Media Critique #34: Eyeless In Gaza.
Harper's magazine accuses Israeli troops of murdering Palestinian children for sport.
The October edition of Harper's Magazine features "A Gaza Diary," where reporter Chris Hedges accuses Israeli soldiers of deliberately goading Palestinian children and murdering them for sport.
The Harper's piece is not available online, but Hedges repeated his accusations on National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" show (October 30). The audio file is online at: http://www.npr.org/ramfiles/fa/20011030.fa.01.ram To hear the Gaza segment, set the sliding button on your media player to start at 20 minutes.
As a flood of complaints hit NPR over the broadcast of a lopsided interview with Chris Hedges ("Gaza Diary"), Jeffrey Dvorkin, the NPR ombudsman (firstname.lastname@example.org) responded with curt arrogance:
"If you have a problem with Hedges' reporting you might want to contact the NY Times where he is employed and Harper's Magazine which published his article on Gaza."
Does NPR seriously believe it can obviate responsibility for what it broadcasts?
Meanwhile, Danny Miller (email@example.com), executive producer of the Hedges radio segment, was far more responsive:
"We should have asked some clarifying followups, exploring this story from the Israeli side: asking why the Israeli government feels it needs to be in the West Bank, and to try to understand the perspective of an Israeli soldier on the front lines."
Apparently all this scrutiny is causing Hedges to back off. Miller reports Hedges as saying:
"I do not think the Israeli army usually or even often baits kids... So I did not want to imply that this was typical, at least from my experience."
Read our critique points below, and if you feel the Harper's story is biased, write to:
O'Dwyer's PR Daily (Oct. 26, 2001) sums up the Hedges piece as follows:
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.
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!"
Come on, dogs, where are all the dogs of Khan Younis?
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."
As for Hedges' main accusation that Israeli soldiers deliberately goad Palestinian children and murder them for sport:
It is certainly true that no other army has such restrained orders as the Israeli army. True, Israeli soldiers have orders not to shoot unless they are in direct danger. True, Israeli soldiers are instructed never to shoot to kill, and then, to aim only at the source of the shooting, never randomly.
True, Hedges offers no corroborating evidence -- no photos, no videos, no outside verification.
Even the virulently anti-Semitic Arabic press never thought to concoct such a claim.
True, Hedges claim is so far-fetched, that the virulently anti-Semitic Arabic press -- which in the past has concocted outrageous slander like accusing Israel of using Arab blood to bake matzahs, and accusing the Israeli Mossad of planning the September 11 attacks -- never even thought to concoct such a claim.
On the other hand, it is impossible to disprove Hedges' claim -- because we were not there.
But we suspect Hedges wasn't there, either. His account is rife with factual errors and fails to stand up to scrutiny. For example, Hedges didn't hear the shots, and jumps to the conclusion that the Israeli soldiers used silencers on their M-16s. Why would they use silencers in the open day out on the dunes? And why would they do so in one of the most photographed war zones, where cameras anyway record the conflict?
The cylinders he saw on the end of the rifles were probably rubber projectile kits, not silencers. When rubber projectiles are used, it means lethal bullets have been removed from the magazine and blank cartridges are shot to project the rubber pellets.
Hedges even admits to not seeing the boys shot -- they were "out of sight." One has to wonder if Hedges got his information straight from a Palestinian Authority press release.
As one woman wrote to O'Dwyer's: "Mr. Hedges' presentation of chapter-and-verse Palestinian propaganda reminds me of Jane Fonda's use by the North Vietnamese. How a reputable newspaper could print such lies is beyond me. Where is the factual reporting? The photographs? The corroboration?"
In fact, the cylinders that Hedges 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?
Another comment to O'Dwyer's came from a former Israeli soldier who served in Gaza. He writes:
"No soldier is allowed to shoot on his own -- unless he is in a life threatening moment -- even after that the incident is reviewed by higher commanders. I never saw in all my duty Israeli soldier entice others into violence. Even when we were working at checkpoints, we were told to deal with Palestinians with dignity. Even when we arrested known terrorists, they were dealt with dignity."
Hedges also takes pains to point out the economic disparity between Jewish and Arab residents of the Gaza Strip. Hedges describes the squalid refugee camp conditions (deliberately perpetuated by the Palestinian Authority, and prior to 1967, by the Egyptian government), and then contrasts the neatly built Jewish homes where "whitewashed villas and manicured lawns and gardens look as if they have been lifted out of a southern California suburb."
By the same logic, shouldn't Hedges be subject to public criticism for enjoying a comfortable lifestyle while others in his hometown live in poverty?
The Israeli settlers brought running water, electricity and work for the Arabs of the Gaza Strip.
One Jewish scholar, Avi Davis, wrote his own "Israel Diary," in which he explains the origins of economic disparity in Gaza:
"[Originally, the Jewish settlement of] Nezer Hatzani was only sand dunes and the Arabs in the area lived in poverty and rags. The Israelis built Nezer Hatzani to produce organic vegetables and it has prospered. In the process, the lives of the local Arab population rapidly rose in quality. The Israeli settlers brought running water, electricity and work for the Arabs of the Gaza Strip... Most of the [Arab workers] have no political agenda, but are hampered by the Palestinian Authority police who make it difficult for the workers to come there and force from them bribes so as not to report them as collaborators."
Read Davis' full Israel Diary at:
MORE POINTS OF CRITIQUE
(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."
Hedges cannot bring himself to acknowledge the holiness of the two sites to the Jewish people.
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 assassination 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. [see chronology at: http://www.israel-mfa.gov.il/mfa/go.asp?MFAH0ia50]
Checkpoints and road travel restrictions were implemented because Palestinian bombers target Israeli vehicles -- even school buses.
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.
(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.
In response, Hedges told O'Dwyer's PR Daily that he stands by his story and will make no further comments, in keeping with New York Times policy. (Despite the fact that the article was not published in the New York Times.)
Readers are encouraged to demand that Hedges provide proof of his allegations. Otherwise, he is engaging in the same kind of goading that he irresponsibly accuses Israel of.
Hedges is an influential figure and his accusations can spread throughout the media world. For example, The Times-Argus (Vermont) cited Hedges in an editorial critical of Israel. http://timesargus.nybor.com/Archive/Articles/Article/35954