Steven Erlanger, the NYT Middle East correspondant has written a major piece on “The Children of the Intifada,” a long-overdue look at the devastating consequences of the endemic state of war that exists in the Palestinian territories. It’s a classic example of how “framing” the story makes so much of a difference, and why the two criteria of reliable and valuable journalism are accuracy — most of his concrete information is probably accurate — and relevance. It’s in his silence on the extensive and relevant information about Palestinian contributions to the violence that plagues their youth that Erlanger fails his readership most dramatically.
A piece about Palestinian youth lost in a world of hatred and violence needs to weigh the obvious factors in this tragic scene — Israel keeps the Palestinian population in a headlock — against the less obvious, indeed surprising factors — a Palestinian culture so committed to war that it sacrifices the lives and minds of its children to the pursuit of its vendettas. A good journalist would give both elements to the reader, interpret the evidence in terms of the two alternatives, and even pass judgment at the end on which is more significant. Erlanger does nothing of the sort.
My first exposure to Erlanger was last November when I heard him speak at a conference on the Lebanese War of this summer. He is the man who made the ludicrous remarks I took out of the final version of my Herzliya talk:
As one prominent Middle East correspondent for a major Western newspaper put it recently at a conference on the media and the Lebanese war – and here I paraphrase – “there’s no real double standard; I’m not intimidated and I don’t think there’s serious intimidation of journalists by Israel’s enemies; the MSM does not really have a double standard in their reporting on the conflict; the MSM is perfectly justified in raising the issue of ‘disproportionate response’; and basically, we, the MSM, are doing a pretty good job.”
Many people had told me that Erlanger was one of the better NYT journalists covering the Arab-Israeli conflict. This article illustrates well the kind of “high standards” of both writing and interview research that one expects from a NYT journalist, accompanied by a radical skew that systematically misinforms the reader of the nature of the problem examined.
To better understand what’s wrong with the article, let me first review a key issue that explains why our media have done such an appalling job covering the Middle East. According to the prevailing “story-line,” this conflict is about a people who want nationhood, frustrated by their overly powerful neighbors, the Palestinian David vs. the Israeli Goliath. Here the agents of oppression are the Israelis, the victims, the Palestinians. All kinds of liberal cognitive egocentrism inhabit such a world view — Palestinians are like anyone, they prefer peace to war, they want their children to succeed in higher learning, they want a nation of their own, alongside the Israeli one whose creation has cause them so much pain. In this scenario, suicide terror is the product of “despair” and “hopelessness” at achieving what we all want — the good society.
However this paradigm may find supporting information, it necessarily ignores the impressive evidence of another, far more disturbing tale at work. Here, whatever the Palestinian people want, their leaders want war and consider them sacrificial victims in a war of vengeance and honor that can only end with Israel’s annihilation. Here this elite, rather than using the opportunity to state-build and improve the lives of their people offered by the Oslo Peace Process, used it as a Trojan Horse, an opportunity to prepare for war. And here this elite systematically used the occasion of controlling its media and education systems to implant a genocidal hatred of Israel in its young — a form of child abuse that should stagger the liberal imagination. In this scenario, suicide terror is above all the product of despair and hopelessness at destroying Israel, to which the leaders and their brainwashed children happily sacrifice “the good life.”
The victory of this elite in both destroying a peaceful future for its people with the sacrifice of its youth in the second Intifada, and the MSM’s report of events as if it were the fault of Israel’s “disproportionate response,” has sealed the fate of this unfortunate generation. In presenting this horrorific situation, the PCP journalist must find a way to present the data bass awkwards, laying the heavy blame on Israel — the occupation is the problem, Palestinians would opt for peace if only Israel made enough concessions, etc. — even as any conscientious observer knows that this is deeply deceptive.
Below, I systematically fisk this article, as deceptive for what it does not say as misleading with what it does say, redeemed only by some of the interviews it quotes. At the end, I make some general comments on why this seemingly competent piece is actually one of the standard products of the Augean Stables.
Mental Exercise: One of Erlanger’s multiple claims at the conference where he gave the MSM fairly high marks for their Middle East coverage was: “I’m not intimidated by Palestinian violence, and I don’t think most are. On the contrary, if the Palestinians tried to intimidate me, it would have the opposite effect.” So while you read Erlanger’s take on the tragedy of the Palestinians, ask yourself what he might have to deal with were he to be any more explicit on the role of their elites — “secular” and religious — in fostering, prolonging, intensifying this suffering. And then ask yourself why he didn’t.
Erlanger in bold blockquote, RL in regular font.
Children of the Palestinian intifada: The lost generation
By Steven Erlanger
Sunday, March 11, 2007
NABLUS, West Bank: Their worried parents call them the lost generation of Palestine: its most radical, most accepting of violence, and most despairing.
They are the children of the second intifada that began in 2000, growing up in a territory riven by infighting, seared by violence, occupied by Israel, largely cut off from the world and segmented up by barriers and checkpoints.
Who “occupies” the Palestinians? You could say the Israelis, despite their withdrawal from most of the population centers of “Palestine” during the Oslo Process (1994). But you also could argue that their elite occupies them much as Arab elites occupy and exploit Arab masses throughout the Arab world. This generation of Palestinians represents the first one raised and trained not by Israelis but by their own people. But the devastating evidence of this elite’s abuse of an entire Palestinian generation with genocidal brainwashing has not changed Erlanger’s “short-hand” for the situation — “occupied by Israel.” This is not a promising start.
To hear these young people talk is to listen in on budding nihilism and a loss of hope.
