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NY Times ignores Gaza's millionaires, hypes poverty, blames Israel (natch)
According to reports in the Arab press, a thriving smuggling economy in Gaza has produced no fewer than 600 millionaires. Hundreds of tunnels to Egypt have become bustling export and import conduits -- with the ruling Hamas elite siphoning off millions of dollars from transit taxes. Beach-side hotels and a modern mall have become a testament to the territory's growing wealth -- especially since Israel lifted its blockade for most goods, except those that could be used by terrorists, with whom Gaza is copiously blessed.
Does this mean that the old picture of Gaza as a poverty-stricken hell hole has been completely erased? Not quite. There still are poor Palestinians in the territory, forgotten or exploited by their Hamas rulers.
But that's not quite how the New York Times depicts Gaza in a lengthy article by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren ('''Forgotten Neighborhood' Underscores the Poverty Of an Isolated Enclave" Sept. 10, page A8).
Rudoren starts with a heart-tugging picture of Gazans who live in homes that have no floors and sit, eat and sleep on the sand. Parents have no money to buy their children school books and proper dress. During Ramadan, families slaughtered a horse and used it for kebabs because they couldn't afford beef or lamb.
Having sketched a picture of utter misery as the template for her story, Rumoren then switches gears and concedes that her lead paragraphs may have been a bit too grim. "There are certainly less-livable slums in Africa, South Asia or in Delhi, or Cairo," she writes. So why not spotlight those places as examples of dire poverty instead of Gaza?
Readers don't have to wait long for the answer. "Some see it as a sure sign that Israeli restrictions make the place a concrete prison," she hypothesizes.
Having blamed Israel -- what else would you expect? -- she softens the blow a bit by acknowledging that Israel may not be entirely to blame. Gaza living standards also may be repressed by "corruption, mismanagement and infighting among Palestinian factions," she adds. But make no mistake, Israel tops the list of likely suspects for Gaza's poverty.
In any case, Rudoren finally admits deep in her article that the ultra-poor picture she depicted at the beginning is "an extreme case." So why lead with it? Isn't that bound to leave an erroneous impression with readers who may not plow through her entire dispatch?
And further contradicting her lead -- and the headline -- Rudoren confesses that "much of the strip has seen a building boom since Israel eased its blockade two years ago, and the smuggling tunnels are thriving once again."
First, she blames Israel, and then she seems to take it back. But not quite. "Many in Gaza," she adds, "blame Israel, which captured the territory in 1967 and occupied it until a unilateral withdrawal in 2005, but still controls utilities and regularly strikes people and places it suspects are connected to terrorism."
Which is rich in its euphemistic disguise of Gaza's various terror organizations that readily identify such "suspects" as their own members and claim responsibility for firing rockets at civilian targets in southern Israel.
Rudoren's entire piece suffers from such reluctance to level with readers about Gaza's history down to the present. There is no real context that Gaza was a much poorer place when it was ruled by Egypt before the Six-Day War in 1967 and that the territory subsequently prospered under Israeli control -- until the second intifada and the Hamas takeover. There is no acknowledgment that, even as Israel faces constant rocket attacks, Gazans requiring complex medical procedures regularly are allowed into Israel where they receive high-quality hospital care.
And why pray tell devote more than half a page to Gaza without squarely noting that it has been and still is the launch site for thousands of rockets that terrorize a million residents in southern Israel? Why not devote as much space to sympathize with Israelis under Gaza missile attacks?
Instead, Rudoren turns into a Hamas apologist by writing that "attempts at a cease-fire with Israel are constantly thwarted by rogue militant groups." If this opaque sentence has any meaning at all, it is that Hamas gets a good grade and only Islamic Jihad and other terror groups are the bad guys. And of course, Israel as well.
But for the New York Times, sanitizing Hamas and slapping Israel go with the paper's anti-Zionist creed.
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers
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