King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia released a statement Friday that touched on the violence in Gaza. The text was issued on Saudi state-run television and mentioned terrorism, Islam, Islam and terrorism, war crimes — basically, a whole host of bad things. And it touched off rampant speculation.
The gist of the statement is that it’s bad when people conduct acts of terrorism in the name of Islam. King Abdullah goes on to reaffirm the Saudi commitment to fighting terrorism, but expresses disappointment with everyone else’s follow-up on earlier proposals for an International Center for Counter-Terrorism. He then expresses extreme dismay at all the death and madness in Gaza — without actually mentioning the words Hamas or Israel.
An uninformed observer could be forgiven for assuming that Hamas and Israel are fighting in two completely different places called Gaza. According to some media coverage, in one Gaza, Israel is committing war crimes and atrocities hither, thither, and yon while Hamas nobly defends innocents. An entirely different group of media is apparently covering a Gaza in which Hamas are unhinged killers bent on Israel's destruction, and Israel is bending over backward to avoid civilian casualties while defending itself from the relentless assault.
Different groups of journalists, activists, journalists acting like activists, and activists trying to pass themselves off as journalists have wildly different reads on what the King said.
So it probably shouldn't be any surprise that these different groups of journalists, activists, journalists acting like activists, and activists trying to pass themselves off as journalists all have wildly different reads on what the King said.
For example, the Associated Press (via ABC News) takes the statement as a condemnation of the war in general, accusing both Israel and Hamas of committing "various forms" of terrorism. Meanwhile, NBC was working with copy from Reuters, and summarized the King’s message as an accusation that Israel is committing “war crimes against humanity and mass slaughter.” (Although the article does note that the King is none too happy with Hamas, either.)
The National — a publication out of the United Arab Emirates — described the statement as an indictment of the world’s silence over war crimes being committed in Gaza. But the National noticeably did not say whether it's Israel or Hamas committing the war crimes.
The headline from Al Manar in Lebanon: Saudi King Calls Israeli Incursion "State-Sponsored Terrorism." Al Arabiya, a Saudi outlet, describes the statement as being mostly about counterterrorism with an indirect allusion to Israel. Meanwhile, the Times of Israel notes that the remarks stop short of directly condemning Israel for its ground campaign.
So what did the King really mean to say?
Well, for starters, public statements like this should be read in context. The Middle East is incredibly complex. The various countries, factions, and actors all have many relationships to balance and judge, which they often do imperfectly. The fighting in Gaza has generated such feverish passions that for many observers, it really doesn’t matter what the King intended to say. Supporters of Israel and supporters of Palestine will likely read the statement as supporting their actions and condemning those of their opponents.
In short, the statement means two things. First, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz meant everything he said. Second, what he meant to say is that he completely agrees with you.
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