Media still down on Cast Lead
A year on, press focuses on Israel’s 'punishment' of Gaza
The high-profile supporters of Medical Aid for Palestinians, who placed a full-page open letter to Gordon Brown in the national press (over the holiday weekend), calling on him to demand an unconditional end to the blockade of Gaza, might have put their money to better use in the clinics of Hamas controlled Gaza.
The letter, signed by Israel critics such as Lord Patten, Lord Steel and historian Avi Shlaim, was a less effective message than the reporting directly from Gaza one year on from Operation Cast Lead.
A year ago, the frustrated international press was kept on an Israeli ridge overlooking Gaza while the Israeli Defence Forces conducted operations which ended the rocket attacks terrorising Sderot and other communities.
Since then, Israel policy towards Gaza and the IDF’s conduct of the war has been under constant attack, culminating in the Goldstone Report and the effort to bar Tzipi Livni from these shores.
The fresh narrative on the first anniversary of Cast Lead is humanitarian. In a moderate intervention, former US President Jimmy Carter, writing in the Guardian on December 19, set the agenda with the warning of another winter of “intense personal suffering in Gaza”.
The Times was alone among the nationals to offer a positive gloss
Carter noted that his efforts to persuade Arab and European governments to step in have been met with the response “that the Israeli blockade makes any assistance impossible” despite “enormous” funds for aid.
There appears to be no lack of resources. In a helpful Gaza-by-numbers, the Guardian reported that $5bn has been pledged worldwide for Palestinians since the Gaza war.
Media reports from Gaza are almost universally downbeat. Almost all the dispatches refer to a war which left 1,400 Palestinians dead and the infrastructure pulverised. Tobias Buck wrote in the FT that “much of the rubble and piles of concrete and twisted metal have been cleared from the streets” but the “bitterness and hatred of Israel felt by many residents continues to fester”. The report noted an absence of meaningful reconstruction and the lack of building materials.
An accompanying FT editorial was savage. It stated that the “siege of Gaza is not only wrong: it is counterproductive”. Israel’s policy of “collective punishment” is illegal and has strengthened the hands of Hamas and Hizbollah. FT criticism is significant because of its influence on the opinion of business elites in the advanced countries.
The BBC website focused on United Nations reaction a year on. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was quoted as saying “basic human rights” were being denied and demanded an end to the “unacceptable” blockade. There was no suggestion that Hamas itself might be denying some Gazans their human rights through policies of violence and intimidation. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA), which ministers to Palestinian refugees, complained to the Beeb of unsanitary water supplies and a rise in infant mortality.
The Times, alone among the nationals, managed a more positive gloss. A dispatch from James Hider in Gaza appeared under the headline “New buildings emerge from the rubble a year after war.” It explained that building materials were reaching the enclave via a “thousand or so tunnels” to Egypt. It at least acknowledged that Gaza has an Arab border too.
What is perhaps as disturbing in the diaspora as the reporting of Gaza is the lack of political debate in Israel itself about the blockade. This frustration was reflected by David Shulman, Professor of Humanistic Studies at the Hebrew University, in an essay in the New York Review of Books.
In a review of the Goldstone Report, he suggests that the “moral fibre of Israel” has been corrupted and that Israel’s response is to slough of criticism rather than acknowledge mistakes and seek to put them right.
It is a harsh judgment from within Israel when the enemies are engaged in a propaganda war. But it gives some pause for thought.
Alex Brummer is City Editor of the Daily Mail