In another piece I’ll be publishing later today, I take some time to discuss how the Israeli daily Ha’aretz has been marginalized in
Israel and no longer represents a “vibrant debate” as it once did. Now I must also take a moment to reflect on what is only the latest example of how their journalistic standards have fallen as well.
Ha’aretz today reports, uncritically, on the widespread story about leading Hamas activist Salach al-Aruri purportedly claiming that Hamas was, in fact, behind the kidnapping and murder of the three young Israelis earlier this year. That incident, you will recall, was the catalyst for a massive Israeli crackdown in the West Bank and eventually led to the horrors in Gaza these past weeks, which are ongoing. The problem is that this is a non-story, wherein al-Aruri said nothing we didn’t already know. Nothing he said should change anything about how we perceive this crime.
There has always been debate over whether the kidnappings were planned by Hamas or done by a rogue unit. The debate hasn’t really been a sensible one; speak to people with knowledge of the politics in Palestine and, in particular, the various armed factions as well as different familial groupings within the political system and resistance movements and you will realize quickly which side of the debate is correct. But such is the state of our media that such people are rarely spoken to, so we live in ignorance.
al-Aruri served sixteen years in an Israeli jail and moved to Turkey upon his release from jail and subsequent expulsion from Israeli-controlled areas. He is Hamas’ chief spokesperson there, and is considered a senior official in the organization. From that lofty perch, he is said to be coordinating Hamas activities in the West Bank, focusing on just the sort of kidnapping that was attempted back in June. These are accusations made by Israeli intelligence, but no one I’ve spoken to, both Israelis and Palestinians, has disputed them.
In any case, al-Aruri was front and center cheering the kidnappings/murders in June, and certainly could have been read as being a part of it. But Israeli officials trying, back in June, to link Hamas to the murders told the Israeli media that, while they couldn’t connect al-Aruri to the act “this is what he has been endless(ly) urging and directing the terror cells he funded to do, over the past few years.” So there was already a belief in Israel that al-Aruri was connected.
But, in fact, this big story that has broken today adds nothing to such suspicions. What did al-Aruri say? According to reports, he said: “It has been said that it is an Israeli conspiracy, and I say it isn’t…The al-Qassam’s mujahedeen were the ones to carry out [the abduction] in show of support for the prisoners’ hunger strike.”
Now, let’s examine this. Al-Aruri was addressing a very different point than the one being made by the media. He was talking about the belief, held by many, that Israel staged the kidnapping and murders in order to take the actions they subsequently set out upon. It’s an absurd theory, but I’ve seen it quite a bit in the past months. So, al-Aruri wanted to make it clear that this was a Palestinian act.
In fact, we know that the Qawasmeh clan in Hebron carried out the crime. The Qawasmehs are a powerful clan, and have often taken action not just without authorization from Hamas, with which they are strongly affiliated, but sometimes intentionally to foil or change Hamas’ plans and strategy. You can read more about this here. But the Qawasmehs are connected with Hamas’ military wing, the Izz ad-din al-Qassam Brigades. So, all al-Aruri said was what we already knew: the Qawasmehs carried out the act.
If their motivation was, as al-Aruri said, to support the struggle of the Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, their tactics failed miserably. That issue was becoming quite vexing for Israel through non-violent means such as hunger strikes and protests. Since the murders, the issue of the prisoners has fallen off the map completely. Even Hamas ignores it in their demands to Israel, speaking only of the prisoners Israel took during its massive sweep in the West Bank in June. Gaza has completely eclipsed the issue of the prisoners.
Al-Aruri, no doubt, is delighted with this media coverage. Based on his cheerleading when the incident first took place and his words now, he wants Hamas to be “credited” for that despicable act which has also sparked off so much destruction in Gaza. But that doesn’t mean anything has changed. His words do nothing to change the estimate of what happened in June. Unfortunately, the media is making sure it does, and the Israeli government and Hamas, each for their own reasons, are likely to go along with the lie.
I care very little about Hamas’ reputation. While I have long acknowledged that Israel’s refusal to recognize the simple reality that they are part of the Palestinian body politic is self-defeating, foolish and only empowers Hamas, I will not weep when Hamas disappears. They have committed many crimes that fall well outside the bounds of legitimate resistance, and more than that, they are an oppressive movement dominated by fundamentalism. That is something I stand against, no matter the religion and no matter the connection to a broader movement for liberation.
But the truth of this matter is important to how people think and it is a tragic day when Ha’aretz is no better than the rest of the media in portraying this in a false light. It only helps to bury the fact that, whoever committed this act, the Netanyahu government made a deliberate decision to run with it in order to smash Palestinian unity and wage war against the people of Gaza, on whom they have inflicted infinitely more damage than they have on Hamas.
I know my efforts may not be much on the face of so much media distorting the story. I hope you’ll help spread this around. With enough of us, the truth can remain out there.