Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Al-Jazeera’s Ramadan hypocrisy      

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What's the Arabic word for "chutzpah"? 

That's the question that comes to mind after reading al-Jazeera's latest smear on Israel, which shamelessly violated a basic rule that applies to journalism as much as anything else - you simply can't have it both ways.

In this particular case, this means that the Qatari-owned news organisation, which has never missed an opportunity in the past to run stories attacking Israel for restricting Palestinian entry to Israel during Ramadan (see here
and here), should not turn around and publish an equally critical article attacking Israel for easing those restrictions.  However, this is exactly what al-Jazeera has done with its article, "Anger mounts over Israel's 'Ramadan permits" published on its website Tuesday, and castigating an Israeli good-will gesture to the Palestinians during the month-long Islamic festival, which also concluded this week.

In the article, al-Jazeera recasts the Israeli concession of allowing increasing numbers of Palestinians into Israel during the holiday in order to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and visit relatives, as a "sinister" plot to funnel Palestinian holiday shopping shekels away from local Palestinian merchants and into Israeli coffers.

A quote early in the article set the tone for the piece.

"Palestinians have a right to visit their brothers inside [Israel]," said Mohammed Hirbawi, who heads the Chamber of Commerce for Hebron, one of the West Bank's largest cities.

"But the fact that these permits come at this particular time every year, when people shop on a much larger scale, raises questions over the Israeli authorities' motive."

The agenda behind the article was clear. A commentary by the pro-Israel blog Elder of Ziyon on an identically themed story in the Palestinian media summed it up perfectly:

Preventing PalArabs from entering Israel is [according to the Israel-bashing narrative] a human rights crime. [Then] Allowing them to enter Israel is an economic crime.

While it's certainly fair to report on the issue of the economic impact of the concession in its proper context as an unintended side-effect of fulfilling a demand that the Palestinian leadership had long campaigned for (Ha'aretz, for example, did so in an article last year, and The Media Line did so last month), it's quite something else to construct the story as though Israel's true aim for the concession was to take bread off Palestinian tables, so to speak.

It is not surprising that those Palestinian businesses who have been negatively affected by the move would complain, but for them to question the timing of the concession without being challenged by al-Jazeera's reporter is asinine at best and disingenuous at worst.

Those knowledgeable of the customs of Ramadan - and one should naturally count al-Jazeera's reporters and editors among them - cannot plead ignorance about the tradition of governments offering good-will and humanitarian gestures of various kinds in this season, including pardons and prisoner releases.
 
These kinds of gestures are doled out as a matter of routine throughout the Muslim world during Ramadan, and not only in Israel (see here and here).

Furthermore, in terms of priority, it is similarly obvious that religious concessions during Ramadan must take priority over most other non-security considerations. In other words, had Israel accepted the arguments of the Palestinian merchants and prevented Muslim Palestinians from entering Israel to worship in Jerusalem during their holiday for economic reasons, there is no doubt in anyone's minds that it would have been pilloried for poor judgement and supposed interfering with Muslim freedom of worship.

Meanwhile, it must be pointed out that throughout Ramadan, a variety of pro-Palestinian sources slammed Israel at every opportunity for not issuing more Ramadan entry permits (see here and here)!

The real context for Israel's concession could have been found, if al-Jazeera had deigned to look for it or report on it.
 
Israeli journalist Shlomi Eldar revealed the real context for the concession in an article for the US-based Mideast news portal Al-Monitor.

"This policy of opening border crossings during holidays was first initiated and implemented a year ago by the chief of the Central Command, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon. Back then Alon claimed, and rightfully so, that given the decline in violence and the positive general atmosphere in the territories, there were no grounds to prevent tens of thousands of families from the West Bank from visiting Israel for reasons of security. On the contrary, Alon believed that these holiday outings would offer the people of the West Bank a new perspective on Israeli society, and that the encounter with Israelis could be a significant step toward re-establishing trust between the two peoples."

Alon's policy, incidentally, has led to some interesting but mixed results, with some Palestinians leaving with a more favourable view of Israel and more interested in peace, but others appeared to become even more resolute to see Israel replaced with a single Palestinian Arab state. (See recent stories in the Times of Israel here and Ma'ariv here.)

In keeping with Alon's vision, the IDF had gone to great lengths to communicate to the Palestinians that increasing entry permits for Ramadan was not a concession Israel had been somehow forced to do half-heartedly, but rather a good-faith gesture aimed at improving relations with Palestinians. (See here and here.)

Every sensitivity was extended to the Muslim community, including an IDF directive to Jewish soldiers not to eat, drink, or smoke publicly so as not to increase the discomfort of Muslims who deprive themselves of such pleasures during daylight hours through the month.

It is unfortunate that the IDF's gesture, which is indicative of a general trend in Israel towards improving attitudes towards Palestinians, fell on deaf ears.

Indeed, al-Jazeera's hypocritical hit-piece has reconfirmed that Israel's most biased critics remain stubbornly unwilling to give Israel credit for anything positive. Furthermore, it is yet another example of the consistent bias exhibited by al-Jazeera in its reporting, not only on matters pertaining to Israel, but on other regional matters such as in Egypt, where there were recent mass resignations at al-Jazeera's offices for what staff said was a directive to favour the Muslim Brotherhood over its secular rivals in its news coverage.

On a final note, one cannot escape the irony embedded in al-Jazeera's story. For while in Australia and elsewhere, pro-Palestinian activists are religiously preaching a Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) campaign, what this story clearly shows is that BDS is not practiced by a majority of West Bank Palestinians themselves.

This remains true in spite of the second half of al-Jazeera's article, which tellingly focused on latent efforts by Palestinian and Israeli Arab groups to steer Palestinians to effectively boycott Jewish shops while in Israel and only patronise Israeli Arab businesses.

There has been little evidence so far that this campaign affected the purchasing choices of many Palestinians.

Ahron Shapiro

 

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