Sarah Helm at the Independent: 3700 words of Hamas-friendly propaganda

Sarah Helm is not a journalist. She’s more akin to a pro-Palestinian activist whose visceral contempt for Israel at times bleeds off the page, and has included tweets expressing support for Hamas violence and even justifying antisemitism.

Sarah Helm is not a journalist. 

As we’ve revealed previously, she’s more akin to a pro-Palestinian activist – one whose visceral contempt for Israel at times bleeds off the page.  In one of her Tweets, Helms seemed to express support for Hamas right of ‘resistance’, and in another one blamed Israel for inciting antisemitism against Jews in the UK.

Hamas couldn’t possibly have asked for a Western journalist more sympathetic to their cause.

Yet, her flagrant disregard for any semblance of fairness or objectivity hasn’t seemed to harm her credibility with editors of major British media outlets, as some continue to publish her pieces – the latest of which appeared in The Independent (‘Will he lose his leg?’: Thousands of Gaza protesters facing life-altering injuries from Israeli high velocity bullets, Nov. 11).

The propagandistic nature of the piece begins with the photo, glamourising Palestinian ‘resistance’, and continues in the headline, with the reference to the IDF’s “high-velocity” bullets, falsely imputing Israeli cruelty, when, in fact, “high velocity” bullets are the norm for sniper rifles used by Western armies. 

As she wrote on twitter to promote her Indy piece, summing up the central narrative, Israel is “maiming a new generation” of Palestinians.

According to Helm, Israeli snipers are, without legitimate military justification, cruelly firing at and permanently maiming Palestinian civilians, including children, by the thousands. 

Indeed, Helm expressed her views about the “inhumanity” of Israeli soldiers’ actions at the border on multiple occasions, such as in this tweet from April.

Helm isn’t reporting from inside Gaza, so bases most of her work on quotes from doctors – Palestinian and international – who provide detailed descriptions of the victims’ wounds, whilst lamenting the dire situation for hospitals trying to cope with the heavy volume of patients.  Yet, her reports of Palestinian suffering are completely context-free, ignoring the fact that the weekly riots are instigated by Hamas, who, if they were concerned about Palestinian suffering, and the burden on their fledgling healthcare system, could easily – as authoritarian leaders with complete control over the territory – put an end to the provocations.  

But, Helm is among those within the British media who insist on denying Palestinians agency – casting them and their leaders as passive actors, victims of the only party that matters – Israel.  Helm – like other foreign journalists reporting form the region – never asks the most intuitive questions:

  • Is there a Western army in the world that wouldn’t use potentially lethal force when faced of thousands of violent rioters – many of whom are fighters associated with proscribed terror groups – attempting to breach their border?
  • Why, in the face of shortages of doctors and surgical equipment, does Hamas encourage riots which will inevitably result in more serious injuries?
  • Why, in the face of poverty and a myriad of social and economic woes, does Hamas use precious resources – including millions in international aid – for rockets, attack tunnels and other military projects?

However, in addition to the misleading narrative, and the questions left unexplored, Helm’s article is replete with distortions and factual errors.

Helm claims that “2 million Palestinians are penned inside the strip” by Israel’s blockade, whilst ignoring the fact that thousands leave the strip weekly for medical care, commerce and other humanitarian reasons, and failing to note that Egypt also imposes a blockade.

Helm misleading suggests that UN resolution 194 in 1948 guaranteed Palestinians the right to return, when, as CAMERA has demonstrated, 194 is a U.N. General Assembly Resolution and not a U.N. Security Council measure, and there is non-binding. Further, Resolution 194 does not specify ‘Palestinian Arab refugees’, only “refugees”, so could be understood as “applying to all refugees from the 1948 War, including the 850,000 Jewish citizens of Arab countries who were expelled”.  Further, there are only 20,000 or so actual Palestinian refugees from 1948 still alive, and there’s nothing in the text of 194 that can be interpreted as pertaining to the right of return to descendants of those refugees.

Helm claims that Gaza is still “occupied” as if it’s a fact, rather than a highly disputed claim, and asserts falsely that this “occupation” of Gaza since 1967 is “illegal”.  However, whilst most consider Israeli settlements built in ‘occupied’ territory to be illegal, there is no legal consensus whatsoever that the occupation itself (Israel’s acquiring land as a result of a defensive war) is illegal – facts noted by CAMERA in prompting a NY Times correction to a similar allegation.

