Saint Louis Journalist Faces Criticism for Reporting on Gaza Demonstration

Sheila Musaji

Posted Jan 5, 2009      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Saint Louis Journalist Faces Criticism for Reporting on Gaza Demonstration

by Sheila Musaji

A few days ago a reporter for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Sylvester Brown, wrote an article about one of the ongoing demonstrations in St. Louis calling for a Gaza ceasefire.  Although these demonstrations have been ongoing every day at different locations around St. Louis, this is the only time one of them has been covered at all by the mainstream press.  As soon as the article was published individuals began leaving comments on the online comments feature.  These comments have for the most part been extremely hateful and biased towards the protestors, the situation in Gaza, and Sylvester Brown for daring to report on the demonstration.  I am concerned not only that many people will blindly accept these statements as “facts” but also that in addition to leaving comments online about the article, the same folks will engage in a letter writing campaign to the editors of the newspaper.  Based on the past experiences of any individual who dares to even suggest that there may be two sides to any issue involving Israel and palestine, this is a very real possibility.  ( I would hope that all the readers of The American Muslim would read Mr. Brown’s article, and then send a letter to: Metro editor,  Adam Goodman—.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and Managing editor,  Pam Maples—.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) ) expressing their opinion.  Journalists are being kept out of Gaza by Israel, we don’t want to see American journalists kept from even reporting on the fact that there are Americans who oppose this action. 

Here are some of the claims made about Sylvester Brown in these comments

His article is inaccurate, he has no knowledge of the history of the conflict, he doesn’t know much and should stick to what he knows, he has anti-Israel and anti-Semitic shades to his columns, this article should never have been written and shows a lack of understanding and depth.

Here are some of the arguments about the current Gaza assault made in these comments:

1 - The demonstrations for a ceasefire and calling for an end to violence were:  “anti-Israel”, “anti-Semitic”, “ill-informed”, “ignorant”,

Response:  The truth is that there are two sides to this conflict, not one.  I attended many of the demonstrations held over the past two weeks, and plan to attend more in the future.  At these demonstrations, I saw signs reading:  end the occupation, stop the violence, stop the killing - start the talking, ceasefire now, violence is not the answer, no peace without justice, pray for peace, lift the siege, no American tax dollars for weapons, Palestinians are human beings too, we want peace, protect the innocent, make peace not war.  Not exactly wild eyed fanatic stuff.  There were young and old and people representing many religions participating. 

Are all the interfaith statements and statements by clergy calling for a ceasefire also ignorant and ill-informed.  For example:  Christian-Muslim Forum  - Council of Christians and Jews (U.K.)  - Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem  - Churches for Middle East Peace  - Archbishop of Canterbury -  - UCC / Disciples of Christ Global Ministries   - metro Detroit religious leaders  - Pope denounces violence, hatred, prays for peace in Gaza - Pope calls for truce - Evangelical Lutheran Church in America  - Presiding Episcopal Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori  - The chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace - Methodist Church (U.K.)  - California interfaith leaders  - Church Leaders Appeal for Cease Fire in Gaza - US Catholic bishops plea for ceasefire in Mideast   - Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace - Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox and Protestant Clergy - 100 Australian Jews including two award-winning novelists and a former federal cabinet minister, have signed a statement condemning Israel’s siege of Gaza, heightening tensions within the local Jewish community over the violence.

