Last week, Barry Rubin wrote about the distortions of news perpetrated by an Arab Reuters stringer (see “Do you trust the wire services? You shouldn’t.“). This week it’s AP’s turn, with yet another biased Arab reporter.
By Barry Rubin
What if a major news story is completely made up? What if it is basically Hamas propaganda without any basis in truth? And what if this story is repeated around the world?
Of course, nowadays it is not hard to imagine such things happening on debatable issues. When one gets to specific statistics, however, it should not be too easy to lie and get away with it.
But it is.
The story in question here is by Ibrahim Barzak, “Israel cuts fuel, electricity to Gaza,” January 7, 2008. Like all individual articles it might be of limited importance by itself but it is an example of a phenomenon which has grown to be almost daily.
In the version run by the Philadelphia Inquirer it carries the following subheadline: “People have only a third of winter needs, said an official. The intent is to halt rocket attacks.”
It is important to emphasize–do a computer search if you like–that this article has been published and broadcast around the world by huge media outlets, not to mention websites.
And the main point–and impact–of the story is a fabrication.
Here is the lead:
With winter deepening, Gazans will be forced to live without lights and electric heaters for eight hours a day because Israel has cut fuel supplies to the territory’s only electric plant in half, Gaza’s top energy official warned yesterday….
Yesterday, Kanan Obeid, chairman of Gaza’s Hamas-run energy authority, said Gaza now has only 35 percent of the power its 1.5 million residents need. [my emphasis – ed.]
Well, perhaps Gaza’s top energy official said that but it is a lie. AP and the media that depend on AP–fell for this lie. Or perhaps the author and institution are not so innocent because there is no Israeli source provided for the main issues at stake. When I investigated the story it took me five minutes to get an official who totally denied the claims made by it.
Here is the true story, so obscured by the AP article that one can only believe the distortion was deliberate.
- About 70 percent of Gaza’s electricity comes from Israel (the article says 60 percent though this changes nothing about the analysis that follows), 5 percent from Egypt, and 20 percent from Gaza itself.
- There has been very little cutback in the electricity provided directly by Israel.
- The only reduction is in supplying diesel fuel, some of which is used in the Gaza generating plant, though more is used by trucks.
- Thus if the diesel fuel supply was cut back by half, the Gaza generator would lose less than half of its supply, even less if the Hamas government made it a priority. At most, the electricity supply would be cut no more than 10 percent–not 65 percent.
- Note also that while it sounds rather horrible not to have electricity eight hours a day, this merely would mean that you don’t use electricity when you are sleeping. It should also be added that winter in Gaza is not exactly like Maine.
- In addition, Barzak tries, and no doubt succeeds, in fooling readers by stating in passing: “The power outages, which will rotate across Gaza….” In other words, at worst each sector would only have temporary power reductions, taking turns, rather than–as the article states earlier–everyone having eight hours without electricity.
After trying to convince readers that people in Gaza are suffering greatly from existing cuts, the article slips into making its case by talking about things that have not happened yet. The Israeli government wants small cutbacks in the electricity directly applied to the Gaza Strip. Even if these cuts were made–and this may not happen–the result would still fall very far short of the claims made about huge reductions and tremendous suffering.
The article continues:
Israel said the purpose of the cutback was to nudge Palestinians to call on extremists to stop their daily rocket attacks on southern Israel. But Gazans contended they have become targets of unfair punishment, and 10 human-rights groups took that argument to the Israeli Supreme Court.
Note that while, technically, Israel’s motive is presented–so the AP can claim to be balanced–we are quickly told that this claim is untrue. Israel’s statements are questioned; Hamas’s statements are accepted as fact.
The point here is to avoid telling readers three other things as well:
- Israel is a remarkable democracy where even wartime actions against an enemy openly declaring an intention to kill all its people and daily attempting terror attacks are fairly adjudicated in court.
- Israel is still supplying directly and indirectly the vast majority of Gaza’s power despite the war being waged against it by a regime there which sponsors cross-border attacks, holds an Israeli soldier as hostage, and proclaims that it will never accept Israel’s existence.
- If the Hamas regime were to change its policy there would be no sanctions at all.
The article’s goal, therefore, is to muster support for Hamas within the Gaza Strip and to mobilize forces throughout the world against sanctions. That may be the job of Hamas but is it the task for the world news media and Associated Press? Instead, this article is not reporting news but attempting to indoctrinate readers in the belief that Palestinians are suffering, Israel is responsible, and Israel’s explanations of its actions are false.
But it is this article that is false by claiming that Israeli activities have reduced Gaza’s electricity by two-thirds.
Oh, by the way, on January 11, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that even the restrictions on diesel fuel oil would be lifted. So residents of the Gaza Strip will get everything necessary for 100 percent of their usual electricity production.
While rocket attacks, attempted terrorist operations, and incitement continue, Israel will provide power for Hamas’s offices, broadcasts calling for the killing of all Israelis, and arms’ workshops. This, we are told by too much of the media, is the way things are supposed to be according to morality and international law.
. . .
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA). His latest books are The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan) and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).