Monday, November 26

The Mainstream Media's Biased Coverage of the Gaza Blockade

There's reason to hope that the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel will lead to an easing of Israel's suffocating economic blockade of Gaza. The ceasefire text said that "opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods... shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire." But, more than 100 hours later, we're still waiting for word of actual progress.
Meanwhile, if you're wondering where to turn for background information about the blockade, I have this guidance: stay as far away from mainstream media as possible.

Sadly typical of the way the MSM covers the issue is a recent New York Times piece about the ceasefire by David Kirkpatrick and Jodi Rudoren (both of whom have done excellent work on other issues in the region). The piece described the blockade as "Israel's tight restrictions on the border crossings into Gaza under a seven-year-old embargo imposed to thwart Hamas from arming itself."
Putting it this way is a real time saver, not just because it fits into a single short sentence, but because, if you're too busy to actually write that sentence, the Israeli government's press office would be happy to do it for you. But this description of the blockade raises a question:
If the essential purpose of the blockade were indeed to "thwart Hamas from arming itself," wouldn't restrictions on imports into Gaza suffice? (And even then the import restrictions wouldn't have to be as draconian as they were when imposed, or even as tight as they are now, after some loosening.) What I'd like to see an enterprising MSM reporter ask is: How do Israel's severe restrictions on Gazan exports keep arms from getting to Hamas?
Kirkpatrick and Rudoren, later in their piece, do elaborate a bit on Israel's motivation for imposing the blockade. But not enough. After raising the prospect that Egypt may open the Rafah crossing into Gaza, they write that "Israel enforces its embargo on the other sides of Gaza, fearing that it would face an influx of refugees or end up with responsibility for the impoverished enclave."
Fearing "an influx of refugees" doesn't explain why Israel won't let Gazans put whatever goods they want to export on a ship and send them across the Mediterranean to Europe or Africa. Nor, really, does this fear explain the other side of the export restrictions--not letting Gaza export much of anything to Israel or the West Bank. Making sure that exports were confined to goods, and didn't include people, would be readily doable. Israelis know a thing or two about how to set up an effective checkpoint.
The closest Kirkpatrick and Rudoren get to a plausible reason for the export restrictions is in positing an Israeli fear of winding up "with responsibility for the impoverished enclave." But even here they're not putting nearly a fine enough point on it. Here's the fine-point version:
Recall that a very plausible motivation for Ariel Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 was to address "the demographic problem"--the fact that the number of Palestinians in the occupied territory, plus the number in Israel proper, was beginning to approach the number of Israeli Jews. That meant that if Israel's aggressive settlement program eventually led to Israel's absorption of the occupied territories, Israel wouldn't remain a Jewish state unless it were an apartheid state--i.e., unless it continued to deny Palestinian inhabitants of the occupied territories the right to vote. But once you remove Gaza from the equation, and define it as outside of the occupied territory, the math changes (though Gazans contend their territory is still, for practical purposes, occupied, since Israel controls the ports and airspace and the Israeli border and enters Gaza at will to kill Gazans). In this scenario--the divide and conquer scenario--the last thing Israel wants to do now is permit the sort of organic economic ties between Gaza and the West Bank that would make it easier to think of their Palestinian inhabitants as a single people. 
There's one other possible motivation for Israel's severe restrictions on commerce involving Gaza: collective punishment. Maybe Israeli leaders want to keep all of Gaza impoverished as payback for the sins of Hamas. Maybe they even think that this impoverishment will lead Gazans to reject Hamas. If so, I have bad news: If Gazans reject Hamas, it will be in favor of Islamic Jihad or even more radical elements, in keeping with the general principle that imposing unjust suffering on people empowers extremists.

This posting by
- Robert Wright is a senior editor at The Atlantic and the author, most recently, of The Evolution of God, a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. More


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