Eyeless in Gaza

Dear HonestReporting Member,

The October edition of Harper’s Magazine features “A Gaza Diary,” where reporter Chris Hedges accuses Israeli soldiers of “murdering Palestinian children for sport.” As one of the most anti-Israel reports by a mainstream American writer in recent years, the piece has created quite a stir in the journalism/PR world.

The prestigious website, O’Dwyer’s PR Daily (http://odwyerpr.com), which services journalists and PR practitioners, invited HonestReporting to prepare a comprehensive response to the Harper’s article.

Harper’s published the 11-page article on its website. And like anthrax spores, references to the Hedges’ piece have been popping up in various locations.

Read our critique, and if you feel the Harper’s story is biased, write to: letters@harpers.org

Thank you for your ongoing involvement in the battle against media bias.

HonestReporting.com

========== O’Dwyer’s PR Daily: Oct. 26, 2001 ==========

Chris Hedges, investigative reporter for the New York Times and Mid East bureau chief for the Times from 1991-95, said in an article in the October Harper’s that he witnessed soldiers in an Israeli outpost next to the Khan Younis refugee camp enticing children into rifle range and then shooting them with rifles equipped with silencers.

Honestreporting.com, “a fast-action website dedicated to ensuring that Israel receives fair media coverage,” blasted the article as “one of the most biased anti-Israel reports by an American reporter in recent years.” Honestreporting’s critique of the article is below.

Hedges, in one passage in the 11-page article in Harper’s, said that he was at the refugee camp on Sunday afternoon, June 17, when a voice came over the Israeli loudspeaker saying, “Come on, dogs, where are all the dogs of Khan Younis? Come! Come!”

Boys, most no more than 10 or 11 years old, according to Hedges, responded to the taunts by throwing rocks over an electric fence at two armored Israeli jeeps.

The fence separates the camp from a Jewish settlement where the “whitewashed villas and manicured lawns and gardens look as if they have been lifted out of a southern California suburb.” A percussion grenade scattered one group of boys, writes Hedges.

The soldiers, shooting with M-16 rifles equipped with silencers, sent bullets that “tumble end-over-end through the children’s slight bodies,” killing 11-year-old Ali Murad and seriously wounding four more, three of them under 18, according to Hedges. On the previous day, he writes, eight were shot under similar circumstances, six of them under 18.

Hedges writes he has seen children shot in El Salvador, Guatemala and Sarajevo, and mothers with infants lined up and massacred in Algeria, “but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.”

Hedges said the doctor in charge of a local hospital told him he has records of 1,206 Palestinians killed and wounded including 655 under the age of 18.

Parents and Palestinian police interviewed by Hedges told him they warn the children against the rock throwing but to no avail.

The article, called, “A Gaza Diary: Scenes from the Palestinian Uprising,” provides the Palestinian viewpoint on the uprising that started in September 2000 when Ariel Sharon, now Prime Minister, visited the Aqsa Mosque, also known as the Temple Mount, with 1,000 Israeli police.

Palestinians told Hedges they believe some of the soldiers involved in the shootings at Khan Younis are mercenaries from the South Lebanese Army because they say the Lebanese word for “shoot” and that Lebanese music can be heard coming from the guard posts.

Honestreporting is sponsored by Media Watch International, which has an e-mail list of 20,000 members worldwide.

There are 1.1 million Palestinians living in the 147-square miles of Gaza, 20 percent of which is occupied by 16 Jewish settlements with a population of 6,000. Hedges noted that “bands of Palestinian gunmen” often initiate shootings at the settlements.

* * *

 

MEDIA WATCH INT’L / HONESTREPORTING.COM RESPONDS:

 

…Why do we consider “Gaza Diary” biased? There are many points:

(1) Hedges was accompanied to Gaza by “artist Joe Sacco.” That’s all Hedges reveals about his companion. The reader is never told that Sacco has been bashing Israel for a decade since his 1993 “Palestine Book: a Nation Occupied,” and the 1996 “Palestine Book: In the Gaza Strip.” In a 1994 interview, Sacco explained his books were motivated because “a real historical injustice is being perpetrated on the Palestinian people.”

(2) Hedges refers in his article to two incidents at mosques: “The latest intifada erupted when Ariel Sharon visited the Al Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam…” and Hamas “began to attack individual Israeli civilians after a Jewish settler, Baruch Goldstein, gunned down 29 Muslim worshipers in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.”

Note that Hedges cannot bring himself to acknowledge the holiness of the two sites to the Jewish people — Al Aqsa is located on the Temple Mount where two Jewish temples stood. The Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron is also known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site of great religious significance to Jews, as well.

(3) Sharon never visited the mosque as Hedges claims; he was touring the Temple Mount where Moslem authorities have been bulldozing ancient remains with impunity. Moreover, while Hedges blames Sharon for starting the intifada, he ignores the fact that Arafat and the Palestinian Authority were preparing for the violence well before Sharon’s visit.

