This article was originally published in the April 2011 issue of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s Extra! magazine. It was only recently put online.
U.S. media coverage of the death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah reflected how the corporate press routinely covers high-profile civilian deaths caused by Israel. The Israeli government, it seems, can count on U.S. media to print its anonymous claims—no matter how baseless.
Two days after Abu Rahmah, a Palestinian woman from the West Bank village of Bil’in, died from tear-gas inhalation during a December 31 demonstration against the separation wall, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) went into spin mode. Anonymous “senior officers” in the Israeli army pushed a number of theories about her death—Abu Rahmah wasn’t at the demonstration, she had cancer, it may have been an “honor killing” and more—that the Israeli press dutifully reported. Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf (+972 Magazine, 1/4/11), who was actually present at the Bil’in demonstration, described these claims as “half-truths and lies.”
U.S. corporate media also used anonymous Israeli military sources to cast doubt on the 36-year-old Abu Rahmah’s killing. In the New York Times (1/5/11), reporter Isabel Kershner characterized the story as a “debate” with “clashing narratives.” Though she noted that the IDF claims were all anonymous while the Palestinian claims were “backed by medical documents,” Kershner went on to give roughly equal time to both arguments.
Among the IDF’s anonymous claims were that they “had never heard of tear gas killing anyone in the open” and that Abu Rahmah may have had “some pre-existing ailment that, alone or compounded by the tear gas, caused her death.” Why anonymous military officials should be treated as experts on medical questions was never explained.
The Washington Post (1/6/11) similarly stated that anonymous military officials “suggested that an existing medical condition might have contributed to 36-year-old Jawaher Abu Rahmah’s death.” The Los Angeles Times’ only brief mention of the case (1/3/11) explained, “Since tear gas is typically nonlethal, it remained unclear whether soldiers used excessive amounts or whether the woman had health problems that contributed to her reaction.”
But the IDF claims were contradicted by extensive eyewitness reports from other protesters, Israeli journalists from +972 Magazine and the family of Abu Rahmah. In a January 4 statement put together by the Popular Struggle Coordina-tion Committee, Abu Rahmah’s mother said her daughter “was not sick with cancer, nor did she have any other illness, and she was not asthmatic,” while the director of the health center that treated Abu Rahmah stated that she “died from lung failure that was caused by tear gas inhalation, leading to a heart attack.”
Furthermore, the claim printed in the New York Times that the IDF “had never heard of tear gas killing anyone in the open”—boosted by Kershner’s own claim that the gas “can be lethal in closed environments but is considered nonlethal in the open air”—was belied by a Ha’aretz report (1/7/11) that noted that a 2004 study conducted by the IDF found that “a high concentration of the gas in a given location could cause serious or even lethal harm.” In fact, a toddler living in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan had died from tear gas just a few months prior to Abu Rahmah’s death (Ma’an News Agency, 9/24/10).
Kershner wrote that the IDF “routinely fires CS tear gas against the protesters to keep them away from the barrier and to disperse stone-throwing youths.” She didn’t mention that the wall has been ruled to be illegal under international law, according to an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice (7/9/04); as Human Rights Watch has noted (3/5/10), “85 percent of the barrier’s route lies inside the West Bank, separating Palestinian residents from their lands, restricting their movement, and in some places effectively confiscating occupied territory.”
Moreover, Kershner’s wording seemed to imply that the Israeli army was simply responding to stones being hurled. But as Sheizaf’s eyewitness report stated, “the tear gas was fired by the IDF well before the march got even close to the fence.” Sheizaf wrote that at these demonstrations, “when stone-throwing does occur, it usually begins after the army disperses the march…. As for the soldiers, they are standing on the hill, heavily protected, and the stones normally pose no real danger for them.”
The coverage of Abu Rahmah’s death recalls how corporate media treated the killings of nine civilians by Israeli commandos aboard a Gaza-bound aid flotilla. As Peter Hart wrote in Extra! (7/10), “much of the U.S. media coverage has been remarkably unskeptical of Israel’s account of events and their context.” It appears that half a year later, little has changed.
