Most media coverage devoted to Israel’s disengagement from Gaza has been sympathetic. Opinion pieces and editorials alike have recognised the pain Israelis are suffering as a result of the disengagement, and praised Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for his courage. However, a variety of the usual suspects demonstrated that even when Israel does something that they have been demanding for years, they still find a reason to complain.
Former UN official Paul McCann provided a great example of this twisted logic, with his article in the Canberra Times on August 17. McCann argued that Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza should put “no-one under the illusion that Gaza will cease to the be the world’s largest prison camp.”
McCann, clearly the type of person who will do anything to portray Israel in a negative light, twisted some facts – “[At Gaza’s Erez crossing], thousands of Palestinian cheap labourers are routinely humiliated and crushed in pens for hours before they can get into Israel to work.” What McCann failed to mention is that security is in place because suicide bombers regularly attempt to enter Israel through the crossing, that Palestinian workers enter Israel voluntarily because they cannot get work in Palestinian Authority areas. And as for “pens” (implying that the Israelis treat Palestinians like pigs), McCann clearly has a vivid imagination. Later in the article, however, McCann appeared to reverse himself and criticised Israeli government ministers for suggesting an end to Palestinian labour in Israel.
The other method McCann used was simple atrocity stories. McCann claimed in his opening paragraph, citing no source whatsoever, that “On most nights during the intifada, [Israeli] soldiers [in Gaza watchtowers] fired down into the alleys of the village[s], keeping everyone hemmed into their homes at night” and routinely shoot “hundreds” of innocent people.
Joe Wakim, writing in Brisbane’s Courier-Mail on August 20, began his anti-Israel tirade with crocodile tears for the settlers, who he said should now understand plight of “their cousins on the Palestinian side of the ‘apartheid wall’.” And he adopted McCann’s line on Israel’s intentions, calling Gaza an “open-air prison”.
Amin Saikal’s tone was refreshingly calmer (The Age, August 17) but, he too refused to give any credit to the Israeli government, presenting Ariel Sharon as a conniving politician who “never meant the pull-out to be the first step towards a final settlement.” Saikal habitually blames Israel whenever there is an increase in violence. On this occasion he went even further, blaming Israel for violence that hasn’t even occurred yet. He predicted that Sharon’s policies would lead Israelis and Palestinians back to “the pre-December 2004 violent situation, a situation from which al-Qaeda and its associates have benefited enormously.”
The Canberra Times took a similar line in its August 18 editorial. Whilst reluctantly admitting that the withdrawal from Gaza satisfies Palestinian demands, the Times moaned, “there is little sign of any renewed willingness to treat with the (Palestinian) Authority” and concluded that “any ultimate resolution still turns on Israel’s trading far more land for peace.” Like Saikal, the Times devoted a total of 0 words to explaining the reasons behind Sharon’s decision to act unilaterally (namely because of the refusal or inability of the PA to act as a serious partner by fulfilling their primary obligations under the roadmap to “dismantle terrorist infrastructure”). The Times did at least mention briefly that the Palestinians have obligations too, something that Saikal characteristically omitted.
While all of the above examples come from opinion pieces or editorials, Fairfax Middle East correspondent Ed O’Loughlin continued his habit of editorialising from the news pages. In an article that appeared on the front page of The Age on August 16, O’Loughlin claimed that the purpose of Sharon’s unilateral measures was to “relieve international pressure for a full peace settlement with the Palestinians, thereby allowing Israel to maintain its settlements and military control in large tracts of the West Bank and all of East Jerusalem.” Sharon got off easy, however. The settlers, O’Loughlin falsely asserted, believe “the secular state of Israel is an instrument for clearing the ‘biblical land of Israel’ of non-Jews.” Actually even the ultra-extremists of the Kahane movement do not believe that there is a religious imperative to remove all non-Jews from Israel.
The insistence by all of the aforementioned critics that Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza is not satisfactory is also being voiced by the Palestinian Authority, and confirms what eminent Israeli journalist Ehud Yaari meant when he said (see p. 14), “whatever the circumstances of the withdrawal – the Palestinians will strive to preserve a close link to Israel… (and) will refuse to see the withdrawal as an end either to the occupation of the Strip or to the terrorist activity emanating from it.”