“Ever since we were little, we see guns and tanks, and little kids wanting little guns to fight against Israel, ” said Raed Debie, 24, a student at An Najah University here.
I wonder why.
Issa Khalil, 25, broke in, agitated. “We never see anything good in our lives,” he said. He was arrested for throwing stones in the first intifada, the uprising of mass civil disobedience that began in the late 1980s and led to the 1993 Oslo accord with Israel. He was arrested again in the second uprising as the agreement faltered.
“As the agreement faltered…”?!? I guess, to be even-handed, Arafat’s “No!” at Camp David, the “disproportional response” to Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, and the unleashing of a war that targeted Israeli civilians with constant incitement by the PA media… none of these factors qualify as major sources for the “lack of anything good in our lives.” Okay, so Erlanger doesn’t seem eager to ask the Palestinians he interviews whether they don’t think that the decision to go to war in October 2000 was a mistake and a major contributor to the current disaster in which they live, but to not inform us, his readers…?
“And for what?” he asked. “I wasted 14 years of my life, we all did. For five years I haven’t left Nablus. Here there’s unemployment and no peace; it retreats, we go backward.”
While generations of young Palestinians have grown up stateless, seething at Israel as the visible agent of oppression, this generation is uniquely stymied.
Note the alocution “seething at Israel as the visible agent of oppression…” by which Erlanger avoids dealing with the other (and, one would argue, to anyone looking at the situation without the distorting lenses of PCP, the most visible) agent of Palestinian oppression — the Palestinian “power elite.”
Israeli checkpoints, barriers and closures, installed by Israelis trying to protect their own citizens from Palestinian suicide bombers, have lowered their horizons, shrunk their Palestine and taken away virtually any informal interaction with outsiders, let alone with ordinary Israelis. The security measures have become even tighter since the election to power a year ago of the Islamist group Hamas, which preaches eternal “resistance” to Israeli occupation and rejects Israel’s right to permanent existence on this land.
Again note the careful phrasing. Erlanger gives voice to the role of Palestinian behavior in provoking Israel’s defensive measures. But the subject of the transitive verb “lowered their horizons,” is Israeli deeds. The mention of “eternal resistance” to Israel’s right to exist only comes at the end of the paragraph in the context of Hamas, not the preaching of PA TV throughout the Oslo Process and Arab and Palestinian leadership since 1947.
During most of the 1980’s and 90’s, as many as 150,000 Palestinians came into Israel daily to work, study and shop. And while they were not treated as equals, many learned Hebrew and established relationships.
And while they weren’t treated as equals…. I don’t know. Maybe not in every case, but say in the case of Jamal al Durah, for example, some at least were treated with exceptional kindness.
Now, the only Israelis Palestinians see are armed soldiers and settlers. The West Bank is cut into three parts by checkpoints and permits; Gazan men under 30 are virtually unable to leave their tiny, poor and overcrowded territory. Few talk of peace, only of a lifetime of “resistance.”
So now the pre-Intifada West Bank and Gaza looks good. (And they were: before Intifada I, the Palestinian standard of living in the West Bank was considerably higher than any Arab population in the surrounding countries — Syria, Jordan, Egypt. [“Yes,” responds the liberal, “but they didn’t have dignity!”]) But you would not have known that from journalists who at that time, presented the situation, especially in Gaza in precisely the same terms. Today, to read Erlanger, Palestinians suddenly live in hopeless, tiny, poor, overcrowded territory, which accounts for their war talk. His readers would never know that this war talk has been a constant (with highs and lows) since 1948.
Thus, for Erlanger to end the paragraph, “few talk of peace, only of a lifetime of resistance,” as if this were genuinely new, is a way of confirming the PCP for the reader. If only things were better, Palestinians would be talking of peace as some of them did in the 1990s. How could the uninformed reader, trusting the NYT’s reporter, know that even then, in what he presents as the halcyon days before 2000, the warmongers dominated, and deliberately produced the current misery. One wouldn’t have a clue from this article… so far. Will this article get better?
Many Israelis agree that the current generation of young Palestinians have been thoroughly radicalized, but say it is the product of Palestinian political and religious leaders who have sanctioned and promoted violence and terrorism against Israel. Palestine is an overwhelmingly youthful place. 56.4 percent of Palestinians are under 19, and in Gaza, 75.6 percent of the population is under 30, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
Okay, we finally get a mention of the “other point of view,” of how Palestinian political and religious leaders are responsible for this state of hopeless belligerence. Of course this is a) only put in the mouth of Israelis (hence dubiously valid given their “obvious” desire to blame someone else), and b) given no detail or support. Just one sentence before we move on to statistics about youth. Apparently the other view only gets a paragraph. Is it just too tedious to elaborate on?
Here Erlanger shows himself a worthy continuator to the kind of coverage the NYT has produced at the beginning of the Intifada. When William Orme wrote a piece in late 2000, explaining the sources of this sudden and terrible violence that swept away the “Peace process” that the NYT editorial board had so enthusiastically supported, he covered the role of Palestinian incitement to war in the following manner:
Israelis cite as one egregious example a televised sermon that defended the killing of the two soldiers [at Ramallah on October 12, 2000]. “Whether Likud or Labor, Jews are Jews,” proclaimed Sheik Ahmad Abu Halabaya in a live broadcast from a Gaza City mosque the day after the killings.
Apparently, not only was Orme unwilling to give independent credence to Israeli claims — for which terrifying evidence abounded — but he was determined to make the Israelis look hysterical in the bargain. Okay, so the good Sheikh is a bit prejudiced. So what?
