Open Letter to Paul McGeough

December 16, 2010 by Maurice Ostroff
Read on for article

You may recall that we corresponded during last March about the Mabhouh brouhaha in Dubai during which we discussed media accuracy.

I now write to congratulate you on the excellence of your “Project Gaza” article in the November 6 issue of Good Weekend. Though I believe their dedication is based on misinformation, as an Israeli citizen, the word and graphic picture you drew evoked my genuine empathy with the dedicated humanitarian activists you described,.

As sincere peaceniks, had they been better informed perhaps the flotilla activists would possibly have diverted some of their energetic efforts to simultaneously press Hamas to accept Israel’s existence, cease their threats to destroy Israel and their ongoing incitement to violence and adhere to past agreements as demanded by the US, the EU, Russia and the UN since 2006.

Reverting to the concept of media accuracy, I’m sure you will agree that words can misinform not only by what is written or said, but by relevant information that is omitted. In your entire article of 4,800 words sympathizing with the activists’ anger at Israel for blockading Gaza you omitted the very relevant and highly significant detail that the blockade is not only an Israeli operation. It is a joint Israel-Egyptian effort. If Egypt opened its border with Gaza the blockade would be ineffective and it is no more than fair to question the single-minded attacks on Israel alone.

While I don’t doubt the sincerity of the activists you described so sympathetically, a more than superficial evaluation of the circumstances points to the influence of the psychological concept of “confirmation bias” whereby, even well-meaning people have a tendency to favor information that confirms their preconceptions, regardless of whether information is factual. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent where people are exposed to what Norman Mailer called factoids, namely dubious information that people accept as facts only because of frequent repetition in the media. Like an anthropoid that resembles a human, a factoid is information that resembles, but is not, a fact.

The effectiveness of factoids as a propaganda tool is emphasized by the statement by more than one of the activists that they were influenced by the story of Al Dura, the Palestinian boy who was allegedly shot by Israeli soldiers, despite the fact that in 2010 a French court upheld Phillipe Karsenty’s right to claim that the film of the shooting was a fabrication and that Al Dura was not killed.

Another common factoid is that the Gaza blockade is imposed willy-nilly without any provocation or purpose.

Paul, I believe you agree with me that if a report is to be given some credence by intelligent readers it must place the events it describes in their context. In a Columbia Journalism Q and A on Feb 11, 2009, when Katya Batchko asked whether in your reading you noticed any mistakes or shortcuts that reporters or publications have taken that you feel are steering the story in a wrong direction, you replied with great insight “.. my stance that I try to convey to you is that I don’t see it as a deliberate thing, I see it as one of the pitfalls of the cut and thrust of the daily story. You simply see that things are not being as fully explained as they might be. [the emphasis is mine] And some people fall into the black-and-white delineation without trying to grapple with the extensive grey in the whole crisis”.

Following this train of thought, I remind you that when Israel disengaged from the Gaza strip there was no thought of a blockade. More than 3,000 greenhouses that together with other projects could provide income for over 4,500 families were transferred to the PA in the hope that they would contribute towards Palestinian prosperity and peaceful coexistence. Unfortunately Gazan gunmen wantonly destroyed them and Israel was rewarded with intensive rocket fire from civilian areas in Gaza into civilian populations in Israel.

It is more than tragic that their leaders have deprived Palestinians of opportunities to prosper, like the abandonment due to terror, of the successful industrial zone at Erez, which employed about 5,000 workers in some 200 businesses half of which were Palestinian-owned. This was part of a larger Gaza Industrial Estate (GIE), slated to provide up to 50,000 jobs. In addition a joint industrial zone was planned south of Tulkarm intended to provide jobs for more than 5,000 Palestinians. Additional areas were planned for Jenin and the Kerem Shalom area near Rafah in Gaza.

Before the uprising, about 100,000 Palestinians worked in Israel. Palestinian trucks moved freely on Israel’s roads moving thousands of tons of agricultural products from Gaza to Jordan and beyond. Even during times of violence about 5,000 Palestinians continued to work in Israel, many in the settlements that have since been evacuated.

