Here’s Ben Wedeman in the second week of the war commenting on Israel’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, by supplying Gazans with aid.
This is a particular gem of MSNM moral and intellectual confusion since his overall thrust is that Israel’s aid is a) just PR for show, b) pretty pathetic given that “ironically, their actually bombing the place,” and c) that no one’s impressed in Gaza since Israel’s to blame for the blockade in the first place. In the process of dismissing Israel’s effort, he makes an error which forces him to correct himself in mid-stream, which then leads him in another direction. The result: a revealing piece of euphemistic nonsense well worth savoring.
Well Israel has allowed a steady number of trucks coming with humanitarian goods uh into Gaza. This rather ironically as they’re actually bombing the place they’re sending food in as well. My understanding is 66 trucks went in today, so they do want to be at least seen as, as uh caring or providing or allowing others to provide humanitarian relief to the civilian population. Uh, but that sort of thing doesn’t necessarily go down very well, because it’s only Israel that controls the crossings, uh, into Gaza, with the exception of the one in Egypt and uh so, therefore if Israel were to cut off the supply altogether, uh, they would depend on Egypt and that’s not a good, uh, place to depend on.
Let’s take this piece apart:
Well Israel has allowed a steady number of trucks coming with humanitarian goods uh into Gaza. This rather ironically as they’re actually bombing the place they’re sending food in as well. My understanding is 66 trucks went in today, so they do want to be at least seen as, as uh caring or providing or allowing others to provide humanitarian relief to the civilian population.
Of course the irony doesn’t really work against Israel, so much as against Hamas. As Colonel Richard Kemp pointed out.
During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza. To deliver aid virtually into your enemy’s hands is, to the military tactician, normally quite unthinkable. But the IDF took on those risks.
So the irony here is not that Israel is supplying people aid to the people they’re bombing, but that they’re breaking the basic rules of warfare (i.e., how to win) in order to spare people they don’t want to bomb, but have to because their enemy, who targets Israel’s civilians, systematically embeds itself in that population. The possibility that this humanitarian effort might be sincere, that Israel did not enjoy making the lives of ordinary Gazans wretched, did not even cross Wedeman’s mind. Imagine if he had responded:
Well Israel has allowed a steady supply of humanitarian aid going into the Gaza Strip, and even if some might say it’s for making PR points, it nonetheless defies the normal behavior of armies during war, where the last thing you do is supply your enemy with food, especially when Hamas is stealing much of this material and using it to strengthen its position. It really points out the Israeli dilemma of trying to stop those who are firing rockets and their civilians, when those combatants hide in and fire from civilian areas.
But empathizing with Israel is hardly Wedeman’s strong suit (which is Palestinian Suffering, specifically at the hands of Israel), and such remarks are hardly going to ingratiate him to his “constituency.” On the contrary, after noting his “irony” he tries to stick it to them again, this time by suggesting that the offer of this aid is not impressing anyone on the Gaza side (probably including the UN and other “humanitarian” groups there):
Uh, but that sort of thing doesn’t necessarily go down very well, because it’s only Israel that controls the crossings, uh, into Gaza…
At this point Wedeman seems to lose his train of thought.
It’s not clear where he’s going here, and since he’s immediately sidetracked by the realization that he’s just said something really stupid which any informed viewer would immediately recognize. The “uh” marks the moment he notices: he can’t say Israel controls all the borders, since Egypt controls the southern one. So he immediately (and rather smoothly) corrects himself.
Were I to speculate (one of my favorite activities), I’d say he was about to say (in bold):
“…because it’s only Israel that controls the crossings into Gaza… so therefore if Israel were to cut off the supply altogether, Gazans would starve to death, so they really don’t have any choice but to supply these people.”
Now on one level, I think that’s the narrative that Ben Wedeman and many of his colleagues at CNN and BBC and France2 and so many other news outlets tell themselves. Israel’s blockade is the story: they are the ones who have made the lives of Gazans miserable. Indeed, the admission that the Egyptians shared a border with Gaza and shared in their “siege,” was one of the most grudging and rare parts of the “background” explanation the MSNM offered their listeners.