But this is the full text of his speech:
“The Jews are the Jews. Whether Labor or Likud the Jews are Jews. They do not have any moderates or any advocates of peace. They are all liars. They must be butchered and must be killed… The Jews are like a spring as long as you step on it with your foot it doesn’t move. But if you lift your foot from the spring, it hurts you and punishes you… It is forbidden to have mercy in your hearts for the Jews in any place and in any land. Make war on them any place that you find yourself. Any place that you meet them, kill them.” PA TV, October 13, 2000
Orme’s stunning editing techniques, done in the service of even-handedness – Orme was balancing the good Sheikh’s sermon came as the equivalent of and Orme Israeli TV inciting its population by showing the pictures of the lynchings — betrayed his readership. If Americans had known about the genocidal and Jihadi ideology of the second Intifada, they might not have been so surprised by 9-11 and ready sooner to face the problems of this new and troubled century. And Erlanger is a worthy successor to such betrayals of his reading public.
Opinion polls show a generation more supportive of armed struggle and terrorism than their parents, according to Waleed Ladadweh of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. The violence is not only directed toward Israel but toward one another. ” We’re pushed all the time to be more political, more militant, more religious, more extreme,” said Shadi el-Haj, a 20-year-old student at An Najah. “We want to be Palestinians, like the generation of the first intifada. But people push you, are you Fatah or Hamas? All our problems start with, I’m Fatah, I’m Hamas. It wasn’t like that before.”
The revolution devours itself, as so many others. The karma of preaching that “only through the barrel of a gun” can anything be solved comes home to roost. Erlanger could have gone in any number of interesting directions with this interview. Explore the issue of who’s doing the pushing. Ask them if they think it really not like that before. How about asking Shadi if he knows about how in every “uprising” against the Zionists, Arabs killed more Arabs than they killed Jews — from the 1936-9 riots to the apparently widely romanticized first intifada? Or would that be too offensive?
During the first intifada the young were a symbol of the struggle for statehood, leaders of a popular uprising that focused, at least at first, on resistance over violence. But in the brutal struggle of the second intifada, which has been taken over by the militias, many of them controlled from leaders outside Palestine, “now the youth are irrelevant,” said Nader Said, a political scientist at Birzeit University in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Again, Erlanger doesn’t ask hard questions. Is Hamas, perhaps the greatest agent in making the second intifada brutal, “controlled by leaders from outside Palestine”? How can you say the youth are “not irrelevant” to the second intifada when it is precisely through their “martyrdom” that so many of the dynamics of that war got their force? They are not irrelevant. Brainwashed, they are key players.
Walla: “Shahada is very, very beautiful. Everyone yearns for Shahada. What could be better than going to paradise?”
Host: “What is better, peace and full rights for the Palestinian people, or Shahada?”
Walla: “Shahada. I will achieve my rights after becoming a Shahida.”
[Host nods approvingly — RL]
Yussra: “Of course Shahada is a good thing. We don’t want this world, we want the Afterlife. We benefit not from this life, but from the Afterlife… The children of Palestine have accepted the concept that this is Shahada, and that death by Shahada is very good. Every Palestinian child aged, say 12, says ’Oh Lord, I would like to become a Shahid.” [PATV, June 9, 2002]
Not a clue to this kind of brainwashing from Erlanger.
More importantly, this generation has lost faith in political solutions. “They haven’t lived one moment in a period of real hope for a real state,” he said. “And with this internal fighting, there is more and more a feeling that we don’t deserve a state, that we’re inadequate, which kills the morale of the young.”
First we get something of a non-sequitur from Erlanger: This generation has lost faith in political solutions. Did I miss something? Did they try “political solutions” and fail? Wouldn’t the unrelieved recourse to war that has characterized the Palestinian position lead to the opposite conclusion? Wouldn’t we expect people who are learning from past experience to say, “We’ve lost faith in military solutions”? So what on earth is Erlanger doing by saying, “More importantly…” and presenting this conclusion rejecting the untried, civilized path as somehow logical? The only possible explanation that can justify such a presentation is that Erlanger accepts the Palestinian “narrative” that they “tried” the political solution of Oslo and it was because of Israel that Oslo failed. Either Erlanger knows little, or just can’t think his way out of PCP, the duped mentality to which Palestinian propaganda systematically pitches it’s self-justifications.
After this non-sequitur follow a series of important comments, as revealing for the self-deceptions involved as for the flashes of honesty they contain. Of course Erlanger neither unpacks them for his readership, nor challenges their dubious validity.
They haven’t lived one moment in a period of real hope for a real state… So, as far as the Palestinians are concerned, the Oslo process was a sham. Does that mean that they acknowledge that Arafat never took it seriously? Or do they believe the Israelis never meant to give them a state? Barak sure seemed determined to do that. Apparently Erlanger doesn’t ask these questions. But wouldn’t it be interesting to know if these youth have ever thought that their own leaders were the ones who made Oslo a sham?
…there’s more and more a feeling that we don’t deserve a state, that we’re inadequate… Now there’s an interesting direction to pursue — signs of self-awareness? What is it that you Palestinians think you need to deserve a state? (My guess is, the answer would have been on the order of, “we need to fight for it and we have lost our ability to unite against the Zionists,” but it would have been interesting to see if anyone showed awareness of the demands of civil society for state-building. Typically, however, Erlanger has no follow up.
… which kills the morale of the young.” Meaning that the self-awareness of how corrupt and hopelessly violent their leadership, both political and religious, has sapped their enthusiasm for the fight with Israel. Is Professor Said disappointed that this situation has decreased the belligerent urge? Or does he see this as an historic opportunity to teach this generation to use more constructive tools than the barrel of a gun and the suicide belt? Would it occur to Erlanger to ask such a question? Would Said even begin to know how to answer?
