Bearing witness in Gaza, Kristof can’t see the bigger picture

US Politics
on 23 Comments

Nicholas Kristof’s Op-Ed piece in Sunday’s New York Times, “Winds of War in Gaza,” bears witness to what Gaza looks like today. Kristof should be commended for going to Gaza and writing about what he sees. It is not often that writers for the New York Times openly acknowledge how the Israeli blockade on Gaza continues, and it is refreshing that Kristof has written this piece. However, after leading us through his time in Gaza, Kristof stops short of going into significant analysis of what is really happening in Gaza and Israel’s larger goal to keep the Palestinian people under occupation.

At first Kristof’s piece might seem like an Op-Ed that actually portrays Palestinians as a people rather than as an “other.” He is shown in a photo taking a “selfie” with some Palestinians. He describes how many Gazans remain homeless, cramped, and cold. He agrees with the statement that Gaza is “an open air prison.” He even argues that the suffering in Gaza “has multiple causes,” emphasizing the Israeli “siege” as one of these causes.

Then, in a bait-and-switch twist, after having led us through these descriptions of the current situation, he commends Israel’s strategy of punishing all of Gaza as a viable solution:

Yet I have to acknowledge that Israel’s strategy of collective punishment may be succeeding with a sector of the population. Gazans aren’t monolithic in their views any more than Americans, but many said that they were sick of war and of Hamas and don’t want rockets fired at Israel for fear of terrible retribution.

Kristof is suggesting that collective punishment is successful because it is causing Gazan civilians to be fed up with Hamas and to be sick of war, and he quotes some Palestinians who say they are “tired of the war,” “hate Hamas,” and “don’t want resistance.” He is right, of course, that if a population is kept in an open air prison, denied basic human rights, and constantly under threat, that one of the results would indeed be people tired, without energy to fight back, and worried about retribution from Israel. Kristof’s claim that the Gazan population–or any oppressed population–is benefiting from collective punishment ignores the realities of the suffering that he himself witnessed and described in his piece. It is never OK to collectively punish whole populations.

Even when reporting on Gazans who have been unjustly denied visas to study abroad, Kristof only sees Gazans through a lens that diminishes them: “Israel prevents some Gazan students accepted at American or other foreign universities from leaving to study,” he writes, arguing that this is “counterproductive,” and that “more Western-educated Gazans might be a moderating presence.” Kristof is suggesting that the Palestinians who want to study would benefit from the “civilized” West and would bring their new expertise to moderate the “natives.” With a tone that others and patronizes the Palestinians, Kristof is missing the larger point here. Israel does not seem to want Gazans to be educated, nor does it seem to want Gazans to have viable businesses or a viable economy. Indeed, Israel continues to benefit financially by keeping Gazans under siege and all Palestinians under occupation, dependent on Israel. Ultimately, it seems more and more that Israel’s larger systemic plan is that it does not want Gazans in Gaza, or Palestinians in Palestine.

Kristof does admit that Israel’s bombing and siege of Gaza has put some people “on the path to becoming fighters,” and that Israel’s point in maintaining the blockade “seems to be to make all Gazans suffer.” He sees the reality on the ground, but then stops short before making any real effort to try to understand Israel’s larger systemic goal to occupy and maintain power over an entire population. His naivete isn’t new, but I was surprised when he writes that “Israeli officials have been saying the right things recently about easing the blockade, but not much has changed.” Kristof does not seem to be asking himself why things are not changing and why, in fact, they are getting worse.

Though it is important for journalists like Kristof to go to Gaza and report from the ground, I found myself frustrated that he doesn’t go further with the realities of what is happening as part of Israel’s larger efforts to ethnically cleanse Palestine of Palestinians, especially when he has the privilege to visit Gaza and meet with the people who are living the reality. He should bear witness for the rest of the world. Instead he tells his readers what they want to hear. He leads them up a liberal, edgy slope, offers cursory criticism of Israel’s occupation, and then turns around before his New York Times readers get too much of the truth.

About Liz Rose

Liz Rose is a Chicago teacher.

Other posts by .


Posted In:

23 Responses

  1. ritzl
    March 9, 2015, 1:15 pm

    Aw bloody hell! NOBODY said collective punishment doesn’t WORK, ffs! It always does. The more extreme it is, the more effective it is.

    It’s just horribly, horribly wrong. Ghoulish really.

    NOBODY has said that Mengele didn’t contribute to science (to use the extreme example).

    Human experimentation is just horribly, horribly wrong.

    Kristof seems intent on, and content with, solely discussing Mengele’s contributions to science.

    Yeah, I’d say he missed the big picture, or any sized picture for that matter.

    The fact that he’s one of the relatively good guys (e.g. for even venturing to Gaza), speaks volumes about how “good” the good guys are in MSM.

    Disgusting.

