Nothing stirs newspaper editors in their opinion-offering roles more excitedly than Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. In a time of war of course, such as this, when Israel actually fights back, striking hard blows at the enemy, the editors’ collective excitement transmutes to a kind of frenzied group zeal.
This phenomenon has been much on display in daily newspapers around the world.
But much of the material, analysis, and opinion that editors have chosen to feature on the editorial and commentary pages have been, like most free advice, off-the-mark and unhelpful.
Last Saturday’s Globe and Mail, to take but one newspaper example, published two large commentaries on Israel’s incursion into Gaza that were not only unhelpful, but also contradictory.
Patrick Martin, the paper’s Israel-based bureau chief, wrote, ostensibly, a mini-primer about Hamas. The piece was entitled “The Islamic movement that just won’t die.”
It was decidedly not a paean of tribute to the terrorist organization, but nor was it even a slightly serious look at the genocidal mission of the organization or at the murderous nature of its related activities.
For example, Martin quotes one of his interviewees at a mosque in Hebron as saying that “Hamas will adapt to circumstances.” To prove the point, Martin provides the following history.
“They have in the past. About 2005-06, for example, it dawned on Hamas leaders that the group’s suicide-bombing campaign was not winning them international support and they largely dropped it as a tactic, replacing it with other tactics such as rocket attacks.”
To be fair, Martin was writing about Hamas’ sense of pragmatism, not about its sense of Jew-destroying purpose.
But to glide past the suicide bombing and the rocket attacks as merely “tactics” in the fight against Israel is to perpetuate misconceptions about the nature of Hamas, about its conflict with Israel and about this latest fighting in particular.
At an earlier point in his essay, Martin wrote, “For 21 years, Hamas has endured imprisonment, assassinations, expulsion, boycott and siege, and it has grown in strength through it all. It has practised rock-throwing, drive-by shooting, kidnapping, suicide bombing and, most recently, rocket attacks.”
Casually, with the equivalent of an editorial shrug of the shoulder, Martin simply rolls out the list of Hamas activities as one would roll out a list of activities for members of a local Kiwanis club.
His failure to spell out the ultimate truth of these activities – that they are blatant, deliberate, calculated acts of terror aimed solely and exclusively at harming, maiming and killing the Jews of Israel – is a profound, intellectually damaging, omission from his analysis.
Two pages later, in the same issue of the Globe and Mail, there was another large essay on the current situation titled “Pathless in Gaza.” Written by Michael Bell, Canada’s former ambassador to Israel, the Palestinian territories, Egypt and Jordan and currently the Paul Martin (Senior) Scholar in Diplomacy at the University of Windsor, it purports to demonstrate the futility of the current fighting and to prescribe a way to reach peace.
The tone of Bell’s article, especially in terms of his observations and advice concerning Israel, was barbed, somewhat disdainful and quite smug. For example, at the very outset of the piece, he wrote, “Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed or injured, from toddlers to the aged. Television footage suggests almost all are innocents. Israeli spokesmen dispute that impression and speak in frigid terms of ‘collateral damage’.” [My emphasis.] The tone detracts from the piece, or rather, reveals another of its dimensions.
But Bell eventually makes an observation that must be read in head-scratching apposition to the observations, two pages earlier of Patrick Martin.
“Hamas is a radical, political-Islamic organization. There are those who think that bringing its leadership into dialogue and negotiation would facilitate concord and in the longer run pave the way to a comprehensive peace between Israel and Palestine. They suggest reconciliation between Hamas, on the one hand, and the Palestinian Authority and Fatah, on the other. There is, however, nothing to indicate this is possible… Hamas and Fatah are rivals for the ragged mantle of Palestine in both the West Bank and Gaza. Fissures run deep… These rivals will not work together, nor can Hamas, which rejects the very concept of a Jewish state, be trusted to negotiate in good faith.” [My emphasis.] Bell concisely defines the problem in dealing with Hamas. They will not live alongside a Jewish state in the Middle East.
Then in a somewhat gaping non sequitur to the subject of the current fighting in Gaza, he explains what Israel must do to bring peace: “Moderates must be bolstered and empowered… to be seen by their populations to deliver basic aspirations.”
The two things wrong with Bell’s conclusion are: first, ever since 1993, at least, if not earlier, Israel, has been trying to do precisely that through its ongoing negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Second, he places no burden whatsoever upon the Palestinian leaders he would regard as moderate to consider the relevance of Israeli aspirations to live in security and peace too.
Free advice, but not very helpful.