Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Oriana Fallaci Meets Israeli PR at the SMH

Sydney Morning Herald columnist Paul Sheehan has predictably weighed in on the Gaza genocide (It's too easy just to blame Jews, 12/1/09), telling his readers that he "just happened to be in Israel" last November. He's being disingenuous. There was of course nothing happenstance about his trip - it was sponsored by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD) and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (see my 17/11/08 post Rambam Alert!) , part of a process I call rambamming - defined elsewhere in this blog as "being sponsored by smooth-talking Israel lobbyists in Australia on a grooming session by tough-talking PR people in Israel with a view to the sponsored adopting the missionary position for Israel when required in Australia." To my knowledge, no disclosure that a rambamming has taken place has ever accompanied an article on Israel and the Palestinians by a rambammed Herald journalist. Just click on the rambamming tag at the end of this post for a fuller picture of this below-the-radar activity.

Sheehan's November 2008 rambamming didn't take long to bear fruit (See my 27/11/08 post His Master's Voice), and now that the Israel's army is cutting a bloody swathe through Gaza, and Israel's PR machine is working overtime defending the indefensible, Sheehan's putting pen to paper in defence of Israel's actions should come as no surprise.

There are, of course, the usual factual stuff-ups (a sure give-away that the generalist pundit has only the shakiest grasp of the subject at hand), and I shall deal with these first: 1) Sheehan refers to the group of Israeli settler fanatics illegally occupying a Palestinian house in the Palestinian West Bank city of Hebron as occupying a "settlement." 2) In a reference to Jordan's administration of the West Bank from 1948-1967, he hilariously describes the West Bank Palestinians as an "ethnic majority" and their Jordanian Hashemite rulers as an "ethnic minority." Sheehan is labouring under the illusion that the Hashemites are an ethnic grouping rather than a dynasty. To add to the hilarity, he even has these 'ethnic' Hashemites simultaneously ruling the Gaza Palestinians! 3) Finally, his figure of "6,000 Hamas rocket attacks" on Israel from Gaza (repeated twice) is the same nonsense I've refuted elsewhere (See my 5/1/09 post Go Figure 1). Moreover, assigning all such rockets to Hamas alone is simply incorrect.

Then there's Sheehan's retailing of the contemptible Israeli propaganda line about the United Nations Relief & Works Agency (UNRWA) 'warehousing' "displaced Palestinians for decades because it has been in the interests of the Arab world for this problem not to be solved." He would have us believe that the issue of the Palestinian refugees arises not from Zionist ethnic cleansing in 1948 (glossed over with the neutral-sounding "displaced"), but from a deliberate failure of the UN to disperse them around the Arab world!* Sheehan thus attempts to shift responsibility for the Palestine refugee problem from the Israelis, who created it, to the UN, which set up UNRWA to manage it.

[* Nor was this for want of trying. Consider the following story from the time of the Egyptian military administration of Gaza: "Nasser feared the consequences of provoking the Israelis... He understood that the situation in Gaza was potentially explosive; thousands of refugees crowded into a tiny area with nothing to occupy their minds except the memory of what they'd left behind and how they were going to return. Already some Palestinians were crossing the Armistice lines, usually to collect possessions from the villages which hadn't yet been destroyed by the Israelis, but sometimes also to raid Israeli settlements bordering the Strip. As it was, Israeli reprisals for these incidents were becoming increasingly severe and in Nasser's mind they could easily provide the Israelis with the excuse to launch a full-scale war, which he knew Egypt was unprepared to fight. Nasser's way of defusing the situation, or so he thought, was to draw up a plan in 1954, in conjunction with the United States and UNRWA, to resettle the refugees in the Sinai. By any standards the conditions in the refugee camps were bad but the refugees vehemently opposed any move which either suggested their stay was permanent or that if they were to leave it would be anywhere but back to Palestine. For example when UNRWA had attempted to plant trees in Gaza's camps they were immediately uprooted by enraged residents who berated the Agency for wasting money on something which no one would be around long enough to see grow. Gaza's response to the leaking of the plan was therefore quite predictable. For two days, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets, besieging Egyptian personnel in government buildings and burning vehicles and installations." (Stateless in Gaza, Cossali & Robson, 1986, pp 13-14)]

