What is left in Gaza now that the bombs have stopped falling? This is an obvious question to ask in the wake of seven weeks of death and destruction, but The New York Times has evaded the issue. Readers will look in vain for any real news about the extent of Israeli damage in the impoverished strip.
Instead of providing readers with the straight news, the Times has published an online interactive map, “Assessing the Damage and Destruction in Gaza.” The map shows the territory marked with red and orange splotches, meant to indicate heavily damaged or destroyed buildings and “areas of significant visible change.” It also includes brief close-ups of four residential areas and the Gaza power plant.
This, it seems, is the Times’s attempt to give an overview of what remains in Gaza today—a graphic that was last updated over a month ago, containing spotty data and lacking even the overall numbers.
A reader could spend a good deal of time scrutinizing this map and never learn that the Israeli attack on Gaza:
- Damaged 17 out of 32 hospitals and 45 out of 97 primary health clinics, with four hospitals and five clinics remaining closed as of Sept. 6.
- Destroyed 12 pharmacies (and killed three pharmacists).
- Demolished Gaza’s only medicine company, the Middle East Pharmaceutical and Cosmetics Laboratories.
- Destroyed 126 businesses and workshops and damaged 360, including food processing plants.
- Destroyed 22 schools and damaged 118.
- Damaged an estimated 18,000 housing units so severely that approximately 108,000 people have been left homeless.
- Damaged water and wastewater systems, leaving Gazans with an acute lack of potable water. Only 10 percent of the population receive water once a day.
- Destroyed 73 mosques and damaged 203. Some of those demolished were ancient historic sites, such as the seventh-century Al Omari Mosque in Jabaliya.
- Destroyed 42,000 acres of farmland and half of the poultry stock. (This was reported as of Aug. 14, 12 days before the ceasefire.)
- Left large swathes of farmland inaccessible “due to the presence of [explosive remnants of war] and other explosive hazards.”
In addition to Al Omari Mosque, the Palestinian Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs reported that Israel destroyed Al Sham’ah Mosque, Gaza’s second oldest, built in Gaza’s Old City in 1315 by a Mamluk governor. Three churches, Orthodox, Baptist and Roman Catholic, also sustained damage.
About 10 percent of the factories are out of commission, and because most industries closed during the attacks, the loss in industrial production came to more than $70 million, according to the Palestinian Federation of Industries. Overall, a Gaza economist has estimated, the destruction is three times that of the 2008-2009 conflict, when the damage reached some $4 billion.
The destruction of factories and construction sites has left about 60,000 people out of work, according to Ali Hayek, chairman of the Palestinian Federation of Industries in Gaza. The widespread destruction of business and commerce led him to conclude that the “war was also waged to destroy the social and economic fabric of Gaza.”
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated, “Virtually the entire population is without adequate services, including electricity, clean water and quality healthcare.” The office has issued a call for $551.2 million in aid to restore basic living conditions.
The Times has failed to mention the UN appeal, and although Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren has written about the bombing of a residential tower and the challenge to Gaza schools as the academic year begins, the Times has failed to look at the devastated farmland and the destruction visited on health services, industry and other vital needs.
By contrast, Harriet Sherwood in The Guardian has written the story that the Times should have provided to its readers. As the conflict was ending, she reported from Gaza, providing hard data about economic damage and visiting the devastated agricultural areas. She spoke to a dairy farmer, factory owner, camel farmer and vegetable grower.
We learn, for instance, that Israeli troops shot 20 camels belonging to Zaid Hamad Ermelat, who at 71 years of age now faces the prospect of working as a farm laborer. His camels were worth $2,800 each, Sherwood reports. The story includes a photo of Ermelat standing amid his dead camels.
Other reports have also provided a human face to the assessments and numbers provided by organizations. Dr. Mona El Farra, who lost family members during the conflict, has described her visit to Khuza’a, once a “model Palestinian agricultural village with open fields and green everywhere.”
Now, she found, there was nothing left. She could see only “that something huge and terrible had happened here. The rubble and destruction were extreme.” Worst of all, she reported, was the overwhelming stench of dead bodies.
The Times could have visited villages like Khuza’a and interviewed farmers like Zaid Ermelat, but it has so far made no attempt to do so. It has preferred to run stories that omit significant data and say nothing about the destruction of agricultural land, hospitals and ancient historic mosques.
It seems that the Times would rather not look too closely at what Israel has done. It is difficult to maintain the fiction that the entire affair was aimed at stopping rockets or undermining terrorist infrastructure when it becomes clear that Israeli soldiers targeted camels and pharmacies. Any real scrutiny might raise uncomfortable questions about Israeli actions and motives, and this is a prospect the Times would rather avoid.