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Ever wonder why you need to read at least three papers to even get a basic grasp of an issue?  More papers if the issue is contentious and imperial interests are at stake.  Media Lens does a wonderful job of showing media self-censorship in action.  I reproduce the email alert sent to me in full:

 

TOO TOXIC TO HANDLE?

 

FOLLOW-UP ALERT ON ISRAEL’S POLICY OF NEAR-STARVATION FOR GAZA

On November 17, we sent out a media alert that highlighted the corporate media’s lack of interest in official documents revealing Israel’s deliberate policy of near-starvation for Gaza.

The documents had been obtained by Gisha, an Israeli human rights group, which won a legal battle in October to compel the Israeli government to release the information. The state policy relates to the transfer of goods into Gaza prior to the May 31, 2010 attack on the peace flotilla in which nine people were killed by Israeli forces. Israel still refuses to release documents on the current blockade policy, now supposedly “eased” following worldwide condemnation of the flotilla attack.

We, and many of our readers, emailed broadcasters and newspapers asking why the release of these documents was not reported in October. Were journalists simply unaware of the documents and their significance? For the BBC in particular, with all its huge resources for monitoring developments in the Middle East, this is surely implausible.

Two readers pointed out to us that the BBC had published one online story about the legal battle over the release of the documents back in May. However, BBC journalist Tim Franks accepted the Israeli assertion that the then secret documents “were not used for policy-making.”

The BBC obviously thought the story was newsworthy at the time, just as it should have last month. Indeed, the news is all the more compelling now that the documents have been released, despite the efforts of the Israeli government to block their publication. It is of major significance that explicit Israeli calculations for the amount of food, animal feed and poultry to be allowed into Gaza can be seen, starkly laid out in black and white. One of the calculated quantities is “breathing space”: the number of days that supplies will last in Gaza. The concept of “breathing space” for Gaza, dictated by the Israelis, is chilling; yet, the media appear happy to look the other way.
Finally, almost two weeks after our alert went out, an article about the Gaza blockade appeared on the BBC website in response to a new report by Amnesty, Oxfam, Save the Children and eighteen other groups. The main spin of the BBC article was that the NGOs had found “little improvement” for the people of Gaza since Israel’s claimed “easing” of the blockade which, said the groups, was “crippling” the Gaza economy. But the web article failed to emphasise the call by the NGOs for “an immediate, unconditional and complete lifting” of the illegal blockade. Tucked away at the bottom of the piece, fleeting reference was finally made to the previously secret Israeli documents:

“Last month, the Israeli government was forced to reveal that the blockade was not only imposed for security reasons.

“After a freedom of information request by the Israeli human rights organisation Gisha, the Israeli government released documents saying the blockade was originally tightened as part of a policy of ‘deliberately reducing’ basic goods for people in Gaza in order to put pressure on Hamas.”

There was no reference to the explicit Israeli calculations on supplies of food, poultry and animal feed, or the uncomfortable truth that the Israelis had previously denied the existence of the documents; or, putting the grisly facts in context, that the documents confirmed the infamous Israeli threat that: “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” (‘Hamas readies for government, Israel prepares sanctions’, Agence France Presse, February 16, 2006)

However, even a tiny mention is something, and it may well have been the result of public pressure. The fact that nobody from the BBC responded directly to the many people submitting articulate and polite challenges, and in some cases emailing follow-up queries about the corporation’s failure to reply, may in itself be significant. Perhaps BBC editors and managers realised they had been caught red-handed neglecting to report awkward facts about the Middle East.

C4 News And The Guardian: The Best Of The Rest?

The public also challenged the Guardian, the Telegraph, The Times, the Independent, ITV, Channel 4 News and Sky. Again, an amazing near-uniform silence persists (we present the two sole exceptions below).

First, Jon Snow of Channel 4 News had told one of our readers (who had emailed Snow in response to our alert) that he would be interviewing Professor Richard Falk on Monday, November 22. Falk is an expert in international affairs at Princeton University and is the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. The interview was confirmed in advance that day in Jon Snow’s ‘Snowmail’ bulletin which is emailed to subscribers. After Falk did not, in fact, appear on C4 News that evening, we emailed Snow and asked what had happened. In a friendly exchange, he admitted that he had “cocked up”: the interview was due to take place the following Monday, i.e. November 29. We thanked Snow and encouraged him to discuss the Israeli documents with Falk and, at some stage, to confront an Israeli government spokesperson about the policy revelations:

“… if you’re able to do anything to shed light on these documents, and to ask the Israeli spokesman some tough questions whenever you get the chance, you could be doing the public audience a huge service – and maybe, just maybe, making a real difference to reduce human suffering.” (Email from Media Lens to Jon Snow, November 23, 2010)

As it happened, C4 News of Monday, November 29 again had no interview with Richard Falk. Jon Snow did not respond to our email asking about it.