Sheehan also reflects the routine tendency of Zionist propagandists to blur the fundamental distinction between Jews/Judaism, on the one hand, and Zionists/Zionism, on the other. The result is that Melbourne demonstrators, whom he alleges were waving placards which read "Clean the Earth from the dirty Zionists" (photographs anyone?) and "Stop the sub-human Zionist landgrabbing barbarian mass murderers in occupied Palestine," are described as "anti-Jewish." Hyperbole aside (and assuming of course that such placards actually existed), these slogans, prima facie, are clearly directed against the ideology of political Zionism (ie the idea - following the definition of Israeli scholar Uri Davis - that it is a good idea to establish and consolidate in the country of Palestine a sovereign, Jewish state that attempts to guarantee in law and in practice a demographic majority of the Jewish tribes in the territories under its control) and its followers, not Jews or the faith of Judaism as such. In essence, for example, the first is little different to say 'Cleanse the Earth of Communists'. As for the second, I would really only quibble with the inclusion of "sub-human," on the grounds that ideological blindness, whether of the Zionist or any other variety, is, alas, all too human. Moreover, Sheehan might like to take a look at the photograph of the baseball-hatted Zionist at San Francisco's 10/1/09 promassacre rally holding a placard which reads, "Until all of Gaza is destroyed, the job is not done" (indyby.org), or maybe check out some of the racist anti-Arab filth currently flooding cyberspace from Zionist blogs and websites.

Did I say racist anti-Arab filth? Forget cyberspace/blogosphere. Look no further than Sheehan's own opinion piece: "Gaza has become a giant warehouse of misery. It has no economic growth, no prospects, almost no civil order, yet about half the population is under the age of 17. The population has exploded amid economic privation. Women, living under sharia law, are used primarily as breeding stock. When Nizar Rayan, the most senior member of Hamas, was killed in the latest Israeli attacks, he had 4 wives and 14 children." This surely has to be a new low for the Herald: the Palestinian family, currently being hammered mercilessly by Israel's "iron fist," is caricatured by Sheehan, from the comfort of his air-conditioned Fairfax office, as a fanatical, Jew-hating, jihadi husband wielding the sword of sharia law over a supine, bovine wife, who has little option but to keep on flooding the grim and grimy streets of Gaza with babies. And how terribly, terribly inconvenient for the poor Israelis who have to listen to the constant ticking of this demographic time-bomb! Why, it must surely drive them mad, mad enough to...

If Sheehan is seriously concerned about the plight of women, I'd suggest he first look in his own backyard - say in the troubled Sydney suburb of Rosemeadow where almost one quarter of all families are headed by single mothers "totally dependent on welfare," and where "most teenage girls are either pregnant or carrying a child on their hip." (Violence begins where hope ends on Rosemeadow housing estate, John Stapleton, The Australian, 10/1/09)

In addition to its standout racism, Sheehan's paragraph is riddled with falsehoods. If Gazans live in misery and economic deprivation, one need look no further than the decades of de-development the Strip was subjected to under Israeli occupation and the crippling effects of the post 2005 Israeli blockade. And that nonsense about "no civil order" (I assume Sheehan means prior to Israel's bombardment and invasion) has been flatly contradicted by courageous Haaretz journalist Amira Hass who, unlike Sheehan, was actually in Gaza not long after his rambamming. In This is Gaza (27/11/08) she wrote," Gaza is the ability to tell jokes in any situation, and the burning insult of having no running water for 3 or 4 days. And yet, the children go clean and neat to school... Gaza is also parents leaving their children alone at home, without fear, or letting them go to a playground far from home, or go by themselves to their grandmother in the Jabaliya refugee camp... Gaza is people's constant attempt to cling to a normal life, although Israel foists on them abnormal terms of imprisonment, isolation from the rest of the world and deterioration to a state of humiliating dependence on international charity programs."

In melding the febrile Islamophobic fantasies of the late Oriana Fallaci* with the current requirements of Israeli PR, Sheehan's latest propaganda piece plumbs new depths.

[* Sheehan actually reviewed the demented Fallaci's The Force of Reason on 15/5/06. There is not a hint of criticism throughout. His final sentence can only be described as admiring: "The history Oriana Fallaci has felt and seen has filled her final years with a lucid, fearless rage."]


Anonymous said...

I have written to the SMH and the Australian Press Council about Sheehan's omission.