Some 58 percent of those under 30, the center’s polls show, expect a more violent struggle with Israel over the next five to 10 years, and only 22 percent believe that there will be a peaceful negotiated solution between Israel and the Palestinians. Some 48 percent believe such an agreement is impossible, and 20 percent more believe it will only come “in a few generations.”
There are no comparable polling figures from the late 1980’s, when the first intifada broke out. But in 2000, according to polling done by the center, only 32 percent of Palestinians between 18 and 30 believed there would be conflict and violence with Israel in the next five to 10 years. Some 21 percent thought there would be more peace, while 16 percent thought there would be less. Those older than 30 expected more peace and less conflict.
In 2000 only 7 percent of all Palestinians and only 6 percent of those 18 to 30 identified themselves as favoring Hamas. Forty-six percent and 47 percent of those 18 to 30 favored Fatah. Today, after a difficult year of Hamas rule, the two factions are roughly equal. Among those 18 to 30, the spread is wider, with 36 percent favoring Fatah and 27 percent Hamas.
Undigested by the journalist, these figures give the impression that when Israel was pursuing peace with the Palestinians and making concessions, there were optimists about peace among their adversaries, but now that they are killing, confining, and humiliating them, they’ve created the monster. Classic liberal cognitive egocentrism. Shades of Jenny Tonge and Cherie Blair: “As long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up you are never going to make progress.”
Zakariya Zubeidi grew up imbued with what he sees as the heroism of the first intifada, built on hope and the conviction that sacrifice was bringing a state and a better future. Now he runs the Al Aksa Brigades in the tough town of Jenin and is wanted by Israel for carrying out attacks against Israelis.
“It was always our choice to be fuel for the struggle,” he said. “But our problem now is that the car burns the youth as fuel but doesn’t move. There’s a problem in the engine, in the head. These kids are willing to be fuel, but many have been burned as waste.”
This seems revealing enough: We chose to be fuel for the struggle. The waste comes from Israel’s ability to defend itself.
Zubeidi was a hero of the first intifada. “When I was younger I thought, if I die, that’s natural, it’s for a cause,” he said. “And today I think differently. To die? For what? For these people who can’t agree? That’s what this generation fears. It’s lost, and its sacrifices are meaningless. Is the Palestinian dream dying? In these circumstances, yes.”
Without Erlanger unpacking just what this “Palestinian dream” of wiping out Israel is — don’t hold your breath — the reader can hardly imagine what good news this might be for the entire world. On the contrary, along with such compassionate individuals as Cherie and Jenny, they might feel immense sadness at this “loss of hope.”
The Youngest Ones
In Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp, in an apartment along the rutted main road unpaved after the halt of American aid to the Palestinian Authority, Najwa and Taher el-Assar brood about their three children, Mustafa, 6, Ahmed, 5, and newborn Salma.
“The boys have become so violent in the way they think,” she said. “In a way, they’re no longer children.” She described how she and Taher watched the news last summer of the shelling on a Gaza beach that left a family dead, a tragedy Israel denied causing but could not explain. “I feel that time stopped,” she said. “And then days later, Mustafa says, ‘I want to be fat, mommy.’ And why? ‘Because I want to put on a suicide belt and not have the Israelis see it,’ he said.”
“I was shocked,” Assar said. “But it’s in the news, the environment, the Israeli operations, the sound of the Apaches and the F-16s and the cannons. It all affects them, and they get nervous. Ahmed is very violent with his brother, he has no patience, he doesn’t like to share, and I have to watch him all the time.”
Wow! Could one ask for a better illustration of how Pallywood TV generates the desire for revenge. These Palestinians, surrounded by evidence of how brutally their own people treat their own people, watch footage of what is almost certainly a family killed by a Palestinian bomb — we are preparing the video on this at Second Draft — and believe that it was done by the Israelis.
Do you see a crater from a shell among these bodies?
Erlanger certainly doesn’t disabuse the family — is the “Israel… could not explain” his editorial or hers? But then again, what can the mother say to her children, were the truth known — “Child, it’s the Hamas who killed that family.”
For the Eid festival, the boys asked for toy Kalashnikovs and Uzis. “They classify the weapons, they want a particular gun. And when you think of the violence, and what future will we have here? It will be a very violent future.”
Taher broke in. “The world is moving ahead and we’re moving backward,” he said. “We’re back to 1948.”
Precisely. And your leadership never let you leave. And journalists like Steve Erlanger, William Orme, and many others, by giving their readers the impression that your leaders had abandoned the desire to destroy Israel, have made it much worse for you by encouraging their irredentism (perfect cover for the Trojan Horse of Oslo), and getting you to blame the Israeli scapegoat rather than your own abusive leadership. And your children, Taher, are their sacrificial victims.
Najwa said softly: “I feel there is no way I can protect them or hide them. Normally people are happy with a new baby, but when I delivered Salma I thought, ‘Oh my God, a third child in this life.’ It haunts me – I think, ‘What if? What if? What if a rocket hits the house? What if the Israelis have another “accident”? What if Mustafa is 19 and attracted to a group of militants and I don’t know, and I hear on TV that this person went to Israel and exploded himself?’ You live with this, ‘What if?’ But there’s no inner peace, you get so nervous you want to scream!”
Taher said: “But we can’t give them security and safety. They can’t live as normal children. When a kid realizes a parent can’t supply security and safety, what is the point of these parents?”
