Mr. Arrigoni is the first foreigner to have been kidnapped here since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, and appears to be the first pro-Palestinian activist in memory to have been killed here by Palestinians.
That raised embarrassing questions for Hamas about the security it says it has restored in the Palestinian coastal enclave since it ousted its secular rival, Fatah, in a short, factional war.
That was the curious nut graf of a 1,400-word story by the New York Times on the death of Italian solidarity activist Vittorio Arrigoni at the hands of an extremist Palestinian group in Gaza.
Instead of relegating the power politics side of the story to a throw-away analytical graf lower down, the Times used it as the central political angle of the piece. They even slapped on the headline: “Gaza Killing of Italian Activist Deals a Blow to Hamas.”
The Hamas political/security issue was a legitimate part of the story, of course. And every article needs a ‘deep thought’ or two. The Times just happened to decide on one that shed a negative light on the anti-Israel militant group. That’s their editorial decision and all fine. But once the Times made this choice, I’m not sure how they went about doing the piece without talking about the siege of Gaza, enforced by Israel for the express purpose of weakening Hamas’s hold on the Strip.
In light of this strategy, Hamas’s ’embarrassment’ also reveals a staggering contradiction, left untouched by the Times, between the Israeli policy of continuous acts of war (blockades, incursions, missile strikes) meant to undermine Hamas and complaints that the group is not “strong enough” to enforce security.
Only nine days before Kershner and Akram’s article, the Guardian released a 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable obtained by Wikileaks where an IDF general highlighted this notion (my emphasis and h/t to Jared Malsin):
The IDF general responsible for Gaza and southern Israel, Major General Yoav Galant, recently commented to us that Israel’s political leadership has not yet made the necessary policy choices among competing priorities: a short-term priority of wanting Hamas to be strong enough to enforce the de facto ceasefire and prevent the firing of rockets and mortars into Israel; a medium-priority of preventing Hamas from consolidating its hold on Gaza; and a longer-term priority of avoiding a return of Israeli control of Gaza and full responsibility for the well-being of Gaza’s civilian population.
Kershner and Akram were playing up Galant’s first point, but without addressing any of the others, let alone the obvious underlying incoherence of the strategy. And it seems ridiculous that such a view was revealed to have been expressed by an Israeli general just nine days before the Times writers offer up the exact same analysis as their own perspective. (The writers never attribute this thinking to any expert, analyst or source.)
The Times account of Arrigoni doesn’t seem that bad: the picture painted of the Italian’s life was illuminating and humanizing. (The writers even used a quote on Arrigoni’s family background that I first saw published on Mondoweiss.) But the analysis in the Times — in an unusually long front-page story with plenty of space to work with — leaves out the broader context of Israel’s strategy and role in events in Gaza.
Galant’s comments in the cable were also telling in this regard: he, according to the note taker preparing the memo, expressed Israel’s reluctance to “return to… full responsibility” in Gaza — implying at least ‘some responsibility’ at present. With a posture of occupation-from-outside, Hamas’s de facto (though inherently limited) self-governance of Gaza certainly puts some responsibility on the shoulders of the Islamist militants. But Israel’s active hostilities in the Gaza Strip make incumbent upon the Jewish State the same obligations it has in the more-traditionally occupied West Bank.
To do analysis of the power structure in Gaza and assign blame, embarrassment and other judgements of value without frankly discussing Israel’s role seems to me to be journalistic malfeasance. Unfortunately, this tendency is merely symptomatic of a larger problem in commentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the imbalanced power relationships between the sides are often ignored altogether. And yet Israel’s staunchest right-wing defenders never complain about that ‘false equivalence.’