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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Gaza: The "staggering quality of the very ordinary"

Ethan Bronner in the New York Times introduces a photo essay from a woman who spent two weeks in Gaza.

He writes:
For some, it’s the relative modernity — the jazzy cellphone stores and pricey restaurants. For others, it’s the endless beaches with children whooping it up. But for nearly everyone who visits Gaza, often with worry of danger and hostility, what’s surprising is the fact that daily life, while troubled, often has the staggering quality of the very ordinary.
People who have been observing Gaza closely are not surprised - there is poverty and there is relative wealth; there is want and there is plenty. The photographer captured scenes in Gaza City that would not be out of place in New York City:



Yes, there is an embargo - one that the Quartet agreed to. Yes, there are challenges for Gaza families to get things done.

But there are a number of stories that do not get adequate coverage when reporters like Bronner talk about Gaza.


One is how, despite the troubles that Gazans have, their standard of living is still better than that of many or most in the Arab world at large, let alone the world itself. The number of humanitarians that say they care so much about the lives of Gazans far outweigh the needs of Gazans to get their basic goods. The big argument in Gaza is about how Al Jazeera's initial coverage of the World Cup was interrupted, forcing them to watch it on Israeli TV stations. This is hardly the type of concern one would expect from an area suffering from a humanitarian crisis.

The next underreported story from Gaza  is how the murderous Hamas dictatorship has turned Gaza into a place where there is no freedom of speech or freedom of expression, where freedom of religion gets only lip service, and where the rulers prefer to hang on to their sheer hatred of Israel rather than compromise to help their citizens. Any self-respecting liberal - or conservative, for that matter - should be outraged at Hamas' repression of basic human freedoms. Yet such outrage is muted, or non-existent. Humanitarian agencies in Gaza are too frightened to speak negatively about Hamas, which routinely closes charities they do not like. Reporters in Gaza know that they won't have jobs - or they'll end up in prison - if they report facts that Hamas is unhappy with. 

Much easier to just toe the Hamas line and blame everything, again, on Israel.

The third story is that almost-forgotten one about Gilad Shalit, being held against all humanitarian law in Gaza - with no family access, no Red Cross access, nothing. If Hamas cared about Gazans, they would be negotiating easing the embargo against Shalit's release. They refuse.

Instead of putting Gaza in context, the media and NGOs have grotesquely twisted the story of Gaza into a parody of objectivity. Gaza is presented as being one of the worst places to live in the planet, and this is simply a lie. Egyptians a few miles away are poorer than Gazans but do not get pledges of hundreds of millions of dollars to make their lives easier. People in sub-Saharan Africa can only dream about the daily caloric intake of the average Gazan, and they are not spending their days emailing letters to the editor about their lack of Arabic World Cup coverage. The idea of a new dress shop opening at a high-end mall, as shown  in the second photo above, does not jibe with the the narrative of extreme poverty or of "slow genocide."

Gaza's truth has been perverted by the hatred that many have of Israel. This has strengthened Hamas immeasurably, and it also forces Gazans to live under an unyielding Islamist rule that will not change as long as this status quo exists.

Which brings up another underreported story - the fact that the so-called humanitarian groups are not motivated by love of Arabs, but rather by hate of Israel.

There is only one reason that Gaza gets such exaggerated attention - and that is because it is perceived as being the victim of Jewish aggression, and the majority of people who say they care about Gazans are using that as a cover for their seething hatred of Israel. If so-called humantarians care about Gazans so much they would be working tirelessly to pressure Hamas to work with the PA to bring the situation to what it was before Hamas' coup.  The fact that they blame Israel - and only Israel - for Gaza's problems betrays their real agenda.

IHH is an extreme example, but Free Gaza, and Viva Palestina, and Code Pink and many others show little to no concern about any other people besides those they consider victims of policies of the Jewish state. The media ignores this dimension of their political activity. They believe their claims of being aid groups or humanitarian groups, when in fact they are dedicated to destroying Israel and denying the Jewish people the right of self-determination. At least UNRWA has a little oversight and published rules; at least Amnesty and HRW show some concern about other areas of the globe; at least PCHR and Al  Mezan will quietly criticize Hamas for some of their more egregious crimes against Gazans. But there is no daylight between the positions of the Al Aqsa terror brigades and those of Free Gaza and the other flotilla members. They all agree that Israel must be destroyed, and their pretense of charity work is a cover for that very inhumanitarian goal. Yet the press simply believes their claims, without any real investigation of their history, their funding and even their own words.

This is the problem. It is not that there is a dearth of coverage about Gaza - it is that there is a huge deficit of coverage of Gaza that goes beyond the most basic, incorrect memes.