Revealing Silence at the Egyptian Border: Why does Hamas victimize its own?
[A version of this essay appears at Pajama’s Media with some interesting comments. It is the first in a series of posts that will examine the (pathetic) way the MSM has covered the Gaza operation based on a 24/7 recording of BBC, CNN International, and Skye. If any other stations have particularly interesting coverage, please send me links.]
At about 1:10 on Sunday December 28, 2000, the BBC anchor Peter Dobbie found out, along with his audience, that there were 40 Egyptian ambulances ready to evacuate wounded, and lorries full of medical goods sent by Qatar to restock Gazan hospitals, waiting at the border crossing in Egypt. (According to another source there were also 50 Egyptian doctors ready to go into the Strip to help.) Since Dobbie and his audience had heard the repeated complaint from the people in Gaza that the hospitals were overwhelmed by the injured and desperately lacking in supplies, one would have expected the border to be full of purposeful activity. Instead, nothing was happening. The Gazan side lay silent.
A real journalist, someone with a smell for revealing anomalies, would have immediately recognized this as an important story to follow up on.
After all, Dobbie had not hesitated to interrupt and forcefully challenge Israeli spokesmen on precisely the issues at stake: the disproportion between Israeli caused fatalities and Israeli suffered fatalities, the inevitable suffering of innocent civilians when such a bombing campaign takes place is so densely populated an area. “The arithmetic doesn’t work,” said Dobbie, “Nine Israeli dead versus 1400 Palestinian dead.”
So here was a perfect issue with which to challenge Hamas spokesmen: “The math doesn’t work? If you are so distraught at the loss of life of your own people, why don’t you take care of them? What on earth would possess you not to avail yourselves of what you pleadingly tell us you so desperately need?” As the honest and courageous Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey put it, “My head hurts.”
Alas… the BBC did nothing of the sort. The next hours and days saw nothing but canned footage repeating Palestinian complaints, voiced not only by Hamas spokesmen and BBC reporters, but also UN officials like Chris Gunning and Human Rights advocates.
Too bad. Had the BBC behaved like real journalists, they might have taken the “golden” (read excremental) thread that leads out of the labyrinth, and straight to the “real story.” That story, of course, is the classic Palestinian strategy, taken to new heights by Hamas in the early 21st century – play the victim card… at all costs. It was the same one Hizbullah played so effectively in the summer of 2006.
Hamas initially offered two reasons for not allowing the wounded out: 1) The roads were too dangerous to venture out on; and 2) they were composing a list of the wounded. Both of these are just the kind of lame excuse that, had they been voiced by Israeli spokesmen, the BBC interviewers would have jumped on. Israelis have targeted only military and government sites; no ambulances have been hit, and the roads are full of cars bringing wounded (past cameras) to hospital. As for the making up a list of 600 hundred wounded before evacuating any… surely you must be kidding.
Then Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, speaking to Khaled Abu Toameh, denied the Egyptian allegation that Hamas was to blame, “claiming that many of the wounded rejected an Egyptian offer to receive medical treatment in Cairo in protest against Cairo’s ‘support’ for the IDF operation. He accused the Egyptians of taking part in the “siege” on the Gaza Strip by refusing to reopen the Rafah crossing.” Hamas even delivered before the cameras a group of “family members” who claimed they refused to let their wounded go because of their anger at Egypt’s behavior. On the contrary, as Ma’an News Agency reported, Hamas would allow no passage of wounded until the border was completely open.
This, of course, is yet another hollow claim. Gazans don’t hesitate to accept medical aid from the Israelis, the people who, in their minds actually inflict the wounds. So why not take Egyptian aid? And of the 600 wounded (according to Palestinian sources…) all of them, suffering in a ludicrously crowded and understaffed hospital, refused to go to Egypt?
Although the reasons are hollow, they do tell us about Hamas priorities, and the overwhelming message of this refusal is that helping their own civilians survive ranks very low on their scale, well below revenge and Public Relations concerns. Indeed, as with Israel, so with Egypt: they hold their people hostage to maximalist demands.
Some say, Hamas doesn’t care about their people. The evidence suggests far worse. They actively seek the victimization of their own people. Indeed, the enormous resources they have expended on the constant, if largely ineffective barrage of rockets on Israeli civilians, is actually quite staggering. Not only have they lavished much of their meager resources to this vicious and gratuitous activity, but as a result of those attacks, guaranteed that their borders would be closed, and their people would continue to suffer… hostages to their hatred. Thus, the phony excuses offered for the border snafu disguise something far more sinister: Hamas wants the crisis; they want civilians dying dramatically in wretched hospitals.
