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.