BBC airs inaccurate report by Yolande Knell on Gaza infrastructure

Viewers of BBC television news were recently treated to a long report by Yolande Knell on the topic of infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. The same report also appeared on the BBC News website on August 15th under the title “Yolande Knell meets Gazans working to restore utilities“. Unfortunately, viewers were unable to glean much factual information from a report replete with inaccuracies and omissions.Knell infrastructure Knell opens:

“Gaza took a pounding during recent Israeli airstrikes. This is the third conflict here in five years and it’s been the most deadly and destructive. Israel says it’s targeted militant sites, but civilian infrastructure’s not been spared.”

Accurate and impartial presentation of the topic would of course have demanded that at this point Knell clarify to viewers that Hamas and other terrorist organisations deliberately locate their terrorist facilities such as missile launchers and weapons stores in civilian residential areas, thereby increasing the likelihood of damage to both civilians themselves and the infrastructure serving them. Knell continues:

“Gaza’s only power plant was shelled two weeks ago, setting its fuel tanks on fire. The Israeli military says it’s investigating but the effects are clear.”

Whilst the investigation into that incident is still ongoing, what is clear – and has been since it occurred – is that the power plant was not intentionally targeted by Israeli forces. After a short interview with the power plant’s manager Knell tells viewers:

“The manager, Rafik Maliha, has been here since the electricity plant opened a decade ago. It was supposed to make use of the latest technology to meet rising demand. Instead, it’s faced constant challenges. It’s been caught up in previous fighting between Hamas which controls Gaza and the group’s sworn enemy Israel. Tight border restrictions limited fuel imports. Although power cuts were common in Gaza before, now they’re much worse.”

This is far from the first time that the BBC (and specifically Yolande Knell) has inaccurately told its audiences that Gaza’s electricity supply problems – which predate this conflict by a long time – are the result of Israeli border restrictions and it would appear that the BBC is beginning to believe its own spin. In fact – like the shortage of medical supplies which Yolande Knell and others have also inaccurately attributed to Israeli policy – the fuel shortage in the Gaza Strip is the product of disputes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

“Though it may be hard to believe, 1.5 million Palestinians have lived without electricity throughout most of the day in 2013. For the past two weeks, residents of the Gaza Strip have endured a cycle of six hours of electricity followed by a 12-hour power outage. Last Wednesday, the power went out at 6:00 am and was finally restored only late that evening.

This current crisis is not the result of a tighter “Israeli siege” or anything of the sort; it is caused by disputes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority over the price of fuel since the tunnels connecting Gaza and Egypt were shut down or destroyed.

Recent Egyptian military activity rendered out of commission hundreds of tunnels that once connected Sinai and Gaza and were used to import one million liters of fuel into Gaza each day. As a result, Hamas has no choice but to purchase fuel from Israel via the Palestinian Authority at prices similar to those found in the Israeli market, namely over seven shekels ($2) per liter of gasoline. That is a major problem for private car owners.

The more acute problem is that fuel is needed to operate the Gaza power plant that generates the majority of the local electricity. The Palestinian Authority purchases a liter of fuel for the power plant for approximately 4 shekels from Israeli gas companies and has tried to sell it to Hamas for almost double, including excise tax.

Hamas has rejected those prices outright and stopped purchasing fuel for its power plant. The dramatic consequence was that the power plant has shut down and the electricity supply has been completely disrupted. The PA refuses to waive the excise tax, a critical part of its own budget. And the residents of Gaza are the ones who suffer.”

Knell fails to inform viewers that throughout the entire recent conflict – and of course before it – fuel of various kinds has continued to enter the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom crossing, including 4.44 million liters of fuel for Gaza’s power plant.

Knell’s report then returns to the Gaza power plant manager who gives BBC viewers the mistaken impression that Gaza’s entire electricity supply depends upon his establishment.

“It [the power plant] would to serve electricity for the civilian in Gaza almost 2 million people who are, I mean, suffer and when you are talking about electricity we are talking about water supply, water treatment plant, water sewage plant and we are talking about hospitals, we are talking about the schools. All aspects, all basic of our life requirements are not existing.”

In fact, of course, the Gaza Strip has two additional sources of power. Egypt supplies some 27 megawatts on a regular basis and recently increased that supply by a further 7 megawatts in light of the current power crisis in Gaza. In line with the terms of the Oslo Accords, Israel continues to supply the Gaza Strip with 120 megawatts and although several instances of power supply lines being damaged by terrorist missile fire occurred during Operation Protective Edge (unreported by the BBC), those lines were repaired by the Israel Electric Corporation.  Coincidentally, the debt owed to Israel’s electric company by the Gaza Strip stands at around 220 million shekels.

After an interview with members of a family in Beit Lahiya, Knell moves on to the topic of water and sewage. Despite her descriptions of damage caused during Israel’s ground operation, she fails to mention that Hamas refused a ceasefire two days before that operation commenced.

“Entire neighbourhoods of Gaza were reduced to rubble during the ground invasion by Israeli armed forces. In Shuja’iya in the east they said they destroyed tunnels used by Palestinian fighters. But they also damaged underground water and sewage systems. Already these were in a fragile state. The blockade of Gaza enforced by Israel and Egypt had made maintenance hard. Now there’s contamination and widespread water shortages.”

Like the electricity crisis, Gaza’s problems with water and sewage long predate the recent conflict. The responsibility for water and sewage in the Gaza Strip lies with the Palestinian Water Authority – established in 1995 as a result of the Oslo Accords – and so for almost two decades those utilities have been under Palestinian control. For the past seven years, of course, the Palestinian Authority has had no influence in the Gaza Strip and Hamas has done little in terms of maintenance of water and sewage systems, with piping for sewage projects even having been misappropriated for the purpose of manufacturing missiles. Knell continues:

“Across Gaza emergency efforts are underway to fix or just to patch up basic infrastructure, often in incredibly difficult circumstances. Here the workers are struggling to restore basic water supplies. They’ve got miles and miles of broken pipes. Hospitals are already seeing diseases spreading as more Gazans displaced by this conflict are forced to put up with dire living conditions. And here, the growing problems with Gaza’s infrastructure can be a matter of life and death. The machines in this intensive care unit are now relying mostly on generators which are meant to be used for back-up purposes only.”

Knell then interviews the director of Shifa hospital, but predictably refrains from popping down to that hospital’s basement to ask the Hamas leaders ensconced there for well over a month about their years of neglect of Gaza’s infrastructure, their short-sighted policy decisions which have left the civilian population without sufficient electricity supplies and their diversion of concrete, piping and other materials which could have been used to improve Gaza’s neglected utilities to terrorism.

Of course the real aim of Knell’s report is not to inform BBC viewers why Gaza’s infrastructure is so badly neglected. Her entire report is in fact yet another contribution to the BBC’s ongoing advocacy campaign for Hamas demands concerning the lifting of border restrictions – as can be seen in her conclusion.

“For years Gaza has struggled. But the latest conflict has left it on life support. A temporary truce is giving some breathing space. As Egyptian negotiators try to secure a longer term ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians, now the hope for the future is a deal that can address security concerns and open up Gaza’s borders so a full recovery can begin.”

An accurate and impartial report on this issue would have to include the provision of information to audiences as to why the demand to “open up Gaza’s borders” is precisely one of the “security concerns” which now need to be addressed. As is the case with all other BBC reports on this topic, weapons smuggling, the rearming of terrorist groups and well over a decade of terrorism from the Gaza Strip are not included on the menu. 

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