Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Peter Hartcher Piles It On

How does one get one's head around what is going on in Syria at the moment?

I, of course, have no special insight here but can at least usefully draw your attention to some of the hypocrisy that characterises Australian ms media commentary on the appalling massacre which took place in the Syrian town of Hula on 25/26 May. But I'll come to that later.

As a general commentary on the Hula massacre, the too-long list of other atrocities and war crimes which have preceded it, and the life-or-death struggle under way between the Asad regime on the one hand, and the internal Syrian opposition, both armed and civilian, on the other, the sceptical approach adopted by As'ad Abukhalil of the Angry Arab News Service is worth keeping in mind:

"How can I comment on developments in Syria any more? Quite simply, I believe neither the the Syrian regime nor the Syrian opposition groups in exile: both have a proven record of criminality, massacres, lies, and fabrications... So according to exile accounts, the Army shelled the area, and then, after killing the innocent civilians, sent its armed thugs in to kill them again? War crimes are being committed in Syria and the regime [must] remain the more responsible [of the parties] because it is the authority in the land and its mandate includes the promise to protect the population. The regime also controls the countryside, although the UN Secretary-General now admits that Free Syrian Army (FSA) gangs control major sections of cities and towns. There are no independent sources on Syria: all accounts are based on one lying, criminal side or the other. If the regime is not responsible for the [Hula] massacre (as it claims), there is evidence that it has committed massacres elsewhere. The conflict in Syria is one of the most intense regional/international wars that the Middle East has seen in years if not decades, and the duty of all analysts is to provide commentary and analysis that is not tinged with the propaganda interests of one side or the other... The Western media [however] are clearly, in their coverage, covering up for the FSA and its crimes [which include] murder, extortion and kidnapping." (Hula massacre, 27/5/12)

With Abukhalil's (highlighted) admonition in mind, I now move to the opening paragraphs of the Sydney Morning Herald opinion piece by international editor Peter HartcherBrutality of Assad not enough to bring action (29/5/12):

"Who could put a loaded gun to the head of a baby and pull the trigger? The coverage of the barbaric violence against women and children in the Syrian town of Houla at the weekend sent a wave of revulsion around the world. But we know the answer. The obvious villain is Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad. While his wife shops for $40,000 chandeliers from Paris, Bashar has been sending his forces to butcher and torture adults and children alike for a year and a quarter now. The massacre in Houla left 108 people dead, among them 49 children and 34 women..."

Now despite the clearly aligned nature of the above (continued throughout), and the rush to judgement trumpeted by "we know the answer," Hartcher may well be correct in fingering Asad as the bloody hand behind the Hula massacre, and many others besides. However, I can't help but note the glaring contrast between his expressed outrage at the deaths of the innocent women and children (not to mention men) of Hula and his obvious lack of same at the fate of the 1,440 Palestinians (including 431 children and 114 women) massacred in the Gaza Strip in 2008/09, as manifest in an earlier opinion piece written after his return from a NSW Jewish Board of Deputies-sponsored trip to Israel in 2009.

In fact, in Israel feels tarnished as critics apply apartheid tag (SMH, 17/11/09)*, Hartcher rushed to the defence of a regime which had come under fire from a highly critical UN report (Justice Goldstone's actually), belittling both the report ("among the hundreds churned out every year") and the resolution which followed it ("just another... from the international resolution factory"):

"After enduring some 800 rocket attacks from Hamas militants in the Palestinian territory of Gaza, Israel sent its forces into Gaza... to stop the firings at the source."

And, as if this blatant toeing of the Israeli regime line on the Gaza massacre were not enough, Hartcher went on, unbelievably, to describe it as - wait for it! - a "clash."

But what particularly intrigues me, in light of his piece on the Hula massacre, is how he seized (in line with the Israeli talking point of the time) on Justice Goldstone's observations that "Palestinian armed groups were present in urban areas during the military operations and launched rockets from urban areas" and "it may be that the Palestinian combatants did not at all times adequately distinguish themselves from the civilian population" to categorically assert the following:

"This was the whole point of the Hamas strategy. By deliberately positioning themselves in residential areas, the Hamas fighters were goading Israel to shoot back at civilian homes."

Now leaving to one side the question of the veracity of this particular Israeli talking point, at no stage in his opinion piece on Syria does Hartcher take issue with the FSA "deliberately positioning themselves" in the village of Hula, let alone canvas the possibility of the FSA's "goading" the Syrian army "to shoot back at civilian homes."

Hartcher may well lament, as he does (and we most certainly do), that in Syria, "[t]he dead pile upon the dead, atrocity upon atrocity." And we, his readers, may well lament Hartcher's piling of hypocrisy upon hypocrisy.

[*See my 15/3/10 post Pawns in a Propaganda Game.]

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