A guest post by blogger Daphne Anson
Reading the Guardian on Israel is always a queasy experience. Were it not for the fact that Harriet Sherwood’s Guardian report of 30 November headed “Israel accused over ‘cruel’ Gaza blockade” reflects the customary tone and thrust of her Jerusalem-based reports concerning Israel, I might have assumed that her willingness to swallow the detrimental assertions of a lynch mob of NGOs hook, line and sinker is just a case of Sherwood being green. Alas, I know better: the Guardian has an agenda, and one that’s in perfect harmony with that of the NGOs who are in the forefront of efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state. In reporting the latters’ report uncritically, with no genuine look at the countervailing facts, Ms Sherwood acts less as correspondent than as cheerleader.
“Gaza‘s 1.5 million people are still suffering from a shortage of construction materials, a ban on exports and severe restrictions on movement six months after Israel agreed to ease its blockade on the territory, according to a report from 21 international organisations”, her opening sentence tells us. “The loosening of the embargo has done little to improve the plight of Gaza’s civilians, according to the coalition, which includes Amnesty, Oxfam, Save the Children, Christian Aid and Medical Aid for Palestinians.” The usual suspects, then, well-known for their antipathy to Israel’s cause – though if we don’t already know that for ourselves we’d be none the wiser, for Ms Sherwood has not volunteered that salient fact. We have to have read the thoroughly researched reports and empirical analyses at the website of NGO Monitor to know who pushes their buttons and why they do and say the things they do.
Like the Guardian itself, the organisations named all peddle the familiar narrative of Palestinian victimhood and Israeli evil that the Guardian under Alan Rusbridger’s editorship has done so much to bolster. The report which they and the sixteen other NGOs involved (many of which are in the forefront of efforts to promote BDS and delegitimize Israel) have just issued, entitled Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza Blockade, tells us, according to Ms Sherwood’s précis:
“Israel agreed to ease its restrictions on goods and materials allowed into Gaza following its attack on a flotilla of aid boats in May, in which nine Turkish activists were killed. Since then the import of food and many other consumer items has resumed, although there is still a ban on exports and severe restrictions on construction materials. Israel argues that the latter could be used by militants for military purposes.”
This is a deplorably shallow and one-sided description. We don’t necessarily expect investigative journalism, but surely we deserve honest reporting. Ms Sherwood has omitted to remind readers (and if any readers need reminding, they are the Guardian’s!) that the “attack” was not on “a flotilla” – it was, by the law and custom of the sea, a legitimate raid on a particular vessel that had refused to cooperate with the Israeli authorities. The flotilla sailed under the auspices of the IHH, a fundamentalist Islamic group with direct links to terrorism. Antisemitic chants had preceded the flotilla’s sailing. “Go back to Auschwitz!” was an audible taunt from the vessel when contacted by Israeli coastal radio operators and asked to put into Ashdod so that its cargo, avowedly of humanitarian supplies for the people of Gaza, could be searched and assessed prior to being sent to its destination overland. Israeli commandos had been brutally beaten with iron bars as they attempted to go aboard, and responded accordingly.
It’s true that there is still a ban on exports – although as Ms Sherwood tells us at the end of her report – strawberries and carnations for European markets are allowed out. (To be precise, starting from last Sunday, 2.5 tons of strawberries and 2,000 blooms are being exported to Europe via the Kerem Shalom crossing.) She tells us, again précising the NGOs’ report, that: “imports of construction materials are 11% of the 2007 pre-blockade levels” and that “Despite having agreed to allow in materials for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to rebuild its schools and clinics damaged or destroyed in the three-week war in 2008-09, Israel has permitted only 7% of the necessary amount.”
While big-noting the report is part and parcel of what we have come to expect from the Guardian, ever-zealous to highlight something, however tenuous, that might damage the image and interests of the Jewish State, in many respects the NGOs – like the Guardian in its enthusiastic airing of their indictment against Israel – have been overtaken and outsmarted by events. Its assertions are nicely diluted by Israeli governmental statistics, more specifically by those of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). Thus, since the beginning of this year, 78 projects, largely concerned with education, health and infrastructure, have been approved for funding – 64 of them since Israel’s easing of the blockade. This past Sunday, 286 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid and commercial products crossed from Israel into Gaza, along 21 imported vehicles. In October, 2569 Palestinians left Gaza through the Erez crossing.
Overall 2794 permits were issued for Palestinians to exit via Erez, including 1456 permits to receive medical treatment in Israel, the West Bank and abroad. There represented a 84% increase in the number of businessmen (780) leaving Gaza; 59 diplomatic delegations (223 persons) entered Gaza. There was a 21% increase in the volume of truckloads entering Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing and Karni Conveyor. During the month 4356 trucks entered Gaza. The items they carried included clothing and footwear (118 trucks), electrical goods (246), foodstuffs (1715), home wares (79), construction material (143), motor vehicles (160), and agricultural equipment (138). And there were many other positive developments of that sort, such as students leaving to pursue higher education elsewhere. These are the figures for only one month. They are likely to improve. There is illicit exporting to Egypt through up to 20 tunnels, mainly of such raw materials as aluminium, copper, and scrap metal, as well as of eggs and poultry. (Last Friday, the Israeli Air Force made a direct hit on a smuggling tunnel in southern Gaza, which had been targeted in response to rockets fired at Israel’s southern communities over the previous three days.) See weekly and monthly COGAT statistics here.
