The following article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue of Extra!, the monthly magazine of the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. The trend highlighted in the article of corporate media completely ignoring the crisis in Gaza unless there are headline grabbing events like the raid on the Gaza aid flotilla continues to hold steady.
Since the Islamist movement Hamas won democratic elections in the Palestinian territories in January 2006, Israel has been waging what it has referred to as “economic warfare” (McClatchy, 6/9/10) to collectively punish Gazans for their choice. The economic sanctions increased after Hamas’ June 2006 capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit; a full-blown air, land and sea blockade was imposed by Israel (and Egypt) in June 2007 after Hamas routed an attempted coup by the rival, U.S.-backed Fatah party and took control in the Gaza Strip.
The blockade against the coastal strip has had devastating consequences for the one-and-a-half million Palestinians living in Gaza, including near-total economic collapse, and has been repeatedly condemned by international bodies (e.g., International Committee of the Red Cross, 6/14/10), but corporate media in the United States have largely ignored it. While Gaza gained some attention when Israel was pummeling the Strip in its 2008–09 assault, and again in the wake of the deadly Israeli raid on the Gaza aid flotilla in May 2010, the dire situation there got scant coverage in the period between those headline-grabbing events.
Despite Israel’s recent claim of “easing” the siege (6/10/10), the civilian population, over half of whom are children, remains trapped in what NBC reporter Tom Aspell (6/8/10), in a rare critical take, referred to as “a 140-square-mile prison.” Freedom of movement for Gazans is severely restricted, people still can’t export goods and the naval blockade remains in place. A May 2010 report on Gaza from the UN Development Program paints a disturbing picture: 75 percent of infrastructure damaged during the 2008–09 Israeli invasion remains unrepaired due to the near-total ban on imports of construction materials, more than 90 percent of Gaza’s drinking water is unfit for consumption, over 40 percent of people are unemployed and over a million Gazans depend on food aid.
Between February 2009 and May 2010—from just after the 2008–09 Gaza conflict until shortly before the Israeli assault on the Gaza aid flotilla—there were 43 on-the-ground news reports related to the situation in Palestine from the television news outlets ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN. Only eight stories dealt specifically with the humanitarian crisis and the effects of war in Gaza: four on CNN, three on ABC and one on NBC.
The rest largely focused on the Israeli/Palestinian “peace process” and the short-lived U.S./Israeli tensions over illegal Israeli settlements. CNN also aired three reports critical of what it portrayed as Islamist indoctrination of Gazan children, depicting summer camps and children’s TV as promoting suicide bombing and terrorism. None of these segments mentioned the nearly 1,000 Gazan children killed by Israel in the past 10 years, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, as a possible motivation for violent resistance.
None of the outlets ran a report on the UN’s Goldstone report, which accused both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes during the 2008–09 conflict. Nor did these outlets mention any of the 67 Israeli killings in Gaza counted by B’Tselem during this time period—including 23 civilians, eight of whom were children.
Despite the sparse coverage, there was no lack of compelling stories in this 14-month period—like that of Ahmad Suliman Salem Deeb, the 19-year-old Gaza City resident who was killed by Israeli soldiers during a non-violent demonstration against the Israeli “buffer zone” that prevents 30 percent of Gaza’s arable land from being farmed (International Solidarity Movement, 4/28/10). Or Mutassim Dalloul, whose dairy factory in Gaza was blown up not once but twice by U.S.-funded Israeli bombs—first during the Israeli invasion and again on April 1–2, 2010 (Electronic Intifada, 4/5/10)–continuing the targeting of Gaza’s means of sustenance that the Goldstone report deemed illegal.
Had such stories showing the blockade’s human effects been told, had Gazans been given names and faces, the commentary after the Israeli raid on the aid flotilla trying to break the blockade might have sounded much different. With so little attention paid to the humanitarian situation there, though, it’s unsurprising that one commentator after another (Extra!, 7/10) could contend, like Monica Crowley on Fox Business News (6/2/10), “There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza at all!”