The Guardian’s Phoebe Greenwood gambles with Palestinian lives.

Phoebe Greenwood

About 90 minutes before the Guardian put up Phoebe Greenwood’s latest screed on its ‘World News – Gaza’ section on December 28th another barrage of Kassam rockets rudely awoke the sleeping Israeli civilians living in the region surrounding the Gaza Strip. Eight hours later, a second barrage targeted the same area, endangering children setting out to school at that time and bringing the total number of rockets fired from Gaza this month alone to 46 and this year to 682.

Predictably however, dedicated follower of fashion Phoebe Greenwood deftly airbrushed out the decade-long ongoing war crimes against Israeli civilians by the plethora of terror organisations based in Gaza, ignoring the rockets completely and suggesting that suicide bombings are a thing of the past. Her story concentrates purely on hearsay accounts of Palestinian suffering as recounted to her by a representative of a politically motivated NGO and fails even to afford the accused the right of reply.

There is, of course, nothing surprising about that. Greenwood’s polemic would be considerably less effective both as a tear-jerker for Western audiences and a public relations exercise for PHR were she to provide her readers with the context of the challenges of providing humanitarian assistance to the population of a region in which terrorists trying to infiltrate Israel’s borders mingle indistinguishably with civilians and have a history of exploiting  medical permits to facilitate attacks.  

Equally, her objective would not have been served by detailing the process by which patients from Gaza are permitted to enter Israel in order to receive medical treatment – a process in which the Palestinian Authority also takes part.

The website of CoGAT includes information which clearly outlines the criteria for entry to Israel from Gaza for various reasons. On the subject of patients seeking medical care in Israel the guidelines are as follows:

“Medical Treatment– Entry to Israel for the purpose of medical treatment is permitted, as well as for the purpose of passage to Judea & Samaria or abroad [for medical reasons], in accordance with requests from the Palestinian Health Co-ordinator who works within the framework of the Palestinian Civilian Committee and is responsible for the prioritisation of requests, categorisation of their urgency and their referral to the [Israeli] Office of Co-ordination and Communication in order to facilitate the reception of life-saving medical treatment or medical treatment essential for the preservation of quality of life, all on condition that the required treatment is not available in the Gaza Strip.

It is to be stressed that payment for the medical care is transferred from the Palestinian Authority directly to the hospitals in Israel and therefore the Palestinian Authority demands that its permission for the patient’s entry into Israel for treatment is issued in advance. (In many cases the Palestinian Authority prefers to take care of a patient in the Gaza Strip or PA-controlled areas of Judea & Samaria due to the high costs of treatment in Israel). “

With regard to entry to Israel from the Gaza Strip for business purposes, the CoGAT guidelines are as follows:

Entry of merchants and business people – The entry of 70 merchants per day (to Israel, Judea & Samaria and abroad) is permitted. The entry is subject to a request from the Palestinian Civilian Committee and to the applicant being a high-level trader whose entry to Israel would contribute to economic improvement in the Gaza Strip and who deals in the trade of goods permitted for entry into Gaza at the time of the request. 

In other words, it is entirely possible that the reasons for the two cases of refused entry into Israel which Greenwood cites in her article may be a lot more complicated than her default ‘Israel behaving badly’ pastiche would have us believe. It could well be that Ahmad Hamada did not receive the prior consent of the Palestinian Authority to pay for his treatment or that the Palestinian Civilian Committee did not consider his case untreatable in Gaza. It could be that the Palestinian Civilian Committee did not consider Ramez Kaloub to meet the required entry criteria or that either or both men have some sort of security issues on their record.

We will likely never know the full background to these stories because Greenwood did not apparently bother to contact either the Palestinian Civilian Committee or CoGAT as any investigative reporter worth the title would have done. Instead, she merely reproduced second-hand hearsay fed to her by a very interested party: one of many who seem to think that passage from the terrorist-run enclave of the Gaza Strip should be as unrestricted as the crossing of the border between Belgium and France, despite the clear danger that would present to Israeli civilians.

Beyond the shoddy workmanship there is, however, a more sinister side to Greenwood’s self-interested rant. As she casually mentions in passing (apparently seeing no reason to distract her readers by elaborating), “[i]t is Hamas policy to execute collaborators”.  Those executions of course take place in vigilante fashion, without anything resembling a fair trial or due judicial process.

Greenwood’s thoughtless parroting of PHR’s unproven claim to the effect that Gaza Strip residents who agree to become collaborators are more likely to get permission to travel to Israel is therefore potentially lethal and highly irresponsible.

Every year thousands of Palestinians from Gaza and PA-controlled areas find themselves in need of Israeli medical care as anyone who has ever spent time in an Israeli hospital knows. According to the latest figures from CoGAT, 35,000 Palestinians travelled from the Gaza Strip into Israel during 2011. 20,000 of those made the crossing for medical reasons. The other 15,000 entered Israel for reasons of business, sport, art or religion. That’s almost a hundred people a day and does not include Palestinians entering Israel from the PA controlled areas of Judea & Samaria. Almost half of the operations performed every year by the Israeli charity ‘Save a Child’s Heart are on Palestinian children. Palestinian doctors travel to Israel for conferences , conventions and seminars vital to their professional development.

The attempt by a politically motivated NGO in collaboration with an equally politically motivated journalist to suggest that these thousands of patients and other travelers are potentially traitors to their own people is despicable and calls into question both the ‘humanitarian’ credentials of PHR and the ethics of a journalist willing to endanger the lives of others for the sake of a story which fits her personal agenda and that of the paper for which she writes.

It may seem as though it would be difficult for either PHR or Phoebe Greenwood to sink much lower, but with her obvious willingness to gamble with the fate both of Palestinians in need of medical treatment in Israel and Israelis at risk from terrorists seeking to enter Israel under the premise of medical or business visits, Greenwood is clearly capable of plumbing every and any depth, just as long as her story portrays Israel in a bad light.

That, of course, makes her a propagandist rather than a journalist: a fact perhaps recognized by whichever Guardian editor decided that this article would be better without comments and corrections from the public at large.

Update: the figures at the head of this article are no longer accurate due to the fact that whilst it was being written another rocket from Gaza exploded near a rural community in Southern Israel at the time when local children were arriving home from school.

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