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

Fighting Words Become Bland and Bloodless in The Times

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke before the United Nations General Assembly yesterday, asking the international community to support the State of Palestine. What precisely did he say? Not much, according to The New York Times.

In a brief story on page 6, Times UN reporter Somini Sengupta presents us with a gutted version of Abbas’ speech, shorn of any details that might alert readers to the reality of Palestinian life under military occupation and missing any mention of international support for the Palestinian cause.

Sengupta focuses her article on topics already treated at length in the Times: the failed peace negotiations and Palestinian demands for an end to the occupation. Readers would not know that the speech painted a vivid picture of Israeli oppression in the West Bank and Gaza and that it broached other subjects that the Times prefers to avoid.

One of these forbidden Times topics is international support for Palestinian rights, a subject that appeared in the opening words of Abbas’s speech: “In this year, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly as the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People Israel has chosen to make it a year of a new war of genocide perpetrated against the Palestinian people.”

Abbas later referred to massive protests against the attacks on Gaza this summer, saying that Palestinians “witnessed the peoples of the world gathering in huge demonstrations on the streets of many cities declaring their condemnation of the aggression and occupation” and adding that the “overwhelming majority of countries on the various continents” joined in this support for their cause.

As for his charges of genocide, the Times story omits that entirely. This is in contrast to the majority of other mainstream media accounts of the speech, which feature the word “genocide” in headlines and lead paragraphs. (See here and here.)

Although the Times article states that Abbas rejected any more peace talks, it failed to clarify his reasons for this decision, which are clear in the text of his speech.

Even as Palestinians negotiated with Israelis earlier this year, he noted, Israel was engaged in home demolitions, land confiscation, killings, arrests and attempts to undermine Muslim control of the landmark Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Also during that time, he said, “racist and armed gangs of settlers persisted with their crimes against the Palestinian people, the land, mosques, churches, properties and olive trees.”

In regards to the assaults this summer, he said, “This last war against Gaza was a series of absolute war crimes carried out before the eyes and ears of the entire world, moment by moment, in a manner that makes it inconceivable that anyone today can claim that they did not realize the magnitude and horror of the crime.”

He went on to appeal to the conscience of United States officials, who have steadfastly supported Israel through all its attacks. “Yet, we believe – and hope,” he said, “that no one is trying to aid the occupation this time in its impunity or its attempts to evade accountability for its crimes.”

None of this appears in the Times story, which sums up Abbas’s words on the occupation in one sentence: “Mr. Abbas described the Israeli occupation as ‘an abhorrent form of state terrorism and a breeding ground for incitement, tension and hatred.’” Thus in Sengupta’s words, Abbas comes off as indulging in the rhetoric of an adversary and nothing else.

She also says that Israel is concerned about Palestinian talk of joining the International Criminal Court because it could “open the way for the prosecution of Israeli political and military leaders for building settlements and other policies related to its decades-old occupation.”

There is no mention of the allegations of war crimes in Gaza this summer, even though these have provided a renewed impetus for calls to join the ICC. The Times prefers to give a bland, bloodless tone to the charges against Israel.

The paper likewise fails to include reaction to the speech in its story. We find in The Guardian that Israeli spokespersons were incensed and one official called the address “diplomatic terrorism.” Al Jazeera tells us that the U. S. State Department termed it “counterproductive” and said it would undermine peace efforts.

Meanwhile, we learn from The National that “widespread international support was evident after Mr Abbas’ address on Friday, when he received an unusual drawn-out ovation from the assembly.”

The Times has none of this, neither the ovation at the UN nor the grumbling out of Israel and the United States, but we can be assured that the newspaper staff was well aware of the reactions in Tel Aviv and Washington and made certain their reporting was in line.

Thus we have the Times avoiding any mention of uncomfortable or revealing topics, such as the realities of the occupation, the broad international support for Palestine and the isolation of Israel and the United States in this regard. Times editors chose to give the story short shrift, bury it on page 6 below the fold and let us believe that it is all of little account.

Barbara Erickson

NY Times Says US Has “Little Sway in Gaza:” A Little (Times) White Lie

Mark Landler in The New York Times today tells us that the United States is watching from the sidelines as Israel massacres civilians in Gaza. Our diplomacy has little effect, he says, and our top officials are at loggerheads with their Israeli counterparts.

It is almost as if the Times were following a script provided yesterday by Glenn Greenwald, who predicted just such a stance in a piece he wrote for the new online media outlet, The Intercept. In an article titled “Cash, Weapons and Surveillance: the U.S. is a Key Party to Every Israeli Attack,” he refers to “the posture of helpless detachment typically adopted by Obama officials and their supporters” in regards to Israeli attacks and notes that “media figures” predictably assume the same pose:

“The U.S. government feeds Israel the weapons it uses and steadfastly defends its aggression both publicly and at the U.N.; the U.S. Congress unanimously enacts one resolution after the next to support and enable Israel; and then American media figures pretend that the Israeli attack has nothing to do with their country, that it’s just some sort of unfortunately intractable, distant conflict between two equally intransigent foreign parties in response to which all decent Americans helplessly throw up their hands as though they bear no responsibility.”

The Landler story today may be right about tensions between U.S. and Israeli officials, but it follows the usual line in failing to acknowledge the full complicity of the United States in the attacks on Gaza and in presenting the pose of helpless frustration that Greenwald describes.

In a heart-rending first person account in the Times opinion pages, “Gaza: A Wartime Diary,” by Atef Abu Saif, we read of one moment in his family’s ongoing ordeal: “an F-16 comes in close again, booming above us, terrifying us all over again.” Here is U.S. complicity on view. The F-16 is an American weapon, as are the Apache helicopters and other weapons that also terrorize the people of Gaza.

Landler’s story notes that the United States has continued to provide arms to Israel, but this is briefly mentioned. The Times is not eager to advertise the fact that the United States provides $8.5 million in military aid every day to Israel and precisely $0 to Palestinians. The paper reports that Congress recently voted to pay an additional $225 million to Israel for its Iron Dome defense system, but it makes no effort to point out that the U.S. pays nothing to protect the trapped residents of Gaza.

American military aid to Israel should be a major story, especially in times of budget cuts when U.S. citizens are deprived of much needed funds for education, health care, housing and infrastructure. But the Times shields the U.S. “special relationship” from a full accounting, even when it means the deaths of innocents in Gaza.

Barbara Erickson