Alex Kane is a freelance journalist and blogger based in New York City (alexbkane.wordpress.com). He can be followed on Twitter @alexbkane.
Berlin — German tax payers are to foot part of the bill for the highly controversial sale of a sixth submarine to Israel, the Hamburg-based news magazine Der Spiegel said in a report on Sunday.
The German government is to allocate 135 million euros from next year’s defense budget to pay for the Dolphin-class submarine, estimated to cost around 500 million euros.
The deal was apparently sealed during the latest Israel visit of German Defense Minister Thomas de Maziere.
Germany is already paying one-third of the one billion euro price tag for the fourth and fifth Dolphin submarine which are currently still being built for Israel.
Berlin subsidized also the first three submarines which it delivered to Israel in 1999 and 2000, having paid around 550 million euros (1.1 million D-Mark).
Germany has played a major role in arming the Israeli navy over the past 12 years.
The German government has kept silent on its military deals with the Zionist regime, refusing to reveal any details of the contract.
A hardline supporter of Israel, Germany, has become a major arms supplier of the illegal Jewish state despite a constitutional ban to send arms to crisis regions.
There are no official statistics available on the sale of German weapons to Israel as almost all arms exports to the Zionist regime are shrouded in extreme secrecy.
German arms deliveries to Israel between 1998 and 2001 reached reportedly around 900 million US dollars.
Negotiations for a Palestinian unity government are seemingly at an impasse and new questions rise daily concerning the “September initiative” to request full United Nations membership for Palestine. What are the perspectives of Hamas leadership concerning these issues, and possible developments in the Palestinian struggle for liberation? Mark West interviews Palestinian Legislative Council Member Mohammad Totah.
What are your thoughts on the Hamas-Fatah unity deal? What are the main points of disagreement between Fatah and Hamas concerning the agreement?
Totah: Hamas were hoping for a successful reconciliation as both sides are under occupation and will be more powerful when united. The central problem at the moment is Fatah’s choice of Salam Fayyad as the current Prime Minister. When we signed the reconciliation agreement with Fatah in Egypt, it was stated that both factions will agree on the PM and ministers of the government.
In fact, we agreed on two things: first of all, to rebuild Gaza and secondly, to prepare the ground for new elections. That means both sides had to agree on the PM and ministers. Unfortunately, Abbas wants to impose his decision to keep Salam Fayyad as PM, which does not adhere to the reconciliation agreement signed by both sides.
Fayyad’s main achievement has been to build institutions in Palestine. Nonetheless, while some institutions are ready for statehood, we are still under occupation. Hamas thinks that we have to achieve the freedom of our land and people before we build national institutions. Let me tell you, any country or people that is under occupation has to confront the occupation, to resist, until they get their freedom and then start building organizations. It is futile to construct organizations and institutions under occupation because the Israelis can come at any time and destroy everything that was built.
Last of all, two years ago, Fayyad promised that by September 2011 Palestinians would no longer need to depend financially on any external donor. Yet, the PLO is currently unable to pay its salaries because they are still dependent on foreign aid. How can you say you are ready to be a state when you cannot pay for that same state without foreign aid?
How do the methods of Hamas to resist occupation differ from Fatah? Do you think Hamas has a stronger hand in eventual negotiations with Israel?
Totah: Hamas and Fatah employ two innately different strategies. Fatah’s plan is to get peace for our people and land through negotiations and the renunciation of violence. However, over the last 20 years Fatah has continuously been negotiating with Israel, but on the ground nothing has changed, no rights have been gained. That can only mean their strategy has failed to return any rights to the Palestinian people.
