Sunday, 15 August 2010

Pro-Israel Herald advert sparks war of words

By Dan Satherley
from TV3 News

A pro-Israel opinion piece published in the New Zealand Herald on Tuesday has been dismissed as “propaganda” by the leader of a team of Kiwi activists planning to join a Gaza aid convoy in September.

The quarter-page article, headlined “GAZA FLOTILLA: THE MISSING TRUTHS”, argues that the media “distorts the truth to make Israel look bad” when reporting on events in the region.

Labelled by the newspaper as an advertisement and following a question-answer format, it discusses not only Israel’s raid on an aid flotilla in May that resulted in the deaths of nine activists, but other events in the Middle East over the last three decades, from a pro-Israel perspective.

Click here to read the article in full (PDF).

Its backers, a group calling themselves Kiwis for Balanced Reporting on the Mideast (KBRM), say they began the advertising campaign in 2009 because newspaper editors were refusing to publish their articles.

Kia Ora Gaza is a group of Kiwis planning to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza in September. Team captain Roger Fowler says the article is “propaganda”.

“The advert in [Tuesday’s] New Zealand Herald, placed by the faceless ‘Kiwis for Balanced Reporting on the Mideast’, trots out a pathetic collection of falsehoods to try to justify the Israel's outrageous murderous hijack of the Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May,” he says.

“One can't help but wonder who this anonymous group is, and who is funding their string of expensive propaganda advertisements.”

KBRM contact Mary Honeywill said the group operates “in cyber space”, communicates via email and has no organisational structure.

“We do not have a media spokesperson and our chairman is out of the country,” she wrote in an email to 3 News.

She did however say that the New Zealand media is “very biased” in its reporting on the region.

“This is due mainly to the fact that they source their information from overseas… It does not absolve our media of the need to maintain neutrality by checking for themselves and reporting facts rather than sensational assertions which often prove to be false or by omission because they have not researched the information for themselves,” she says.

Apart from a general email address, there are no other contact details on the KBRM website.

“In contrast, the Kia Ora Gaza team of six Kiwi volunteers has been publicly announced,” says Mr Fowler,” and the Kia Ora Gaza website publishes up-to-date information on this humanitarian campaign.”

Among the claims in KBRM’s article is that Gaza’s ruling organisation, Hamas, is “sworn to destroying Israel”. Though arguably true – Hamas’ 1988 charter calls for an end to the state of Israel, in order to make way for a Palestinian state – Hamas distanced itself from this policy in 2006, prior to the Palestinian parliamentary election (which it won).

Its manifesto published that year called for “the establishment of an independent state whose capital is Jerusalem”, and made no mention of the fate of Israel. This view was backed up in 2009, when Khaled Meshal, Hamas’ political bureau chief, said Hamas was willing to accept a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders.

In 2007 a high-ranking Hamas politician said the 1988 charter was “an essentially revolutionary document born of the intolerable conditions under occupation”. The Palestinian Territories in 1988 were in the grip of the First Intifada, or “uprising”, sparked by Israeli military occupation and the lack of progress from the ruling Palestine Liberation Organisation.

The charter though has never been officially revoked, even if its status is now debated.

The KBRM article quotes a Daily Mail piece in which a senior Hamas official claims “There is no starvation in Gaza… No one has died of hunger.”

It could be argued though that the KBRM here commits one of the same sins it accuses its opponents of – that of omission. The same Daily Mail article claims that since the blockade began, unemployment in Gaza has doubled to 40 percent; almost two-thirds of Gazans live on less than $2 a day; and the industrial sector, which once employed 35,000 people, now only has 860.

The Daily Mail article also details how no schools have been built since the blockade began, and incomes have dropped by a third – all these points were left out of the advertisement published in the Herald.

KBRM’s piece also claims that a “luxury shopping mall” opened in Gaza in July. A mall did open, but whether it could be described as luxurious is another matter. It is small – less than half the size of a football field – and has two floors, but no lift or escalator – just stairs. According to UK newspaper The Independent, the goods on sale are “much the same wares that have long been available in other stores”, but notably cheaper.

KBRM's claim that Israeli soldiers only started shooting after being ambushed on ship the Mavi Marmara is also heavily disputed.

Accounts from journalists and eyewitnesses on board ships from both sides are conflicting, as is video evidence. There were news reports of activists and journalists on other ships in the flotilla being hospitalised after attacks from Israeli soldiers armed with electric stun guns and concussion grenades.

Other reports, however, say flotilla members were recorded chanting anti-Jewish slogans and preparing weapons prior to engaging with the Israeli soldiers.

The claim that infant mortality is lower and life expectancy higher in Gaza than in Turkey, where the flotilla originated, is true – but not by much. Life expectancy is between 71 and 72 years for both, while infant mortality is around 18 per 1000 births in Gaza, compared to 25 in Turkey.

It’s often said the first casualty of war is the truth. But as can be seen, there are often two sides to every so-called truth – which is usually somewhere in between.

3 News

1 comment:

Tiger Mountain said...

What a despicable bunch, ugly graphic ‘design’ for an ugly bunch of zionist apologists. Viva Palestina!