Gaza

Looking back at US Jerusalem embassy and Gaza bloodshed: A story in which everyone plays everyone

Looking back at US Jerusalem embassy and Gaza bloodshed: A story in which everyone plays everyone

The word that keeps coming to mind as I attempt to wrap my head around last week’s deadly violence on the Israeli-Gaza border and the formal opening of the American embassy building in Jerusalem is, “played.”

That’s played as in “being played.”

Palestinians were played by Hamas, the radical Sunni Muslim group that runs Gaza with minimal concern for those it rules. Israelis were played by their prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, whose political staying power is rooted in Israeli Jewish fears that their Arab and Iranian enemies are circling for a kill.

Then there’s President Donald Trump, who played his right-wing evangelical Christian base — allowing two of its prominent leaders to play Judaism and Jews at the embassy opening by reducing them to props — and disposable ones at that — in their eschatological vision. (I’ll say considerably more on this below.)

In short, it was a devilish display of the worst kind of cynicism imaginable, the sort that gets people killed in support of someone else’s political or religious agendas.

By now, GetReligion readers are surely familiar with the details of what happened -- the deaths of dozens of Palestinians, the presence of the Revs. Robert Jeffress and John C. Hagee at the embassy opening, the opprobrium directed at Israel by its global critics, the arguments by its supporters that Israel acted only in self-defense.

None of it was surprising, and most of it mirroring the usual reactions coming from the usual suspects -- all of it amplified by the Internet echo chamber.

Minds are pretty much made up on who’s at fault for the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict; among members of the news media, among members of the public, among the various NGO’s who view the conflict as their concern, and among the myriad political and religious organizations who claim skin in the game.

Why repeat all those arguments and positions here? Instead, let’s keep to a minimum the usual barrage of links to news and analysis pieces I provide to bolster my points. There’s too many to cite, anyway, and -- the truth is -- picking journalistic winners and losers is largely a function of which side in the conflict you identify with.

I've been scouring the web for pieces that reflect as many viewpoints as I can find, but my conclusions about the coverage merely reflect my own bias.

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Covering Gaza: A journalism tale of two (wildly divergent) Middle East stories

Covering Gaza: A journalism tale of two (wildly divergent) Middle East stories

The news from Gaza is seldom good; last weekend was no exception. It's also generally wildly contradictory. A classic example of this occurred earlier this month that warrants attention.

For journalists and media consumers far from the scene, which is most of us, it merits attention because the contradictory information we receive prompts us to fall back on our preconceived notions about the grinding Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- that is to say, our biases -- to make sense of the situation. And that’s a distinct disadvantage.

Surely, conflicting narratives, or realities, are by no means restricted to Gaza. What makes Gaza a special case, however, is that it's an international flashpoint that could well spark a full-blown and multi-party Middle East war even more far-reaching than the mess that is Syria.

I’ll begin this exercise in contradictory narratives with an opinion piece published online by the conservative British weekly The Spectator. The piece was an attack on the BBC, which the writer and many right-leaning pro-Israel partisans consider an apologist, or worse, for the conflict’s Palestinian side. Topped by this headline, “The good news about Gaza you won’t hear on the BBC,” the piece included this section.

Western media has often focused on this issue [Palestine] to the detriment of many other conflicts or independence movements throughout the world. The BBC, in particular, has devoted an inordinate amount of its budget and staff to covering the West Bank and Gaza in thousands of reports over the years. But you would be hard pressed to learn from the BBC’s coverage that, despite many difficulties, Gaza’s economy is also thriving in all kinds of ways.
To get a glimpse of that you would have to turn instead to this recent Al-Jazeera report from Gaza, showing footage of the bustling, well-stocked glitzy shopping malls, the impressive children’s water park (at 5.25 in the video), the fancy restaurants, the nice hotels, the crowded food markets, the toy shops brimming with the latest plush toys (at 8.39 in the video). (This video was translated into English by the excellent Middle East Media Research Institute).

Within days -- coincidentally, I’m sure; the issue is endless fodder -- this news piece (spiced with analysis, although the piece is not marked as analysis) was published in The New York Times.

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One-sided Washington Post special section ignores Palestinian failures contributing to West Bank occupation

One-sided Washington Post special section ignores Palestinian failures contributing to West Bank occupation

Allow me to stipulate upfront that I support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the only conceivable outcome that has any chance of succeeding.

Let me also stipulate that I agree -- with some reservations that I'll explain below -- with the general international consensus that continued Israeli settlement activities in Palestinian areas is a serious hinderance to achieving that two-state goal.

Also, that Israeli policies toward the Palestinians are too often heavy handed and, thus, are easily interpreted as being unjust. In short, while I'm a strong Zionist, I do not believe that Israeli government policies are above reproach -- not by a long shot.

However, I also subscribe to the notion that quality journalism acknowledges there are at least two sides to every conflict, and that historical context is exceedingly important to understanding why any conflict, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, keeps dragging on. It's important for journalists, when covering a heated debate, to treat people on both sides with respect, while striving for accuracy and fairness.

Which is why I believe that The Washington Post's three-story special section published Sunday to mark the 50th anniversary of the June 1967 war in which Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is an exercise in one-sided, blatantly anti-Israel journalism.

All three stories featured the problems, and the suffering, that Palestinians endure under Israeli control without any -- not any -- input from Israeli sources defending or at least explaining their side's actions.

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Those pesky religious details in Palestinian-Israel conflict

Those pesky religious details in Palestinian-Israel conflict

I'm no expert on the fighting in the Gaza Strip.

In fact, I'm typing this post with trepidation — hoping not to say something entirely stupid (yes, that's a weekend softball for all my snarky friends).

But seriously, I offer the above caveat before critiquing a front-page story in today's Houston Chronicle on dueling rallies by thousands of demonstrators:

Westheimer was the dividing line Friday as the Palestinian-Israel conflict played out in feuding but peaceful demonstrations on a busy Houston intersection near the Galleria usually populated with shoppers.

In the pro-Palestine rally, about 2,000 people seen lining both sides of Post Oak had the largest and loudest presence with chant leaders on bullhorns proclaiming: "Free, free Palestine, occupation is a crime."

Hundreds of demonstrators on the other side, closer to the Galleria, waved blue and white Israeli flags and were flanked by a large banner that declared: "We fight Islamic terror."

The Chronicle story is about 700 words — not a lot of space but typical of a daily newspaper report.

But the reporter manages to pack a lot of information into the concise account, quoting an equal number of demonstrators on both sides and including some specific religious details:

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