I’m trying to give the NY Times the benefit of the doubt here.
I know it’s important to put a bright shiny face on incipient Palestinian statehood (although the absence of any coverage whatsoever abroad regarding most of the internal Palestinian chaos currently prevailing [c.f. deadly clan battles over turf, trigger-happy Fatah security guys wasting civilian protesters, attempted lynchings of academics and terrorizing of journalists, kids and old people being blown away in the crossfire/explosions/etc.] rather begs the question why such news is so rarely considered fit to print). Yes, all the parties need to see and believe that progress is being made, that Israeli disengagement wasn’t a bad idea.
But there’s pointing out the positives and there’s bending the truth.
Today’s NY Times has a piece on the imminent Gaza harvest, a historic event that most assuredly warrants coverage and admiration. The way the information in the piece is written and organized, the implication is made that the stumbling blocks on the road toward Palestinian agricultural economic sustainability lie more with Israeli intransigence at checkpoints than with Palestinian acts of stubborn self-defeatism (like reducing functioning greenhouses to rubble). Still, we must be fair: the author does mention in graf 8 that the Israeli greenhouses were subjected to Palestinian looting after the departure of the settlers.
But farther down the article, there’s a bit of language that is so patently attempting to massage the reader’s perceptions toward a falsehood that I’m surprised it was allowed to stand:
James D. Wolfensohn, the envoy for countries involved in Middle East peacemaking, cobbled together a group of wealthy Jewish Americans who pledged $14 million in compensation for the Israeli farmers provided that they left the greenhouses intact. The deal was reached just days before the settlers were evacuated, and it is not clear that it prevented much additional damage to the greenhouses.
There’s something gloriously Humphrey Applebyesque about the locution “it is not clear that it prevented”. Let’s blow away a little of the agent-less obfuscation, shall we? Philanthropists (through the efforts of the tireless and admirable Wolfensohn) came up with a large chunk of money to ensure the Palestinians a livelihood, and they (no, not all of them by any means, but enough) threw the gesture in the donors’ faces. The satisfaction of taking a sledgehammer to an Israeli greenhouse outweighed both the desire to respond in a civilized manner to an unsolicited act of great generosity and the desire to sustain a viable source of Palestinian income.
All right, you say; but after that initial hiccup they did get on the ball. We should be accentuating the positive at this delicate time, no? Acknowledging their successes? Encouraging them further?
Couldn’t agree more. But the trouble with taking the agency out of the “damage to the greenhouses” in the sentence as it was contextualized in the surrounding paragraph is that the reader is subtly encouraged to believe it was the Israeli settlers who trashed the greenhouses themselves. Look at the order of the information given: donors pledge money to settlers provided they leave greenhouses intact; deal is accepted; greenhouses are damaged anyway. To whom is the reader logically intended to assign responsibility? The only actors in the paragraph are donors and settlers.
Picky? Perhaps. But image is everything, isn’t it? That’s where we started, after all: with the premise that the image of a successful, sustainable Palestinian Gaza is important enough to elide the details of the bullet casings flying through the air, university doors being shuttered, free newspapers being forcibly closed down, and so on. But you know what? We have an image too. And as one who believed that disengagement from Gaza was indeed a good idea, and who expects the parties on all sides to pull up their socks, behave like mensches, and make it a success, I particularly resent sly, dishonest attempts to make the Israelis who were compelled by the rest of us to leave their homes look bad. We have no right to cast any false aspersions. And neither does the NY Times.