Our approach differs fundamentally. Palestinians have the right, under international law, to resist the occupier by any means as an occupied people. As a result, Hamas keeps resisting the occupation in various forms, violent and non-violent. But resistance does not always mean the use of military force; there are many alternate means to resist occupation. My fellow parliamentary members and I who are residing in the ICRC tent while Israel wants to deport us are an example of an alternative method to resist the occupation.
Ultimately, Hamas prefers a peaceful solution: to live in our homes peacefully and freely. But when they occupy us, what should we do? Look at the history, all over the world those who lived under occupation have resisted by all means. Without resistance you will never attain the right to be free. What will force the occupier to listen when there is no resistance? If we don’t resist, the Israelis will live freely, and we will live like slaves. Instead, we refuse to be slaves of the occupation and we choose to live with dignity.
Last of all, let’s not forget that in 2006 the Palestinian people chose to give 59 percent of all parliamentary seats to Hamas because they realized Israelis are not going to give them their land peacefully.
If it disagrees fundamentally with Fatah’s strategy, will Hamas eventually engage in direct negotiations with Israel?
Totah: We are not against negotiations. If you want to achieve anything, you will have to negotiate. But there are two prerequisites: to negotiate, you need have good cards on the table, and secondly, Israel will have to agree on several fundamental Palestinian rights before any negotiations can take place.
In 2006, Hamas and other factions agreed on the borders of 1967 as the basis for negotiations, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and a truce for ten to fifteen years. Before any negotiations can take place, Israel will have to agree on this framework and discuss how they will withdraw from the occupied territories and allow Palestinians to return to their land.
And if there are no strong cards to play, if you don’t have force in one hand and peace in the other, you will not be able to negotiate successfully. Our experience as Palestinians has shown that to be true.
Then what does Hamas think of plan to submit to the UN secretary general an official request for Palestine to be accepted as a full member of UN by the PLO?
Totah: Palestine already gained recognition in 1988, so the appeal for UN membership does not add anything new to the cause. But why not go for it? Why should Hamas create obstacles for Fatah to reach its goal to attain international recognition? If they want to go to the UN, let’s go, but we know the Palestinian people will not gain their sovereign rights this way. At the same time, Hamas also knows we have nothing left to lose, so let them go and we will see what happens. The good thing is that it will show the world what Israel stands for and that the Palestinians are fighting for their rights.
Did Fatah communicate their intentions to go to the UN during the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation talks?
Totah: During the reconciliation talks it was not mentioned by Fatah. But when they discussed it with Hamas at a later date, Hamas agreed not to block the procedure. At the same time, we made it clear that we are convinced the appeal for full UN membership will not return Palestinian rights to its people. But as we cannot see any negative consequences, we will do nothing to obstruct the move.
Some say that, in case the Palestinian people do not attain any actual gains through the UN process this September, there is a chance of a third Palestinian wave of resistance against Israel. What are your thoughts on that?
Totah: Fatah and Abbas believe in peace through negotiations, not resistance. After September, Fatah will continue with negotiations as usual, with no deadline in sight. Abbas has also stated that he will reject any form of violent intifada, and confront any instigator of violence. Hamas, on the other hand, does believe in resistance.
Everywhere in the world, people who are under occupation have other choices than negotiations. The truth is that if your only choice is peaceful negotiations, then the occupier does not care about your cause. But if we resist the occupation in other ways, then Israel knows we hold other cards. That’s when concessions can be made from both sides. But when only peaceful resistance is used, all concessions will be from our side and the occupation will never end.
In case a truly autonomous Palestinian state is declared in the coming years, what kind of political system does Hamas envision for Palestine?
Totah: Ultimately, we want to live peacefully in a democratic state with human rights and the rule of law. Look at me, as a member of the Palestinian parliament I have been in prison for three and a half years. Now I’ve been living in the ICRC compound for 1 year, a place from which I cannot leave because they want me to resign from parliament and revoke my residency.
The reason I refuse to leave is that I believe in democracy, and that only the Palestinian people have the right to ask me to resign, not the Israeli government.