Seriously missing from your otherwise excellent article is some in-depth information about the organization that is misusing these sincere highly motivated volunteers whom you describe so well. I know that you are intimately familiar with Hamas but because you do not speak fluent Arabic, perhaps some vital nuances escape you. On the other hand Dr. Walid Phares, an American scholar who was born in Beirut, knows the language and studied the situation in depth paints a different picture from yours. His research leads to the conclusion that the actual goal of what appears to be a humanitarian effort is to relieve Hamas. He explains logically, that if aid and comfort was the sole objective of the operation, the material would have been calmly handed to the United Nations’ agencies.

Behind the glossy picture that you saw and described so well, Phares describes the organizers of the flotilla as “a vast coalition supporting the Jihadist organization based in Gaza, aimed clearly at a geopolitical gain: open a maritime path for Hamas to receive strategic support from the outside and solidify its grip over the enclave. Spokespersons for the “flotilla” would obviously deny the long term goal and focus on the humanitarian stated agenda..

This is not new: It is a modified repeat of previous manipulated incidents: ..obstructing the peace process by using militants wearing peace jackets. But the more ominous development this flotilla is camouflaging a real land fleet bringing missiles and advanced weapons to Hezbollah from Syria to the Bekaa Valley.

Over the past weeks reports have abounded about Iranian long-range missiles shipped via Syria to Hezbollah and satellite images have shown terror bases in the vicinity of Damascus growing under Baathist protection. As soon as the attention of the international community began to focus on the flow of strategic weapons to Hezbollah, the “brotherhood of regimes” unleashed the Gaza flotilla across the Mediterranean. Seasoned geopolitical experts would rationally link the move to create an incident off the coasts of Gaza with the move to equipping Hezbollah with lethal missiles.

In the end we’re looking at two flotillas, the maritime one in the south being only a decoy for the land fleet to achieve its goal of war preparations in the north”.

Dr Phares complete article, reproduced here deserves to be read by all who take a genuine unbiased interest in developments in the Middle East.

This letter is being publicised as will the reply I hope to receive from you

Maurice Ostroff writes for 2nd Thoughts – a web site which counters bias and misinformation, mainly about the Arab-Israel conflict


3 Responses to “Open Letter to Paul McGeough”
  1. Rita says:

    “This letter is being publicised as will the reply I hope to receive from you” writes Mr. Ostroff.

    Did you receive an answer? 🙂

    Call me cynical (I am), but I see two possibilities here:

    1. If McGeaugh is as “innocent” of bad intent, as your outstandingly excellent article suggests, the fine arrows of your elegant irony will not hit their target, and you might get a response beside the points you made.

    2. If (as I suspect) McGeaugh’s motivation for his outstandingly UNexcellent article is mainly mauvaise foi, he will not answer, nor will his vehicle, the SMH publish it.

    Wie dem auch sei, I am absolutely impressed and enlightened, not only by your article but also by Dr. Walid Phares’s clear-sighted and must-read assessment. He asks (rhetorically): if the the Gaza Flotilla is a Decoy for Iranian Missiles to Hezbollah?.

    You bet it is!!!!

  2. Professor Ernest Black says:

    Kudos to Mr. Ostroff for his cogent (appealing to the intellect) letter to Paul McGeough.

    Unfortunately McGeough’s well written articles are treated by critical readers as propagandistic because of their lack of balance. He would do well to examine the extent to which he is suffering from what Ostroff describes as “confirmation bias” an important concept that I was not aware of until he drew my attention to it

    Ernest Black

  3. Phillip Osborne says:

    The article by Maurice Ostroff deserves to be widely read.

    It is remarkable for its unemotional and rational analysis of a complex situation that tends to be oversimplified not only in the mainstream media but by too many opinion makers who should know better.

    Mr. Ostroff makes a strong case for critical reading and critical thinking by pointing out how often we are misled by articles that report only partial information such as the often repeated reference to Israel’s blockade of Gaza with no hint of Egypt’s role in the blockade.

    Let’s have more unemotional, fact-filled rational articles like this one.

    I look forward to Mr. McGeough’s response

    Phillip Osborne

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