Today, the New York Times‘s website carries a video suggesting that anger is rising in the West Bank over the war in Gaza. And, in contrast to what I’ve previously observed in Michael Slackman’s work, the producers of this newsreel provide interviews in Arabic — as well as footage of protests — that convincingly demonstrate this anger.
But about halfway through the video, the narrator introduces another point: namely, that the war in Gaza is actually increasing support for Hamas among West Bank Palestinians. If true, this would be a very consequential finding: after all, those backing Israel — particularly the United States, Egypt, and Jordan — are counting on Israel’s ground invasion to damage Hamas, both politically and militarily.
So how does the Times go about substantiating this unsettling claim? First, it interviews Osama Zitawi, who claims that, “Everybody who doesn’t like Hamas, today is with Hamas. Everybody — even I hear from people with Fatah — they are with Hamas.” And who is Osama Zitawi, you ask. According to the Times, he’s a 50-year-old tourist from Denver. Is this standard journalistic practice – interviewing American tourists in Ramallah to illustrate Palestinian public opinion?
The video ends on an even less persuasive note – that is, if you can translate basic Arabic rally slogans. On one hand, the narrator closes by stating, “Support for Hamas is unlikely to fade so long as they’re seen as standing up for the Palestinians in Gaza.” Yet at the same time, a group of kaffiyeh-clad girls are shown chanting, “La Fatah wa la Hamas! … La Abbas wa la Haniyeh.” If I told you that “la” means “no” and “wa” means “and” in Arabic, do you think that you could figure out whether this rally actually suggests increased support for Hamas in the West Bank, as the video claims?
Granted, the video notes that Fatah security forces have prohibited Hamas signage, so it is actually hard to determine how the Gaza war has affected Hamas’s popularity in the West Bank and elsewhere. But if an interview with an American tourist and a rally that denounces Hamas is the best proof the Times has to offer of Hamas’s supposed popularity boost, then the Times has produced yet another dubious claim.