Are all the protests in the U.S. and around the world ignorant and ill-informed?  For example:  Protests in the U.S. -  More than 100 protests across the U.S.  -  List of protests nationwide here, herehere, and here (includes Albany,  Albuquerque, Anchorage, Anaheim, Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Bellingham, Boston, Buffalo, Burlington, Cedar Rapids, Charlotte, Chicago, Cinncinati, Cleveland, Colorado Springs, Columbia, Columbus, Costa Mesa, D.C., Dallas, Dearborn, Detroit, Denver, Durham, Eugene, Flint, Fort Lauderdale, Honolulu, Houston, Indianapolis, Ithaca, Kalamazoo, Kansas City, Knoxville, Lansing, Lawrence, Louisville, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Montpellier, New Brunswick, New Haven,  New Orleans, New York, Norfolk, North Hampton, Ocala, Olympia, Orlando, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Portland, Rochester, Roanoke, Saint Louis, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, San Mateo, Seattle, Springfield, Spokane, Tacoma, Tampa, St. Petersburg, St. Louis, Santa Rosa, Sioux Falls, Toledo, Tucson, Woodstock, Worcester, Youngstown) and the list is growing.  Young Jews Stage Die In in Boston to Denounce Israeli Attacks on Civilians.  Photographs of New York protest hereProtests - Worldwide movement protests U.S.-Israeli massacre in Gaza   -  Thousands take to the streets worldwide - Protests sweep the Middle East - Photos of protests around the worlld here  - Adelaide - Amsterdam - Athens  -  Bangkok  -  Belfast - Brussels  - Cairo  -  Dhaka -  Dublin - Edinburgh - GlasgowHaifa, Israel   -  IstanbulJakarta  - Jerusalem, Israel - Johannesberg  -  Kano - Kuala Lumpur  - Lisbon - London  - Madrid - Ottawa  - Paris  -  Rotterdam -  Tel Aviv, Israel Tokyo - Toronto - Vancouver - Vienna

Are all the world leaders who have called for a ceasefire uninformed?  World leaders condemn Israeli assault - France condemns Israeli assault - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown calls for immediate ceasefire - India condemns attack on Gaza - Vietnam condemns Israel’s military attacks at Gaza - EU calls for immediate ceasefire in Gaza - French President Nicolas Sarkozy calls for a ceasefire - UN Security Council split on ceasefire - Scottish politicians call for ceasefire - Spain’s foreign minister urges ceasefire -  A delegation from the International Union of Muslim Scholars led by influential Sunni cleric Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi will ask Arab leaders to cut diplomatic and economic ties with Israel and to use all their powers to stop the aggression - South Africa denounces invasion of Gaza -  Portugal calls for a ceasefire - Russia calls for a ceasefire - Australia calls for a ceasefire, urges dispomacy. - Governments of Chile, Nicaragua, and Peru condemn Israeli assault.

2 - Israel has no choice because of the thousands of Hamas rockets that have been fired into Israel since 2005, so it is all Hamas’ fault.  Hamas broke the ceasefire  The Palestinian people elected Hamas so they are getting what they deserve


:  There was a ceasefire which Israel broke on Nov. 4th, when its armed forces carried out a number of attacks resulting in the deaths of 6 Palestinians. Hamas had not fired any rockets from Gaza since June 19th (when the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel was finalized), and only resumed following the Israeli attack. Since 2001 a total of 20 Israelis have been killed by Gaza rocket attacks. About 1750 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed by Israel since 2005. While Israel vacated its permanent military and colonist infrastructure in Gaza in 2005, the HagueRegulations and the Fourth Geneva Convention make clear that “occupation” depends on more than just aconstant physical military presence. Because Israel controls access to Gaza, reserves the right to intervenemilitarily, and controls Gaza infrastructure (e.g. water, electricity, fuel, radio and TV frequencies), amongother things, Israel continues to have obligations as occupier under international law.The people of Gaza cannot get out, and supplies cannot get in. They are like ducks in a shooting gallery. Shame on Israel. Shame on Egypt. And shame on the rest of the world for allowing this to happen. Never again applies to everyone!

Hamas and possibly other armed groups in Gaza have engaged in indiscriminate rocket attacks into populated areas in Israel in violation of international humanitarian law. Since 2001, aproximately 20 Israelis have been killed by Qassam rockets [fired from outside by guerillas].  In the past week, about 550 Gazans have been killed and 2,500 injured in the Israeli assault on Gaza.  Hamas has been firing rockets for 8 years, and the Palestinians have been under Israeli occupation for 60 years.

Hamas was democratically elected and they have repeated several times that they would accept the state of Israel and sign a permanent peace treaty if Israel dismantles its illegal settlements in Palestine and withdraws to the 1967 borders.

