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Media Microscope: Paul's PR Agency

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Jamie Hyams

 

The Saturday Age and Sydney Morning Herald include a magazine called “Good Weekend”. The November 6 edition featured another instalment of Paul McGeough’s apparent campaign to demonise Israel while lionising those behind the Gaza flotilla. In constructing mythology, which, in effect, is what McGeough is attempting, only one side of a story is provided, with inconvenient facts glossed over or omitted. Nevertheless, the extent to which McGeough does this is, at times, simply breathtaking.

For example, the flotilla was attempting to breach the partial blockade Israel had legally imposed on Gaza in response to the terrorism, rockets and recalcitrance of its Hamas rulers. However, not only does McGeough neglect to mention the legal basis or the terrorism, in his 4,300 word feature, he didn’t find room to mention Hamas even once. It was simply “an Israeli-imposed blockade that effectively makes 1.5 million people prisoners in their own homes.” No-one is confined to their homes. McGeough gave absolutely no explanation of Israel’s reasons for the blockade.

What he did do was to describe in glowing terms those, mainly women, behind the Free Gaza Movement (FGM), and detail their motivations and how they assembled the flotilla. He started with Huwaida Arraf, who helped found the International Solidarity Movement, or ISM, which, according to McGeough, was to “act as a break on Israeli military and settler violence against Palestinian civilians.” In fact, Arraf has publicly supported “armed resistance” and the ISM has facilitated anti-Israel violence, and obstructed Israeli efforts to destroy terrorist infrastructure including tunnels and buildings, and even co-operated with and sheltered terrorists, none of which McGeough mentioned. He states Rachel Corrie was “crushed to death under an Israeli military bulldozer as she protested against the demolition of a Palestinian home.” She was actually crushed by a pile of debris, moved by a bulldozer whose driver didn’t see her, and was protecting a smuggling tunnel.

In the FGM, Arraf “stands shoulder to shoulder with a number of women of equally powerful conviction.” One had been “set upon by a group of illegal Jewish settlers.” Here, McGeough makes a definitive pronouncement on the legality of the settlements, a complicated and contested question of international law. Another had “heard gunfire and soon came upon a family-friendly ice cream parlour where two Palestinians lay dead. As mothers shielded their children, the shooters made their getaway.” A third had been “hit by a fragmenting metal bullet” when “Israeli forces opened fire while she was attempting to deliver medicine and food to Palestinians whose homes…had been occupied by Israeli forces.” In describing these alleged incidents, McGeough fails to provide context, invite Israeli comment or seemingly, even to verify they actually happened, as a journalistic professional should do.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a McGeough article about the flotilla without pejorative descriptions of the Israeli forces, so here, Israeli craft, “with their bullet-shaped hulls…came sneaking up around us.” Meanwhile, the Turkish organisation IHH, which sympathises with and supplies Hamas and other terrorist groups, and was responsible for the violence on board the Mavi Marmara, is described simply as “the Turkish humanitarian group”. Widely available footage of its leader urging violence against the Israeli troops and of various activists, including many of those killed, wishing for martyrdom, was also not mentioned.

McGeough admits that the actual events of the violence are “highly contested”, and that metal bars were used as weapons. However, he continues, “But there is no visual evidence to support Israeli claims that the activists on the Mavi Marmara had their own guns or that they captured Israeli weapons and used them against the boarding parties. All such Israeli charges are flatly denied by flotilla organisers and by activists who were close to the action. There is, on the other hand, footage of what appears to be Israeli commandos shooting an activist at near point‐blank range and, later, autopsy accounts of head and other high‐on‐the‐body woundings.”

There may be no visual evidence of activists using guns, but the Israelis suffered bullet wounds and found cartridges not from Israeli weapons. There is visual evidence of activists using knives, which McGeough doesn’t mention. The Israeli soldier shown shooting at point blank range was using a paint ball rifle, and as for the high-on-the-body woundings, the Israelis never claimed that, once they were being fired upon, they only shot for the legs.

The sub-editors joined in, with a photo of FGM activists titled “Freedom Fighters” and a fact box stating unequivocally that Mohammed al-Dura was shot by Israeli forces. The circumstances of his death are hotly disputed, a fact later acknowledged in clarifications by both papers.

This was simply a public relations piece for the Free Gaza Movement, and both McGeough and Fairfax should be condemned for trying to pass it off as journalism.

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