Najwa said: “They understand our anxieties, even when we’re silent.” She tries to explain Israeli sonic booms to the boys as the flatulence of a plane that eats too much, she said. “Yet I become more scared than they do. And they feel it. I hug them to comfort them and I’m the one taking comfort from them!”
Mustafa and Ahmed played with new umbrellas, one printed with Disney characters and one with cats and dogs. They ran in and out of the sitting room. Then they came in, conspiratorial. Watch, they insisted, then pressed the buttons on the umbrellas, which expanded suddenly and flew into the air. “Qassams!” they shouted gleefully, referring to the crude bombs Palestinian militants shoot into Israel. “Qassams!”
The Hothouse of Gaza
In another part of the refugee camp, four black-clad fighters gathered in self-conscious secrecy, members of the Abu Rish brigades, a militant Gazan offshoot of the Fatah movement that opposes the Oslo accords with Israel and has moved closer to Hamas.
Raed, 30, was arrested in the first intifada, when he was 16. He felt a hero, then, but the political result, the 1993 Oslo accords, “were useless and benefited Israel,” he said. “No one can resist with stones or build a nation without violence.”
Heaven forbid Erlanger ask him how Israel benefited from Oslo. Certainly most Israelis rue the Oslo “peace process” and consider it a catastrophe. As for the opinion that no one can resist with stones or build a nation without violence, it is not born, as Erlanger would have us believe, from Oslo’s failure. On the contrary, that’s the very attitude that produced the second intifada and Oslo’s failure.
Like his comrades, he says he is fighting for the future of his own children, but he has small hopes for them, and large fears. “Hamas and Fatah are so divided, the goal of Palestine disappears,” he said. “I talk about willing my children to be martyrs for Allah, but I honestly wish for them to be safe and healthy, that’s all.”
There is bravado there, but also frustration. None of the fighters, who agreed to talk if their last names were not published, believes a Palestinian state will be established; none can imagine living next to Israel. All of them want to leave and start again, somewhere.
Fascinating insight into the honor-shame dilemma. The only option these brave family men will not consider is trying to live at peace with their neighbor with whom pacific relations promises a great deal of good for their families. Leave and start again, perhaps… fight to the death of their last children… but not negotiate a peace and accept Israel’s existence. And of course, heaven forbid that Erlanger should ask them about that option, or suggest that they may have misunderstood Israeli intentions! Who would challenge Palestinian conspiracy-thinking. So our brave Palestinian fighter continues to think that he’s fighting for his children’s future when he’s really fighting for his ancestor’s honor, and Erlanger encourages his readers to accept the delusion.
Gaza is a tiny, poor, chaotic place of 1.5 million people, 70 percent of them refugees or their descendants. Younger, more conservative and more religious than the West Bank, Gaza is the heartland of Hamas, and the people of Gaza are even more constrained by Israeli and Egyptian security restrictions on their travel. There are fewer jobs than in the West Bank, and even more weapons.
With the economy of Gaza shutting down, much of the work available for young people is either in the swollen and disorganized security forces or in the armed militias or gangs, many of them built on clan loyalties, and some of which engage more in racketeering than in fighting. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, with considerable financial help from Iran and Syria, are known at least to pay their people, even if Hamas cannot pay full salaries to all Palestinian Authority employees.
This makes the title of this section — The Hothouse of Gaza — all the more ironic. One of the reasons that Gaza is an economic mess is that, having been given the enormously productive and innovative greenhouses of the Israelis who left Gaza, the Palestinians, in their “rage,” trashed them. Since the Palestinians’ reaction to the Israelis building them in the first place had been ridicule — “no one can make that desert land feritle, it’s cursed” — the example of the Israeli accomplishment could have been an immensely valuable contribution to the Palestinian economy well beyond merely the earning power of those hothouses themselves. Unfortunately, that would have meant swallowing pride and learning from the hated “settlers.” How much more manly to vent one’s rage on the humiliating foreign presence.
But don’t expect Erlanger to let you in on the irony. No, “the economy of Gaza” is “shutting down.” No agency here. “The economy” is the subject of the transitive verb: “shut down.” More invitation to read Israel’s responsibility in the reckless and self-destructive behavior of the Palestinians.
Hassan, 21, ran out of money before finishing university, but can’t imagine what he would do in Gaza with a degree. “I look at the graduates here, and their diplomas are useless,” he said. “That’s why I’m in the resistance.”
Now that’s an interesting move, similar to the conclusion that “political solutions don’t work.” Hassan doesn’t think about how to create a solution that makes diplomas valuable (such as advanced degrees in agricultural technology that would make the “hothouses of Gaza” successful, and community planning and building technology that might take the wretched Palestinian refugees out of their hovels and into the vast expanses of unsettled tracts in the “teeming” Gaza Strip.
According to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, about 19 percent of those killed since 2000 have been 18 or under, whether in fighting against the Israelis or among Palestinian factions.
No mention that this is “according to Palestinian sources.” One of Erlanger’s memorable remarks at the conference in which he made his silly remarks about the media came in response to a challenge from Tamar Sternthall about his claim that the media had every right to discuss “disproportionate response.”
“Wouldn’t it be useful,” she responded, “to assess the data before leaping to conclusions that the Lebanese casualty figures were 10:1 civilians:fighters?” [Note, it was probably closer to 1:1 — RL]
“I don’t do mortuary rolls,” responded Erlanger.
He also doesn’t do any fact-checking before citing such dubious sources. Instead he just recycles statistics from Palestinian sources, largely based on unchallenged anecdotal claims, that have close to zero probability of being true.
Mirvat Massoud was 18, the first child in her family to go to university, when she decided last November to blow herself up. The Israeli army had taken over Beit Hanun, a town in northern Gaza, and was interrogating its inhabitants, looking for weapons, militants and those who fire Qassam rockets into Israel.