Here is the body of my complaint to the press council :

Sheehan regularly writes inflammatory islamophobic articles in the SMH. If these were anti-jewish in the same tone they would not be tolerated but, correctly labelled anti-semitic and spiked.

However, in this instance - and the cause of this complaint - he does not reveal a conflict of interest, nor the fact that he is being funded to pour forth this bile.

Within the article he states "When I visited a Palestinian refugee camp in November, the Aida camp on the West Bank," but, nowhere does he declare that this trip to Israel last November was sponsored by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD) and Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Surely such a statement is a requirement for honest journalism.


Anonymous said...


Weapon of mass population

"I want to have many boys, so we have more people and can get the Jews out."

By SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN, Times Senior Correspondent
Published September 21, 2003

[Times photos: Jamie Francis]
Thuraya Eshbear, 35, has 13 children - from 20 years to 10 months - nine of whom are in this photograph. Her husband, Majed Eshbear, back left, is the father of 20 children, including all 13 here. Majed's other wife, back left, is Manal Sultan.

Members of the Abbas family of Gaza stroll to the beach for sunset, where they will make coffee and talk for several hours as a way to pass the time.

Friends toss Mohammed Abuzaya into the air as they celebrate the night before his wedding.

Mohammed Basheer, 3, clings to his brother through the fence at his preschool in Deir el Balah.

AML preschool in Deir el Balah is home to 120 students.

[Times art: Amanda Raymond]
The fertility rates of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are skyrocketing past those of Jews throughout Israel. Total fertility is the average number of children a woman of child-bearing years (assumed to be between 15 and 49) is expected to bear during her lifetime, according to the specific birth rates of women in the population in a given year.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - In the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians, Thuraya Eshbear wields a powerful weapon.


At 35, this wisp of a woman has 13 children, from 20 years down to 10 months. Though she can't afford to school them all, though she rarely has a minute to herself, she would gladly bear more.

"I have many children so that the Palestinian people will have more than the Israelis," says Eshbear, a $37-a-week cleaner in the maternity ward of Gaza City's biggest hospital. Here, on any given day, dozens of other Palestinian women are doing their part to ensure ultimate victory over Israel.

It is a war fought not just with F-16s and suicide bombers, but with diapers and Similac.

Ever since Israel was created in 1948, starting a clash with the Arab world that has no end in sight, Jews have feared what Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat calls his "biological bomb." In Israel and the neighboring territories of Gaza and the West Bank, Arabs are reproducing at a rate double that of Jews.

Israel's 5.4-million Jews make up just more than half of the region's population, but Arabs will become a clear majority within 20 years, Haifa University professor Arnon Soffer says. By 2020, the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea will be home to 8.5-million Arabs and just 6.4-million Jews.

Unless Palestinians get their own state, the soaring Arab population could mean one of two things: Israel would cease to exist as a Jewish nation or it would be forced into an apartheid-like system in which a Jewish minority ruled a Palestinian majority.

Unless something changes, "our country is finished in 17 years and there will be a collapse," Soffer warned Israeli political leaders.

Others say the demographic threat is exaggerated, that studies like Soffer's fail to take into account such important factors as continued Jewish migration to Israel. The Palestinian population figures are meant to scare Israel into giving up land - especially in the West Bank - to which it has an historic right, one expert charges.

"The same thing took place in '48 when Ben Gurion, the first prime minister, was urged by top statisticians to refrain from declaring independence for the same reason," says Yoram Ettinger of Israel's Ariel Center for Policy Research. "They predicted, based on certified figures, that by 1969 there would be an Arab majority. Their predictions were crashed against the rocks of reality."

Yet the battle for population supremacy rages on, although Israel at present seems to be lagging. A bleak economy has forced the government to cut once-generous allowances for big families, and Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently said poor Israelis, Jewish and Arab alike, should stop having such large broods.

"A man can and should have a family with as many children as he likes," Netanyahu said, "but he must understand he is primarily responsible for providing for them, educating them, feeding them."

Meanwhile, the women of Gaza keep producing baby after baby. The Gaza Strip, where more than 1-million Palestinians live, has one of the world's highest growth rates - 4.5 percent, enough to double the population every 15 years.

"Many people have been killed in the intifada by Israeli soldiers so they want to reproduce," says Hala Sarraj, a Gaza psychologist, referring to the uprising in which more than 2,400 Palestinians have died since 2000.