    • Donald
      March 9, 2015, 1:24 pm

      Agreed. No one in the NYT would ever write in that dispassionate way about whether terrorism against Israeli civilians works. It’s the usual double standard and what makes it worse is that it appears in a piece that is perceived in US circles as sympathetic to the Palestinians. That’s how it often is at the NYT– they sneak in some false “fact” or in this case a morally repulsive assumption into a piece that is somewhat critical of Israel. They did that a few weeks ago in a piece about atrocities in the 67 war. In that case it was a false assertion that Israel was fighting for its very survival in 67.

      I think it is wired into them to “balance” their stories this way.

      • ritzl
        March 9, 2015, 1:37 pm

        Well said, Donald. Yep, “wired into…”

        I’m glad you all keep pointing that out.

      • DaBakr
        March 9, 2015, 2:51 pm

        @Dd

        I think it is wired into them to “balance” their stories this way. –

        and there-in a nutshell-is the left wing anti–Zionist call to arms…that NO journalist should be balanced and just report and they all should instead ADVOCATE for the pov that only the left feels it is capable of deciding which is morally superior. and proving that the left wishes to control the media at the same time they whine that the ‘other’ has control of the media they object to. gaul, i think they call that.
        if they want a biased and unbalanced story read Ma’an or AlJz and stop whining about Kristof for cripes sake as he is as close to a hero as you’ll get at the nyt. he is no great friend of Israel for certain and like others on middle left-can’t commit himself to anything except wringing his hands.

      • ritzl
        March 9, 2015, 3:34 pm

        @DaBakr This is not about lefty or anti-Zionist control/”advocacy” of anything.

        It’s about the fact that no narrative can or should ever be “balanced” by a dispassionate and/or clinical discussion of the effects of monstrous, long-duration, and ongoing crimes against humanity.

        Not by anyone. Not anywhere. Not EVER.

        To do so is to turn the/any conversation/article/ancillary observations into a grotesquerie. Yet it happens time and again in writing and discussions on Israel. The criminally horrific is accepted as either dismissable background or normal counterpoint.

        It’s a conversation that is debased at its root.

        Again, disgusting.

      • DaBakr
        March 9, 2015, 4:15 pm

        its exactly about anti-Zionism and the narrative that anti-Zionists wish would be excepted as the uncontested version of historical events-through narrative and/or when that doesn’t work- lies, revisionism, Palestinian hasbara, propaganda, terrorism, lawfare and bds (and other nonviolent forms of protest) do those things ‘work’? some would say of course they do.,

      • DaBakr
        March 9, 2015, 4:50 pm

        @dbk
        excepted=accepted

      • Donald
        March 9, 2015, 10:59 pm

        I know you can’t understand this, debakr, but I wouldn’t want Kristof to talk about suicide bombing attacks as “effective”–sure, a terrorist strategy might achieve some sort of goal, but Kristof always writes from a moral standpoint, for better or worse, and one can see his cultural blindspots in this piece. Like many Westerners, he takes for granted that Westerners have the right to inflict pain and suffering on non-Westerners–he is bothered by it, but he is also willing to consider whether it might be working. If Israel Jews were trapped in Gaza and if hundreds of Israeli children had been blown up, he wouldn’t be talking about effectiveness in this cold-blooded manner. And if he did, there would be massive outrage.

        Theoretically, though, if he were truly evenhanded and did want to talk about terrorist tactics by Palestinians in terms of their effectiveness, then he would at least be acting consistently.

    • just
      March 9, 2015, 1:57 pm

      +1 ritzl and Donald.

      Disgusting, indeed.

      Thank you, Liz.

  2. John Douglas
    March 9, 2015, 2:48 pm

    Kristof’s journalistic niche is to get among the sufferers and make the reader suffer a bit too. He’s done some good things with that. In this instance, however, his case of terminal PEP takes over. Below is a post I put yesterday in the comments section of his article:

    “I’m pleased to see someone at the Times expressing the idea that the people of Gaza today as well as the 500 slaughtered children are human beings. But the column repeats the old trick of picking the “first cause” of an event to bias the understanding of it. Was the attack upon Gaza a response to Hamas’ rockets? Why don’t you ask what the rockets were a response to? Why don’t you ask that? Forcing Gazans to live in an open prison where just enough food is permitted in, according to the US State Dept, to keep them at “near starvation” levels? Or was it caused by the three Israeli’s tragically killed? If that then why not go back just a couple of weeks to the two Palestinian teens shot in the back, with video to prove it, by the IDF?”

  3. Krauss
    March 9, 2015, 3:20 pm

    Liz remember who owns the Times’.

    Kristof knows the boundaries of criticism of Israel; do it out of love for Apartheid.

    If he really went all the way he’d be out of a job. This is the limit of what you can do in the Times as of right now.

