Monday, January 28, 2008

Gaza And Flour Power: The Media

Martin Kramer writes about another example of the gullibility of the media when it describes the situation in Gaza--this time from a Boston Globe op-ed entitled "Ending the Stranglehold on Gaza." The issue boils down to a single sentence:
Although Gaza daily requires 680,000 tons of flour to feed its population, Israel had cut this to 90 tons per day by November 2007, a reduction of 99 percent.
Kramer does the math:
You don't need to be a math genius to figure out that if Gaza has a population of 1.5 million, as the authors also note, then 680,000 tons of flour a day come out to almost half a ton of flour per Gazan, per day.
But this is not a one-time typographical error. Tthe writers of the piece--Eyad al-Sarraj, founder of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, and Sara Roy, senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University--have made this same claim before:
The two authors used the same "statistic" in an earlier piece. They copied it from an article published in the Ahram Weekly last November, which reported that "the price of a bag of flour has risen 80 per cent, because of the 680,000 tonnes the Gaza Strip needs daily, only 90 tonnes are permitted to enter." Sarraj and Roy added the bit about this being "a reduction of 99 percent."

Note how an absurd and impossible "statistic" has made its way up the media feeding chain. It begins in an Egyptian newspaper, is cycled through a Palestinian activist, is submitted under the shared byline of a Harvard "research scholar," and finally appears in the Boston Globe, whose editors apparently can't do basic math. Now, in a viral contagion, this spreads across the Internet, where that "reduction of 99 percent" becomes a well-attested fact.
The truth about how much flour is actually consumed in Gaza is readily available--and far less than what is being claimed
I see from a 2007 UN document that Gaza consumes 450 tons of flour daily. The Palestinian Ministry of Economy, according to another source, puts daily consumption at 350 tons. So the figure for total consumption retailed by Sarraj and Roy is off by more than three orders of magnitude, i.e. a factor of 1,000. No doubt, there's less flour shipped from Israel into Gaza--maybe it's those rocket barrages from Gaza into Israel?--but even if it's only the 90 tons claimed by Sarraj and Roy, it isn't anything near a "reduction of 99 percent." Unfortunately, if readers are going to remember one dramatic "statistic" from this op-ed, this one is it--and it's a lie.
But seriously--if the media cannot notice that Hamas is lighting candles in the middle of the day, how can you possibly expect them to do simple arithmetic. No wonder that their stories on Israel just don't add up.

[Hat tip: The Corner]

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