The Fairfax press and the Gaza massacre Part II(a)

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(image by John Graham)

Dr. Evan Jones continues his customary in-depth analysis of how Fairfax has propagated an Israeli narrative on the massacre in Gaza. Part II(b) follows tomorrow.

Fairfax media’s masthead is ‘Independent Always’. It should more accurately read ‘Independent Sometimes, But Rarely When It Matters’.

Fairfax has fallen down on Ukraine and Russia, with spinmeister Peter Hartcher at the helm. But Israel is the acid test.

I covered the first two weeks of the Sydney Morning Herald’s coverage of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza to 22 July here. It was a definite fail. This time, I devote predominant emphasis to Melbourne’s The Age, whose coverage has been more substantial. It is a significant fail. But the details are important.

Ruth Pollard

First, there is Fairfax’s designated Middle East correspondent, Ruth Pollard. Her coverage, in its depth, intelligence and integrity, has been outstanding. She brings us close, from our armchairs, to the carnage in its horror and implied depravity. Here is Pollard, 1 August:

‘Four donkeys lay dead at the gate of the Jabalia Elementary Girls School in Gaza, the first indication of the bloody human toll inside. Three heavy artillery shells hit the United Nations school in the early hours of Wednesday, killing 19 and wounding at least 100. More than 3300 Palestinians were sheltering there after fleeing from Israel's military operations in Gaza. …

"These are people who were instructed to leave their homes by the Israeli army," the UN Relief and Works Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl said. He condemned the attack as "a serious violation of international law by Israeli forces". It was the second mass casualty attack, and the sixth strike, on a UN school since Israel's military offensive in Gaza began on July 8.

"The precise location of the Jabalia Elementary Girls School and the fact that it was housing thousands of internally displaced people was communicated to the Israeli army 17 times to ensure its protection; the last ... just hours before the fatal shelling," Mr Krahenbuhl said. UN shelters are overflowing, he said, and UN staff – "the very people leading the humanitarian response" – are being killed.’


Pollard, 7 August:

‘… it is clear, says the UNDP's special representative Frode Mauring, that they have destroyed much more [than weapons stores and tunnels]. There can be no real recovery, he warned, until both Israel and Egypt lift their siege on Gaza. "We cannot have a situation where we continue to take 20 months to get approvals from [Israel] to do construction," says Mr Mauring. There has not been a single construction project approved in Gaza since May 2013.

Three direct hits on Gaza City's main sewage plant means at least 30 million litres of untreated sewage each day is pouring into the Mediterranean, says Monzir Shublaq, director-general of Coastal Municipal Water Utilities. … It is a similar story with Gaza's main power station, taken out of action in an air strike on July 29.'

Pollard, 8 August, at the village of Khuza’a:

‘Some men held a child in each arm, those who could raised their hands in surrender. Others held white flags, while four carried elderly relatives on their shoulders.

‘But as the extended Abu Rujaila family – a terrified group of 30 children, 30 women and 25 men – made their way towards the Israeli tanks at the entrance to their village, they say the soldiers opened fire. The group had already counted 17 bodies on the street and it was as they met a larger gathering of about 3000 residents also trying to flee that at least 35 people were shot and many seriously injured. … They had endured three days of Israeli bombardment, in which many of the houses around them were systematically destroyed. At least 14 members of the family were killed, Tamer [Rujaila] says. …

‘Major Arye Shalicar of the Israel Defence Forces said: "At this point it is very hard to check each single allegation but we have a major-general who is about to look into each single incident during the operation and is going to put together a report. "We have time and again proven we do everything in our power to not hurt civilians …”

(‘When I grow up, I’ll already be dead’. Image: Jacek Woźniak, Le Canard Enchainé)

Pollard, 16 August:

Fairfax Media has interviewed eight families who lost multiple members in single Israeli attacks over the past month, mostly in air strikes in the dead of night. The numbers are almost incomprehensible – the Abu Jame family lost 26 people, including 19 children and five women, in one air strike; the a-Najjar family lost 20 people, including 12 children and six women. …

‘Nafjas al-Najjar, 45, … is lying on a bed in a small room in her brother's house, covered in a blue checked sheet. Her pelvis is broken, her left eye black. … She has barely left her mother's side since the attack that killed her father and siblings. "What is our guilt? What is the guilt of my husband and children?" Nafjas asks.’