As well as the BBC contacts mentioned in our earlier alert, we also emailed Harriet Sherwood, the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent; Jonathan Freedland, a prominent Guardian commentator; Donald Macintyre, the Independent’s Jerusalem correspondent; and Matthew Bayley, the Daily Telegraph’s news editor.

Only the Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood responded to our email:

“I’m planning to go to Gaza in early December so I may have a look at this then. I have to say that from previous trips there is no evidence of a shortage of food in Gaza although there is clearly an issue about affordability for some sections of the population.” (Email, November 18, 2010)

We invited the independent journalist Jonathan Cook to comment on Sherwood’s response. Cook is a former Guardian and Observer journalist, now based in Nazareth, and he writes regularly on Israel-Palestine. He kindly sent us the following astute observations:

“I can no longer access Gaza myself because I have Israeli residency through marriage. But I do rely on what colleagues living in, rather than briefly visiting, Gaza tell me, and then try to use some common sense. My colleagues too say there is not an obvious shortage of food. But the problem is more complicated than simply assessing the ‘weight’ of visible food in Gaza.

“First, it is important to remember that Gaza’s most pressing problems are to be found in other areas: in freedom of movement, particularly for students and the ill, in and out of Gaza; in the ability of businesses to export goods and revive the economy; in severe fuel and electricity shortages; and in shortages of raw materials needed for construction, especially given the rampant destruction caused by Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 – January 2009.

“Regarding food, much of the population, given their status as refugees, are entitled to subsistence foods from UNRWA [the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East]. But they can only receive proper nutrition by buying in extra foods and diversifying their diet. Israel’s control of the flow of food means that the restrictions have pushed up prices, making most food on the open market very expensive for families living on $2 a day. This long-term, poor diet is the reason for the high levels of malnutrition diseases among children being recorded. This is a man-made slow starvation, the very thing the Gisha documents highlight.

“Also, I think there’s a dangerous journalistic practice exemplified in Harriet’s comments that we are all guilty of. As reporters, we regard it as our job to walk along local streets, soaking up the atmosphere. We assume that in this way we witness and understand the problems. When we see grocery shops stuffed with tomatoes and apples, we assume things aren’t too bad. But there are flaws to this approach:

“First, we may only be seeing the few shops that sell now-luxury items but not noticing that there were once many more shops. If there are shortages, many shops close either because of the lack of goods entering Gaza or because the demand has fallen as these goods have become too expensive for most Gazans. Remember that in Palestinian areas, people turn their front rooms into shops or sell from stands in the street – so there’s no obvious evidence when they close their business.

“Second, the very fact, for example, that there are lots of fruit and veg in the shops that remain may in itself be evidence of the shortages. Shortages create price rises, which means fewer people can afford the goods, which in turn means they sell more slowly and ‘stay on the shelf’ longer.

“So rather than relying on our ‘sense’ as journalists of what is happening, we should rely on the best scientific evidence we have available:

“a) We know from Israel’s own figures that imports into Gaza during the period to which these documents relate was about a quarter of what they were in 2007 (although this includes all goods, not just food). We also know that, after the changes, imports currently stand at only 40% of the earlier figure. This means that Gazans have been and are living off much less than they were at a time when there were already restrictions.

“b) We know from medical studies that there has been a gradual and steady rise in malnutrition rates.

“c) We also know from these documents that the Israeli government had a policy during this period to impose a minimum diet on Gazans, and is now refusing to divulge its new policy.

“Taken together, that is very good evidence that Israel wanted to slowly starve Gaza and in fact did so. In those circumstances, the impressions of Harriet and other journalists are largely irrelevant.” (Email from Jonathan Cook, November 18, 2010)

We put these points to Harriet Sherwood of the Guardian. We also referred back to her email in which she said:

“I’m planning to go to Gaza in early December so I may have a look at this then.”

We suggested to Sherwood that her casual wording implies that she does not find the release of these important Israeli state documents newsworthy. We reminded her that the existence of these documents had been previously denied by Israel; not surprising, given that they document a deliberate and systematic policy of collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza. (Email to Harriet Sherwood, November 18, 2010)

We have not heard back from the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent.

Note again Sherwood’s sanguine observation:

“I have to say that from previous trips there is no evidence of a shortage of food in Gaza although there is clearly an issue about affordability for some sections of the population.”

