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Bias and Distorted Media Coverage

Annotated Article:
‘Palestinians Fear for Homes at Gaza Border Hotspot’

Article by Cynthia Johnston, Reuters

Annotation by Paul Larudee, ISM

The article was originally published on April 1, 2004.

For those of you who are familiar with the subtleties of press bias, the following is redundant. However, occasionally it’s good to point out how the framework is critical in viewing a story that is ostensibly sympathetic to Palestinians. The article below is annoated to show how bias is implanted throughout in order to poison the viewpoint of the reader against Palestinians.

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (Reuters) – Amid the rubble of homes destroyed by Israeli soldiers, 16-year-old Nada al-Agha and her family struggle to stay put in the Palestinian refugee camp of Rafah.

Both her parents have been wounded by Israeli gunfire and bullet holes mark the walls of rooms within the sights of an Israeli border watchtower, but the family will not leave.

“We expect they could destroy the house,” Nada said in the battered camp situated on Gaza’s border with Egypt. “But there is no money to rent somewhere else.”

Her family inhabits the edge of a devastated no man’s land that Israel has carved out of Rafah in what it calls a continuing campaign to root out Palestinian gunmen and find tunnels they use to smuggle in arms from Egypt.

OK, this is what the Israelis call it, now what do the Palestinians and others call it? Could it possibly have anything to do with the simple objective of destroying everything Palestinian (i.e. ethnic cleansing)?

With peacemaking at a standstill, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (news – web sites) plans to evacuate Jewish settlers from Gaza to reduce exposure to militant violence. His “Disengagement Plan” is of little solace to Palestinians on Rafah’s front line.

Now why is “peacemaking” at a standstill? The implication is that Sharon is the peacemaker and has little choice but to find another alternative. The fact that it is he who refuses to meet with Palestinians is swept aside, as is the fact that all Palestinian resistance factions have declared unilateral ceasfires in the last three years without reciprocation from Israel, and that those ceasefires ended because Israel continued to arrest and assassinate Palestinians. The wording also implies that the “militant violence” against Israeli settlers is the problem instead of the presence of militant settlers on Palestinian land.

“This is what they (the Israelis) are talking about, but who knows?” said Abla, a Rafah resident, pointing to bullet holes in her washing machine.

Israel’s defense ministry, armed forces and security services have advised Sharon that it made sense to leave most of Gaza except for a strip along the border with Egypt.

This implies that the defense ministry, armed forces and security services are moderate elements, restraining a more militant Sharon, a rather absurd proposition considering the volume of human rights violations. Also why, “except for a strip along the border with Egypt”? If there are no settlers to protect, why occupy the border?

LIVING IN FEAR

Fighting has actually increased in Gaza since Sharon announced his plan. Militants want to claim victory if the Israelis withdraw; Israel wants to prevent that by smashing armed factions beforehand.

Whose explanation is that? Does it really make sense? Is it really a p-ssing contest or is there a real motive – i.e. as much destruction as possible for the objective of ethnic cleansing?

Israel killed Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in an airstrike outside a Gaza mosque on March 22, prompting the Palestinian Muslim militant group to vow all-out revenge. Israel has threatened to kill more militant Palestinian leaders.

Families in battle-scarred houses on the edge of Rafah’s dead zone live in constant fear of becoming casualties or being made homeless. They sleep in back rooms relatively sheltered from Israeli fire.

“If you go over there, they will start shooting,” said retired sports teacher Muhammed Hassan Mansour, pointing past the wall of a neighbor’s house.

The United Nations (news – web sites) agency for Palestinian refugees says Israeli forces have demolished 1,400 homes throughout Gaza, and more than 900 in Rafah alone, since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000.

Nearly 15,000 people have been made homeless, it says.

Israel says the figures are exaggerated. It says it bulldozes or blows up homes that conceal tunnels, or those abandoned by residents and used by gunmen. It denies it is systematically demolishing inhabited dwellings.

Once again, the Israeli explanation is given without other opinions or critical examination. If tunnels are the issue, it is much easier to sink underground barriers and sensors into the border than to demolish entire communities and make more than 16,000 people homeless. From the point of view of ethnic cleansing, however, demolition is more desireable.

Israel says its military actions in Rafah are to prevent the suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis since the revolt began.

“Israel says” without critical examination. Until a few weeks ago, no suicide bombers had come from Gaza during the entire second intifada (i.e. since before Sept. 29, 2001). How could actions in Rafah have any effect on suicide bombings?

Militants have fired many mortars at the isolated, heavily guarded settlements where 7,500 Jews live amid 1.3 million Palestinians.

Is there any mention of the fact that these crude mortars have never killed or even seriously wounded any Israelis? That the settlements where Jews live were built on confiscated Palestinian land?

“Tunnels are really a lifeline of terrorist groups in Gaza,” Israeli army spokesman Jacob Dallal said.

Viewpoint of Israeli army spokesperson once again without critical comment or other viewpoints. What is the actual benefit pf these tunnels to resistance capabilities?

“Our intelligence is that they are trying to smuggle in (Russian-designed) Katyushas and anti-aircraft missiles. That would change the strategic balance between Gaza and Israel.”

Strategic balance? Israel is the fourth most powerful military force on the planet. Even with Katyushas, where would Gaza rank? However, no evidence is presented that this is more than rumor, if that. Is this reporting or is this a relay station for the official Israeli point of view?

He said Israel had found and destroyed 80 tunnels over the past three and half years, half of them last year, and added that there were daily exchanges of fire in the border area.

As stated above, there are more effective ways to stop the tunnels, and their strategic effectiveness is unproven. Furthermore, there would be no exchanges of fire in the border area if there were no Israelis staying there illegally.

“Gunmen use houses, particularly on the periphery (of Rafah), to use as points from which they conduct warfare.”

Warfare against whom? Against Israelis who are in Palestinian areas? In fact, the term “warfare” is a great exaggeration for the use of small arms against a gigantic military force.

SHOTS IN THE NIGHT

Palestinians say Israeli tanks and bulldozers often enter Rafah at night under cover of gunfire, sending residents fleeing for safety.

Residents say most of the demolitions happened in one swoop in late 2003, but more homes have since been destroyed in smaller incursions. In January, they say, Israel destroyed a mosque.

“Normally when the tanks come in at 2 o’clock in the morning, there is no time even to pack the most essential things but just to run out in pajamas said Peter Hansen, chief of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

“All of this of course gives life a great deal of insecurity.” The UN agency has rebuilt some of the demolished homes and gives families financial help while they wait.

Refugees finding themselves homeless once again move in with relatives or rent apartments if they can afford to. Others stay in houses whose collapsed walls and dangling support columns attest to their fragility.

“Every night they shoot,” said Umm Muhammed, whose house is near the border and has been strafed with automatic fire. She said that when the gunfire is fiercer than usual she takes her family to spend the night elsewhere.

“Last month we fled six times,” she said.

For those who make it to the end of the piece, there is some reporting to cause you to wring your hands in sympathy. However, by then the context has been set, making you wonder what more the poor Israelis could do to defend themselves without causing further hardship for the Palestinians. The perspective is always Israeli: They are “us” and the Palestinians are “them”.

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