Inspired by a 2004 suicide attack carried out in Ashdod, Israel, by her cousin, Nabil, on behalf of Fatah’s Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, Mirvat volunteered to become a suicide bomber for the group. She was close to Nabil, who lived upstairs in Jabaliya refugee camp and was only a year older. The group declined her offer, however, saying that one young “martyr” in a family was enough. They told her father, Amin Massoud, a long-time Fatah member, who said he was shocked.
“I spoke to her of course,” said Massoud, agitated, moving his hands through the empty air. “I said, ‘Your education will be jihad. Going to school is jihad. If you become a doctor, that’s jihad.’ But I don’t know what drove her – too much faith inside her, I don’t know.”
But the wall above Mirvat’s desk is still covered with “martyr posters” from the dead of Jabaliya camp, and her parents knew she was becoming more religious and politically obsessed. She was enraged by reports of a van of schoolchildren hit by shrapnel in Beit Hanun and she slipped away.
Oh those reports! Was she outraged by Hamas blowing up a crowd of children in their victory parade for kicking the Israelis out of Gaza? Would she be outraged if it turned out that a Hamas mine killed the family at Gaza Beach? Or is she only outraged by the sight of Israelis killing Palestinians, even if it’s not true.
She volunteered again, successfully this time, for Islamic Jihad. She died, lightly wounding two Israelis. Far away to the north, in Jenin, Suhaila Badawi, 20, knows every detail of Mirvat’s story. She sees her both as familiar and as a model, a symbol of bravery for young Palestinian women and a tragedy, too. “I wouldn’t commit such an act, but I understand her completely and I admire her,” Badawi said. “She was a Palestinian like me. I don’t think she was misled.”
Okay, Steven. Here’s journalism 101. Ask: “What makes you think she wasn’t misled? What if she were? Would that make a difference? What evidence would you need to reconsider whether she was misled?
Or were you trained in the Star-Trek school of journalism — the Prime Directive: “don’t interfere in the cultures you meet,” no matter how violent, self-destructive, and dangerous. Just pass on their “point of view.”
Khader Fayyad, 46, lives in Beit Hanun and works as an ambulance driver for the Palestinian Red Crescent, dispatched to every horror.
“Dispatched to every horror”? How often has he played the Pallywood game?
“I call these kids the destroyed generation,” Fayyad said. Nobody pays attention to this generation, except to recruit them, and it’s very dangerous.”
He is proud of 16-year-old Ayman, the brightest of his sons. But he feels unable to provide him a valuable future. Fayyad’s own father died when he was 17. But it was a different time, he said the peace talks, the Oslo accords, the return of responsibility to Palestinians over their lives, Camp David. “We were exposed to the world, to politics, and yes, to Israelis,” he said.
“Resistance and politics must go together,” he said. “Yasser Arafat knew how to use one for the other. Now, there is no politics, no talks, so the sacrifices of the youth are wasted and empty.”
Ayman, however, like most of his generation, cannot imagine living in peace next to an Israel that has ripped up his town, or becoming friends with an Israeli who has rolled over his schoolyard in a tank. “Israel should leave this land,” he said angrily, then repeats what’s he’s taught, that all of Palestine belongs to Muslims. “The Jews should go back to where they came from, to Europe, Russia and America. They have no place here.” Israel breaks all its agreements, Ayman insists. “How can you make peace with them?” he asks. “Even the Koran says there will be war with them until the day of judgment.”
Yet Fayyad believes that this generation is still malleable, immature. “You can influence them though realistic solutions,” he said. “If you delivered a real, two-state solution, believe me, they would go into the streets and dance. But if nothing changes, believe me also, they are lost – lost to all of us.”
This string of assertions is incoherent, shifting constantly between the demopathic tropes so beloved of the PCP crowd — “return of responsibility to the Palestinians… exposure to the world, politics, even non-military Israelis… dancing in the streets at the advent of a peaceful tw0-state solution… to the zero-sum world of politics as an adjunct to war — Yasser Arafat knew how to use one for the other… to the unforgiving world of revenge — like most of his generation, [Ayman] cannot imagine living in peace next to an Israel that has ripped up his town, or becoming friends with an Israeli who has rolled over his schoolyard in a tank… — to the extermination of Israel [presented as a conclusion drawn from the recent Israeli aggression — Israel should leave this land… go back where they came from… — to the [unstated] genocidal appeal of the apocalyptic hadith — Koran [sic] says there will be war with them until the day of judgment….
And yet Erlanger gives us the remarks one after another as if they made sense, even supporting the sense with his own remarks — like most of his generation…. Not the trace of a challenge. Why not ask “Do you think the Palestinians have ‘kept their agreements’?” [Of course, that would mean knowing the evidence that the Palestinians didn’t… like Arafat’s Oslo as Trojan Horse speech, which every Palestinian heard.] Or, even better, questions that challenges the Palestinians to empathize with the Israelis: “Do you think the Israelis should trust the Palestinians?” or “How do you think the Israelis feel about making peace with you when you openly call for their annihilation, target their children in suicide terror attacks, and dance in the street and build exhibits commemorating your “glorious deeds” afterwards?”
Would such questions label you a Zionist, hostile to the Palestinian cause, and so, even if it didn’t endanger you life, would nonetheless hurt access? Would you not be able to write your piece for lack of interviews?
Where once young Palestinians dreamed of staying to build a new state, now many are giving up, and scheming to get out.