Israeli Arab affairs analyst Ehud Ya’ari, recently revealed a new book by Mamduh Nofal, ex- military chief of the Palestinian Democratic Front, in which Nofal reported that “Arafat personally spoke with the commanders and gave them detailed instructions. The heads of Hamas and [Islamic] Jihad were invited to meetings to prepare the strike and processions of rage. The public was called to come to Al Aqsa, the number of [Palestinian] guards were increased and a night shift was implemented.”

(4) Hedges flashed his animosity even before he entered Gaza. As Hedges and Sacco passed an Israeli guard post, Hedges donned his flak jacket and mocked the soldiers. “At the last guard post, the blue-and-white flag with the Star of David on a pole overhead, the young soldiers peer out and tell us jokingly to have a nice trip. I point to the word PRESS on my chest. “Shoot me here,” I say laughing. And then I point to my head. “Not here.”

(5) Hedges never blames Arafat for any of the violence gripping the region or for the breakdown of the peace talks. Arafat’s refusal to respond or counter Ehud Barak’s generous offers at Camp David is almost praised: “Only [Arafat's] refusal to accept the mutated statelets offered to him at Camp David has saved him from complete pillory.” Hedges presents a unique theory for the failure of negotiations to “lead to a two-state solution. The as
sassination of Rabin settled any chance of that.” Years of negotiations followed Rabin’s death, including the promising Camp David meeting. By now the two state solution could have been implemented, but Arafat trashed it all.

(6) Hedges bemoans the Palestinian’s horrible living conditions. Had Arafat chosen the path of peace, tens of thousands of Palestinians would be employed in Israel today, would be working in jointly owned job-intensive jobs, would be building projects funded by international investors. Israel offered land adjoining Gaza for Palestinian additional housing as part of a land swap on the West Bank. But Arafat rejected it all.

(7) Hedges describes the sorry state of Gaza’s fishermen. He fails to report that their industry was shut down after Israel intercepted a Palestinian fishing ship loaded with rockets, ammunition, and grenades.

(8) Hedges chronicles a day-by-day death toll of Palestinian teens in Gaza during his week visit. But nowhere does the reporter present the Israeli casualties on those very same days — an Israeli teenager wounded and four men killed in four drive-by shootings by Palestinians. Nor does Hedges report that the day after he visited one of his despised Israeli checkpoints a suicide bomber killed two Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint.

Hedges conveniently forgets to mention that the checkpoints and road travel restriction were implemented because Palestinian bombers target Israeli vehicles — even school buses. In one such attack, two Israeli teachers were killed and three children lost their legs.

(9) Hedges’ strongest words are left for alleged Israeli shootings of Palestinian teens. He makes no mention of the Gaza disturbances orchestrated as a diversion to draw attention from a massive Palestinian arms smuggling operation through tunnels from Egypt.

Hedges claims Israeli soldiers used silencers on their M-16 when they shot Palestinian teens. The cylinders he saw on the end of the rifles are not silencers; they are rubber projectile kits. When used, it means lethal bullets have been removed from the magazine and blank cartridges are shot to project the rubber pellets. Is the veteran Hedges simply ignorant, or is this another case of deliberate misinformation?

(10) Hedges accuses the Israeli army of indiscriminate fire on Palestinian civilians. Buried in his story, however, is evidence that the Israeli troops are actually firing in self-defense. Hedges describes how the soldiers “fire down on the roofs” of the Palestinian shacks. But later he adds, “Bands of Palestinian gunmen, who often initiate the shooting, fire back.” He adds later, “Bands of Palestinian gunmen creep up to shoot at the Israeli positions.”

(11) Hedges cites an Islamic preacher who claims that he “implores the young boys” not to confront the Israeli soldiers. The reporter fails to report on the extensive and pervasive anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric spewed forth by the Palestinian religious leadership, school curricula, and television even before the intifada began.

(12) Hedges concludes his screed, “War reduces the ambiguities of life to blacks and whites.” That’s what Hedges has done, reduced Israel to the “black.” The “dark force” is evident throughout his article: The Israeli press center is “dirty poorly lit,” Israeli guns have “black nozzles,” Israeli gunboats have “black silhouettes,” Israeli munitions are “black flechettes,” an Israeli checkpoint is “blackened.” Get the point? And who wears white? A senior Hamas leader in Gaza “enters dressed in a white robe,” Hedges writes.

Hedges, Sacco and Harper’s have joined to present one of the worst piece of reporting from the Middle East in recent memory. Reporting? Propaganda is a more accurate description.

— UPDATE ON HEDGES (10/03) —

Tom Palaima, a professor at the University of Texas, has pointed out some very serious discrepancies in Hedges’ accounts of Gaza conflict.

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