After the Observer mistranslated a section from Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal’s speech during his historic visit to Gaza last week, to falsely insert the words “kill Jews,” a report from Josef Federman of the Associated Press (AP) includes this:
Making his first trip to the Hamas-ruled territory over the weekend, Mashaal delivered a series of speeches to throngs of supporters vowing to wipe Israel off the map.
Although Federman does not attribute the words directly to Meshaal, who did not say them, the phrase “wipe Israel off the map” is notorious and provocative since it is the phrase controversially attributed to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and used to falsely claim that Ahmedinejad or Iran had threatened to attack Israel unprovoked to destroy it, which neither has ever done, or would do so if they had the chance.
The phrase has been used emotively by Israel and its propagandists to stir up war fever against Iran under the pretext of stopping Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. In no way can this phrase be seen as a neutral or descriptive term.
Listening to the speech
In his speech, Meshaal did restate a refusal to recognize the legitimacy of Israel, spoke about liberating all of historic Palestine and praised resistance. Does that amount to “wiping Israel off the map”?
“Liberation” of course can mean many things, especially ending a racist and oppressive system and freeing the people who live under it.
As I pointed out previously, Meshaal talked about resistance as a means, not an end, and a necessity for an occupied people who are offered no other path to regaining their rights.
Meshaal was also very clear in his speech that he accepted all forms of struggle, including political and diplomatic, but argued that in light of recent events armed resistance provided a base of strength that no other form of struggle could match at the present time.
It is an arguable point of view, but undoubtedly strengthened by the fact that the only serious negotiations Israel has conducted with Palestinians in recent years have been with Hamas, over the prisoner swap last year, and the Gaza ceasefire last month.
Meshaal and other Hamas leaders view it as a “victory” that they forced Israel to negotiate and reach an agreement closer to their terms. They are under no illusion that they can achieve their goals by strictly military means.
Meshaal’s comments about historic Palestine, meanwhile, should be understood as a direct rebuttal to recent and wildly unpopular remarks by Mahmoud Abbas claiming that only the West Bank and Gaza Strip were “Palestine”.
Of course Zionists and Israelis are free to interpret Meshaal’s words according to their wildest fantasies and fears, but supposedly impartial news organizations like the AP never claim that by attacking Gaza and killing and injuring thousands of people, and destroying public buildings and infrastructure, that Israel is “wiping Gaza off the map.”
I’ve never seen an AP report that matter-of-factly states that Israel is “wiping Palestine off the map” by continuing its construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Nor have I ever seen a news organization use the phrase “wiping Palestine off the map” even though it would be a pretty accurate description of the Nakba, the 1947-48 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
Look at schoolroom maps and atlases from before 1948 and they all say “Palestine.” That word was erased from most maps after 1948.
More recently, Israel has begun stamping passports of visitors to areas nominally controlled by the Palestinian Authority with the words “Judea and Samaria,” a nomenclature intended to assert Jewish nationalist claims to the land and, well, wipe Palestine off the map – or ensure it doesn’t get back on to any maps.
Yet no AP writer would dare use the phrase “wipe Palestine off the map” in a manner similar to how Federman used “wipe Israel off the map.”
Meshaal and the 1967 borders: missing context
AP’s report highlights the broader problem of the media’s refusal to put Meshaal’s speech, or indeed any Palestinian politics, into a broader and Palestinian context, and the insistence, instead, on sticking to simply storylines.
Although Meshaal did not talk about it in his Gaza speech, he and other Hamas leaders have a long record of implicitly edging toward the so-called “two-state solution.” In 2009, for example, Meshaal told the New York Times:
We are with a state on the 1967 borders, based on a long-term truce. This includes East Jerusalem, the dismantling of settlements and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.
As The New York Times noted:
Apart from the time restriction and the refusal to accept Israel’s existence, Mr. Meshal’s terms approximate the Arab League peace plan and what the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas says it is seeking. Israel rejects a full return to the 1967 borders, as well as a Palestinian right of return to Israel itself.
Meshaal’s interview with The New York Times was part of a concerted effort to build a bridge to the new Obama administration and mark Hamas’ way into the international political fold.
Yet these openings by Hamas were completely rejected, and the Obama administration maintained and even increased its support for Israel’s siege on Gaza, where Hamas has its stronghold.
So given that context there was absolutely no reason to expect Meshaal, in Gaza of all places, in the wake of Israel’s recent savage attack, to reiterate far-reaching concessions that had gotten him no credit or reciprocation previously.
If Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were making what media would typically call a “hardline” speech, you’d expect all sorts of excuses and justifications about how he needed to shore up his base, or appeal to his right-wing. Palestinians, apparently, don’t have politics.
The AP’s eagerness to paint Meshaal with the same brush as Ahmedinejad and replicate the wild misreporting and fear-mongering about Iran suggests the organization’s Jerusalem bureau is more interested in churning out propaganda than helping readers understand the world.