That is true of Hanan Himad, whose 21-year-old son, Jawdad, was shot dead two years ago while throwing rocks at the Israelis, she says. He was the oldest of her nine children - Himad was pregnant with her 10th this summer when she tripped and fell while running from an Israeli bomb dropped near her home east of Gaza City.

A few weeks later she miscarried, and on this Thursday morning she was in the hospital, awaiting surgery to remove the dead fetus. But at 39, she is not about to quit.

"I want to have many boys," she says, as other women nod approvingly, "so we have more people and can get the Jews out."

A prize for the 10th baby
Except for the Mediterranean and the Sea of Galilee, there would seem little reason for two groups of people to fight so long and so hard over one New Jersey-size wedge of land.

Arab sheep and camel herders long roamed the desert from which the Israelites were expelled more than two millennia ago. But in the late 1800s, after centuries of persecution, the Zionists announced their goal of resettling as many of the world's Jews as possible in their biblical homeland.

That set the stage for a struggle in which demographics might forever play a role.

By the end of World War I, what was then known as Palestine had 60,000 Jewish inhabitants. Growing Arab hostility toward the newcomers erupted in the 1921 Jaffa riots that killed 47 Jews.

But the huge migration came after World War II, when survivors of the Nazi Holocaust began flocking to the promised land. Some 650,000 Jews were living in Palestine by 1948 when Israel declared independence, and Arab nations immediately launched war against the new Jewish state.

Thus began another major population shift. To this day, there is strong debate over whether Arabs left Israel at their leaders' behest, on the promise they could return soon (as most Jewish historians say) or were forcefully removed by Jewish soldiers (as Arabs say).

Whatever the case, 700,000 Palestinians - as the Arabs began calling themselves - went to neighboring countries or to Gaza, then under Egyptian control, or the West Bank, then under Jordanian rule.

"Contrary to most colonial projects, the Israeli one was intended to substitute one people for another," French researcher Phillipe Fargues said in a 2000 study on the region's demographic battle. "It was not a will to dominate the Arab peoples so much as to dominate the territory. Relative sizes of the two populations were at stake."

As early as 1943, while the British ruled the area, the chief rabbi of Palestine urged Jewish families to have big families: "Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth."

Pressure to procreate grew even greater after 1948.

"Being a Jewish state and knowing that we lost 6-million Jews during the Holocaust, it is on the back or front of every Jew's mind that it is our responsibility for the future to make up for that traumatic loss," says Ettinger of the Ariel Center.

"Certainly when we talk about the demographic requirements of a Jewish state, that behooves many among us, either religious or nonreligious, hawks or doves, to have at least two children, three, four or five children."

As an incentive to reproduce, Israel in 1949 instituted the Ben Gurion Award - given to every woman delivering her 10th child. It was discontinued a decade later because so many Arab women qualified.

Israel's natural population growth has been greatly augmented by immigration, including the influx of almost 1-million Jews after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nearly 95 percent of Israel's Jewish population originates from immigrants; without them, there might be fewer than 300,000 Jews now in Israel.

Ettinger thinks immigration will continue, counterbalancing the effects of the Palestinian birth rate.

"We have more than 1-million Jews, probably 2-million, still in the former Soviet Union, there are 6-million Jews in America, and some of them I believe are going to end up in the Jewish state," he says. "We've got a half million Jews in France and a half million in Latin America.

"And who's to say that the Jewish birth rate has to stick to 2-point-something? It certainly could go up to 3-point-something, which would turn the whole thing upside down. When you consider the fact that we are 6-million Jews compared to 600,000 in 1948, you cannot but be highly optimistic about Jewish demographics in this part of the world."

But there is little economic incentive for Jews in America or Western Europe to emigrate to Israel, which has a lower per capita income than where they now live. Moreover, the Jewish population in the United States is shrinking and aging; even if American Jews did move to Israel, they would have only a modest effect on the birth rate.

Ettinger is more optimistic than many Israeli leaders, who have long worried about the Palestinian baby boom.

Soon after taking office in 1969, Prime Minister Golda Meier expressed concern about what would happen if Israel annexed the land it had seized in the 1967 Mideast War: "We would have to wake up every morning wondering how many Arab babies had been born during the night."

But as the prospect of a complete withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank grew increasingly remote, "both Israeli and Palestinian politicians realized that demographic growth is the Palestinians' most potent weapon," Fargues said.