The NGOs’ report is nothing if not thorough in its hatchet-job on Israel. Thus, from Ms Sherwood, we learn: ‘Israel is maintaining an overall ban on the movement of people, with the number of permits granted to people to leave Gaza less than 1% of the number 10 years ago, the report says. There has been a rise in the number of businesspeople allowed to travel, “but ordinary Gaza residents are still denied access to their friends and family, and to educational opportunities in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and abroad”’
‘There has been no change on the “buffer zone” around Gaza’s perimeters, which swallows 35% of Gaza’s arable land and 85% of maritime fishing waters “with devastating impact on the economy and people’s rights and livelihoods … Boundaries of the restricted areas are highly arbitrary and enforced by live fire,” says the report. Since the blockade was eased six months ago, six civilians have been killed and 50 injured by Israeli fire in the buffer zone.’
Nobody, it seems, has thought to suggest that the blame for this situation lies not with a sovereign country defending its population from attack but with the genocidal anti-Semitic terrorist thugs comprising Hamas. Here again, events have conspired against the NGOs’ conclusions: if Gazans are so unhappy with their lot, why, according to the poll of Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza carried out for The Israel Project in October, did support for Hamas seem to be fading, especially in Gaza, where since last year, when a similar poll was conducted, negative feelings toward Hamas rose 13 points to 56 percent (in the West Bank negative feelings have doubled to 53 percent)? Gazans disapprove of the job being done by Hamas by 56 to 40 percent, with 31 percent saying they strongly disapprove. Asked who they would vote for if elections were held, solid majorities in both disputed territories plumped for Fatah over Hamas. In Gaza, preference for Fatah climbed from 44% to 27% (in the West Bank 50% to 28%).
Moreover, according to an earlier survey by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre, the “occupation” is not the primary issue of concern to Palestinians: 4.9% of respondents nominated the status of Jerusalem as the foremost issue on their minds, 6.6% the settlements, 9.4% the Gaza blockade, 15.5% the occupation, 18% the internal split between the factions, and 22.4% the economy.
I’m not going to suggest that Gaza, with its renovated shopping mall, water park, and the abundant produce in its markets, is a veritable paradise. But neither is it a region of grinding poverty like, say, Haiti, or of starving populations like parts of the Horn of Africa; yet that is how the hard left foes of Israel like the NGOs and the Guardian would have it depicted. The plain truth is that most of the inhabitants of Gaza are neither living in luxury nor starving. They are held hostage not by the State of Israel but by a ruthless leadership which creates and exploits their plight, and this sorry situation is exacerbated by well-meaning, and possibly less than well-meaning, peaceniks who do likewise. The NGOs’ apparent idealism, like that of the flotilla participants and comparable initiatives, would open a gun-running channel for Islamist thugs bent on Israel’s eradication.
After quoting the pious Israel-bashing pronouncements of leaders of Amnesty and Oxfam, Ms Sherwood tardily reveals that COGAT states that the report’s claims are “biased and distorted and therefore mislead the public”. COGAT maintains that since June there has been a 92% increase in the number of trucks daily entering Gaza, and points out that there are “security and logistical issues regarding exports of goods and the import of construction materials…. Israel will not allow any hidden agenda party to disrupt the process to which both the government of Israel and the international community are fully committed”. Quite so.
As Melanie Phillips observed back in June (when Hamas torched a children’s summer camp in Gaza which had the temerity to mingle the sexes) regarding those who blame Gaza’s plight on Israel and advocate negotiations with Hamas:
“In other words, the way to stop more extremism being generated in Gaza is – to provide more aid, encouragement and legitimacy to the extremists. That is what the UN, Britain, the US and EU are all now doing – supporting the extremism which makes the lives of Gaza’s Arabs such a misery. At the same time they blame Israel, the principal state victim of that extremism, for that misery; and have now even forced it to open up the channels of that western support, with the result that yet more Israelis will also be attacked.
The implacable resolution with which the bien-pensant western world persists in this mad inversion of reality is truly terrifying – and is one of the main reasons why the bad people are winning…That is what the UN, Britain, the US and EU are all now doing – supporting the extremism which makes the lives of Gaza’s Arabs such a misery. That is what the UN, Britain, the US and EU are all now doing – supporting the extremism which makes the lives of Gaza’s Arabs such a misery.”
We should not be surprised that Ms Sherwood gives the Israeli perspective regarding the NGOs’ report briefly, ostensibly begrudgingly, and, to add insult to injury, at the end. This is a tactic that the Guardian shares with its soul-mate the BBC, with its Jeremy Bowenesque mantra “Israel says …”; the only surprise is that the Israeli perspective is given at all. For – like, and perhaps even less than – the BBC, the Guardian isn’t interested in even-handed reporting, much less in presenting Israel’s case, only in giving readers the lies, damn lies, and statistics that the Jewish State’s mortal enemies use in their campaign of defamation and delegitimisation.