The Mainstream Media's Biased Coverage of the Gaza Blockade


There's reason to hope that the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel will lead to an easing of Israel's suffocating economic blockade of Gaza. The ceasefire text said that "opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods... shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire." But, more than 100 hours later, we're still waiting for word of actual progress.

Meanwhile, if you're wondering where to turn for background information about the blockade, I have this guidance: stay as far away from mainstream media as possible.

Sadly typical of the way the MSM covers the issue is a recent New York Times piece about the ceasefire by David Kirkpatrick and Jodi Rudoren (both of whom have done excellent work on other issues in the region). The piece described the blockade as "Israel's tight restrictions on the border crossings into Gaza under a seven-year-old embargo imposed to thwart Hamas from arming itself."

Putting it this way is a real time saver, not just because it fits into a single short sentence, but because, if you're too busy to actually write that sentence, the Israeli government's press office would be happy to do it for you. But this description of the blockade raises a question:

If the essential purpose of the blockade were indeed to "thwart Hamas from arming itself," wouldn't restrictions on imports into Gaza suffice? (And even then the import restrictions wouldn't have to be as draconian as they were when imposed, or even as tight as they are now, after some loosening.) What I'd like to see an enterprising MSM reporter ask is: How do Israel's severe restrictions on Gazan exports keep arms from getting to Hamas?

Kirkpatrick and Rudoren, later in their piece, do elaborate a bit on Israel's motivation for imposing the blockade. But not enough. After raising the prospect that Egypt may open the Rafah crossing into Gaza, they write that "Israel enforces its embargo on the other sides of Gaza, fearing that it would face an influx of refugees or end up with responsibility for the impoverished enclave."

Fearing "an influx of refugees" doesn't explain why Israel won't let Gazans put whatever goods they want to export on a ship and send them across the Mediterranean to Europe or Africa. Nor, really, does this fear explain the other side of the export restrictions--not letting Gaza export much of anything to Israel or the West Bank. Making sure that exports were confined to goods, and didn't include people, would be readily doable. Israelis know a thing or two about how to set up an effective checkpoint.

The closest Kirkpatrick and Rudoren get to a plausible reason for the export restrictions is in positing an Israeli fear of winding up "with responsibility for the impoverished enclave." But even here they're not putting nearly a fine enough point on it. Here's the fine-point version:

Recall that a very plausible motivation for Ariel Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 was to address "the demographic problem"--the fact that the number of Palestinians in the occupied territory, plus the number in Israel proper, was beginning to approach the number of Israeli Jews. That meant that if Israel's aggressive settlement program eventually led to Israel's absorption of the occupied territories, Israel wouldn't remain a Jewish state unless it were an apartheid state--i.e., unless it continued to deny Palestinian inhabitants of the occupied territories the right to vote. But once you remove Gaza from the equation, and define it as outside of the occupied territory, the math changes (though Gazans contend their territory is still, for practical purposes, occupied, since Israel controls the ports and airspace and the Israeli border and enters Gaza at will to kill Gazans). In this scenario--the divide and conquer scenario--the last thing Israel wants to do now is permit the sort of organic economic ties between Gaza and the West Bank that would make it easier to think of their Palestinian inhabitants as a single people. 

There's one other possible motivation for Israel's severe restrictions on commerce involving Gaza: collective punishment. Maybe Israeli leaders want to keep all of Gaza impoverished as payback for the sins of Hamas. Maybe they even think that this impoverishment will lead Gazans to reject Hamas. If so, I have bad news: If Gazans reject Hamas, it will be in favor of Islamic Jihad or even more radical elements, in keeping with the general principle that imposing unjust suffering on people empowers extremists.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Robert Wright is the author of, most recently, the New York Times bestseller The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic. More

Wright is also a fellow at the New America Foundation and editor in chief of His other books include Nonzero, which was named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book in 2000 and included on Fortune magazine's list of the top 75 business books of all-time. Wright's best-selling book The Moral Animal was selected as one of the ten best books of 1994 by The New York Times Book Review.Wright has contributed to The Atlantic for more than 20 years. He has also contributed to a number of the country's other leading magazines and newspapers, including: The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Time, and Slate, and the op-ed pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Financial Times. He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism and his books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

This Short Film Skewers Hollywood, Probably Predicts Disney's Next Hit

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.


What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.


How Will Climate Change Affect Cities?

Urban planners and environmentalists predict the future of city life.


The Inner Life of a Drag Queen

A short documentary about cross-dressing, masculinity, identity, and performance


Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.



More in Global

Just In