Curiously, The Age has supplemented Pollard’s mercurial reporting with multiple and superfluous re-printings of articles by Reuters and other agency correspondents, heavy with quotations of meaningless platitudes from the usual political heavyweights.

The ‘pox on both their houses’ brigade

There is a smattering of opinion pieces in the category of ‘a pox on both their houses’.

International law academic, Ben Saul, (29 July) claims

‘both sides must be brought to account’.

Academic, Dennis Altman, (1 August) claims

‘both sides at some level want war … neither [side being] motivated by rational assessment of its own interests …’

The New York TimesThomas Friedman appears again, decrying (atypically for an Israeli partisan) the mutual belligerence (4 August). Friedman’s forte is self-promotion, and he sashays between the offices of Tel Aviv and Ramallah disdainful of their ignoring his wisdom.


Notable in this genre is the piece by noted defence analyst academic, Hugh White (5 August). This expert evidently has no idea of his subject.

‘Israel wants to live in peace … [Both sides’ long-term goals] ‘can only be achieved through negotiation. The shape of a deal is well known – it is the two-state solution that was so nearly reached at Camp David in 2000. But no deal can be done without both sides making significant concessions ….’

What? Israel clearly has no interest in peace. Nothing was ‘nearly reached’ at Camp David, and the two-state solution is an illusion. And ‘significant concessions’ from the Palestinians who have nothing other than their existence to concede? White’s piece is white noise.

(image by John Graham)

The Israel-firsters

The Age’s opinion pieces on Gaza are dominated by the Israel-firsters. It is instructive to list them.

Janet Daley, UK Telegraph (21 July):

Daley laments Obama’s inaction in the face of myriad enemies on the march. Daley accuses Russia of being hysterical, but her piece is a masterpiece of hysteria and fantasy. She moves on to Israel, whose patience ‘has been exhausted’ in the face of terrorism. The article is a travesty and a disgrace to journalism.

Jackson Diehl, Washington Post foreign affairs ‘specialist’ (23 July):

Ultimately, the Palestinians are always to blame. Diehl concludes:

‘The [new generation of Palestinian leaders, issuing from fair elections] might turn out to be more or less willing to negotiate with Israel or to lay the groundwork for statehood. But they would, at least, end a dismal era in which one set of Palestinian leaders dodged multiple peace proposals and the other engaged in futile wars.’

Australian academic, Nick Dyrenfurth, (27 July):

Dyrenfurth laments the current crowd running Israel, but his unrepentant Labour Zionism glorifies the criminal zealots who set the racist foundations that have naturally been bequeathed to Israel’s current leaders. Dyrenfurth supports ongoing Jewish migration (‘aliyah’ — hasn’t he read Shlomo Sand?) which reinforces ethnic cleansing.

No serious academic throws around loosely the much-abused label ‘fascism’. But here Dyrenfurth calls Hamas a fascistic death cult’, ‘committed to the annihilation of Israel’.

Wrong on both counts, and more besides. Dyrenfurth is ‘proud to call myself a Zionist’, but a reasonable, rational Zionist is an oxymoron.

Danny Ben-Moshe (1 August):

Ben-Moshe highlights insults and attacks on Jews following Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. These are odious events but he is loose with his claims regarding their extent. Thus he claims:

‘… in Paris where Jews were trapped inside a synagogue as anti-Israel protesters bayed for blood’.

The truth is otherwise.

He is appalled that Israel’s detractors talk of genocide, yet the question of the label’s applicability remains pertinent. Expatriate, Ilan Pappe, forced by intolerance from his country, talks of ‘incremental genocide’. The attribution cannot be dismissed out of hand. Palestinians are being displaced, murdered en masse because of their ethnicity.

Ben-Moshe is nonplussed that Israel could be accused of war crimes when the mass murder of another 2000 Palestinians and the wholesale destruction of infrastructure is merely an act of self-defence. The problem, claims Ben-Moshe, is double standards with respect to Israel. For once, Ben-Moshe is entirely right, but it’s Israel’s impunity, not the ‘unreasonable’ criticisms of its actions, that constitutes the double standards.