Israel has a right to self defense, but as Human Rights Watch has pointed out“Israel’s rightful self-defense against unlawful rocket attacks does not justify a blockade that denies civilians the food, fuel and medicine needed to survive, a policy amounting to collective punishment,” said Joe Stork, acting director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division. “Gazans can’t turn on the lights, get tap water, buy enough food, or earn a living without Israel’s consent.”   The UN has reported that Gazans were living without power for up to 16 hours each day; half of Gaza’s population was receiving water only once a week for a few hours; 80% of the water in Gaza did not meet World Health Organization standards for drinking; the unemployment rate had risen to almost 50%; only 23 of 3900 industrial enterprises were operational; more than 79% were living below the poverty line; more than 56% were food insecure; and patients with chronic illnesses such as cancer or diabetes could not be adequately treated or cared for.  In January 2008, UN Special Rapporteur John Dugard stated, “a distinction must be drawn between acts of mindless terror, such as acts committed by Al Qaeda, and acts committed in the course of a war of national liberation against colonialism, apartheid or military occupation. While such acts cannot be justified, they must be understood as being a painful but inevitable consequence of colonialism, apartheid or occupation.” Israeli government and Palestinian violence can in no way be viewed as symmetrical—individual Palestinians have chosen to resist their occupiers with largely inneffective home-made rockets, while the Israeli state, which boasts the fourth most powerful military in the world, has responded by collectively punishing the captive population that it illegally occupies. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, collective punishment, targeted assassinations, and destruction of the infrastructure of an occupied territory are war crimes. As the occupier, the burden is on Israel to end its state violence.

3 - Hamas is hiding behind civilians as “human shields” and that is the only reason civilians are being hit. Israel dropped leaflets first warning people to get out before the bombs fell and is trying to “minimize civilian casualties”, and Hamas is blamed for not letting the civilians leave after Israel issued the warnings


: Video of a CBS news report interviewing a Norwegian doctor in Gaza reporting on the situation at his hospital where at least 50% of the casualties are civilians.  He says that this is an all out war on the civilian population in Gaza, and they cannot flee because they are fenced in and cannot escape.  Israel is bombing 1.5 million people who are trapped in a cage.  The people are not allowed to leave Gaza, and if they run from their own home, they are simply running to a different part of Gaza where they hope they won’t be hit by the bombs.  Save the Children says that at least 13,000 children have had to flee their own homes in this way, and the UN is pleading with Israel to allow Gazans to leave to escape the violence.

Even before the current Israeli assault began Gaza was an occupied territory under a blockade.  The 1.5 million residents could only get out with Israel’s permission at the Israeli borders and by sea, and with Egypt’s permission at the Israeli borders.  These were all closed, and no one or no thing could get in or out without permission.  Recently a Free Gaza boat attempting to bring supplies by sea was rammed by the Israeli Navy and diverted, badly damaged, to Lebanon.  The people of Gaza are almost completely dependent on Israel for fuel, electricity, medicine, food, and other essential commodities.  Sometimes something will be allowed in, sometimes not.  Sometimes people can get to their work or their farm land and sometimes they cannot.  If Israel really dropped such leaflets, it is a cruel joke, especially since there are now reports that Israel is using illegal chemical weapons.

4 - The people of Gaza are called “the deported scum of Egypt” who “can’t be left in Gaza at all, if Israel’s people are to live”.


:  This is simply vicious, racist prejudice and deserves no response except scorn.

5 - It is all lies or “fiction” that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, that there is a food shortage, that food and medical supplies have been kept from crossing the border into Gaza, that civilians are being targeted


:  Christopher Gunness, spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), said the agency has been unable to get needed medical supplies into Gaza for more than a year, because of Israel’s blockade of border crossings.

The International Committee for the Red Cross says that Israel blocks its medical team into Gaza.  Before Saturday’s Israeli invasion, Gaza was already the scene of a humanitarian emergency, owing to a crippling international embargo and strict Israeli blockade of the area, UN spokesperson Adnan Abu Hasna said. ... “Gaza is a prison. No Palestinian is allowed to go out or to get in. Eighty percent of Gaza’s population are refugees and non-refugees who rely on the UN aid. We are talking about an area where 750,000 Palestinian refugees depend entirely on food aid offered by the UN agencies. We are talking about an over 50 percent unemployment rate. What is happening in Gaza now surpasses the capacities of any humanitarian organization.”  He also said that in recent days Israel has allowed hundreds of tons of food aid and medicine into the Gaza strip and that the UN had begun distributing the food aid. It was not enough, however, he said, because “We are talking about hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.”

