CAMERA Media Analyses
15 December 09
Victoria Brittain’s Dec. 9 column in the Guardian has all the elements that typify the newspaper’s simplistic, distorted accounts of the Arab-Israeli conflict. There are the innocent Palestinian victims and aggressive Israeli culprits; the falsehoods; the failure to consider any Palestinian responsibility for their state of affairs; and the brazen omission of information essential for understanding the situation.
The particulars of Brittain’s article, entitled "Who will save Gaza's children?," are especially dramatic. Gazan babies are being poisoned, and the antidote is as simple as one Israeli phone call, which, for no apparent reason, Israel refuses to make. In the columnist’s own words:
Among all the complex and long-term solutions being sought in Copenhagen for averting environmental catastrophe across the world, there is one place where the catastrophe has already happened, but could be immediately ameliorated with one simple political act.
In Gaza there is now no uncontaminated water; of the 40,000 or so newborn babies, at least half are at immediate risk of nitrate poisoning – incidence of "blue baby syndrome", methaemoglobinaemia, is exceptionally high; an unprecedented number of people have been exposed to nitrate poisoning over 10 years; in some places the nitrate content in water is 300 times World Health Organisation standards; the agricultural economy is dying from the contamination and salinated water; the underground aquifer is stressed to the point of collapse; and sewage and waste water flows into public spaces and the aquifer.
The blockade of Gaza has gone on for nearly four years, and the vital water and sanitation infrastructure went past creaking to virtual collapse during the three-week assault on the territory almost a year ago.
What would it take to start the two UN sewerage repair projects approved by Israel; a UN water and sanitation project, not yet approved; and two more UN internal sewage networks, not yet approved? Right now just one corner of the blockade could be lifted for these building materials and equipment to enter Gaza, to let water works begin and to give infant lives a chance. Just one telephone call from the Israeli defence ministry could do it – an early Christmas present to the UN staff on the ground who have been ready to act for months and have grown desperate on this front, as on so many others.
The most disturbing message of the column is 1) the assertion that there is a high incidence of methemoglobinemia or "blue baby syndrome" in the Gaza Strip, 2) the implication that this is a result of "the blockade of Gaza," and 3) the central premise that Israel is responsible for this public heath disaster because it refuses to make "just one telephone call" to allow building materials and equipment into Gaza, and thus"immediately ameliorate" the catastrophe.
If the first point is true, the latter two can only be described as an attempt by Brittain to sharply mislead readers.