How The News Is Made
December 26, 2007
Ring, ring, goes the telephone. And of course I answer it.
The voice on the other end says that he is "Joseph" of Reuters. I get many calls from journalists and wire services but never has someone I don't know introduced himself by first name only. Since he has an obvious Arabic accent it is quite clear that he thinks I am either so biased as to care what his family name is or so stupid not to guess why he isn't giving it.
So the effect is to achieve the exact opposite of what he wants. It puts me on my guard.
Next he tells me that he is doing a story on how Israel is strangling the Palestinian economy. In such circumstances, I have taken to arguing back with correspondents. By framing the story that way, I explain, Reuters is building in a bias. After all, the story should be: What's wrong with the Palestinian economy, how to fix it, and will the massive infusion of aid--$7.4 billion just promised for three years by mostly Western donors--help?
Aren't wire services, and the media in general, supposed to be somewhat balanced? They ask an open question, collect viewpoints, and let the reader conclude what the factors are, or at least wait until they have gathered some evidence. This is supposed to be especially true of wire services, which supply newspapers and other media with the basic facts on which they can build their own stories.
What is going on here, then, is not reporting but propaganda.
Clearly unnerved, he promises to quote me accurately. And he does keep that promise fully, sort of. But the outcome is quite predictable. And here is the dramatic headline that went out in the resulting story: "Analysis-Aid can't save Palestinian economy in Israeli grip."
No doubt is to be left that it is Israel's fault that the Palestinian economy is in shambles. And so pervasive is this evil that even the whole world cannot save them. So after that $7.4 billion is all gone with no result everyone will know who to blame, right?
Before continuing let's note the problem with this analysis on two levels. First, Israeli closures and control on movement are the result of Palestinian terrorist attacks, coupled with the unwillingness and inability of the two Palestinian governments (Palestinian Authority-Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip) to stop them. No attacks; no closures.Â And this is absolutely clear. If attacks were to stop, so would Israeli restrictions. But if Israel removed all roadblocks and closures, the attacks would continue. This makes obvious the principal, fundamental cause of the problem and what needs to change in order to fix it.
In other words: if Palestinian terrorism stops, Israeli restrictive measures will end and the Palestinian economy has a chance to develop.
But if Israeli restrictive measures end, Palestinian terrorism would continue and thus the Palestinian economy would not develop because Israel would put back on the restrictions eventually and also, of course, no one will invest in the middle of a war.
Is that clear and logical? Obviously, not for Western leaders and much of the news media.
Second, even if all Israeli action were to disappear, the Palestinian economy would still be in trouble. There are a number of reasons for this which are all well-known and were vividly seen in the 1990s, at a time when there was massive aid and a low level of Israeli security operations. These factors include: huge corruption which siphons off money; the lack of a clear legal framework for investment and commerce; the incompetence of the Palestinian regime; internal anarchy and violence by gangs with political cover; and an ongoing war against Israel.
Naturally, if you pump $7.8 billion over three years into a society of under 1.5 million people on the West Bank--around $1,600 a year for every individual person there--it is going to have a positive economic effect. Since current Palestinian per capita income is $1,200 a year it would more than double it. In 1992, the figure was around $2,000. This represents, for all practical purposes, an increase of 400 percent over the aid being supplied two years ago.
But most of the money is merely budget support for the Palestinian Authority, meaning it will pay salaries for the bloated government bureaucracy. At the end of that time the funds will be gone with no effect.
Yet the December 20, 2007, story by Reuters and two similar articles by the Associated Press (for my detailed analysis of the latter see http://www.gloriacenter.org/index.asp?pname=submenus/articles/2007/rubin/12_09.asp) simply omit all this information and put all the blame for problems on Israel.
In this case, though, slanting is not enough, however, and the Reuters report must stoop to outright dishonesty. It states:
"The $7.4 billion pledged exceeds the sum [Palestinian Prime Minister Salam]] Fayyad had asked for in his three-year economic plan, but is less than the $8.4 billion that the World Bank reckons Israeli curbs on movement have cost Palestinians in lost income over the past five years."
This is a lie and clearly a deliberate one. In fact, the World Bank annual reports are entitled "Intifada, Closures and Palestinian Economic Crisis." They make the very simple point that the intifada--an armed Palestinian war on Israel--leads to closures and thus the combination brings on a crisis. The reports are quite careful in pointing out all the factors that led to the Palestinian economic decline. They do not say the losses were strictly due to Israeli curbs on movement. On the contrary, the 2003 report for example, written at the height of the violence, says the closures and movement restrictions are pretty insignificant. (see it at http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTWESTBANKGAZA/Resources/wbgaza-4yrassessment.pdf). This specific example of dishonesty matters because the approach we see here--predetermining the story, ignoring most of the factors involved, blaming Israel--sets a pattern for a whole raft-full of stories:
- Why is there no peace? Israel doesn't give enough concessions. Often there is no mention of Palestinian hardline positions, behavior in not keeping commitment, terrorism as a key element in the failure to achieve peace. Most important of all, there is endless talk about what Israel can or should give for peace but far less about what the Palestinians must give: end of conflict, full recognition of Israel, return of refugees to a Palestinian state, a real end to incitement and terrorism.
- Why is there suffering in Gaza? Israel's restrictions. Far less mention of Hamas hard line, openly genocidal stance, constant aid to terrorist attacks and rocket firing, refusal to meet even minimal international requirements.
- Why are Palestinians, to quote the Reuters story, "Deprived of dignity"? No mention of a corrupt government and gangs of gunmen who couldn't care less about their well-being, and a strategy that starts unwinnable wars. It's all Israel's fault.
It is bad enough that this kind of coverage is shaping the way that many in the West see the Middle East. What is really horrible is that these articles are being deliberately written to do so.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center http://www.gloriacenter.org and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal http://meria.idc.ac.il . 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) .
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