Israel has reached an agreement with Palestinian and United Nations officials to allow for the delivery of building materials to Gaza, and The New York Times is reporting it all without a hint of irony. The deal will add “momentum” to the reconstruction effort, the paper says.
The story by Somini Sengupta and Jodi Rudoren tells us that the Palestinian Authority will have “a lead role in the reconstruction” and UN monitors will make sure that material is not diverted from its “entirely civilian purpose.” The deal is described as “temporary” and a first step toward broader accord on opening the borders of Gaza.
Here we have an article that is notable for what is not said. There is, of course, the fact that Israel caused the damage in the first place and is now allowing for the passage of goods to repair the harm it brought about, but beyond this we have other news directly concerning Israel’s role in the rebuilding of Gaza, which finds no mention in the Times.
In a special report, the online European Union website EurActiv recently stated that “a row is brewing over claims that Israel is earning millions of euros from a de facto policy of preventing non-Israeli reconstruction aid from entering the Gaza Strip.” According to one EU official, “The policy had benefited Israel’s economy to the tune of millions of euros and was, in [the official’s] view, deliberate.”
Various EU officials and representatives from a number of international agencies backed up these assertions. One official is quoted as saying, “If you want aid materials to be permitted to enter, they will almost inevitably come from Israeli sources. I don’t think you’ll find it written down anywhere in official policy, but when you get to negotiate with the Israelis, this is what happens.”
The European Commission donates some €300 million (about $389 million) in development aid to Gaza and the West Bank every year, and around €200 million (about $260 million) in humanitarian aid. The Israeli policy, based on claims of “security” needs, “increases construction and transaction costs, and is a political problem that has to be dealt with,” an EU official said.
Another EU official described the kind of tactic used to force compliance with the Israeli goods policy. “It can be very difficult to export materials to Gaza,” he said. “A lot of goods for a Gaza private sector reconstruction project we had, ended up being held in Ashdod port for very lengthy periods of time – months if not years – so there was de facto no alternative but to use Israeli sources.”
The Israeli policy has incensed many in the international community, according to EurActiv. “It is outrageous that a country which has just demolished 25,000 houses is demanding that their construction industry benefit from rebuilding them at the expense of the international community,” one Western diplomat said. “Talk about chutzpah writ large!”
With a donors’ conference scheduled for next month, the Times will have more opportunities to tell about the progress of Gaza reconstruction, but this issue is not something the newspaper will be in a hurry to address. Readers are unlikely to find any mention of the EurActiv report in the Times.
Today’s article also commits another sin of omission. In a passage shot through with Israeli-centrism, it states, “The cease-fire agreement says nothing about disarming Hamas, nor the dismantling of its underground tunnels, offering little comfort to Israel.”
Nothing is said about Hamas’s demands for open borders and a seaport to the outside world, and there is no mention of the need to provide “comfort” to Gazans, who have suffered beyond imagination. It is only Israel that matters here.
There is a further issue omitted in this story, the question of reparations. Although they should have this right, Gazans have virtually no chance of receiving compensation from Israel for the damage it caused to their homes, farms and factories. Israel has placed a series of bureaucratic hurdles in the way of Palestinian claimants, and in any case, the government is expected to state that Gaza is “enemy territory,” which would absolve it of liability for damages in its military attacks.
After the 2008-2009 assaults, the European Union compensated many residents of Gaza. Now that much of Gaza has been destroyed again, it is unclear who will pay to rebuild. In normal legal affairs, the responsible party is called on to make reparations, but Israel has been left off the hook.
This basic issue of justice finds no place in the Times stories about Gaza reconstruction, but others are aware of the terrible irony behind the talk of rebuilding with international funds. Mahmoud Abu Rahma of the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, for one, has said that international organizations should step in to secure compensation from Israel.
“The United Nations and the European Union must make it clear to Israel that it cannot destroy civilian property without military necessity and then not pay reparations,” Abu Rahma told Al Jazeera.
None of this has found its way into the Times, which skirts the issue of just what is left in Gaza and the question of who is responsible for restoring what was lost. Now we have the news that Israel cashes in on the rebuilding of what it destroyed in the first place, and we can count on the Times to avoid the subject at all costs.