Friday, March 02, 2007

The Real Issue With The Greenhouse Pictures

When I started researching the greenhouse pictures that appeared on LGF, I assumed that they were what Charles wanted people to believe they were -- before and after pictures of a greenhouse left by the Israelis for the Palestinians. I was curious because the Israelis left Gaza in 2005, and I wondered why LGF is "reporting" this issue in 2007. I wondered whether the story had been presented in full context.

This is important because defenders of LGF say that it's merely a "free speech site" that posts stories that can't be found on the "liberal" mainstream media. They say that Johnson, the site's owner, does little more than post news stories from around the world. If these stories show that Islam is a violent religion or that Muslims are prone to violence and terrorism, well, too bad if you can't handle the "truth."

Let's take a look at this defense, first in the abstract, then in the concrete.

In the abstract, what if I created a blog devoted to reporting news articles about Jews that were accused or convicted of some kinds of economic crimes, frauds, together with any other articles that cast Jews in an unflattering light. Then let's say that I permitted discussion of those articles, by registered members only, and that I revoked the registration of any members whose comments did not conform more or less to the ugly stereotype that Jews were greedy and untrustworthy in business matters. Wouldn't that be an anti-semitic web site? It's pretty obvious that it would be, and rightly condemned as such.

Even if all the news articles were true?

Yes, because it's reporting only a portion of the truth. When a witness testifies in court, he swears to tell the "whole truth." My hypothetical collection of news reports is no more the whole truth about Jews and Judaism than LGF's highly selective choice of articles is the whole truth about Islam and Arabs. It is absurd to defend this practice by claiming that he's "just posting news articles."

The bigotry is reflected not only in the selection of articles, but in Johnson's editorializing as well. The claim that Johnson merely "reports" in a neutral fashion is demonstrably false.

The recent posting of the greenhouse pictures is a good example. Johnson had posted a story from the New York Sun about Palestinians using land in Gaza on which synagogues had once stood as bases for launching rockets into Israel. But Johnson didn't just post this article, he added editorial comment. He posted pictures which he says are "before and after" photos of a Gaza greenhouse, and he wrote:

And as we pointed out last October, the high-tech greenhouses built by Israelis, that formerly provided employment for many Palestinians, have been looted, burned, and turned into cover for weapons smuggling tunnels.
In fact, the greenhouses were turned over in 2005, so why is Johnson posting this in 2007? Because he's not just "delivering the news," he's advancing a point of view and trying to reinforce an ugly stereotype about the Palestinians. The clear suggestion is that "these people" are just violent animals who destroy anything of value and therefore don't deserve to be treated with any humanity, etc. All institutionalized bigotry requires dehumanization of the victims.

The real story about the greenhouses is far more tragic than reported by Johnson and amply serve to illustrate just how complex and tragic the situation in Gaza is. In a nutshell, wealthy Americans, led by a Jewish investor, raised $14 million to purchase the greenhouses and turn them over to the Palestinian authority. A noble gift, but which turned out to be something of a white elephant. The PA was required to spend $30 million to repair the greenhouses. The Palestinians produced a bumper crop of fruits and vegetables, but they ended up destroying the crop because the border was closed and there was no way to export the crop (there was no domestic market for them, because Palestinians already produce, in their existing greenhouses, enough fruits and vegetables for domestic consumption.)

More info here and here.

So the truth is much different and for more complex than the "Palestinian animals destroy valuable Israeli property" story reported in LGF.

Now that we now know that Johnson knew that the pictures were not of the same greenhouse, we have to ask, why did he put them together and label them as "before" and "after" pictures?

The best defense of this is that the before picture accurately shows what the greenhouses looked like when the Israelis owned them, and the after picture accurately shows what the greenhouses now look like in the hands of the Palestinians. Ok, that would be a fair comment, if true.

But it's not true. The truth is that most of the hi-tech greenhouses were restored by the Palestinians (after the Israelis removed the most valuable equipment from them). Here are some excerpts from an article published in the New York Times in November, 2005.

Less than three months after the Israelis departed, Palestinians have repaired scores of greenhouses left by the settlers and planted a fall crop, and they are preparing to harvest an estimated $20 million worth of strawberries, cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers and herbs and spices. . . .

The Israeli military demolished the settlers' homes before leaving in September, and piles of smashed concrete have yet to be removed. Some greenhouses were looted by Palestinians in the chaotic days after the Israeli withdrawal, but today they are hives of activity, filled with the sounds of power saws and hammers at work. . . .

When the Jewish settlers came to Gaza decades ago, they developed innovative techniques for cultivating high-quality fruits and vegetables in the barren sand dunes, where fresh water is scarce. When the Israeli farmers started leaving, they took their most valuable equipment with them, and some greenhouses were damaged or destroyed.

James D. Wolfensohn, the envoy for countries involved in Middle East peacemaking, cobbled together a group of wealthy Jewish Americans who pledged $14 million in compensation for the Israeli farmers provided that they left the greenhouses intact. The deal was reached just days before the settlers were evacuated, and it is not clear that it prevented much additional damage to the greenhouses. . .

