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January 26, 2014 5:18 pm

Goodbye, Harriet Sherwood: 3 Years Covering Gaza, No Lessons Learned

avatar by Adam Levick

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Photo from print edition of Harriet Sherwood's recent report.

Harriet Sherwood’s latest 3,200 word report, Goodbye Gaza, accurately reflects the Guardian‘s unwritten ideological “style guide,” which seems to dictate that even the most malevolent Palestinian political actors are framed in a sympathetic light.  “With a heavy heart,” the strap line begins, Sherwood “pays a farewell visit to Gaza and pays tribute to the resilience, creativity and humour of its people.”

After a few paragraphs in which we’re introduced to her Guardian stringer, Hazem Balousha (who played a key role in Jon Donnison’s infamous fauxtography scandal in 2012), Sherwood’s characteristic Hamas obfuscations begin in earnest:

The people of Gaza are reeling from a series of blows that have led some analysts to say that it is facing its worst crisis for more than six years, putting its 1.7 million inhabitants under intense material and psychological pressure. Israel’s continued blockade has been exacerbated by mounting hostility to Gaza’s Hamas government from the military regime in Cairo, which sees it as an extension of Egypt’s deposed Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptians have virtually cut off access to and from Gaza, and as a result Hamas is facing crippling financial problems and a new political isolation.

Power cuts, fuel shortages, price rises, job losses, Israeli air strikes, untreated sewage in the streets and the sea, internal political repression, the near-impossibility of leaving, the lack of hope or horizon – these have chipped away at the resilience and fortitude of Gazans, crushing their spirit.

First, as a report at the Algemeiner by Elder of Ziyon demonstrated, “the current Gaza fuel crisis started when Hamas decided in 2011 that it didn’t want fuel from Israel and instead chose to run Gaza’s power plant with Egyptian fuel, sold by smugglers at lower prices that reflected the subsidy that Egypt provides.” When the Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood lost power, the tunnels were closed and Hamas lost its source of cheap fuel. However, instead of paying market prices, Hamas cynically chose to shut down the power plants, causing a crisis as water treatment plants shut off. Qatar then offered to transfer to Hamas large amounts of fuel, which it held in storage tanks in Egypt, and Israel agreed to transport Qatari oil from Israel, after unloading it in Ashdod. However, Palestinians objected to both of these proposals.

Yet, Sherwood assigns no blame to Hamas for the Gaza fuel shortages she describes.

Further in her report, Sherwood gives a broader view of Gaza and her coverage of the region since 2010.

This was my last visit to Gaza before returning to London to live and work. I moved to Jerusalem in May 2010, to report principally on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also social and cultural issues and the regional upheavals that erupted three years ago. Since I first came here almost 10 years ago, I had been fascinated by the place, its people, its history and its compelling complexity.

I arrived eager to learn more about what is frequently called the world’s most intractable conflict, and to try to understand the powerful feelings of historical injustice on both sides. I am leaving angry about an occupation that has lasted close to half a century, weary of Israel’s grinding oppression of the Palestinian people, cynical about the political leadership on both sides and in the international community, and pessimistic that a fair resolution will be reached.

Again, note how, other than her criticism of “political leadership on both sides,” Sherwood’s concluding assessment of the conflict singles out Israeli “occupation” and “oppression,” but leaves Hamas unscathed.

Later, reporting on the crossings between Israel and Gaza, Sherwood writes the following:

…the vast hangar-like terminal on the Israeli side echoes to the footsteps of these few, plus a tiny number of Palestinians, nearly all of whom are going to or returning from business trips or hospital visits

According to figures released regularly by COGAT, about 400 Gazans are permitted to travel (for various reasons) into Israel each day through the Erez crossing. This number includes an estimated 100 Palestinians (and family members) who enter Israel for medical care each day – hardly a “tiny” number.

Further along in her report, there are the following passages detailing the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza which again aptly illustrate Sherwood’s failure to hold Hamas morally accountable for their decisions:

Fourteen months after that mini-war [Operation Pillar of Defense], on this last visit, Hazem and I talked of the hope – now long faded – that swept Gaza when the Israeli army and Jewish settlers pulled out in 2005. The sense of liberation at the time, and the dream that Gazans might be free to determine their own future, and become a model of a future state of Palestine, was swiftly dashed on the rocks of Israel’s political actions and military operations, and the rise of Hamas.

Of course, Sherwood’s prose characteristically blurs cause and effect, obfuscating the plain fact that Israel’s military actions followed the rise of Hamas – particularly the Islamist group’s decision to focus its energies (and limited funds) not on economic development, but on the production and importation of thousands of rockets to launch attacks against Israeli communities, and on hate indoctrination of their youth against “the Zionist entity.”

Jan. 15, 2014: Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hammad speaks to graduates of the organization's youth camps in Gaza, calling on them to annihilate Israel and take their struggle across the world.

Sherwood also all but ignores Hamas’ decision to spend millions of dollars on terrorist tunnels, funds which could have been spent on infrastructure projects and other vital social needs.

Indeed, the closest Sherwood comes to blaming Hamas for the plight of Palestinians in the territory is her brief mention of the “continued political enmity between Hamas and Fatah.” And, though she laments “grieving [Palestinian] mothers who expressed fervent hope that their infant sons would grow up to avenge their dead fathers or siblings by killing Jewish children,” she contextualized such a disturbing dynamic as “a profoundly depressing illustration of the cycle of violence here.”

Near the end of her story, Sherwood does allow one Palestinian to express criticism of the Islamist group governing the territory:

Mkhaimer Abusada, professor of political science at Gaza’s Al Azhar university old me over sweet mint tea. “But we are very afraid. Hamas does not allow any protests, any opposition. We’re sick and tired of Hamas, but we don’t have an alternative.

Though, the despotic regime in control of Gaza does indeed limit Palestinian options, they did have the ability to make a very important decision about their future following Israel’s unilateral disengagement in September 2005. In January 2006, Palestinian legislative elections were held and Hamas took 44.45 percent of the vote, whilst Fatah received 41.43 percent.  One of the only “moderate” factions running, Salam Fayyad’s Third Way Party, garnered a mere 2.5 percent.

Alternately, it is quite telling that when Israelis are poised to make decisions considered injurious to the peace process, Guardian journalists aren’t nearly as circumspect in rendering moral judgments.  In the weeks leading to Israel’s January 2013 national elections, Sherwood (and Guardian journalists across the board) were warning that the new government would represent a move far to the far right, with some even suggesting that the 33rd Israeli government would be “the most right-wing government in its history,” an alleged rightward lurch which Sherwood cautioned was resulting in the state’s increasing international isolation.

As we know now, the Guardian got it wrong and, in fact, a more centrist government emerged from the elections, one which has engaged in serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians – though their warnings and castigations about the injurious effects of Israeli “provocations” such as building homes in eastern Jerusalem continues.

Alternately, there seems to be no degree of Palestinian pathos which elicits similarly ominous warnings by Sherwood, or others at the Guardian, about the inevitable negative consequences of freely choosing such dangerous paths.  When free of Israeli occupation, and given the freedom to vote in relatively fair elections, a plurality of Palestinian voters cast their lot with an extremist movement – ostracized by the West – which oppresses women, gays, religious minorities and political opponents, and openly calls for Israel’s destruction and the mass murder of Jews.

Palestinians will never learn the most intuitive lessons from their self-destructive embrace of extremism – and other similarly dangerous political decisions – as long as they’re continually denied moral agency by assorted liberal racists, faux humanitarians and activist journalists like Harriet Sherwood.

Adam Levick is the managing editor of CiF Watch, an affiliate of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

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