On September 17th 2013, SBS’s Dateline ran a piece on Gaza. Instead of the usual propaganda portraying poor innocent Palestinians ground down by the ‘Zionist entity’, it reported that many Arabs had become millionaires in a Gaza property boom.
Reporter Seyi Rhodes said there was a very different side to the Gaza Strip, the increasing number of millionaires, cashing in on the demand for lavish villas. He interviewed one such millionaire, real estate agent, Essam Mortja.
Lest we start to think all is well, Seyi reminds us:
”But this is Gaza, under Israeli siege and every few years there is a war. Essam says forget about all of that. The property business is on a roll… In downtown Gaza, the prices have trebled in four years.”
Now why would Gaza be under siege? Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, removing roughly 8,000 Israeli citizens from their homes, only to be rewarded by constant rocket attacks, as Hamas took control.
Yet no mention of that, leaving viewers with the impression that Israel is threatening Gaza.
”Essam deals with some of the most expensive properties around, apartment buildings and luxury villas. But there are complications. Israel considers Gaza’s government Hamas, terrorists and has imposed an economic blockade, restricting the movement of people and goods in and out. There was all-out war in 2008 and again in 2012.”
Hang on! It’s not just Israel that considers Hamas a terrorist organization. America does, so too does the EU – not known to be particularly pro-Israel, while Australia has proscribed the military wing of Hamas as a terrorist organization. And maybe, in the interests of balance, Seyi could have mentioned the reason for the two wars.
Seyi asks Essam:
“Doesn’t the conflict have an effect on people’s willingness to buy around here? A few months ago the Israelis were bombing targets all over the strip?”
No mention of exactly WHY the Israelis were bombing targets or that the targets were from locations where Hamas terrorists operated.
Essam explains that the 2008 war started prices rising and
“There are the newly rich, who’ve become millionaires in 6 months. They have become rich from the war. Thanks to God, they’re rich.”
“Rising property prices have sparked a building frenzy in Gaza. … The Israeli blockade restricts building materials. Israel says Hamas uses them to build military bunkers. The Gaza’s property developers have found a way around this – they are smuggling building materials through tunnels.
It’s estimated that around half a billion worth of goods pass through these tunnels every year. The Hamas Government benefits by taxing the trade. But the tunnels have also created 1,000 millionaires in the last five years – New wealth that is helping to fuel the property boom.
Gaza’s property boom has made small group of people very wealthy, but in this economy under blockade, the majority of the population depends on United Nations food handouts. Rising property prices haven’t been good for everybody.
This neighbourhood behind me, Shijaia …has some of the lowest house prices in Gaza City …Shijaia is home to Ahmad El Rabai, a police officer. He lives in a one bedroom flat with his wife Uma Rafat and their family. They have been living here for nine months and hated it had from day one.
They are looking for a bright sunny house with at least two bedrooms but the property boom has seen the rents for apartments quadruple.
And for Ahmad El Rabai an additional complications – he works as a Hamas policeman and some landlords are afraid that the Israelis may bomb them as a consequence. “
Well, how unreasonable can some landlords be, given Hamas’ propensity to use homes to store and manufacture weapons, making them legitimate targets in Israel’s defensive war. Remember, Ahmad isn’t just your average local policeman – he’s a Hamas operative! Yet that doesn’t stop SBS portraying the family in a sympathetic light, quoting his wife:
“People are afraid for their building. I once told a woman that my husband works for the Hamas government. She did not want to rent to me.” Link:
So the blockade – which is of course legal – enables Hamas to accumulate massive wealth, while exploiting UN aid. Surely that was worthy of emphasis by SBS ?
The UK’s Jewish Chronicle reported Seyi’s story from a more realistic angle:
Seyi Rhodes travelled to the Gaza Strip…But rather than reporting on a region torn apart by conflict, the programme focuses on the property market and booming construction taking place there
Mr Rhodes said the experience confounded his expectations.
