The New York Times has published a long article about Gaza’s misery that begins on the front page today, and then takes up an entire inside page, under the headline, “With Gaza in Financial Crisis, Fears That ‘an Explosion’s Coming.’” The article is a manifesto from Hasbara Central — the Israeli propaganda arm — explaining the worsening Gaza tragedy as the product of Palestinian infighting. An Israeli general is quoted at length by reporter David Halbfinger; United Nations and human rights officials are not quoted at all.
The article states this theme from the start:
At the heart of the crisis — and its most immediate cause — is a crushing financial squeeze, the result of a tense standoff between Hamas, the militant Islamist group that rules Gaza, and Fatah, the secular party entrenched on the West Bank.
So Gaza is suffering because the Palestinians can’t get along.
Epitomizing the worst of NYT coverage, the article only gets to the Israeli blockade on Gaza — cutting it off from the world, shooting up its fishing boats, flooding its waters with sewage, and killing a wheelchair-bound demonstrator across a fence — in the 12th paragraph (and twice glancingly after that):
Israel has blockaded Gaza for more than a decade, with severe restrictions on the flow of goods into the territory and people out of it, hoping to contain Hamas and also, perhaps, to pressure Gazans to eventually oust the group from power.
Contain Hamas — from what? Hamas was elected. But the real killer is two paragraphs on: Hamas could choose to go to war again:
For Hamas, the deteriorating situation is leaving it with few options. The one it has resorted to three times — going to war with Israel, in hopes of generating international sympathy and relief in the aftermath — suddenly seems least attractive.
This is a lie. Israel started all three of those “wars.” As Norman Finkelstein states in his new book on Gaza:
In the popular imagination confected by state propaganda, and dutifully echoed by everyone else in authority, Israel is almost always reacting to or retaliating against “terrorism.” But neither the inhuman and illegal blockade Israel imposed on Gaza nor the periodic murderous “operations” Israel has unleashed against it trace back to Hamas rocket fire. These were Israeli political decisions springing from Israeli political calculations, in which Hamas military actions figured as a null factor.
Finkelstein refuses to characterize these actions as wars — but as “massive military attacks against a civilian population.”
This long piece might have been written by Hasbara Central. Although the article does quote the valuable Nathan Thrall explaining that Hamas has limited agency in Gaza, the thrust of the story is that the crisis has been going on for years, and it’s the Palestinians’ fault.
- The article has 48 paragraphs, but only one one even mentions that the Israeli blockade “for more than a decade” might have anything to do with Gaza’a present state.
- There is not one single mention of the destruction caused by Israel’s three attacks on Gaza since 2008, including the razing of hundreds of thousands of of homes and other buildings, which might just affect the Gazan economy. Also, in the last (2014) attack alone, Israel killed 500 children.
- Halbfinger obviously interviewed a number of Gazans, but he must have asked them pointed questions, or else censored their answers — because not a single one of them seems to blame Israel for their plight, which is an impossible result in real life.
- Halbfinger praises Israel’s new “concrete-and-electronic barrier,” calling it “an impressive display of ingenuity,” with the same starstruck tone Hasbarists once used about how Israel “had made the desert bloom.” The article expresses sympathy for the fact that Israel must spend $1 billion on this barrier. But he couldn’t seem to find any “ingenuity” among Gazans, who must have survived the 10-year blockade purely by luck. (Nathan Englander’s new novel about Israel grants far more inventiveness to Gaza’s engineers.)
- The last 3 paragraphs, which imagine a mass nonviolent protest against the blockade by Gazans, are interesting, and actually echo the end of Norman Finkelstein’s book. But why would the “mass nonviolent action” Halbfinger says Gazans are considering “easily lead to casualties and escalation?” Could it be he forgot to report that Israeli soldiers regularly fire into the buffer zone that eats up Gaza’s territory inside the high fences?
The story behind this story is that Gaza is in crisis worse than ever, the blockade is neverending, just like the occupation, and Hasbara Central understands that the suffering is starting to draw more of the world’s attention. It needs to provide a false explanation; Israel can’t ignore the bad optics. So: The suffering is caused by fighting between the Palestinians. The blockade is a minor afterthought.
And just when you thought that the U.S. political discourse was shifting at the margins — this article will enrage you.