    • DaBakr
      March 9, 2015, 4:53 pm

      @k
      you would have no idea what the times would be like if it were actually 1/2 as pro-Zionist as you seem to think it is. It is only because they lean to the left that you even read the times in the first place would be my guess. If they were truly pro-Zionist-I doubt it would be considered reading among the MW crowd. And exactly why should a newspaper tow the pro-Palestinian ‘line’ just because you and the readers here think its a ‘just’ cause. If you owned a newspaper (e.g. the rulers of Qatar and AJ) then you can tell your own reporters and op-eds exactly what kind of content you won’t allow.

      lefties…. keep on proving the old canard about tyrants being behind every liberal.

      • Donald
        March 9, 2015, 11:07 pm

        “you would have no idea what the times would be like if it were actually 1/2 as pro-Zionist as you seem to think it is. ”

        That’s silly. I can’t speak for Krauss–well, actually, in this case I probably can, because I doubt anyone here is unaware of the fact that the NYT is hated by the rightwing Zionist crowd and even some of the so-called liberal Zionists were upset that they gave as much coverage as they did to the slaughtered civilians in Gaza. So, yes, DeBakr, people here are well aware of just how far to the right the Zionist spectrum goes. People in that part of the spectrum are outraged by Tom Friedman or Kristof or the NYT for uttering any criticism of Israel at all, and Kristof here goes about as far as anyone in the opinion section ever does (except, I gather, Anthony Lewis way back, but I don’t remember firsthand.) One can read the comments after Kristof’s column and get a taste of it, and I’ve seen one article elsewhere just today where the author was blasting Kristof for criticizing Israel when it was all Hamas’s fault.

      • Giles
        March 10, 2015, 7:42 am

        Having only pro Israel Jews write on Palestine is unbiased journalism at its best, correct DaBakr? How can anyone be critical of that? Must be anti-semites.

  4. a blah chick
    March 9, 2015, 4:44 pm

    “… its exactly about Zionism and the narrative that Zionists wish would be excepted as the uncontested version of historical events-through narrative and/or when that doesn’t work- lies, revisionism, Israeli government hasbara, propaganda, terrorism, lawfare and bds” [boycotting Palestinian businesses; sanctioning Palestinian charities; divesting from the Arab sector]

    Fixed it for you DB!

    • DaBakr
      March 9, 2015, 5:00 pm

      thank you abc

      you prove my point nicely. and I say that without irony.*

      *except you repeated my mac’s OS10.10’s new rampaging auto-spell features mangling ‘accepted’ into “excepted” (though that could work from your pop, possibly)

      • RoHa
        March 10, 2015, 5:49 am

        Auto spell mangled “pov” to “pop”?

        It is a strange feeling to find myself in agreement with a Zionist, but I too find that the software does not reduce the need for editing. Instead of looking for my own typos, I now have to look for the “corrections”.

  5. jewishgoyim
    March 9, 2015, 11:16 pm

    Strange to see Kristof on a beat where there are no teenage prostitutes to be defended from awful people…

  6. Bumblebye
    March 10, 2015, 4:50 am

    I wonder if Kristof saw these boys parkour-ing round Gaza? Short video they made post-Banksy:
    http://www.theguardian.com/cities/video/2015/mar/10/banksy-parkour-gaza-shadia-mansour-video

    • just
      March 10, 2015, 8:36 am

      Thanks for that, Bumblebye!

      An amazing video, with amazing young Palestinians. I’m quite sure that he gave them a miss.

  7. eGuard
    March 10, 2015, 6:21 am

    Quite telling, again, is the Comments section (245 as of now). Top Readers Picks (i.e. by readers votes) are about 50/50. But the NYT Picks (by the staff) only lists those blaming the Palestinians. This one, for example, is recommended by NYT staff:
    Mr. Kristof misguides … by not asking why, after millions of dollars of humanitarian aid was sent to Gaza after last summer’s war, Hamas has not begun rebuilding homes and businesses and restoring infrastructure.

  8. just
    March 10, 2015, 9:46 am

    There’s an interview in The Guardian this morning with Issa Amro (Youth Against Settlements and B’Tselem’s Camera Project). It ends with:

    “In Palestine we like life, we like to have fun, to have a life like all other people in the world. I want to stay young and fight for the rights of my people and my homeland. But I am not your normal human rights campaigner because I am not allowed to be. You can’t divorce Palestinian human rights from our political rights. Our struggle is about occupation, future, history, homeland. Other human rights campaigners document issues, or try to change the situation without working on the ground. Here we live our reality, we experience directly the brutality. We will never give up.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/mar/10/palestine-fieldpost-not-normal-human-rights-campaigner#comment-48673395

  9. JimMichie
    March 10, 2015, 11:29 am

    Thank you, Mondoweiss, an excellent incisive analysis of a “columnist” doing the thinly veiled bidding of his master, the New York Times, which is intractably bent on shielding and defending indefensible Israel, the Apartheid “state”. Kristof knows all too well this distorted “philosophy” of the Times and writes to it very carefully.

Leave a Reply