As Gaza Lies in Ruins, The NY Times Blames the Victims

Israel’s attacks on Gaza ended a year ago, but the strip remains an expanse of rubble and devastation. Who’s to blame for this outrage? The New York Times has an answer: everyone but Israel.

Jodi Rudoren comes up with this response in a story that aims to whitewash Israel’s brutal treatment of Gaza by blaming the Palestinian victims along with the international community for the lack of rebuilding. It is all summed up in the story’s subhead, “Political Infighting and Lack of Funds Stymie a Reconstruction Mechanism.”

Her article takes pains to present the process as a collaborative project between the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the United Nations, and she is hazy about Israel’s role, describing it as nothing more than “involvement in approving projects and participants.”

Rudoren furthers her efforts in a single paragraph that absolves Israel completely: “[The Palestinian minister of housing], other Palestinian leaders and United Nations representatives all said that Israel had done its part in reasonable time and allowed cement into Gaza. Empty coffers, they said, are the primary problem.”

Times readers, however, never learn the direct quotes or the names of the “leaders” and “representatives” that would help substantiate this claim, nor does Rudoren explain what “Israel’s part” actually refers to here.

In fact, Israel controls everything that goes into Gaza, from people to foodstuffs to building material, and the agreed-on process for rebuilding the strip—the “reconstruction mechanism” referred to in the subhead—is built solely on Israeli demands. (Israel also blocks Gaza traffic by sea and has the full cooperation of the Egyptian government on that border as well.)

Although the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority have roles in the process, Israel determines who gets building materials, what they get and in what amounts. As Harvard-based Gaza expert Sara Roy notes, the two major documents outlining the reconstruction process “read like security plans, carefully laying out Israeli concerns and the ways in which the United Nations will accommodate them.”

Roy adds, “Israel will have to approve all projects and their locations and will be able to veto any part of the process on security grounds.” Moreover, she writes, “No mechanism for accountability or transparency will apply to Israel.”

Without doubt, Palestinian bureaucracy, donor fears of yet another attack on Gaza and other factors come into play in reconstruction efforts, but Rudoren ignores the major element, which is the Israeli blockade.

Her story, in fact, never refers to the eight-year blockade of Gaza and makes only vague mention of Israeli “control” of the enclave. Readers are left without any relevant context.

Rudoren’s article also omits other details that would place Israel’s role in a different light: the fact that by July of this year it had allowed the passage less than 1 percent of the construction materials needed to adequately house Gaza residents or that as of May, a total of 20 schools (kindergarten to college level) completely destroyed by Israel had yet to be repaired.

Readers never learn, for instance, that aid agencies in Gaza were forced to rely on temporary building materials as the Israeli-mandated process kept concrete, cement and steel supplies to a trickle. They also never learn the sequel to this chapter: that Israel stepped in to squelch the effort just as it was gaining momentum.

The project was run by Catholic Relief Services, which began using lumber to build temporary homes for the displaced residents this year, and media reports in February and March stated that 70 had been built and 40 families had moved into the new houses. CRS had plans to construct more than 100 additional wooden homes, but in April the program came to an end when Israel suddenly banned all lumber for housing.

Here we can see how Israel actually operates in the opaque rebuilding process mentioned in Rudoren’s piece. Times readers, however, never learn of this sad narrative nor of many others that would reveal how Israeli actions are destroying the economy and depressing the living conditions in Gaza.

And yet, the Times story would have us believe that Israel has “done its part” in the reconstruction of Gaza, ignoring the obvious: that Israel alone has complete control of its borders with the strip, and if Israel so willed, Gaza residents would have moved out of the rubble long ago.

Barbara Erickson

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