The US corporate media has started to examine Hamasâ€™ victories in Palestinian municipal elections last Thursday. However, if the New York Timesâ€™ coverage is any indication, an honest evaluation of Israelâ€™s role in increasing Hamasâ€™ popularity is unlikely. Revelations over the last year have forced the US corporate media, with the New York Times at the forefront, to re-evaluate their role in promoting the Iraq war and occupation. Sadly, no such re-evaluation is underway with respect to Israel/Palestine. Israeli occupation, expansionism and human rights abuses still generally pass without comment.
On Sunday, the New York Times published one of the first analytical articles by a US newspaper on Hamasâ€™ Thursday municipal election successes, Jerusalem Bureau Chief Steven Erlangerâ€™s â€œIn Era After Arafat, Islamic Militants are Edging into Powerâ€ (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/18/international/middleeast/18mideast.html). Erlanger explains Fatehâ€™s losses and Hamasâ€™ gains as purely a function of internal Palestinian politics. He gives no indication that Israeli violence and refusal to negotiate helped to radicalize Palestinians by undermining Fateh, the secular, centrist party that attempted to negotiate peace, and thereby strengthening Hamas, a religious party which has tended to reject negotiation and favor armed struggle.
Erlanger blames Hamasâ€™ gains on a laundry list of Fatehâ€™s failures – the â€œuninspiring personalityâ€ of Yasser Arafatâ€™s successor Mahmoud Abbas, Abbasâ€™ â€œlack of ability or will to use his [Arafatâ€™s] aggressive tacticsâ€, Abbasâ€™ refusal â€œto jettison the old guard or to crack down and provide law and order in the streetsâ€, the reality that Arafatâ€™s â€œPalestinian Authority was criticized for corruption, indolence and a failure to care about ordinary Palestiniansâ€, and the â€œgenerational struggle between those who were Arafat cronies and went into exile with him and those in their 40′s who grew up at home after the 1967 war, under Israeli occupation.â€ These crucial factors deserve readersâ€™ attention, but they are only half the story.
Oddly, Erlanger failed to quote prominent Israeli politicians who criticized Israel as the election story broke. The Israeli newspaper Haâ€™aretz Daily paraphrased Yossi Beilin, Chairman of the left of center Meretz-Yahad party, saying â€œHamas’ strong showing in the elections is the “rotten fruit” of the Israeli government’s policy, which has destroyed the ruling infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority over the past five years.â€
Ami Ayalon, a former head of Israelâ€™s powerful domestic intelligence services the Shin Bet, told Le Figaro in France, â€œHamas’ victory on Thursday in the West Bank is the result of Sharon’s policy.” Because of Sharon’s treatment of Fatah and the PA, “most Palestinians are convinced that the Fatah has failed and Israelâ€™s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is the result of terror.”
Israel originally supported Hamas when it was founded in 1987 as an alternative to the PLO, another fact ignored by the media. Nonetheless, Fateh, the lead party in the PLO, gambled that it would be possible to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel that would allow the creation of a viable Palestinian state. So far Fateh has lost. A succession of Israeli governments has instead often seemed intent on proving correct Hamasâ€™ assertion that Israel only understands force.
If the spotlight shifted to analyzing Ariel Sharonâ€™s recent rise to political dominance it is hard to imagine that the Times would have left out the role of armed Palestinian attacks against Israelis in strengthening Sharon. Yet the US corporate media feels it completely appropriate to leave out Israeli violence and colonialism, and to avoid phrases like â€œIsraeli occupationâ€, â€œinternational lawâ€ and â€œhuman rightsâ€.
It is also difficult to imagine a New York Times article on Israeli politics without multiple quotes from a number of Israeli sources. Yet Erlangerâ€™s 1196 word article on Fateh and Hamas quotes only ten words from a single Palestinian analyst.
Experience suggests that on the rare occasions when Timesâ€™ reporters interview a number of Palestinians, the result is a fuller discussion of Israelâ€™s role. For example, in an October, 2005 story on chaos in Gaza, Erlanger extensively quoted five different Palestinians. One of them, Talal Okal, said, â€œIsrael worked to weaken the secular P.A. in the second intifada, and the P.A. performed badlyâ€¦ The failure of the political process created an atmosphere for the renaissance of Islamic doctrines and ideologiesâ€¦ When the P.L.O. … carried the flag of negotiations and the so-called peace process, Hamas picked up the flag of resistance.” Okalâ€™s October analysis would have strengthened the Timesâ€™ article last Sunday.
The Sunday New York Timesâ€™ article on Hamasâ€™ increasing power demonstrates that the US corporate media largely continue to ignore Palestinian voices, and even ignore Israelis who are critical of Israel, instead privileging right-wing Israeli and American perspectives. Many Americans now understand that on Iraq the corporate media bowed to the views of powerful extremists and silenced alternative perspectives, with disastrous consequences. Americans now need apply the lessons about media coverage of Iraq to Palestine and Israel. Until we do, the tragedy in the Middle East will continue, with US backing.
Patrick Oâ€™Connor is an activist with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Palestine and New York City.