More misleading editorial remarks. There were Palestinians who dreamed of staying (or even coming back from the West) to “build a new state.” These were the folks who left in disappointment before the collapse of Oslo because they realized Arafat had neither the talent nor the desire to “build a state.” These are the young men who wept at Camp David when Arafat said “No!” These are precisely the people the Palestinian “leadership” betrayed, even as they betrayed their “liberal” supporters in the West. From Erlanger’s pen it comes off as, once again, hopes betrayed by Israel’s suffocating grip on these poor people who just want “to live a normal life.”
Moayyed Haj Hussein is 22, educated and well-spoken. But after he failed to find a job in six months, his mother pressed his brother-in-law to give him work in a coffee shop near the Hawara checkpoint, which the Israeli army uses to control who comes in and out of Nablus.
The Assanabel café is a simple place, offering decent Turkish coffee, mint tea, schwarma and sweets like kanafi to the many Palestinians who wait for hours to get through the checkpoint. For Hussein, the café has become a kind of soft prison, giving him some spending money but no prospect for a future.
He graduated in computer sciences seven months ago from An Najah in Nablus, where he lives. But he sleeps here in Hawara, because as a male under 30 with a Nablus ID card, it’s very difficult to get permission to exit the city to the south.
Hussein says he has never spoken to a normal Israeli. “The only Israelis I see here are either settlers or soldiers,” he said. “They all have guns.”
He hates waiting on people and washing dishes, and says he is still looking for a decent job. But he’s also looking to get out of Palestine to the United States, if possible, where his sister lives, but “almost any place,” he said, “where I can work and live a normal life.” He’s a Palestinian patriot, he insists. “But there’s no hope here,” he said. “You see the situation. It’s useless to think it will improve. You see it, it just gets worse.”
Okay, Steve, now’s the time to pop the question: “Is it possible the Palestinian leadership made the wrong choice in 2000, and that there is a way out of this descent into cannibalistic violence? Could you imagine Palestinians who care about Palestine and want a normal life for themselves and their children, to make peace with Israel?” Or would that violate your “Prime Directive”? I, for one, as a reader of the MSM — i.e., of people paid to go to, learn about, and report back to us on places we have not the time or sources to visit — sure would like to know something about what alternatives to “resistance” the Palestinians he gets to interview might consider. That’s not legitimate journalism?
According to Nader Said’s polls for Birzeit University, 35 percent of Palestinians over the age of 18 want to emigrate. Nearly 50 percent of those between 18 and 30 would leave if they could, said Said. “That’s a huge indicator,” he said. “In the worst of times here, when Israeli troops were everywhere, the figure in the population was less than 20 percent.”
Well maybe that’s because the time of direct Israeli occupation wasn’t “the worst of times.” Even the Gazans recognized after the Israeli withdrawal that things got worse as a result of Palestinian “democracy.” How about a question here.
Palestinians talk about how they seem to be welcome in Cuba or China, now that it’s hard for them to get permission to go work in the Gulf or Jordan. Others say it’s possible upon arrival in some European countries, like Norway or Sweden, to ask for humanitarian asylum. But first they need a visa to get there.
And, of course, given the reputation of Palestinians in the Arab world — insurrectionary in Jordan, vicious in Lebanon, treacherous in Kuwait — it’s no wonder you have trouble getting out despite your educations.
Some travel agents in Gaza sell fictitious invitations from foreign hosts in Cuba, China and elsewhere, along with fake visas and hotel bookings to go along with real and expensive air tickets through Cairo.
Even the young fighters of the Abu Rish brigade have tried to leave. Muhammad and Saado, both 27, sold their weapons, took bank loans and paid $2,000 for visas and tickets from Cairo to Beijing on Austrian Airlines. They made it out of Gaza through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, but the Egyptians put them into a bus, locked the door and drove straight to the airport. For the four days before their departure, they said, the Egyptians then locked them into a crammed airport waiting room.
“A dog wouldn’t use the toilet,” Muhammad said. “They charged us 150 Egyptian pounds a day ($26.30) to use a seat, even the little kids. One Egyptian said, ‘Even a dead body has to pay.”‘ They bribed guards to bring them food and water. The day of their flight, a Friday, they were brought to the departure hall. But an airlines security guard examined their documents and turned them away. Presumably, the visas were fake. “He looked at us as if we were evil,” Saado said. “There was no respect for us. I hate the Israelis, but I hate the Egyptians more.”
They were returned to the fetid waiting room, and a day later, when there was a busload, they were shipped back, first to El Arish. There they waited for days in an even more disgusting detention area, they said, until the Rafah crossing opened. At Rafah, they said, there was no order or dignity.
“When we finally got back to Gaza, I kissed the soil,” Muhammad said, laughing at his humiliation. “We said, ‘Gaza is paradise!”‘ In his own quest to get out, Hussein has contacted the American Consulate in East Jerusalem. But, he said, “I can’t get a permit to go to Jerusalem to make an application.”
Wow! Gaza is paradise! Shades of Egyptian brides rushing across the border to get Palestinian husbands because Gaza, after 20 years of Israeli “occupation,” was so much more attractive to Arab Muslims than Egypt under the rule of Arabs. How about a question like: “Who treated you with more dignity and order — the Israelis or the Egyptians?”
What about those who would accuse you of giving up your rights in your land? Hussein turned away.
“I don’t care,” he finally said. “I want to live happily.”
What a way to end the story! Finally our intrepid reporter asks a hard question: “What about those who would accuse you…?” So it is legitimate to challenge your interviewees! You can ask follow-up questions that demand reactions.