Are the eyewitness accunts all lies?

Eyewitness Accounts

: Chaos in Gaza, BBC - Marna house, Gaza city, Vittorio Arrigoni - Gaza:  Oh What a Day!, Cynthia McKinney -  Beit Hanoon, Gaza, Ewa Jasiewicz -  Do Israel pilots feel happy killing innocent women and children?, Fida Qishta   - ‘People Are Being Killed in Their Homes’, Jenny Linnel

6 - Perhaps most shockingly one individual writes that the Palestinians ”... have received $101.32 MILLION in aid money as of 12/31/08!!!! Now I really need someone to tell me that these would not sacrifice 400 people for this amount of money! Please, how does this war really hurt them?  They sacrifice the people that are of no consequence, to have the sympathy of the Jew-haters of the world…”


Israel receives about $3 billion in direct foreign assistance each year, which is roughly one-fifth of America’s entire foreign aid budget. ...  It has been the largest annual recipient of direct U.S. economic and military assistance since 1976 and the largest total recipient since World War ll.  ...  In 2007, the US provided $50 million for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s West Bank and Gaza program, as well as $77 million directly to the Palestinian Authority. 

To even suggest that the Palestinians are so inhuman that they are willing to sacrifice their children for a sum of money is ludicrous.  Israel is the one dropping the bombs that are killing these civilians.  How exactly have they been selected for sacrifice by the Palestinians?  What price would any of us put on our families?  The aid given to the Palestinians (West Bank and Gaza) comes to about $8,000 per person, would that be worth sacrificing a life for to any normal human being?  This is an attempt to make an entire people seem less than human.

7 - Israel has made the desert bloom, the Palestinians live in squalor  Israel left Gaza to create peace and this was a mistake.

Response:  Israel never really left, it still occupies Gaza’s airspace and coastal waters and controls all entrances and exits.

Is there any resolution possible?

There is blame on all sides - and attempting to argue about who is most to blame, who started what (all the way back to 1948 in this ongoing dispute), whether or not one action or another is justified retaliation, resistance to occupation, or unjustified provocation doesn’t help the situation.  There is wrong on both sides in the current crisis, and both sides have blamed everything on the other side.  Hamas is a danger to Israel and to the Palestinian people.  The militant settlers are a danger to the Palestinians and to the Israeli people.  The people in Sderot are afraid.  The people of Palestine, particularly Gaza are afraid, cold, and hungry.

We need two states with security and justice for all.  We need to get past the rhetoric on both sides and attempt to find mutual ground from which to try and help stop the violence and create a peaceful solution for everyone.

Right now people are dying.  A top U.N. official, Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, said that the U.N. believes at least 25 percent of the casualties in Gaza are civilians.  He called on both Israel and Hamas to refrain from what he called “indiscriminate” and “disproportionate” attacks, and expressed hope that a cease-fire will be reached very quickly.

Today, we need to stop the violence.  We need to find a way to stop the killing on both sides and start the talking.  Any resolution will need to ensure peace and justice for all parties in the current humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Gaza Strip.  The Palestinians have a right to freedom from occupation, and an end to the Israeli blockade of humanitarian supplies to Gaza.  The Israeli’s have a right to security from Qassem rockets.  The ceasefire should be restored and fully respected by both sides.

Rabbi Brent Rosen has summed all of this up beautifully:

Of course the Qassam attacks against Southern Israel have been intolerable. Of course Hamas bears its share of responsibility for this conflict. But beyond the rhetorical “well, he started it” arguments (which could stretch well back to 1948 and beyond) there remains the central question: what will bring safety, security and ultimately peace to this tortured region? I realize there are no easy answers, but I believe to my marrow that it will not come by sending in the war planes and reducing what’s left of Gaza to rubble.

Does anyone in their right mind truly think this abject destruction will ultimately bring safety and security to Southern Israel?  In the end, Every Gazan killed equals that many more family members and friends who will now be forever enraged and inflamed against the Jewish state. If peace depends largely on cultivating moderates on the other side, what does blowing them to smithereens accomplish? Believe me, if Israel ultimately thinks their attacks will turn Gazans against Hamas, they will be sorely disappointed. If forced to choose between Israel and Hamas, who do we really think they will choose now?