On the face of it, it seems absurd that a government would actively victimize its own people. What advantage in making an already miserable people suffer even more? There are two major explanations here. First, Hamas (and many other Palestinian groups) are addicted to violence against Israel. Anything they can do, no matter how small, to make Israelis suffer, they will do, whatever the cost. As the Israeli satirical program, Shavuah Sof (like Saturday Night Live) had Hamas leader al Zahar explain to Ehud Barak, “Kassams are like cigarettes… you can’t just quit all at once.” (HT: NP) Thus, they have spent virtually all their resources on smuggling and firing weapons while their people suffered their government’s neglect and Israeli retaliatory blockades.
But the second explanation is far more disturbing, because it involves the media. Hamas only gains a real advantage to having Palestinians suffer if they, who do so much to inflict that suffering, can blame it on Israel. It would be absurd for Hamas to stand in front of the world and say, “look at how much we make our own people suffer; join us in hating Israel.” So the game is intensely hypocritical. It depends on getting public opinion, both in the Arab-Muslim world, and in the West to accept a scapegoating narrative that deflects responsibility.
And the pathetic thing is, it works even in the West. And it works primarily because of the behavior of the Western media, who systematically frame the conflict in terms of the Israeli Goliath and the Palestinian David, who do not hesitate to challenge Israeli spokesmen, interrupt them, contradict them; but who fail to do anything of the sort with their Arab interlocutors.
Thus, for hours and days after the story of idling ambulances first broke, BBC never mentioned it, never raised it with the multiple Palestinian and NGO and UN officials and spokespeople who complained bitterly about the conditions of the hospitals. On the contrary, they continued to run footage of complaints from Gaza about the terrible condition of the hospitals and calls for international intervention to save the poor people of Gaza. This enables the worst kind of hypocrisy, of demopathic behavior — accuse others of violations of a humanitarian code which you flout, not only with your enemies, but with your own people.
Thus, for hours and days after the story of idling ambulances first broke, BBC never mentioned it. On the contrary, they continued to run footage of complaints from Gaza about the terrible condition of the hospitals, and calls for international intervention to save the poor people of Gaza. This enables the worst kind of hypocrisy, of demopathic behavior – accuse others of violations of a humanitarian code to which you have no commitment.
The next day, when Christian Fraser finally got some more airtime again, the border was open even if sluggish. No mention of the earlier, revealing incident ensued. Kristy Lang, the anchor, begins with a leading question that does not allow for much elucidation:
KL: “I’m with BBC correspondent Christian Fraser who’s at the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza. This just to remind you this is a crossing that has been closed for the last few days. They are letting some people through, isn’t that right Christian?”
CF: Yes, they’re letting across the most seriously injured, they’ve just let 10 in the past several hours, up to about 40 in the last couple of days. These are the most seriously injured…”
Meantime, the headliner at the bottom of the screen reads “Palestinian medical officials: 10 killed in latest attacks…Palestinian medics say 360 people have died… UN says 62 women and children killed…”
Nor is this kind of discreet silence passed over Hamas behavior restricted to the Beeb. CNN didn’t even mention the story, despite their anchors citing material from the wire services, where all the major ones covered it. When a young girl described waking up in bed next to her dead sisters she then, astonishingly, blamed it on Hamas – “”Hamas is the cause, in the first place, of all wars…”
When ABC ran this footage they kept only the complaint, not the final, devastating comment. Why? Because it didn’t make sense? Because it violated the “grand narrative” and would only confuse a the public?
The moral irony here is almost unbearable. While Hamas systematically and deliberately victimizes its people in order to court Western support in outrage at the suffering of her people, the media get indignant about how Israel makes the Palestinian suffer. The very values that underlie the media’s rebuke – the value of human life – are values that Israel and the Western media share and Hamas has contempt for. And in so doing, they make Hamas’ revolting calculus of inflicting suffering on their own people pay off.
And in so doing, the media not only enable the greatest victimizers of the Palestinians, they also feul the hate and rage that increasingly fills the streets not only of the Arab and Muslim world, but the West as well. Are they fools or knaves? Or are they knaves for being such fools?