By Ira Stoll
One of the ways the New York Times demonstrates bias in news reports from the Middle East is with unstated, and unquestioned, assumptions.
In two recent articles, the assumption is that if economic conditions worsen in the Gaza Strip, the result will be attacks on Israel.
An example comes in this paragraph from a Times dispatch over the weekend:
Already beleaguered by Israel’s decade-old blockade of the strip, Gazans were made to suffer even more last year when the Palestinian Authority, run by Fatah, imposed harsh new restrictions in a power struggle with Hamas, its archrival. An attempt at reconciliation between the two last fall has since bogged down, and a standoff over salaries and revenue has sent the territory’s economy into free-fall, with many expecting a war with Israel as a result.
A front page Times report from earlier this month, also under the byline of the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief, David Halbfinger, sounded some similar notes. It appeared under the print headline, “Gaza Is Near Financial Collapse, Prompting Fears of Violence”:
whether out of bluster or desperation, Gazans both in and out of power have begun talking openly about confronting Israel over its blockade in the kind of mass action that could easily lead to casualties and escalation…
One way or the other, “an explosion’s coming,” said Mr. Abu Shaaban, the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority pensioner. “We have only Israel to explode against. Should we explode against each other?”
The barely unstated assumption here is that economic difficulties in Gaza cause war with Israel.
Yet there are at least two big holes in this logic that the Times might discover if it probed more skeptically.
The first logical problem is that Israel’s enemies manage to attack it even when they aren’t suffering economic difficulties. We’ve all seen photos of Saddam Hussein’s luxurious palaces, the product of a regime awash in oil revenues. Yet Saddam’s Iraq launched scud missiles at Israeli civilians. Likewise, Iran is newly enriched by sanctions relief as a result of President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, which involved America sending $1.3 billion in cash to Iran stacked on wooden pallets in unmarked cargo planes. Iran has responded by escalating its ongoing proxy war with Israel, shipping sophisticated arms to the Hezbollah terrorist organization and deploying Iranian troops and drones to Syria. (This, by the way, goes for America’s enemies, too. The mastermind of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Osama bin Laden, wasn’t some poor Gazan. He was a wealthy Saudi Arabian.)
The second logical problem is that plenty of other people suffer economically without starting wars. The United States suffered a financial crisis in which trillions in stock market wealth was destroyed, unemployment soared, and many homeowners faced foreclosure. Yet no one publicly fretted that if the Federal Reserve didn’t step in, Americans would invade Mexico or start launching rockets at Canada. Puerto Rico declared bankruptcy in 2017 and no one worried that its residents would start launching missiles at the nearby Dominican Republican or British Virgin Islands. Greece has had a long-running financial crisis, with unemployment approaching 25%, and yet no one worries about the Greeks launching rocket attacks on neighboring Bulgaria or Turkey. What is so special about the residents of Gaza that everyone expects them to respond to self-inflicted financial difficulties by starting a war with their neighbors?
Since Israel’s enemies seem to attack Israel regardless of whether those enemies are prosperous or impoverished, and since impoverished people in other places manage to respond to poverty without resorting to wars of aggression, maybe the Times would be better off just scrapping this whole explanatory framework, or at least applying some more skeptical analysis before passing it along to Times readers.
There are plenty of other questions to be raised here, including just how poor Gaza really is and why any “war” would be directed at Israel rather than at the Palestinian Authority or Egypt. But the claim that poverty in Gaza causes war with Israel is one that the Times seems determined to promote and perpetuate rather than to challenge or question. I’m not suggesting Gaza should be poor, or that Times readers or reporters should be indifferent to human suffering there. What I am suggesting is that the Times storyline that Gaza poverty causes war with Israel doesn’t accurately fit the fact-pattern.