But, alas, this brave challenge doesn’t come from the civic perspective that Erlanger presumably represents. After all, he claims to embody the highest standards of a free press, itself a precious and necessary product of civil society. No, his question gives voice to the challenge of the Palestinian thugs who have poisoned the lives of their fellows by making any act of “seeking a normal life” a betrayal, and bullying them with threats and arbitrary executions for “collaboration.”
Properly understood, this article — which aroused a good deal of indignation in pr0-Israeli circles, but probably struck most readers as “fair and balanced” — reveals a great deal about the Augean Stables created by the MSM. It also offers the exemplar of the kind of journalism that global civil society cannot tolerate, in that it so significantly fails to give critically relevant information for the public supposedly served by the MSM — i.e., we in the civil societies who create the conditions of a free press, and depend on its reliable services. No reader of this article would have a clue to how pervasively Palestinian leaders have contributed to the tragedy it describes. No reader, understandably distressed and sympathetic to the Palestinian people, would have the remotest sense of how to find a way out of this mess, except maybe to pressure Israel to make more concessions to this violence-addicted elite. In that sense, this article embodies most of the faults that prompted me to give the MSM a failing grade in coving the Arab-Israeli conflict in the 21st century.
In particular, I think it illustrates — indirectly — the role of access journalism and intimidation in the shaping of our news. As noted above, Erlanger bravely told his Israeli audience that he didn’t feel intimidated by the Palestiniant ms, and were they to try, it would make him bristle with hostility. And yet I see in the pattern of his questioning (or really lack of questioning), a systematic avoidance of anything that might trigger hostility among the people with whom he spoke. All these comments about disappointment with their own leadership veritably beg for follow-up questions.
One way to explain this is that Erlanger doesn’t think these questions are worthy of posing. In other words he is so firmly enclosed in the PCP world, that he knows nothing of the terrible evidence for HJP. So it doesn’t occur to him to challenge the demopathic discourse so common among Palestinians about how they really want a state but they have no choice but to resist till total victory (the overall impression of this article). For him it is Israeli behavior that’s responsible for the woes of the Palestinians. Why ask tendentious, “Zionist” questions?
If that’s the case, then this is an unmitigated intellectual catastrophe. The reporter for the newspaper of record doesn’t know the evidence for HJP, or doesn’t think it worth drawing his readers’ attention to the implications of this HJP evidence — the genocidal rhetoric, the hate-mongering image manipulation, the culture of vengeance and Schadenfreude, the overwhelming preference of Palestinian decision makers for war and suffering till total victory. As a result, denied of any opportunity to consider some of the major causes of the suffering, his readership is dramatically ill-equipped to come up with effective solutions. For a reporter, seven years after the Arab world became flooded with a technologically souped-up version of paranoid anti-Semitism that puts the Nazis in the shade and has now spread around the globe, to continue to present the PCP version of the Palestinian tragedy is nothing short of irresponsible. And if it’s done in good faith, then it’s testimony to a level of credulity that calls into question Erlanger’s apparent intelligence.
But there is another possible explanation. Erlanger’s not ignorant of this material. He’s afraid to mention it because he’s intimidated.
Now there are two elements to intimidation: threats of violence to the person, and threats of having access to Palestinian sources cut off, leaving the journalist crippled in his effort to report from “both sides” of the conflict.
The first — threat of violence — is what the journalist experiences “on site.” Here’s where we need to wonder whether the lack of our journalist’s “civic challenges” to his interlocutors represents a concession to fear: if he asks too many questions about how the Palestinians have contributed to their own victimization, would he not run the risk of angering his interlocutors? If he persisted, would he not run the risk of violence?
The second — threats to access — is what the journalist experiences when he’s back in the safety of his office in Israel, no longer under direct threat, but cognizant that if he offends his Palestinian hosts too much, they will refuse him their necessary hospitality the next time he wants to report on what’s happening in Palestine. This kind of intimidation explains why, even if he did not have the courage to ask challenging questions, he also fails to help his readers by pointing out some of the background and implications of the comments he does report. Thus we only get a sentence from Israelis on some of the most relevant perspectives illuminating the plight of the Palestinians. Any more might offend the Palestinians. After all, this is their article… one more piece in the great mosaic of Palestinian suffering that plays so prominent a role in their media campaign.
It’s hard to say what drives Erlanger, his personal protestations aside. Is he a credulous fool? Or an intimidated journalist who won’t admit it to anyone else, and probably not to himself? Let him tell us. In the meantime, his work exemplifies the kind of politically-correct, Israeli-Goliath/Palestinian David, “take” on the Middle East conflict that has so blinded Westerners to the fundamental causes, thereby misguiding all Western efforts to resolve the conflict, and contributing so to the very suffering it pretends to have compassion for.
So if he deserves an why give it a D+? Because there is valuable information here, if you know what to look for and how to read. Too bad our journalist either doesn’t know, or is too intimidated to interpret or explore the occasionally revealing remarks.
The most disturbing thing about Erlanger’s work here is that to all but the most informed and motivated reader, the article seems to be a fairly good piece of work. By the same standards that gave Zakarya Harbid the Rory Peck Award for Gaza beach, this is a B, maybe even a B+. How could your average, non-Zionist, independent reader have a clue as to how this piece of Augean manure, neatly wrapped in high production values, is helping undermine his civic culture by blinding him to the forces that want him dead or enslaved, and diverting his attention to the Israeli scapegoat he’s led to believe is a wanton Goliath, endangering world peace?
Are we waking up yet? I don’t think so. Thanks for your soporific Steve. I’m sure you must be quite pleased with the product. After all, it did make the front page, and get indignant Zionists to shout out in pain. That’s good credentials for getting back to the West Bank.