Helm bizarrely claims the Israeli blockade has hurt the chances of a two-state peace deal, a reversal of cause and effect, ignoring that the blockade against weaponry to the strip was instituted to protect against a terrorist group which rejects the very idea of peace talks, and is committed, in their founding charter, to Israel’s destruction.

Helm writes that on the “first day” of the border riots, “60 of the protesters were dead”.  However, on the first day, March 31, 16 were killed, not 60, and, of the 16 dead, 10 were identified by the IDF as terrorists (Hamas or other terror groups).  Even Hamas acknowledged that five of the dead were their members.  It’s possible that Helm is conflating casualties on the first day with that of the casualties on May 14 and 15, in which 62 Palestinians were killed. However, if that’s the case, then Helm fails to reveal that Hamas acknowledged that 50 of those 62 were their members, whilst other terror groups claimed three more as affiliated with their groups.

Helm fails to challenge a quote by an unidentified British surgeon comparing the violence on the Gaza border “to the massacre at Amritsar, where in 1919 the British Indian army fired their rifles into a crowd of unarmed Indians in the Punjab”.  However, during the Amritsar massacre, a crowd of peaceful Indian demonstrators protesting British rule were fired upon without warning and without mercy, killing 379.  Palestinian ‘demonstrators’, including Hamas terrorists, have engaged in violent rioting, using firebombs and other weapons in attempts – sometimes successfully.- to infiltrate into Israel.  However, even then they’re given warnings by the IDF as they proceed closer to the border, and non-lethal riot control methods are used before more force is used.

Helm also quotes the head of the Red Cross in Gaza to suggest that the situation there is worse than wars in Darfur and Afghanistan – a breathtaking comparison given that the death toll in the Afghanistan war is over 100,000, and the death toll during in the Darfur genocide (which included mass torture and child rape as weapons of war) was in the hundreds of thousands.  Roughly 170 Palestinians – a large number of them associated with terror groups – have been killed since the violent riots began.

Helm also writes that Gazans only get six hours of electricity a day, ignoring the recent increase to between 9 and 16 hours a day.

Helm quotes Breaking the Silence founder Yehuda Shaul suggesting that Israel is using “high-velocity” sniper rifles merely to sow terror, not for any operational requirements, and further asks why they don’t use rubber bullets.  However, the IDF initially tried rubber bullets, but that they were ineffective due to the distances involved.

Helm then makes the following claim, demonstrating, at best, a staggering naivety:

Palestinian doctors, who unlike international colleagues see no reason to self-censor their views, are entirely clear about what they believe to be Israel’s objective. Nasser Abu Shaban, a consultant surgeon in Gaza, says: “It is as if they are trying to maim an entire new generation.”

Palestinian doctors in Gaza live under Hamas rule, and it’s hard to fathom how Helm can maintain that they – or anyone giving a statement there in an official capacity – would have “no reason to self-censor”.  Even the anti-Israel group Human Rights Watch acknowledges that Hamas routinely carries out “arbitrary arrests for peaceful criticism of the authorities”, detentions which often include beatings and torture.

The concluding paragraph of Helms’ piece, attempting to illustrate the social ills unleashed by Israeli actions on the border, speaks volumes:

Naheel, in her 60s, reveals another tragedy: her daughter’s husband, jobless and desperate, went to the buffer zone hoping to die but was injured instead, and has since lost his mind, and regularly abuses his wife. “So my daughter is divorcing him,” says Naheel. “Gaza is hell. Nobody deserves this. Look at the streets, they are full of men and kids with legs full of metal pins.”

So, let’s get this straight: Israel soldiers, by NOT using lethal force on Naheel’s son-in-law, cruelly denied him his wish to die and become a martyr, which left him so angry that he went insane and began beating his wife, who then divorced him – a causality that not only strains credulity, but also suggests (to paraphrase Orwell) that there are some ideas so absurd that only anti-Israel journalists could believe them.

Gaza may, as Naheel’s son-in-law suggests, be hell, but it would likely be a lot less hellish if its culture didn’t embrace martyrdom and Israel’s destruction as their highest aspirations, and if the West ceased infantilizing Palestinians, and instead treated them as moral agents whose choices have an impact on their economic and political outcomes. 

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