The Israelis said they had about 1,000 acres of greenhouses in Gaza. But by the time Palestinian officials surveyed the land, they found only a few hundred acres in working condition. "We had to rehabilitate the greenhouses day and night to catch the fall planting season," said Muhammad Bader, who is running the greenhouse project for the Palestine Economic Development Company.

Today, crops are growing on close to 600 acres, and the Palestinians hope to plant on another 200 acres next month.

Last year, Palestinian agricultural exports from the West Bank and Gaza totaled about $80 million, Mr. Bader said. The fall harvest from the Gaza greenhouses could add about $20 million to the total this year, though the exact figure is difficult to predict, he said.

When the Israelis ran the greenhouses, Palestinian workers carried out much of the manual labor. About 3,000 have retained their jobs, and 1,000 workers and 2,000 private guards have been added. A typical worker makes $13 a day.

Not exactly the "Palestinian are animals" story that Johnson wants to report, so he manipulates a couple of photographs to create a story that suits his purpose.

Make no mistake about it, Little Green Footballs is an ugly cesspool of racial and religious hatred. It is devoted to inciting hate against all things Muslim and most things Arab. I admit that is not exactly a novel observation, but I think it's important to keep shining light on LGF, lest LGF achieve its greatest hope, which is to become "mainstream." It is not mainstream, it is fringe.


Jason said...

Oh, and you're a paragon of tolerance? I think not.

Anonymous said...

lol the first post in no way defends johnson's bigotry. "HE'S RUBBER AND YOU'RE GLUE"

Anonymous said...

The NY Times story suggests that the settlers damaged the greenhouses. It carefully omits the fact that after the Israelis withdrew, the Palestinians did massive destruction to the greenhouses. At the time, the PA tried to prevent this destruction, but Hamas encouraged it. Hamas prevailed. It is truly amazing that the update story missed this. This is exactly the sort of omission that Charles would pick up on because it slants what is supposedly an objective story about the greenhouses toward Palestinian achievements despite Israeli oppression. And by the way, the Israelis tried to open the border many times, but Hamas launched attacks, sometimes within hours of openings. The real story here is the struggle between Hamas and the PA. It's apparently too ugly for the NY Times

GirlieMan said...

The first Times article certainly does mention the vandalism by Palestinians. The second article doesn't, because it's not relevant to the point of the article (which was about what happened long after the greenhouses were fixed up). Charles may well pick up on that "omission," but only because he would fail to appreciate that it is not an omission at all.

I don't know your source or sources for the other statements you make. I would be happy to look at them. I doubt very much that the situation is as one dimensional as you suggest, nothing in the Middle East is, especially not in Gaza.

The struggle between the PA and Hamas is very much a big part of the story, and one that has been reported about extensively in the corporate media. It is by no means the whole story.

Anonymous said...

This is about the best take down of LGF I've ever read.


Another example of Johnson's lying by omissions would be the right-wing hysteria around the Egyptian blogger who was jailed for "insulting Islam".

All very true. But what it doesn't mention is that the Egyptian government also bans literature and political activisty by the Islamic Brotherhood.

In other words, Egypt is an American supported authoritarian government that suppresses dissent in general.

Check out Ken Silverstein's article this month in Harper's for a very detailed and very nuanced view of the relationship of Islam and Democracy.

Roger said...

Sometimes it pays to read and think carefully before trying to use NY Times in an anxious tear to smear.

Look carefully what it reveals.

The Jewish greenhouse owners were "compensated" 14 million dollars for something that when running at less than optimum makes 80 million dollars a year!

/There is also something else glaringly obvious. I'll leave that as an exercise.

Anonymous said...

The Jewish greenhouse owners were "compensated" 14 million dollars for something that when running at less than optimum makes 80 million dollars a year!

No. If you read the article, it says that:

The fall harvest from the Gaza greenhouses could add about $20 million to the total this year, though the exact figure is difficult to predict...

So 14 million was offered as compensation on the physical stock. It may have been a reasonable deal. The 20 million is not "pure profit", it's revenue and must also cover materials and labour costs. The opportunity cost here is the scrap value of the greenhouses, or the expected contribution to future revenue if you can take the upfront cost of shipping the greenhouses to new land.

Anonymous said...

"In the abstract, what if I created a blog devoted to reporting news articles about Jews that were accused or convicted of some kinds of economic crimes, frauds, together with any other articles that cast Jews in an unflattering light. Then let's say that I permitted discussion of those articles, by registered members only, and that I revoked the registration of any members whose comments did not conform more or less to the ugly stereotype that Jews were greedy and untrustworthy in business matters. Wouldn't that be an anti-semitic web site? It's pretty obvious that it would be, and rightly condemned as such."

You've summed up why I despise LGF.

I have no problem with any website exposing the cruelty, stupidity, hypocricy and viloence of any race, religion, nationality or culture.

As long as there's balance and honesty and genuine attempts at free debate.

Replace Muslim for Jew and Lgf is like something fresh out of the 1930s.

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