Jonathan Cook pointed out to us in a second email:

“Actually her response simply sets out the conundrum rather than answers it.

“If there is no shortage of food, why has it become unaffordable for some sections of the population? True, some Gazans are probably poorer, but, even taking this factor into account, we also know prices have risen substantially. How do we explain these rises when the population is actually poorer? How do we make sense of it?

“It worries me that as journalists we make these kinds of statements without thinking through the logic of our own assumptions.” (Email from Jonathan Cook, November 18, 2010)

Concluding Remarks

In almost ten years of observing the media and writing alerts for Media Lens, we still sometimes find ourselves amazed by the efficiency of the corporate blanking of uncomfortable truths. There is no need for organised obstructionism here; no requirement for orders from above, or ruthless spiking of news stories.

As George Orwell noted in an unpublished preface to Animal Farm:

“The sinister fact about literary censorship […] is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without any need for any official ban”.

In drawing our attention to Orwell’s remarks, Noam Chomsky describes the mechanism of achieving this dark silence as “the internalisation of the values of subordination and conformity” (Noam Chomsky, ‘Powers and Prospects’, Pluto Press, 1996, p. 68).

“A good education and immersion in the dominant intellectual culture”, adds Chomsky, instils in policy-makers, commentators and academics a “general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact.”

But the public has the power to ensure that “particular facts” do get mentioned. And, crucially, we have the power to make Western governments end the oppression of people in Gaza, and around the world.

www.medialens.org

Media lens is currently calling another Independent reporter on their uncritical treatment of Tony Blair and his sentiments toward the Palestinians.  Go to the Media Lens website for the entire deconstruction.

A snippet from John Pilger caught my attention, I will repost it here:

In similar vein, Macintyre made a cryptic reference in his article to the “tragically abortive peace talks at Camp David in 2000”. This “tragic” episode is “Israel’s most important contemporary myth”, John Pilger writes. The myth states that Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians the return of “90 per cent” of the Occupied Territories and that Yasser Arafat turned him down. Arafat’s alleged rejection of this “unprecedented act of generosity”, to quote the myth once again, became the launch pad for renewed abuse of the Palestinians, including the building of an apartheid wall.

Pilger writes of the peace talks in 2000:

“There was no ’90 per cent’ offer. At Camp David, Barak promised a token military withdrawal from no more than 12 per cent of the Occupied Territories. He also made it clear that Israel had no intention of giving back any part of Greater Jerusalem, which covers some of the best Palestinian land and is the administrative and cultural heart of Palestine. Most of the illegal settlements, which controlled 42 per cent of the West Bank and Gaza, would stay, leaving the Palestinians with fragments of their original homeland, or 15 per cent of pre-Israel Palestine.” (John Pilger, Freedom Next Time, Bantam Press, London, 2006, pp. 107-108)

“In practice,” wrote Barak’s chief negotiator at Camp David, Shlomo Ben-Ami, before taking up his negotiator’s role, “the Oslo agreements were founded on a neo-colonialist basis, on a life of dependence of one on the other forever.” (Quoted, Pilger, ibid.)

It is nice to see we are giving the Palestinians a fair shake with our obvious generosity.

Defying international law seems to be what Israel does best.  The International Committee of the Red Cross recently released the following (from Al Jazeera):

“The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has described Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip as a violation of the Geneva Conventions and called on the Israeli government to lift it.

In a statement released on Monday, the organisation called the blockade “collective punishment”, a crime under international law. It described Gaza as a territory plagued by frequent power cuts, a ruined economy, and a collapsed health care system.”

Collective punishment is illegal.  There are no qualifiers to this statement, the actions being taken against the people of Gaza are illegal.

“In Luxembourg on Monday, foreign ministers from the European Union condemned the Gaza blockade as “unacceptable and counterproductive,” and called for immediate and unconditional opening of crossings for humanitarian aid.

“The most important part of what we can do is to try and provide support to actually get the crossings open and to … help people rebuild their homes, to provide for businesses, to try to support everyday things,” Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign affairs chief, said.”

Sounds like a reasonable starting point to me.

Glenn Greenwald over at Salon.com has a great take down of the swirling pool of Israeli propaganda and lies that have engulfed the media coverage of the Gaza Convoy debacle.

