Published: November 19, 2012 407 Comments
CAIRO — While holding itself out as an honest broker for truce talks between Israel and Hamas over the Gaza conflict, Egypt’s new government sought on Monday to plunge into the battle over international public opinion on behalf of the Palestinian cause — an arena where the Israelis, more experienced in the world of the free press and democratic politics, have historically dominated.
In Egypt’s most concerted effort to win more global public support for the Palestinians, advisers to Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who has been an outspoken supporter of Hamas, invited foreign correspondents in Cairo to a background briefing at which a senior Egyptian official sought to blame Israel for the conflict while at the same time maintaining Egypt’s role as an intermediary pressing both sides for peace. “We are against any bloodshed,” the official said repeatedly, arguing that Egypt sought stability and individual freedom for all in the region.
Speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid upsetting the talks with the Israelis, the Egyptian official argued that the West, which supports Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Gaza, was essentially blaming the victim.
“It is so strange people are talking about the rights of self-defense,” he said. “The self-defense of whom? Of the occupied people? Of the besieged people? Of the hurt people? No, the self-defense of the most powerful state in the region and the self-defense of the occupying force of Gaza and Palestine. This is what some of the international community are talking about.”
He implicitly compared the leaders of Hamas to George Washington in America or Charles de Gaulle in France: Heros because they resisted foreign occupation by armed force. “Now, there is an occupation going on for decades and these people who are suffering this occupation are trying to resist, are trying to gain their rights,” the official said. “But we are saying no, they don’t have the rights, they have to stay calm, be killed, be occupied, be besieged, and the self-defense is the right of the occupier.”
The official called this “a huge manifestation of double standards that we will not allow.”
He argued that there was “no comparison” between the level of force used by both sides, and that the Western media had wrongly adopted Israel’s use of the term “rockets” to describe Hamas missiles that were better described as primitive “projectiles.” And he compared the Israeli killing of the top Hamas military official, Ahmed al-Jabari, which in Hamas’s view started the battle, to a hypothetical assassination of Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak. “What would be the reaction of the Israelis? Then can you understand the reaction of the other side?”
Echoing an account presented by President Morsi, the Egyptian official said that Israel’s killing of Mr. Jabari had broken an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire agreement that both sides had accepted the day before Mr. Jabari was targeted.
The Egyptian official said that Mr. Morsi had asked President Obama to help press Israel to agree to a cease-fire, while Mr. Obama in turn had encouraged Mr. Morsi to work on both the Israelis and the Palestinians, since Egypt was already in contact with both sides. The Morsi administration appreciated President Obama’s efforts, the official said, though he added: “We differ on the blame issue, because the blame should not be directed toward the Palestinians in Gaza; the blame should be directed toward the occupation.”
In a sign of the Egyptian government’s inexperience at such public-relations campaigns, the official sought to reinforce his points by distributing a handout printed from the Internet, where it had circulated widely without clear authorship. It was titled “10 things you need to know about Gaza,” with headings like “Prison Camp” and “(Un) fair fight.”