Israel Cashes in on Gaza Reconstruction

In a story notable for what it fails to say, The New York Times today tells us that donor nations have pledged $5.4 billion to rebuild Gaza. Although we get some numbers here, the article avoids the big question: Why are other nations asked to pay for Israel’s destruction in the strip this summer?

This is not a new concern. International organizations such as the United Nations and Amnesty International have called on Israel to make reparations after past attacks, and even the U.S. State Department recently said that Israel should make a material contribution to the rebuilding effort. This year Human Rights Watch has already made a strong statement in support of Israeli reparations.

None of this, however, appears in the Times story by Michael Gordon. In fact, the article avoids mention of Israeli culpability in the massive destruction of Gaza and the deaths of more than 2,000 people, the vast majority of them civilian. It is a “cycle of violence” that is to blame, not Israeli and U.S. bombs.

The Times cannot say the obvious: that Israel was responsible for the carnage and destruction in Gaza, that the residents of the strip live under a state of siege imposed by Israel and that this situation violates international and humanitarian law.

Human Rights Watch, however, cited international law in a recent release calling for donor nations and organizations to insist that Israel lift the blockade and make reparations. When parties to a conflict violate the laws of war, it said, they may be forced to pay compensation.

“Donor-funded projects were among those destroyed or damaged,” HRW wrote. “Donors should assess the damage caused by unlawful attacks” and press for remedies. “Such reparations could assist in the funding of new projects and deter future unlawful attacks.” In other words, demanding accountability from Israel might put a halt to its recurrent assaults.

Finally, HRW said, donors “should require Israel to pay compensation and reconstruction costs for civilian property, including internationally funded projects, that Israeli forces destroyed or damaged in unlawful attacks.”

The UN Human Rights Council and Amnesty International also said after the assaults of 2008–2009 that the victims of unlawful attacks should be compensated. Amnesty made its appeal to the UN, saying that the world body should “make clear to the government of Israel that it has an obligation to ensure that victims of violations by Israeli forces that occurred during the conflict have immediate access to an effective remedy, including full and effective reparations.”

But to the contrary, far from paying for its destructive rampage against Gaza, Israel is expected to cash in. Israeli materials will be used in the rebuilding effort, and Israeli currency is needed to fund the projects.

Although the Times avoids any mention of this, other news outlets have taken notice. EurActiv, an online media outlet on the European Union, recently published a report on Israeli manipulations of aid money. It states 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.” (See TimesWarp “Israel Will Help Rebuild Gaza, for a Price.”)

The Guardian quotes an expert who claims that “60-65% of the money donated will return to Israel as they will supply the materials to allow the construction.” Alaa Tartir and Jeremy Wildeman of the think tank Al-Shabaka, writing in The WorldPost, set this at 45 percent, noting that “all investment is made in [Israeli] currency, often through Israeli suppliers or imported through Israeli-controlled borders.”

Julie Webb-Pullman in Middle East Monitor writes, “It is difficult to imagine a clearer incentive to continue the cycle of ‘destroy and rebuild’ than to reward the criminal by paying them to repair the destruction they have wreaked, rather than make them pay for it.”

Her article, “Donors or Enablers? ‘Gaza Reconstruction Conference,’” would never make it into the Times. It calls Israel a criminal; it notes that Egypt, the conference host, is preventing materials from entering Gaza and denying entry to medical patients in need of care; it calls the United States the “funder and arms supplier extraordinaire to the Israeli serial killers” and it also attacks Ban Ki-Moon.

Webb-Pullman is venting in print, but she makes some points that others make in more formal terms. She also asks why the conference is not held in Gaza itself and she writes that unless the donor countries insist on an end to the blockade and prevent Israel from profiting from their money, “The international community will merely be enabling ongoing Israeli abuse in the best traditions of the dysfunctional incestuous family.”

Yes, this is something of a rant, and this is not sober journalism with all the evidence at hand, but it is driven by the absurd situation in evidence. After the egregious omissions of the Times story today, her piece is nothing but refreshing.

Barbara Erickson

How to Rebuild Gaza (the Israeli Way)

In an editorial lamenting the need to rebuild Gaza once again, The New York Times works to disparage Hamas, deflect blame from Israel and promote the Palestinian Authority, all under the guise of concern for the beleaguered residents of the strip. In the process, the editors ignore the Palestinian experience and promote a false narrative spawned by Israel.