This may well be because what goes on at the Egyptian border is incomprehensible in terms of the morality tale they’re telling themselves about a Palestinian victim and an Israeli oppressor. This narrative frame for the story — the Israeli Goliath and the Palestinian David — has a broad consensus despite it many flaws: it’s also the narrative of Hamas, the Palestinians, the post-colonialists, the NGOs, the UN HRC, the Goldstone Mission. Anomalies are not welcome.
Here’s NGO head, Samar Badawi, given a free infomercial on CNN, accusing who denies Israel is to blame for the siege of telling “a horrendous lie.”
Not surprisingly, the uninformed CNN interviewer doesn’t challenge him at all.
Alas for these folks, the story at the Rafah border crossing is not only ugly, it troubles their narrative: it’s about either Hamas or Egypt (or a combination of the two) refusing to allow humanitarian and medical aid to go into this humanitarian catastrophe caused by Israeli bombing. Here’s Christian Frasier in Egypt on the second day of the bombing campaign (December 28, 2008):
Here, a week later, are ambulances idle, bored doctors “taking emergency briefing,” and tons of medical supplies still languishing at the border.
The unpleasant, anomalous implication of what’s going on on the Egyptian border undermines the simple morality tale with which the MSNM frame their tale. Indeed, even as the entire world is being mobilized, violently mobilized, in the alleged defense of a victimized Palestinian people, the story at the Rafah border identifies other agents of their victimization — either their own leaders (Hamas), or the leaders of brethren states (Egypt).
This “detail” becomes all the more significant when we consider the larger context. Israel has the least reason to give humanitarian aid to the Gazans, the most reason to maintain a stringent blockade. In the history of warfare, they would normally, as the assailant with a grievance, want to cut off all access to aid until there was surrender. Indeed, normally one would expect the Rafah border, with a fellow Arab country, to be the site of a massive leak of both refugees from the conflict, and aid pouring in. If Israel can point to the incessant rocket attacks aimed at civilians as their reason to block material, what can Egypt claim? And a fortiori, if Hamas is screaming humanitarian crisis to the world, why would they block aid coming through? The answers to these questions — Egypt considers Hamas toxic, and Hamas wants to foster the crisis they complain about — offer startling and unsettling insights into the dynamics at work.
Now asking Wedeman, whose “beat” is how the Israelis victimize the Palestinians, to realize all this may be asking too much, and asking him to inform his viewers of this certainly is. He’s mostly in denial about most of these issues, so how could he put 2+2 together?
But his scruples as a reporter do kick in and he admits that the Egyptian border is also closed, and not by Israel. I suppose this is at least partly because, like all of us who speak publicly and authoritatively, we carry a little censor that prevents us from saying stupid things we can be “called on.” And claiming that “it’s only Israel that controls the crossings into Gaza” should (and does) bring out the inevitable “uh” that comes from saying something that is patently false.
From there it’s an inexorable (if limited) descent into honesty about how much less merciful the Egyptians are than the Israelis.
…with the exception of the one in Egypt and uh so, therefore if Israel were to cut off the supply altogether, uh, they would rely on Egypt and that’s not a good, uh, place to depend on.
Nice euphemism. Does the “uh” after “not a good” represent yet another audience that intrudes into what Wedeman feels he can say publicly (namely the reaction of the Egyptians to having their honor besmirched)? Certainly he’s not about to wax eloquent on the insane relations between Egypt and Hamas that has humanitarian aid tied up at their border.
So even here, where there was a chance to let people see a richer, more informed picture of what’s going on, we don’t get too close. Thus Wedeman’s interview here ends on a note of ironic aporia (nonsense). The sentence he began, “this [Israeli kindness] doesn’t go down too well [in Gaza]” ends with a wink and a “you know, Egypt is not exactly a good place to depend on.”
So Ben, you probably won’t get into too much trouble for that indiscretion now that your stationed in Cairo, will you? Certainly not the trouble you might have had you, during Operation Cast Lead, gotten off your duff on the Israeli-Gazan border, and done some hard-hitting stories on the Gazan-Egyptian border and let us know in detail about what we really should know.