But even more than the strategic considerations, I am infinitely more troubled by the deeper moral implications of Israel’s military actions. Yes, it is true that Hamas chose to end the ceasefire and yes, Israel has few good options. But it was ultimately Israel who made the decision to bombard Gaza with a massive air attack, loosing many several hundreds of bombs into densely populated city center, virtually guaranteeing widespread civilian carnage and death.

As I write these words, I can already predict the standard moral calculus: “Yes, but Hamas purposely launches Qassams into civilian areas while Israel tries to minimize civilian casualties whenever possible.”  I’m coming to realize that pat rhetorical equations like these might serve to help us sleep better at night, but they don’t change some basic unavoidable truths: that in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the military power dynamic is heavily weighted in Israel’s favor, that Hamas’ Qassams are but peashooters against Israel’s armed might and ultimately, as traumatic as it undoubtedly is to live in Sderot, Palestinian civilian casualties vastly outnumber Israel’s. And in the end, it matters little to the loved one of a dead civilian whether or not his/her death was caused intentionally or by “collateral damage.”

Right now both Israeli’s and Palestinians feel threatened and fearful.  People who feel threatened do not react rationally when facing threats. Those of us in the U.S. whether Christian, Muslim, or Jewish should have the ability to look at this situation and attempt to see what we can do together to stop the violence and save lives on both sides.

As Imran Musaji has pointed out:

We need food and shelter to build social bonds and establish security. Once those needs are met, we can pursue a job, a family. Only when these foundational needs are met can we begin to pursue the higher ideals of art, science, philosophy, religion, ethics.

We are complex creatures, and such generalizations are incomplete, but ask yourself, what happens when you strip a people of all the foundational needs? If you destroy the infrastructure providing clean water and energy, if you starve them and cut off all food and medicine, if you bomb their shelters, bulldoze their homes, decimate their families?

If, God forbid, someone were to do that to any American city, do you really think we would maintain strong ethics and morals? Or would we lash out? Would we act like any caged animal exposed to cruelty and denied essentials. I have only to look at what happened in New Orleans to know the answer.

So while I detest all violence, I find myself looking at the current situation with Palestine and Israel and noticing one country has everything and the other has nothing—no food, no medicine, no money, no shelter, no security. Who should be held responsible for holding to their idealized ethics and morals and religious duties, that highest pinnacle of “Thou shalt not kill”? And, when one side is reduced to lashing out with whatever they have left, their own lives wrapped in bombs, yes it is despicable, animal, inhuman—but isn’t that the point?

Short of genocide, no amount of bombs or tanks will bring peace to the area—the Palestinians desperation and despair will just grow—and if Israel is willing to go that far, then they too have lost their humanity, but by choice.

And finally, this statement by Robert V. Thompson:

Is there another way? Hamas hurls rockets and sends suicide bombers into Israel.  The Israeli government uses deadly force against Gazans.  This cycle of violence is apparently the only definition of force that either side understands. 

How about the use of moral force?  It’s true that moral force requires greater courage, tenacity and the willingness to take risks. Take the example of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat who in 1977 took a 28 minute flight to Israel.  Sadat called it a “sacred mission”.  This bold act represented creative use of moral force and it caught everyone off guard. When Sadat said that the “wall created between us and Israel must be knocked down”—this was an act inspired by moral courage. 

The world is sorely in need of a Sadat like initiative based not on military but moral force.   

Moral force recognizes that the means and ends cannot be separated. 

No on put it better than Martin Luther King who said, “is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. And the alternative to disarmament, the alternative to a greater suspension of nuclear tests, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world, may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation, and our earthly habitat would be transformed into an inferno that even the mind of Dante could not imagine.”

Martin Luther King showed us the way to peace is through nonviolence and he reminded us that there is a relationship between means and ends.

Hamas seeks the destruction of Israel and the Israeli government seeks the destruction of Hamas. Both are blind to the relationship between means and ends.

Where will it end? When will it end?

If not now, when?  If not us, who?


Inaction Is a Choice (regularly updated list of things YOU can do to help bring an end to this terrible violence, resources, and articles about the conflict)