Gems include:

“This campaign of suppression and propaganda worked to shape American media coverage (as state propaganda campaigns virtually always work on the gullible, authority-revering American media).  The edited IDF video was shown over and over on American television without question or challenge.  Israeli officials and Israel-devoted commentators appeared all over television — almost always unaccompanied by any Turkish, Palestinian or Muslim critics of the raid — to spout the Israeli version without opposition.  Israel-centric pundits in America claimed, based on the edited IDF video, that anyone was lying who even reported on the statements of the passengers that Israeli fired first.  In sum, that the Israelis used force only after the passengers attacked the commandos became Unquestioned Truth in American discourse.”

and…

Nobody’s claims are entitled to an automatic assumption of truth, including these passengers.  But as Mackey argues, all of this compellingly underscores the need for an independent — not an Israeli-led — investigation.  Mackey quotes Israeli journalist and blogger Noam Sheifaz:

Israel has confiscated some of the most important material for the investigation, namely the films, audio and photos taken by the passengers [and] journalists on board and the Mavi Marmara’s security cameras. Since yesterday, Israel has been editing these films and using them for its own PR campaign. In other words, Israel has already confiscated most of the evidence, held it from the world and tampered with it. No court in the world would [trust] it to be the one examining it.

Just as is true for the U.S. on so many occasions, Israel has made unmistakably clear that it is interested only in propagandizing and obfuscating.  The very idea that they can be trusted to reveal what actually happened is ludicrous on its face […]

I recommend going to Salon.com to read the full article, it is both lobe blowing and informative.

Update( 19/06/2010): I recommend going to Fillibluster to see how Canadian politicians will twist and turn trying to avoid the ire of the Jewish lobby.  Libby Davies is the most recent victim of daring to hold dangerous opinion that there are human rights violations being perpetrated in Gaza.

Bringing aid to starving people, a crime according to Israel.

The black hole that is Middle East coverage had better not suck this particular story down its greedy maw.  Israel can pretty much murder at will in the occupied territories and international media will give them a pass.  The media had better not slink to its usual spineless standards when Israeli commandos board a ship laden with humanitarian aid and kill nine innocent people.   It just had better not happen.  The CBC and Al-Jazeera report:

“Netanyahu said the Israeli soldiers had boarded one of the floatilla’s six ships to check it for weapons when they were attacked by activists with knives and clubs.

“They literally attacked the first soldiers on the ship, they were mobbed,” Netanyahu said in Ottawa, where he was meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “They were clubbed, they were beaten, stabbed, there was even a report of gunfire.

“And our soldiers had to defend themselves, defend their lives or they would have been killed,” he said.”

Ah yes, the favourite method of denying culpability.  We were only acting in self-defence.  Bullshit.   You boarded a ship with no probable cause ,in international waters no less, and in the ruckus YOU caused had to respond with deadly force and kill nine innocent people.   Wake up you murderous bastards, this is not the occupied territories where you can kill on a whim.

The aid convoy was organized in part by the Free Gaza Movement, an international group of pro-Palestinian activists that claims the Gaza blockade is a violation of international law.

Audrey Bomse, the legal co-ordinator for the Free Gaza Movement, called claims the passengers had planned to provoke the soldiers “absurd.”

“It was clearly an attack — probably a premeditated attack — by Israel upon civilians,” she told CBC News.

“These are supposed to be crack military forces. I can only assume that they wanted to intimidate people from doing this in the future.”

Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian government spokesman, said the government “condemns the brutality in which the Israeli government treated this peaceful attempt to break the siege on Gaza.”

Absolutely.  The World should be in an uproar about this gross violation of international law.  Some are already taking steps:

“The United Nations Security Council was to meet on Monday afternoon for an emergency session to discuss the matter.

Turkey, Spain, Greece, Denmark and Sweden have all summoned the Israeli ambassadors in their respective countries to protest against the assault.”

There are mass protests in Turkey over the murder of its citizens in international waters:

Protesters take part in a demonstration at Taksim Square in  Istanbul on Monday. About 10,000 people gathered in the Turkish capital  to protest Israel's military assault on a convoy of six aid ships.

Protesters take part in a demonstration at About 10,000 people gathered in the Turkish capital to protest Israel's military assault on a convoy of six aid ships. (Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press)

I am outraged at the audacity of Israel and the spineless response of our Western leaders.

Harper:

“Canada deeply regrets this action, the loss of life and the injuries that have occurred and obviously we’ll be looking in the days that follow to get all the information we can get to find out exactly what has transpired,” Harper said following a meeting with Netanyahu.

Obama expressed “deep regret at the loss of life in today’s incident and concern for the wounded,” according to a White House statement. He also expressed “the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances” surrounding the event, it said.

If this had been Iran boarding a ship in International waters and killing people, it would have been like World War 3 had just started.  Instead we get this jellyfish piffle of mindless palavers.  Inexcusable.

Intransigentia has also written cogently on this topic, catch up with her here.



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