NPR in Gaza

Some time ago, I took National Public Radio (NPR) to task for employing what I’ve come to call the Emotive Bias Technique in its reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This morning, reporter Eric Westervelt provided another perfect example (as if any more are needed).

Westervelt interviews an ‘ordinary Gazan’, Salahadin al-Sultan, owner of a grocery store in Beit Hanoun, one of the prime locations from which Qassam rockets are fired daily at southern Israel.

Sultan shows him that there is almost nothing in the store, and that he has even had to sell off much of his family’s possessions to survive. This is because Israel — after the Hamas takeover — has “tightened its crossing points into the territories” (Westervelt does not mention that Hamas often attacks the crossings with mortar fire), so that “only limited humanitarian food and medical supplies are getting in”. What is getting in since Hamas took over, of course, are explosives — 112 tons of them — but he leaves this out too.

Westervelt admits that rockets are continuing to be fired into Israel, and so “Israel has declared Gaza a hostile entity” and is “tightening the screws”. Then we go back to Sultan, whose customers are unemployed or “government workers” (most of whom were likely employed by the ‘security services’) who get only partial salaries. Most of Sultan’s furniture is gone, sold to pay for food and bills. Sultan’s wife’s gold jewelry has been sold and — you can hear the heartstrings twanging — also his wedding ring.

A child passes with a donkey cart, selling vegetables from “forlorn boxes”, carefully driving around a refilled crater produced by an Israeli bomb not far from the shop. The explosion smashed his windows. We don’t know what the rocket launchers which must have been there did to Sderot. At one point, so many rockets were launched from Beit Hanoun, that angry residents wanted the army to return random barrage for barrage. Of course, the army only targets launchers and their operators.

The Emotive Bias Technique depends on the human propensity to remember emotionally loaded experiences much more than the recitation of facts. So Sultan’s depressing situation, his lost wedding ring, the child skirting the crater with his miserable vegetables — these make an impression. The matter-of-fact statement that, yes, rockets are being fired from Beit Hanoun does not.

In addition to Emotive Bias, Westervelt leaves out important context. Hamas is spending huge sums of money smuggling explosives and weapons into the strip, building fortifications near the border, digging tunnels under the border to attack Israel, manufacturing rockets, etc. This money could be spent on ameliorating economic conditions in Gaza, if Hamas wished to do so. Israel’s “tightening the screws” is a direct result of the rocket and mortar fire, sniping, and attempts to kidnap Israelis that are occurring every day. If Hamas would stop them, the restrictions would stop too.

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