When The Washington Post makes Palestinians disappear

Selective reporting risks missing key stories, like how Hamas-Fatah politics affect the lives of ordinary folks

“News,” the famous American publisher Katharine Graham once said, “is what someone wants suppressed…the power is to set the agenda. What we print and what we don’t print matters a lot.” And what The Washington Post, once ran by the Graham family, chooses to print — or in many cases not print — about Palestinians speaks volumes about the paper’s coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Post routinely ignores internal Palestinian affairs unless a connection to Israel can somehow be made or even conjured. The recent deaths of Palestinian children provide a tragic example.

Some reports suggest that as many as 12 Palestinian Arabs have died in the Gaza Strip — six of them children, including three infants — after the Palestinian Authority (PA) refused to keep paying for their hospitalization. The PA, which rules the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and is dominated by the Fatah movement, is often at odds with Hamas, the US-designated terror group that controls the Gaza Strip.

Since seizing power in June 2007, Hamas has devoted its efforts towards attacking Israel, instead of state-building. Accordingly, bills, including hospital and energy bills, haven’t been paid, and the PA has ceased helping its rival. And now Palestinians residing in Gaza are dying — according to statistics supplied by Hamas’ Ministry of Information. Admittedly, this is far from a trustworthy or impartial source, but it is the only source.

The story went unreported by many major US news outlets, including The Washington Post.

By contrast, the paper ran a lengthy report in late May 2017 on a Palestinian cancer patient who, while receiving cancer treatment in Israel, had to go through security checkpoints. The article — part of a series of reports on how the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and subsequent “occupation” have impacted Palestinians — focused on the inconveniences presented to the patient and her family. The reasons for the security checkpoints, demonstrated in the April 2017 arrest of two Gazan women using cancer treatment in an Israeli hospital as an opportunity to smuggle explosives into Israel, went unreported. Nor did the paper ask why areas ruled by Fatah or Hamas are unable to provide quality medical treatment, despite being the beneficiaries of considerable aid.

In a June 5, 2017 interview, live-streamed on Facebook, Post Jerusalem bureau chief William Booth acknowledged that his paper went “looking for” stories about how “ordinary Palestinians” were impacted by the 1967 Six Day War and Israel. Yet, the paper seems to turn a blind eye to how “ordinary Palestinians” are impacted by Palestinian politics.

For example, the paper barely covered the 2016 conference for Fatah, the movement which dominates the PA, despite it being the first such conference held in seven years. The Post also ignored the February 15, 2017 appointment of a convicted terrorist, Mahmoud al-Aloul, as deputy to Fatah and PA head Mahmoud Abbas.

On May 13, 2017, a Fatah party candidate and convicted terrorist named Tayseer Abu Sneineh was elected the mayor of Hebron, one of the largest cities under PA control. The Post failed to report this election.

Indeed, readers of the paper are frequently told about political opponents and associates of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. By contrast, the rivals and possible successors to Abbas — an 82-year-old in the twelfth year of a single elected four-year term — often go underreported, particularly in the paper’s print edition.

Recently, a rapprochement between a former Fatah official named Mohammad Dahlan and Hamas was made public. Dahlan was the commander of the PA’s Preventative Security Services in the 1990s. In that role, he was “personally responsible for the PA’s security crackdown on Hamas,” according to the Arab Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh. In 2011, Abbas, viewing the younger man as a competitor, exiled Dahlan. Now Hamas, desperate to hold on to power in the Strip amid growing unpopularity and conscious of Cairo’s reportedly favorable view of the former Fatah operative, has embraced Dahlan. Yet, The Post omitted this recent display of realpolitik — although the paper has, in years past, reported on Dahlan and other publications, such as The Times of Israel, made note of his arrival in Gaza.

The rivalry between Hamas and Fatah seldom finds its way into the pages of the paper — despite the two factions having fought a brief, but bloody war 10 years ago. In April 2017, Hamas expelled officials from the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the PA itself cut salaries — some as much as 70 percent — to officials operating in Gaza. The Post didn’t report these events, nor did it note Hamas’ public execution in April of three Palestinians deemed subversive.

When Palestinian politics do appear on The Post’s pages its often with an Israel-fixated lens. For example, The Post offered several reports and an op-ed on imprisoned Fatah terrorist Marwan Barghouti’s spring 2017 “hunger strike” in an Israeli prison. But the paper largely failed to note that, as analyst Grant Rumley pointed out, Barghouti’s “strike” (he was caught on camera eating a chocolate bar) was actually an attempt to stay “active by leveraging a popular pulpit in Palestinian politics,” from which he “regularly challenges decisions made by Abbas.”

If, as Katherine Graham suggested, news is the “power to set the agenda,” the agenda being set by The Post is hardly helpful, either to readers seeking an understanding of the conflict, or to Palestinians themselves.

The writer is a Senior Research Analyst for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. His views are his own.

About the Author
Sean Durns is a Senior Research Analyst for the Washington D.C. office of CAMERA, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.
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