Paradoxically, he found, the continuing conflict might be partly responsible for the high birth rate that so concerns Israel.

Thanks to huge amounts of humanitarian aid from the United Nations, Islamic charities and other organizations, Palestinians generally enjoy good health and live long lives, assuming they don't die of man-made causes. The aid, which includes money, food and schooling, helps ease the burden of raising children.

And while high unemployment normally discourages large families, the opposite has been true in Gaza.

In the first Palestinian uprising, from 1987 to 1993, incomes dropped 40 percent in a single year yet the birth rate went up. It seems that many fathers lowered the "bride price" to facilitate marrying off their daughters in a time of great insecurity. The result: Many more teenage brides and many more babies.

"I hate her"
In her face, Thuraya Eshbear looks older than the 35 years she admits to. But at just 5 feet and 100 or so pounds, she has the petite figure that caught the eye of Majed Eshbear as she returned home from school one day.

Tall, handsome, with a thick shock of hair, Eshbear was divorced from his first wife, by whom he had six children. He married Thuraya, and over the next 20 years, she would have 13 children and three miscarriages.

A few years ago, Eshbear began to look around again. This time he settled on Manal Sultan, 18 years his junior, a pretty woman with a wide perfect smile. Sultan had never seen Eshbear, let alone met him, before her father agreed to give her hand in marriage.

Thuraya was so angry at her husband for taking another wife that she went home to her mother's. But after 15 days she came back.

Now both wives live with Eshbear under the same roof.

"I love her," the younger woman says of Thuraya.

"I hate her," Thuraya says of her rival.

As for Eshbear, he says, wearily, the two women fight and argue all the time. He might consider getting married again, "but not in Gaza."

Under Islamic law, men are allowed to take up to four wives. The original rationale was that in time of war, when so many men are killed in battle, widows would have no one to provide for them unless the surviving men could marry more than once.

But if there is one thing that Eshbear's wives agree on, it is that the practice is anachronistic.

"It's not fair. I think one wife is enough," Thuraya says, her heavily kohled eyes flashing in anger. "As women, we can't leave our children, but as a man he can leave and take a second and a third and a fourth wife."

Both women insist, though, that they love Eshbear and that he loves them.

Thuraya, who favors tight jeans and T-shirts instead of conservative Islamic dress, is the family dynamo. After her husband married Sultan, she decided to get a job and stay out of the house as much as possible. She rises at 6, gives the kids breakfast and takes a taxi to the hospital. There she mops floors and cleans toilets up to 12 hours a day.

Except for two married sons, no one else in the family works.

Sultan, who has a year-old boy, stays home. So does Eshbear, who closed his sweet shop three years ago when the intifada began and Gaza's economy hit bottom.

Now he spends most of the day watching cartoons on TV with his youngest kids and smoking one cigarette after another. He is still thin and handsome, his hair is still thick and black, but he has the tired, resigned look of a man who doesn't expect life to get much better, or even much different.

Eshbear says he is 47 but he struggles to remember names and ages. He thinks Sultan is younger than she says she is. He thinks Thuraya has 15 kids, not 13. He hesitates when asked the name of a particular child.

He never intended to have 20 kids, he says, but "my sisters love children so they say, "Bring, bring, bring."'

He pauses. "I made a mistake. If there were not this number I could teach them better."

Contraceptives are available from public and private clinics in Gaza, but they are used more to space children than to limit the number. And it is almost always the woman, not the man, who takes the responsibility of birth control.

Eshbear might not be as embarrassed about his big family as he sounds, nor should he be, says Sarraj, the psychologist. Children can be a hedge against the future in a place where there are no retirement plans and the government, the Palestinian Authority, is on the verge of collapse.

"Children mean support," Sarraj says. "It is desirable to have children because of the insecurity of our society - you are not guaranteed to live tomorrow but to have children is to give some protection to the family."

And, she says, there is another reason Eshbear might actually be proud of his giant clan.

In Gaza, where the conflict with Israel has thrown 60 percent of adults out of work, fathering children is one sure way an unemployed man can prove his masculinity.

"To be a man in Gaza means providing food and money and clothing," Sarraj notes. "If you can't do this you cannot be a real man - except if you show you are productive by giving lots of babies."

- Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at susan@sptimes.com