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Friday, August 31, 2007

Palestinian Arab cavemen (really) and Reuters' bias (again)

This morning, Reuters released a bunch of pictures of "Palestinian cave residents:"

Palestinian cave residents belong to the al-Hawamdeh and al-Daghamin clans cook "Mansaf" for a party lunch, south of the West Bank city of Hebron August 31, 2007. REUTERS/Nayef Hashlamoun (WEST BANK)



Usually, photo essays like this are associated with a feature article, but not in this case.

Luckily, Reuters in January published a classic piece of biased journalism that used these cavemen to bash Israel that explains who these people are:
Home sweet home for Suleiman Hawamdeh, a 73-year-old father of 10, is a deep cave in a barren West Bank hillside separated by a barbed-wire fence from a modern Jewish settlement.
Note how the author contrasts the cave dwellers with the "settlers" - and it soon becomes apparent why.

Hawamdeh and 120 other Palestinians inhabit the cluster of caves known locally as Quina Foq, which straddles the so-called "Green Line" that separated the Jewish state and the West Bank before the 1967 Middle East war.

They draw their water from wells and gather wood for cooking much like their ancestors, who first settled here during Ottoman rule more than a century ago.
You will never find Reuters referring to Jews descended from First Aliyah Zionists in this fashion, because the reporter is trying to evoke a sense of how these people have lived there forever, while Jews who have lived there just as long will always be thought of as usurpers. The use of the words "ancestors", "Ottoman rule" and "more than a century ago" all have the same purpose - but in the Middle East, a century is barely the blink of an eye.

Quina Foq's inhabitants eke out a living farming and herding sheep in the rocky hills about 40 km (25 miles) south of the West Bank city of Hebron. Many of the children go to school in the nearest Palestinian town, As-Samu': an hour's donkey trek.

The cave dwellers share a satellite dish and a television set, which is powered a few hours each night by a car battery.

Israeli authorities prevent them from building on the land, and the barbed-wire fence, which separates Quina Foq from the Jewish settlement of Shani, limits their access to a nearby forested area where wood for cooking is plentiful.
Notice how the article tries to imply that the Jewish residents are the cause of the fence being built, and that they are the threat to the Arabs.

Hawamdeh and other residents complain about the Israeli restrictions, but say they live in these caves by choice and have no intention of leaving.

"We belong to this land. It's the land of our ancestors," Hawamdeh said.
Once again, evoking history in a way that Reuters would never use for Jews.

His cousin, 31-year-old Ahmad, said: "I can't live in the city -- it's a big jail. I prefer to be here next to my livestock."

A few hundred yards away, Jewish settlers live in red roof-topped homes, some with backyard swimming pools.
Now, what relevance does this sentence have in a story meant to be about the cave dwellers? The cave people have made it clear that they do not want to live in towns or in houses. Yet to the Western audience of Reuters, this sentence reinforces the wire-service narrative that Jews are taking advantage of Arabs and keeping them in primitive conditions.
One of the oldest residents of Quina Foq, 70-year-old Yusef Kailil, said his grandfather was among the first Palestinians to settle in the caves in the 1800s.
Of course, in the 1800s they were Arabs who settled there from elsewhere, and nobody called them Palestinians. Reuters again is evoking the idea that these people have been there forever and carrying on a noble way of life threatened by Israel, when in fact they have been there for only a few generations, no longer than the first Zionist settlers and significantly less time than many Jews who lived nearby in Hebron.
"I was born here and I will die here," added 60-year-old Mohammad Rawashdeh.

Israel erected the barbed-wire fence about a year ago -- an extension of the barrier being built by the Jewish state in and around the West Bank.

In other areas, the barrier -- which Israel says helps stop suicide bombers but which Palestinians call an attempt to grab land, is made of concrete.
Again, an irrelevant fact meant for nothing else than to make Israel look evil. And notice how "Israel says" the barrier helps stop suicide bombers, rather than stating the facts that support that assertion.
Palestinian residents of Quina Foq say they have mixed feelings about the fence. On the downside, it prevents them from freely accessing the forested area below Shani as they have for generations.

But it also keeps the settlers at a distance, which has helped reduce the occasional hostilities which took place before it was erected.
It is the Jews who cause all the troubles with Arabs who just want to live in peace, according to Reuters.
The typical Quina Foq cave is 60 metres (197 feet) deep. The opening is carved from stone.

The caves are divided into three areas: a living space, a storage area and a kitchen.

Residents of the caves sleep on blankets and mattresses on the rocky floor. There is no running water and no electricity. They have no furniture and, apart from the shared television, no modern appliances.

In winter, they keep warm in the caves with small wood fires.

They say they sleep outdoors during summer to avoid snakes and scorpions that seek shelter from the heat.

Quina Foq has four water tanks, one for the people and three for their animals, which live in the caves during winter.

"We have water problems during the summer. We don't have other alternatives," said Mosa Rawashdeh, 27.
Except for moving out of caves, a practice that is hardly ancient according to their own testimony.

Beside the caves, the only permanent structure is a tent that serves as the television room. The Israeli army has told them to take the tent down because building on the land is prohibited.

"They are living in crisis," said Abdul Hadi Hantash, who handles land issues for the municipality of Hebron.

An Israeli army spokesman said the army was working with regional planning authorities, issuing orders to remove "illegal structures" in the West Bank built both by Palestinians and Israelis.

Israeli authorities occasionally allow one Palestinian with a donkey cart to cross the barbed-wire fence and gather branches that have fallen from the trees near Shani.
The Palestinians complain that they are required to gather all of the fallen wood, whether it is good for cooking or not.
So the evil Israelis have taken down a structure that these people - who willingly live without electricity and running water - can watch TV. And when Israel allows them to go through the dreaded barrier to get wood, it is in an evil way.

And if their community straddles the Green Line, that means that there was a border within their own community before "occupation" - yet there are no Reuters' stories crying about that.

Even though this article is seven months old it is a classic representation of how Reuters, arguably the most influential news service in the world, has no interest in balance or fairness - even when reporting "human interest" stories.