At about 1:10 on Sunday, December 28, 2008, the BBC anchor Peter Dobbie found out, along with his audience, that there were 40 Egyptian ambulances ready to evacuate wounded, and lorries full of medical goods sent by Qatar to restock Gazan hospitals, waiting at the border crossing in Egypt. (According to another source there were also 50 Egyptian doctors ready to go into the Strip to help.) Since Dobbie and his audience had heard the repeated complaint from the people in Gaza that the hospitals were overwhelmed by the injured and desperately lacking in supplies, one would have expected the border to be full of purposeful activity. Instead, nothing was happening. The Gazan side lay silent.
A real journalist, someone with a smell for revealing anomalies, would have immediately recognized this as an important story to follow up on. After all, Dobbie had not hesitated to interrupt and challenge Israeli spokesmen on precisely the issues at stake: the disproportion between Israeli-caused fatalities and Israeli-suffered fatalities, the inevitable suffering of innocent civilians when such a bombing campaign takes place in so densely populated an area. “The math doesn’t work,” said Dobbie, implying what commentators emphasized elsewhere — the “disproportionate use of force” the Israelis were employing.
So here was a perfect issue with which to challenge Hamas spokesmen: If they were so distraught at the loss of life of their own people, why didn’t they take care of them? What on earth would possess Hamas not to avail themselves of what they pleadingly told the world they so desperately needed? As the honest and courageous Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey put it, “My head hurts.”
Alas, the BBC did nothing of the sort. The next six hours saw nothing but canned footage repeating Palestinian complaints, voiced not only by Hamas spokesmen and BBC reporters, but UN officials like Chris Gunning and human rights advocates, and, of course, others in the Western MSM.
Indeed, one might characterize the basic “frame” of the MSM Gaza story: Israeli Goliath creates Palestinian David humanitarian crisis. Four out of five stories tell this story in one way or another, including the interviews with Israeli officials asking them to justify their deed. (Ironically, that’s about the ratio of Hamas men to civilian casualties in the first days.)
Too bad. Had the BBC behaved like real journalists instead of parroting Palestinian narratives, they might have taken the “golden” (read excremental) thread that leads out of the labyrinth and straight to the “real story.” That story, of course, is the dreadful Palestinian strategy, taken to new heights by Hamas in the early 21st century — play the victim card at any cost. In this case, create a genuine humanitarian crisis.
Hamas initially offered two reasons for not allowing the wounded out: 1) the roads were too dangerous to venture out on, and 2) they were composing a list of the wounded. Both of these are just the kind of lame excuse that, had they been voiced by Israeli spokesmen, the BBC interviewers would have jumped all over them. Israelis have targeted only military and government sites; no ambulances have been hit and the roads are full of cars bringing wounded (past cameras) to hospitals. As for making up a list of 600 wounded before evacuating any, surely you must be kidding.
Then Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, speaking to Khaled Abu Toameh, denied the Egyptian allegation that Hamas was to blame, “claiming that many of the wounded rejected an Egyptian offer to receive medical treatment in Cairo in protest against Cairo’s ‘support’ for the IDF operation. He accused the Egyptians of taking part in the ‘siege’ on the Gaza Strip by refusing to reopen the Rafah crossing.” Hamas even delivered before the cameras a group of “family members” who claimed they refused to let their wounded go because of their anger at Egypt’s behavior. On the contrary, as Ma’an News Agency reported, Hamas would allow no passage of wounded until the border was completely open.
More hollow claims. Gazans don’t hesitate to accept medical aid from the Israelis, the people who in their minds actually inflict the wounds. So why not take Egyptian aid? And of the 600 wounded (according to Palestinian sources) all of them, suffering in a ludicrously crowded and understaffed hospital, refused to go to Egypt?