Israeli academic Daniel Gordis (14 August):

Gordis is irritated because the slaughter of Gazans has involved his plane out of Tel Aviv being diverted from its normal course. Gordis claims:

‘… none of this would have happened had Ariel Sharon not pulled out of Gaza in 2005. Many are now convinced that if the pull-out from Gaza was foolish, a parallel move on the West Bank would be suicidal. …

[The battle will have ] profound implications for the possibility of peace with any of the Palestinians and the likelihood that Israelis would willingly cede more territory after what they have witnessed this month.’

The expropriation of Palestinian territory will continue on any excuse, thank you very much.

Paul Monk, ‘former [Australian] senior intelligence analyst’ (14 August):

Monk says, let’s transcend the heat and the prejudices. He offers us some:

‘… bedrock facts, easily checked. … If you do not take them into account, you will not be able to hold an informed or responsible conversation on the subject. Pity, partisan anger and frustration don’t suffice.’

Monk’s bedrock facts turn out to be a series of whoppers. Monk refers to the 1936 British Peel Commission, the first to contemplate the partition of Palestine. Claims Monk, ‘The Arab leaders flatly rejected it.’ They might well have, as the imposition of a Jewish state on an already populated landscape was naturally unacceptable; in any case, the plan was an absurdity.

The then Palestinian ‘National Committee’ proposed, in effect, a ‘one-state solution’; the Palestinians, being as yet colonial subjects without rights, were naturally ignored.

But the Peel proposal (the ‘Jewish’ section was small but contained the most fertile land) was deemed unacceptable by the Zionists, particularly the influential extremist Vladimir Jabotinsky.

Monk misrepresents this ‘bedrock fact’, as he does his others (including the evacuation of Gaza). The combination of claimed sober objectivity and naked prejudice is spectacular. Monk’s objectivity is also on display in a review in Quadrant, October 2010, of a book by Efraim Karsh, Palestine Betrayed. Monk calls the book a tour de force. Its thesis?

‘…  the root cause of both the conflict and the flight of Palestinian Arabs from their homes in 1948 was not Zionism, but the refusal of the Arab leadership to accept a deal on any terms with the Jews about the existence of a Jewish state of any kind in Palestine.’

Is that so? A tour de force indeed. Monk had another article in Quadrant, June 2010, ‘Why Should We Study History?’. The object of this article was to urge a reclamation of Chinese history from control by Chinese authorities. An excellent principle — one yet to be learned, it appears, by Monk himself.

(map of the West Bank and Gaza strip in 2007 - courtesy Wikipedia)

Daniel Gordis again (17 August):

Gordis recalls the 1956 murder of a kibbutz security guard by Gazans, and the speech by Moshe Dayan (then Defence Minister):

"Let us not delude ourselves from seeing the hatred that inflames and fills the lives of the hundreds of thousands of Arabs who live around us. Let us not avert our eyes, lest our arms weaken."

Gordis claims:

‘Those refugee camps [in Gaza] were not of Israel's making, but still, Israelis recognised and were pained by the suffering on the Arab side, caused by Arab losses in the first Arab-Israeli war, a war Israel did not seek. Today, no less, Israelis understand Gazan anger at the siege and are anguished by the civilian losses in Gaza.’

Hello? More ‘bedrock facts’ perhaps? Gordis continues:

'In recent years, many Israelis on the political left had "forgotten" the loathing that surrounds them. It is Hamas that has reminded them, Hamas that has rekindled Israeli resilience, with the deaths. Young Israelis … must be willing to sacrifice to preserve what their grandparents' generation built.'

Dana Amir, an Israeli living in Australia (31 August):

Claims Amir:

‘We could fight each other for another few generations, or we could divide the land so both sides have a state. I'm proud that successive Israeli governments, buoyed by majority opinion, have been willing to do just that. We have engaged in peace talks, we have made offers. …

'Israelis and Palestinians have a lot in common, and not just a homeland. We both see in our history a large measure of victimhood. And while I feel the Palestinians' plight is mostly their own making, that is my opinion, and I can't take away from Palestinians how they view the world. … But Palestinians have chosen to be defined by their victimhood. And for as long as they continue to do so, they will not take hold of their destiny but continue denying responsibility for their fate or actions. …

'In the meantime, Israel will keep protecting its people, by fighting when it needs to, but at all times offering an olive branch in peace. Because Israel and its leadership know the Palestinians are there to stay. It's just waiting for the Palestinian leadership to come to the same realisation.’

