According to The New York Times, there is no siege of Gaza, no occupation of the West Bank, and never was there a Nakba (the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine). Three recent articles erase these key Israeli crimes from the historical record.
In a 13 December 2012 article entitled “Hamas Gains Allure in Gaza, but Money is a Problem,” Steven Erlanger explores the reasons for Gaza’s increasingly debilitating poverty. Never once in this 1,300-word piece does Erlanger even mention the Israeli siege on Gaza or the 2008 and 2012 Israeli bombardments as factors (much less the principal causes).
Instead, Erlanger goes through a long list of regional developments (the weakening of the Assad regime in Syria, sanctions on Iran) and, most emphatically, decisions by Hamas (new taxes and fees), which have supposedly left Palestinians in Gaza not only increasingly impoverished but also more resentful than ever of Hamas. “Gazans recognize that there is more order here,” Erlanger explains, “more construction and less garbage. But many resent the economic burden of financing Hamas and, implicitly, its military.”
So to the extent that the most recent Israeli onslaught is considered at all, it is Hamas’ rockets, once again, that are blamed for Gaza’s misfortune. As if to prove his point, a 43-year-old butcher says to Erlanger, “things have steadily declined in Gaza.” Another Gaza resident adds, “it is a life of depression and deprivation.”
Erlanger does include the word “siege” in his analysis, but only amidst a quoted laundry list of problems Palestinians in Gaza now endure: “poverty, mismanagement, siege, unemployment, little freedom of movement,” Mkhaimar Abusada is quoted as saying.
And the siege, among these other conditions, is implicitly attributed not to Israel, but to Hamas: “If it can’t deal with these same issues,” Abusada concludes, “Hamas will find itself in the same position as it was before the war.” While Abusada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University, certainly knows the origins of these conditions, Erlanger’s placement of his quotation makes it seem that even Abusada blames the siege on Hamas.
Either way, Erlanger does not provide any sense of how totalizing and devastating a ground, air and naval blockade (much less the two recent military assaults) of the densely populated territory actually is. An uninformed reader could easily conclude that the siege is something for which Hamas is responsible, not an imperially-imposed form of collective punishment foisted upon Palestinians by Israel, and not something that is directly responsible for Gaza’s poverty and “little freedom of movement.”
Thus, according to The New York Times, Hamas is responsible for Gaza’s problems; Israel has nothing to do with it.
A Times article about Palestinian refugees in Syria published three days after Erlanger’s Gaza story obscures the reason that Palestinians are refugees in the first place (“A Syrian airstrike kills Palestinian refugees and costs Assad support,” 16 December 2012).
With just eight words, the Times absolves Israel of any responsibility for the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to make way for a Jewish state.
Reporting on the Syrian regime’s recent attack on Yarmouk camp in Damascus, home to thousands of Palestinian refugees, the Times explains that the Palestinians there were “refugees from conflict with Israel and their descendants.” The Nakba, the original sin of Zionism and the State of Israel, is thus smeared into obscurity. It is transformed into something it is not, changed from the wholesale removal of one group of people by another to a conflict between two presumably equal sides, from which a bunch of Palestinians evidently fled.
The newspaper of record does not, of course, go on to explain that while UN Resolution 194 specifically grants the Palestinians in Syria (as well as those in Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere) the right to return to their homes in what is now Israel, the Israeli government has always — and, at times, violently — denied this right.
An article published the following day, on the so-called E1 land east of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank, fails to mention that this land and the broader territory of which it is part, is considered by international law to be a Palestinian territory currently under Israeli occupation (Steven Erlanger, “West Bank land, empty but full of meaning,” 17 December).
Reporting on Israel’s recent declaration to build settlements on E1, Erlanger reproduces the oldest Zionist myth in the book: that this is an “empty” land, over which now the “two sides” are struggling: “E1 [is] a largely empty patch of the West Bank,” Erlanger writes. And the “fight” over E1 “speaks to the seemingly insurmountable differences, hostility, and distrust between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Erlanger informs us.
Thus, the occupied Palestinian West Bank, with all its illegal Israeli settlements, Jewish-only roads, Israeli checkpoints, Israeli military incursions and Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes, is reduced to a territory to which two different groups are laying equally legitimate claim. The closest Erlanger gets to even hinting at the occupation is where he writes toward the end of the article that E1 is “largely state land.”
But this, like the unidentified and unexplained “siege” in Gaza, is far too vague for an uninformed reader to understand which “state” controls this land, under which conditions, and against whose rights, livelihood and sovereignty.
So there you have it: no siege, no Nakba, and no occupation. Such reporting is, at best, delusional. At worst, it is intentionally misleading. In any case, The New York Times serves Israel’s interests by keeping the American public in the dark about the true nature of Israel’s occupation.
It is easy to understand why so many Americans find the situation so apparently confusing when the people who report on it are themselves confused about the very basic historical, geographic and political realities.
Robert Ross is an Assistant Professor of Global Cultural Studies at Point Park University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His research and teaching focus upon the political-economic geographies of Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and the United States. He is also a member of the Pittsburgh Palestine Solidarity Committee and the Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA).