Even the Guardian goes where the BBC refuses to tread

On November 28th 2014 BBC World Service radio audiences were told by the corporation’s man in Gaza Shahdi Alkashif that Israel was not permitting the entry of building materials into the Gaza Strip.Kerem Shalom

On December 2nd 2014 another Gaza-based journalist snapped a photograph of cement being sold on the black market after having gone through the UN supervised mechanism designed to prevent exactly such a scenario.

On December 8th 2014 the BBC’s Yolande Knell produced two reports on the topic of building materials for the repair and reconstruction of structures damaged during the summer conflict, neither of which addressed the issue of black market trade in those materials  or the efficacy of the UN monitored mechanism designed to prevent them from being diverted from their intended use to the purposes of terrorism.

Both Knell’s reports used quotes from UN officials and UNRWA’s Robert Turner was provided with a platform from which to promote (once again) political messaging on the subject of the restrictions on the entry of dual use goods imposed by Israel.

Knell: “The huge sale of destruction means it’s taking longer than expected to assess the damage. UN officials also blame Palestinian politics for delays in reconstruction and say ultimately Israel needs to lift its tight border restrictions. Their efforts can only achieve so much.

Robert Turner: The mechanism is a significant step. It’s important to ensure that the families that were affected by the conflict can rebuild their homes. It’s not a replacement for the lifting of the blockade. If there’s going to be peace and security, if there’s going to be stable Gaza, then the blockade needs to be lifted.”

Since those reports – which clearly attributed the slow pace of reconstruction in the Gaza Strip primarily to factors linked to Israel – the BBC has not revisited the issue. However, on December 25th the Guardian’s Peter Beaumont published a report which includes the following observations.

“Amid mounting criticism of the pace of the rebuilding effort, the Guardian has established that a controversial UN-designed mechanism to control the supply of building materials – and prevent them falling into the hands of the militant group Hamas – has been widely corrupted. […]

The mechanism for allowing the entry of materials into Gaza – including the monitoring of the distribution and use of concrete – was designed by the UN special envoy Robert Serry to satisfy Israeli government concerns that cement should not be diverted to Hamas for military purposes, including tunnel building. […]

Under the scheme householders are assessed to see if they qualify for rebuilding materials, then registered and issued with a coupon allowing them to buy a specified amount of materials from warehouses monitored by a UN-administered inspection regime.

During a recent visit to cement warehouses in Gaza, however, the Guardian [saw] cement being resold a few feet outside the warehouse doors at up to four times the cost within minutes of being handed over to householders with coupons.”

Additionally, a report from YNet from December 28th notes that:

“Israel has proof that Hamas has purchased cement from more than 8,000 homeowners in Gaza who received the building material from the United Nations, in cooperation with Israel, in order to repair their homes.”

The BBC has shown no interest to date in investigating growing evidence of the failure of the UN mechanism to prevent building materials being diverted to Hamas or in informing audiences of the corruption bringing about that failure. Despite having given generous coverage to the topic of the Cairo donor conference back in October 2014, it has also refrained from investigating claims made in an AP report from December 22nd regarding the failure of funds pledged at that conference to arrive.

“International donors have so far failed to deliver billions of dollars in aid money that was promised to rebuild the war-battered Gaza Strip, a Palestinian official said Monday, saying the rift between rival Palestinian factions is deterring foreign governments from sending aid.

In the wake of a 50-day war between Israel and Palestinian militants over the summer, international donors promised $2.7 billion to help rebuild Gaza at a conference in Cairo in October. But Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa said “not even one penny” has been received from major donors such as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.”

Although the last BBC report on the topic of construction materials appeared on December 8th, audiences continue to be shown images of damaged and destroyed buildings in the Gaza Strip in reports not always directly relating to rebuilding (see recent examples here and here). The picture emerging from the Guardian’s report, however, is that thousands of those structures could have been repaired already were building materials not being diverted to Hamas.

So far the BBC has shown no interest in reporting on why reconstruction in the Gaza Strip is really faltering. Instead, its audiences are left with an inaccurate picture of reconstruction hampered by Israeli policies. That narrative is promoted by the BBC together with officials from the UN: the very organization which is failing to adequately oversee and enforce the mechanism supposed to both ensure the repair of civilian housing and to ward off the onset of another conflict by preventing construction materials being diverted to the purposes of terrorism. 

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