As a zone of ongoing, large-scale bloodletting Darfur, in western Sudan, has big appeal for US news editors. Americans are not doing the killing, or paying for others to do it. So there’s no need to minimize the slaughter with the usual drizzle of “allegations.” There’s no political risk here in sounding off about genocide in Darfur. The crisis in Darfur is also very photogenic.
When the RENAMO gangs, backed by Ronald Reagan and the apartheid regime in South Africa, were butchering Mozambican peasants, the news stories were sparse and the tone usually tentative in blame-laying. Not so with Darfur, where moral outrage on the editorial pages acquires the robust edge endemic to sermons about interethnic slaughter where white people, and specifically the US government, aren’t obviously involved.
Since March 1 the New York Times has run seventy news stories on Darfur (including sixteen pieces from wire services), fifteen editorials and twenty-one signed columns, all but one by Nicholas Kristof.
Darfur is primarily a “feel good” subject for people here who want to agonize publicly about injustices in the world but who don’t really want to do anything about them. After all, it’s Arabs who are the perpetrators and there is ultimately little that people in this country can do to effect real change in the policy of the government in Khartoum.
Now, Gaza is an entirely different story. The American public as well as the US government have a great deal of control over what is happening there. It is Israel, America’s prime ally in the Middle East, that is on a day-to-day basis, with America’s full support, inflicting appalling brutalities on a civilian population. To report in any detail on what’s going on in Gaza means accusing the United States of active complicity in terrible crimes wrought by Israel, as it methodically lays waste a society of 1.4 million Palestinians.
I’m not at all surprised there was a sharp uptick in interest in Darfur at about the time of the Kerem Shalom attack and the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit in Gaza in June of this year. By the time Israel’s campaign of destroying Lebanon got under way this summer (a campaign intricately linked to the Palestine issue), Darfur was hotter still as a distracting topic. Where is Kristof? Couldn’t he trade at least one of his Darfur columns for one on Gaza’s suffering?
Israel’s soldiers are not going to march into Gaza and truck all the inhabitants away. It is simply making the place into a garbage dump picked over by destitute people. The current cease-fire will do nothing to relieve the siege imposed physically, financially and commercially by Israel, the United States and the EU. Israel and its accomplices are sentencing Gaza’s occupants to a living death in situ, with actual death meted out each day to “terrorists” and those unfortunate enough to be in the line of fire, like the family in Beit Hanoun or the schoolteacher by the minibus filled with children (a near miss).