Amir also opined:

‘Two weeks ago in this paper, an anonymous Israeli declared shame in her citizenship. I'm proud that she has the right to do this, and can do so safely, both here and in Israel. However, her anonymity was insulting. Australia and Israel is not Gaza or Nazi Germany. Israelis and Australian Jews can, and do, criticise Israel.’ 

Well hello? Wrong, Dana, dangerously wrong, wrong. The ‘anonymous Israeli’, now a refugee in Australia, was published (‘just a mother pleading for peace’) on 17 August:

‘Yes, I am ashamed of being an Israeli and violence is not the answer. We must find another way before more innocent children are killed. … I know I'm not the only Israeli who is ashamed. I just know that most who are don't want to be accused of being anti-Semitic and remain silent. I can't be labelled. I'm not anti-Semitic. I'm not anti-Palestinian. I'm not a Zionist. I am a mother. A mother who is so blessed to have my children safe in their beds at night. I will not remain silent.’

Here we have a sizeable representative sample of the ethnic cleansing fan club. Inexpert experts, dyed-in-the-wool local Zionist zealots and dissembling Israelis conveniently ignorant of their country’s own history. It’s all the fault of the Palestinians, especially Hamas.

Here, and with the ‘both sides to blame’ crowd, there is the odd criticism of Israel, with crocodile tears shed for Gaza victims —but it is a short, muffled insertion before the author moves on to the real problem.

Did The Age publish anybody with a pro-Palestinian perspective? Ah yes, one article alone (also in the SMH), by Peter George, long-time ABC Middle East Correspondent (6 August). Claims George:

‘If Israel is indeed facing an existential threat, then Netanyahu bears the lion's share of blame. For years he has held all the cards in the stand-off between Israelis and Palestinians and failed to use them for his nation's long-term benefit. … Hand-in-hand with rejectionist politicians, an aggressive settler movement and those who believe in an expansionist Israel, Netanyahu has determinedly blocked Palestinian aspirations for nationhood …

'Netanyahu needs to recognise that the other ‘terrorist’ organisation, Hamas, also reflects legitimate Palestinian aspirations. … Its public position was aggressively anti-Israeli but, while reporting from there, it was made clear to me by Hamas leaders that under the right circumstances the public and private postures could be very different – as is always the case in international disputes.

'But Netanyahu and his predecessor, Ariel Sharon failed to heed the lessons that Rabin learnt in the '80s. Their policies of increasing the stranglehold on Gazans in their prison and refusing to deal in any way with their elected government, while tightening the fist of occupation on the West Bank and East Jerusalem and leaving no hope for peace have led directly to the latest series of catastrophes.’

Quite. One opinion piece sympathetic to the victims in over seven weeks of carnage, not counting Israel’s West Bank brutality before Gaza became the target.

It is instructive that Fairfax has never (repeat, never) reproduced an article from the two Israeli Haaretz journalists, Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, who have repeatedly highlighted the crimes of their country’s leadership. Curiously, an Age editorial (2 August) quoted Levy approvingly:

‘Commentator Gideon Levy wrote poignantly in Haaretz this week of the "malignant cloud of denial" that appears to have settled on Israeli society, a readiness to simply blame Hamas for every atrocity, regardless of the actions of the Israeli military. "Israelis' hands are clean and their consciences are quiet – so quiet you could cry," Levy wrote. His is a timely warning of the dangers in the constant resort to violence over the pursuit of peace.’

Then why not reproduce the occasional article by Levy or Hass? The reaction from the Australian Israel-firsters would be immensely educational.

Tomorrow - Part II(b): Dr Jones looks at the Jihadis for Jerusalem and the issue of former Fairfax journalist, Mike Carlton, who ran foul of the powerful Likud lobby.

Buy John Graham originals, including the two above, from IA's online store.

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