It was Israel that killed over 2,000 residents of Gaza and destroyed homes, roads, poultry farms, greenhouses, businesses and power plants, but the Times editors can’t say this. Instead, they write, the fault lies with “the recent 50-day war,” which is part of a “depressing cycle” and “the region’s tragic history.” No name is given to the perpetrators of this destruction.

The editors do admit that “Israel and Egypt have enforced a draconian blockade that restricts the flow of people and goods” but make no call for an end to this siege. Instead they are quick to adopt the Israeli pretext for strangling the enclave, the “worry” that “Hamas will divert concrete and steel for military purposes.”

In fact, Israel has acknowledged elsewhere that the blockade has a more insidious aim, as a senior Israeli official stated at the outset of the siege—“to put the Palestinians on a diet but not to make them die of hunger.” Israeli authorities have at some point prevented the import of pasta, flour, yeast, olives, cookies, canned tuna, powdered milk, chick peas, soap, shampoo, diapers, toothpaste, detergent, textbooks, writing paper, notebooks, fuel, seeds and plastic irrigation piping, among other items.

But Times editorial writers ignore this evidence of collective punishment, along with the fact that Israel was responsible for the deaths of thousands, including more than 500 children, during its assault this summer. They prefer to point the finger at Hamas, the Islamic party that rules Gaza, calling it “Israel’s implacable enemy” and “a destructive militant group.”

What is needed, according to the Times editorial board, is a permanent ceasefire designed to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and Abbas, whom they call “a moderate committed to peace with Israel.” All money raised must be channeled through the PA, they say, so that the new unity government and Abbas “get the credit.”

This is in order to “empower moderates” and thus give Palestinians “hope of a constructive future that could, in time, include a comprehensive peace settlement leading to an independent state.” Donors are reluctant to give, they say, because there is no credible peace process.

There are several problems here. The PA and the peace process have served Israel well and the Palestinians poorly. Peace negotiations have bought Israel time to confiscate more and more land and resources, and the PA has served as Israel’s police in facilitating the military occupation of the West Bank.

According to a recent report by the think tank Al Shabaka, the PA’s security system has “criminalized resistance against the occupation,” and PA police officers co-operate with Israeli forces, allowing them to enter areas of the West Bank that are theoretically under total Palestinian control and providing them with names of resistance leaders. Through these means and others, the PA entrenches the occupation and acts as “Israel’s subcontractor,” the report states.

The PA also lacks accountability. It has no functioning parliament or effective judicial oversight and Abbas himself has not faced an election since 2005.

Yet Abbas and the PA are the answer to Palestinian needs, the Times tells us. Hamas, the editors say once again, is the problem. They make no mention of Hamas’ offers to enter into lengthy ceasefires with Israel, even though the Times itself published one of these offers in a 2006 op-ed by a senior Hamas official. Hamas made another 10-year ceasefire offer this summer, which the newspaper failed to mention at all.

Hamas, moreover, has kept to ceasefires in the past, as even Israeli officials acknowledge. It is Israel that is prone to violate truce agreements, and it has frequently done so since the last one went into effect, firing on fishermen and farmers as they try to work at their trades, entering into the strip to level farmland and failing to open the crossings to goods and people.

The residents of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank gave enthusiastic support to Hamas during and after the attacks this summer, and its popularity soared in the polls. Palestinians admire Hamas because it has shown determined resistance to the Israeli occupation and has called on the PA to abandon its security cooperation with the occupier.

The Times, however, purports to speak for the Palestinian people, bemoaning the “untenable conditions” in Gaza but failing to hear their voices, ignoring their narratives and preferences. The Times prefers to listen to Israel, which has obvious reasons for preferring a compliant PA to a defiant Hamas.

The newspaper would have Gaza residents reject the party that won its admiration this summer and submit to the group it sees as collaborating with the occupier. This, the editorial says, “could, in time” lead to a peace settlement, and this settlement might possibly some day lead to an independent Palestinian state. It is all conditional and somewhere in the future, just where Israel wants to keep it.

Barbara Erickson

 

Israel Will Help Rebuild Gaza, for a Price

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.

Barbara Erickson