In response to my blog post of July 28, 2006, in which I called him a “truly disgusting racist”, Mitch Potter, the Middle East Bureau Chief of the Toronto Star, wrote the below to me on September 10, 2006 (last year).
I prepared a reply which I will post tomorrow, but I thought I would post his letter to me here first.
(I also watched the preview screening of Amu, which I’ll try to get a review of up soon.)
Mitch Potter’s letter to me:
Whatever you may think of my work, how in good conscience do you come to brand me “a truly disgusting racist” in a public forum?
I have been called many things in my time in the Middle East — in fact, the dominant thrust of my critics after nearly five years of reporting from the region is that I am overempathetic to the plight of Palestinians. But “truly disgusting racist” is an altogether new low.
You completely misunderstand the intent of the phrase “lemming-like,” which in fact was written to remind readers of the terribly mismatched battles in Gaza, battles that I have written about repeatedly since 2002. It goes like this: whenever an Israeli armoured column so much as nudges the edge of a refugee camp, lightly armed gunmen from Izzidine al-Qassam Brigades, Al Aksa Martyr Brigades and as many as a half-dozen other groups at any given time pour forth to their almost certain death.
I have asked Palestinian militant leaders many times why they pursue this particularly self-defeating strategy of confronting Israeli tanks, when these very same groups have demonstrated a greater military sophistication in the planning and execution of certain other attacks, such as the June 24 tunnel-born raid that resulted in the capture of Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit.
The answer is that the reaction is by rote. Or, rather, lemming-like. When tanks are on the doorstep, emotion takes over, and many Palestinian fighters launch themselves spontaneously into the losing end of a decidedly unfair fight. Some Israeli military officials, in fact, have been quoted as calling these engagements “unfair” in Israel’s favour for that very reason.
According to sociologists I have spoken to and quoted extensively from Gaza (Google my article the “Lost Boys of Gaza” for context) the impulse is somehow connected to feelings of powerlessness. In other words, Palestinian fighters are drawn out not by the promise of certain death, but rather, the subconscious need to feel they are somehow taking control of a situation that has left their entire community powerless.
Sociologists also say a similar impulse contributes to the high casuality rate among Palestinian boys. In Palestinian society, as in the broader society of the Arab world, the father is the traditional symbol of power and authority. Yet many of the boys of Gaza appear to be turning away from their helpless fathers and instead identify more with the “father figure” of armed gunmen in their streets, who are the only ones to demonstrate strength. There are many terrible ways that children die by Israeli weaponry. But one of them, I believe, includes the fact that the children are drawn to being with the militants in the streets.
It is sick. And the sickness, in my view, is one of the by-products of multiple generations of Israeli occupation.
The reality of daily print journalism is that not every story comes replete with the context it deserves. There is neither the space nor the time. And the story you cite on your Blog could have benefited from more.
That said, I have written dozens of lengthy, contextual reports from Gaza, the West Bank and many points beyond that have an afterlife on the Web. I challenge you to find even one to support the slur you so cavalierly attach to my name.
Middle East Bureau Chief
Toronto Star of Canada