“Before I started researching, I thought the region was destitute – people living literally hand-to-mouth on aid, with constant security threats. I took it for granted that people would be living in temporary accommodation provided by the UN.”
In fact, he found “a growing wealth gap”, with ordinary families struggling even to rent but new flats being sold for up to $3 million to wealthy Palestinians with money from abroad or from jobs with the Hamas government.
“As a left-wing student, I was given one view of Gaza/Palestine. But I realise now that many of those representations were entirely politically motivated.
Even Gazans wouldn’t recognise the image that is portrayed of them sometimes. The woman crying over her dead son, the man throwing stones at tanks.”
He added that such stereotypes were “frankly offensive as most of these people live their lives with the same concerns as you and me… getting on the housing ladder, educating your children. People didn’t even talk about Israel unless I brought it up.”
Why didn’t the SBS give a more nuanced account? Perhaps a clue lies in the credits at the end, where SBS lists a fixer, Azmi Keshawi, who might not be entirely impartial, judging by a 2009 article from the UK:
Local man Azmi Keshawi told of the terror inside Gaza City as residents struggle to stay alive.
He fled his home with his wife and four kids – the youngest aged just eight months – to find safety before Israel’s invasion.
Cameraman Azmi said:
“We are barely surviving…We have seen waves of attacks and violence for years but this time it went to unprecedented levels.
From midnight until 6am it was continuous, almost one blast every second. There is no electricity so the Gaza Strip was pitch black. Only the lucky ones with generators could find out what was going on through the news.”
The fresh fighting brought the death toll in the Gaza Strip to more than 500 since the escalation of the conflict on December 27.
The grim figure, from Palestinian health chiefs and UN officials, is believed to include at least 100 civilians – around a third of them kids.
In Gaza, there are no shelters. Azmi said:
“With the strength the Israelis are using, there would be no point using one anyway
As long as you are not in a shelter you can run with your life. Inside, you would be buried.”
Yesterday’s casualties included a paramedic with an Oxfam-funded group – killed as an Israeli shell struck a civilian ambulance in Beit Lahiya just north of Gaza City. Oxfam claims Israel’s insistence that it is only targeting Hamas militants rings hollow.
Azmi went even further as he raged:
“Civilians are the target in this war. It is punishment for the people of Gaza for backing Hamas.” Link:
So why did SBS use a fixer who was a Hamas sympathizer? As for Oxfam, they are notoriously anti-Israel, so their accounts are always suspect.
The Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs recently explained the role of fixers in the Palestinian propaganda war:
Palestinian administrations…strictly enforce the branding of Palestinians as blameless victims through the outright intimidation of journalists. In addition, Palestinian reporters on whom the West relies are often openly partisan and hostile to Israel.
Even Palestinian fixers and journalists not on Fatah or Hamas payrolls “often function overtly or covertly as ‘minders’ in the manner of old Soviet KGB media ‘escorts.’Indeed, Hamas’ charter explicitly calls on “media people…to perform their role,” adding that “[t]he effective word, the good article, the useful book, support and solidarity…all these are elements of the Jihad for Allah’s sake.” Palestinian fixers commonly see their job as fighting Israel and operate under “an unspoken but firm set of rules” not to impugn the Palestinians.
In the words of Jay Bushinsky, a veteran member of the Foreign Press Association, Palestinian stringers upon which the West increasingly depends are rarely “fair-minded reporter[s]. They have a mission and they don’t give anything detrimental to their leadership.” HERE:
Surely SBS, a media outlet in a free country like Australia, has a duty to report objectively, rather than follow the rules set by Hamas, to show support for “the Jihad for Allah’s sake”?
Editor’s note :This programme is still on-line at SBS. I have no idea how long for.
WATCH – Click to see Seyi’s story. Apologies, but this video is not available outside Australia and New Zealand for copyright reasons.
TUNNEL VISION – Dateline also reported on the smuggling trade through the Gaza Tunnels in 2010.