ago incursions by Israeli tanks.” As in the Islamic Jihad story, she placed the reality somewhere in the past and denied the present threat, making no mention of recent invasions.

In last year’s article, however, she reported the shootings and deaths of civilians and quoted from a UN report on Palestinian casualties. None of that is present in the recent stories. Now, in spite of all the words devoted to Gaza in the past month, the effect is to obscure reality, to downgrade a crippling blockade to a “sense of siege” and to present the fear of attack as mere delusion.

This, apparently, is how the Times views its task in covering Palestine, to take pains, even to the point of absurdity, to conceal Israeli culpability for daily frustration and suffering. Gazans live behind fortified walls and under the prying view of drones, fearful of bombs and bullets, but no one is clearly responsible. It is just the unfortunate result of “tensions” and “politics.”

Barbara Erickson




A Few Problems in Gaza

As Jodi Rudoren tells it today in the Times, the people of Gaza have a “sense of siege.” They also complain of “restrictions on travel, farming and fishing,” but that’s about it. A casual reader could assume that Gaza residents are a whiny lot or that they are plagued by bureaucratic red tape and not much else.

Her description comes in an online story about a two-state believer in Gaza, Ezzeldin Masri, who is something of an anomaly there for his support of the peace process. The article serves to give a benign face to Gaza, often passed off as a hotbed of rabid militants, but it also skews the reality of life for its 1.7 million residents.

Rudoren knows that the siege of Gaza is more than an uncomfortable feeling. The blockade has been in effect for seven years and has cost the residents dearly. Israel and Egypt prevent students from leaving to attend universities abroad, hold up patients seeking medical care, block the passage of produce from Gaza and prevent the entry of much needed materials for schools, water and sanitation projects, and housing and medical supplies.

This has prompted international agencies (see here and here) to refer to Gaza as a humanitarian crisis and to predict that it will have no potable water in two years. Yet Rudoren cannot manage even to note that Gaza is under blockade.

In mentioning “restrictions” on farming and fishing, Rudoren fails to say that Israel enforces these limitations with live bullets and Gazans have died tending their fields and crops.

Israel maintains a no-go zone within the border of Gaza, officially drawn at 300 meters. But as recent report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre states, “Farmers have regularly been shot at, and some have been killed and injured at distances much further than 300m from the fence.” It adds that “people [are] at high risk of being fatally shot as far away as 1.5km in some areas.”

Moreover, Israeli tanks often enter Gaza to level land with bulldozers and tanks. “All land within 300m of the fence has been leveled a number of times,” the report says, leaving not only damaged crops and buildings but also degraded and useless topsoil.

The 300 meter strip is not a small space in the Gaza scale of things, especially when the most fertile land is along the border. A UN report last year noted that Israel is denying access to “as much as 35% of Gaza’s agricultural land and currently more than two-thirds of its fishing areas.” This has led to an estimated loss of more than $76 million each year.

Although the Oslo Accords gave Gaza boats the right to sail 20 nautical miles from shore, Israel enforces a 3-mile limit most of the time, occasionally allowing fishermen six miles of access. Gaza fishermen are prevented from entering the best fishing grounds, but those who stray beyond this line or come too close face live bullets. Israeli sailors frequently arrest fishermen and confiscate their boats and nets.

The November 2012 ceasefire between Hamas and Israel was supposed to ease these limitations for fishermen and farmers, but the IDMC report states that in the first six months after the truce “Israel used live ammunition against Palestinians near the fence on at least 5 different occasions, killing two civilians and injuring 58.”

At sea the situation was similar. During the 12 months following the ceasefire, the report states, “troops opened fire on Palestinian fishermen 147 times, injuring nine and detaining 40. Twenty-five items of fishermen’s property, including boats and nets, were damaged, and a further 21 items were confiscated.”

The numbers are there for all to see. International organizations have been issuing reports and holding press conferences on the crisis in Gaza, but the Times dismisses it all in a few bland sentences: Gaza residents are annoyed, they face some restrictions, they suffer from a “sense of siege.”

Barbara Erickson