Hedging Our Bets

by David Kerem | 5/16/02 5:00am

Former New York Times columnist Chris Hedges' visit to Dartmouth College tomorrow afternoon will serve the cause of historical accuracy as well as Yasser Arafat lecturing on the conspiratorial Jewish usurpation of the holy land. Indeed, after carefully examining Mr. Hedges' "A Gaza Diary," it is clear that his approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is dangerously biased and misleading. More often than not, "A Gaza Diary" shamefully and overtly dramatizes the events Hedges "witnessed" in the Khan Younis refugee camp inside the Gaza Strip.

The author devotes most of his energy to describing the conditions within the camp and dwells largely on the origin of water shortages that confront its Palestinian inhabitants. For this he solely blames Israel, saying, "Many wells have gone completely dry [because] the Israelis refuse to allow the villagers to drill new ones." Furthermore, he argues that water is diverted from Palestinian land for Israeli consumption.

As Mr. Hedges must know, or could easily have discovered, this claim is completely false. In fact, when the Palestinian Water Commissioner, Nabil A-Sharif, was confronted with Mr. Hedges' statement regarding the matter, A-Sharif rejected it as fallacious. A-Sharif responded, "water is never taken from Gaza and brought into Israel," characterizing claims that Israel deprives Palestinians of their water rights as having "no proof."

In what seems to be an unending commitment to deception and distortion, Hedges then argues that Israel "would not allow the [Khan Younis refugee] camp to expand." As a result, he argues that Israel was principally responsible for the living conditions endured by its inhabitants. Once more history disproves Mr. Hedges' assertion. It is a matter of fact that Arab nations as well as the Palestinian Authority favor these conditions, preferring that the camps remain open sores to serve as bastions from which hatred could emerge and be redirected towards Israel.

Moreover, Hedges' correspondence with his deputy editor at the Times personally invalidates and contradicts this contention. In Feb. 1994, Hedges wrote, "The PLO did resist Israeli attempts to move Palestinians to housing units," which would have created expanded and substantially improved living conditions. However, in order to "prove a political point," Hedges mentions that Palestinians were kept in squalor.

Consistent with many of his previous assessments, Mr. Hedges' analysis of Palestinian "martyrdom" is pitifully weak and unable to withstand the slightest factual inspection. He begins by maintaining that Palestinian parents and religious leaders wholeheartedly implore children not to participate in suicide bombing campaigns and condemn those who do.

A July 2001 poll directed by Dr. Nabil Kukali of the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion -- a poll unmentioned by Hedges -- found that 76 percent of Palestinians support suicide bombings. A significant part of that number is not opposed to allowing children engage in such a form of "martyrdom." One must look no further than Gaza residents Hyam Temraz and Nezzar Rayan, who "pray only that God will choose [their children]" to become "martyrs for Palestine."

I am not arguing that most Palestinian parents condone using of children on these missions; such an assertion would be callous. However, Mr. Hedges' refusal to acknowledge that such attitudes exist is misguided and warrants the strongest form of condemnation.

In one particularly inflammatory passage, Mr. Hedges states that while "children have been shot in other countries [he has] never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport."

One must first consider the fact that this alleged "massacre" took place on June 17, 2001, and that both Israeli and Palestinian authorities independently confirmed only one -- albeit tragic -- death that day. Exclude the fact that Mr. Hedges, by his own admission, never witnessed any person being shot or even heard gunfire being unleashed on civilians, claiming instead that Israeli infantryman placed "silencers" which stifled the noise emitted by their M16s. Israeli Defense Force sources, however, confirm that silencers are only employed in commando-led special operations with even the best available silencers for the M16 only able to muffle the sound of the initial gunpowder explosion, and not the noise made by a bullet traveling at more than twice the speed of sound. As he seems to do often, Hedges directly contradicts every news report released from Gaza that day and presents a scenario along a set of rambling and incoherent visions and revelations that only he seems to have caught.

Notably, Thomas Friedman, a colleague of Hedges' at The New York Times, recently alluded to the veracity of Hedges' claims. Friedman writes, "To suggest that Israel is slaughtering Palestinians for sport, as if a war was not going on there, which Israel did not court, in which civilians on both sides are being killed is just a lie." Friedman adds, "normally such casual lying does not bother me. It's a staple in Middle East politics, but this particular version is dangerous, because it masks a deeper lie that can hurt us."

Hedges' claims are so far-fetched and vitriolic that even the most extreme and virulent opponents of Israel never thought to devise them -- it was done for them. He offers the world no supporting evidence -- no photos, no videos, no outside verification. His account is wrought with factual errors and cannot stand up to the scrutiny of the most basic and cursory review. "A Gaza Diary" is plagued by serious deficiencies, and its conscious omission of violence directed against Israeli civilians cast great shadows of doubt upon its validity. When it comes from the Middle East, smells like propaganda and looks like propaganda, you must call it for what it is. Hedges does nothing to further our quest for truth and clarity, preferring instead to shove us deeper into the pits of collective ignorance and feeble-mindedness.