Thursday, March 06, 2008

6-Mar-08: Questions for the humanitarians

Let's state it plainly; humanitarianism is not something we're against.

But when some of the world's largest, most influential, best-funded humanitarian groups get stuck into Israel again and again, it gets to be irksome. Especially when the arguments they make - and which have been broadcast all day on BBC World's television news today - are so plainly agenda-driven and outside the scope of humanitarian considerations.

In an earlier posting, we mentioned today's claims by BBC World, quoting Amnesty International, Save the Children, Cafod, Care International and Christian Aid, that Gaza's humanitarian situation is at its worst since Israel occupied the territory in 1967. The BBC says the aid agencies "criticise Israel's blockade on Gaza as illegal collective punishment which fails to deliver security."

The claims about "collective punishment" are not new. That doesn't make them less wrong than they were in the past and still are. NGO-Monitor published a plain-spoken report a week ago called "False Claims of Collective Punishment in NGO Campaigns on Gaza". Definitely worth a visit.

Here are some thoughts about whether there's a humanitarian crisis in Gaza and, if there is one, why.
  • The aid people say there's a shortage of medicine in Gaza. But Israeli sources say no fewer than 84 donations of bulk medications have been authorized since 1st January 2008 and not a single one has been refused or turned back. Hamas routinely grabs these donations as soon as they enter Gaza. They don't get transferred to Gaza's hospitals. They go to Hamas' institutions and are applied in a variety of other ways for its own purposes. This is no secret - the aid agencies are fully aware of it. From the standpoint of Israel, medical supplies are treated as priority items - it's in Israel's interests for the Palestinian-Arabs of Gaza to get decent health care and have something in their lives to protect, to lose. Israel's calculation is obvious, and also humanitarian.
  • It's been said repeatedly that the supply of electricity to the Gaza Strip has been cut back. This is untrue. Egypt currently supplies 17 MW. Gaza's own power plant produces 60 MW. And Israel delivers 214 MW. The office of Israel's Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the public service agency that manages these matters, says today "Israel assisted with the transfer of transformers for the power plant into Gaza, and with the entrance of foreign technicians for maintenance work on other transformers. Only two weeks ago, the power grid in Gaza was repaired. Everything connected to it, such as pumping stations and sewage pumps, were in working order. The repairs were carried out under Hamas sniper fire, which necessitated use of protected vehicles and working at night." So who's keeping whom in the dark?
  • Is there a shortage of fuel? Official Israeli sources says the quantity of fuel transferred to Gaza exceeds Gaza's basic needs by a factor of 3:1. And by the way the transfer is routinely done under hostile fire from the terrorists. On Monday of this week, a fuel truck traveling from Nahal Oz in Israel to the Gaza Strip to hand fuel over to the Hamas regime was targeted by its snipers. Isn't there at least the possibility that Hamas is diverting the fuel being brought to Gaza for its own use and for terrorism? Not if you ask the aid organizations.
  • Is there a problem with the Gaza sewage management system? Maybe. Israel makes cement and pipes available to the Gaza regime for rehabilitation and extension of Gaza's sewage system. Hamas takes these materials and uses them to manufacture Qassam rockets. It's what's called a win/win strategy: Lets Hamas complain bitterly about Israeli oppression; and the foreign champions of aid can lay another emotive complaint at Israel's feet.
  • How great is the crisis in the treatment of Gaza's sick and disabled? Even though Hamas delivers terrorism on a daily basis into our communities and homes, Israel continues to operate an open-door policy for Palestinian Arabs from Gaza into Israel, enabling them to get first-class treatment at Israeli hospitals. (They could go to Egypt. But they vote with their feet to no one's surprise.) And this is no small-scale activity. Some 14,000 ailing Palestinians and their escorts entered Israel for medical treatment last year; that's 90% of those who requested permission. Israel's gates remain open to almost all of them, subject to tough security screening processes. To be more specific, the number of permissions and referrals to Israeli specialty medical services for the benefit of Gazan Palestinian Arabs increased by 45% in the past two years. The number was 4,934 in 2006, and rose to 7,176 in 2007.
  • The border crossings we just mentioned are open and used daily by diplomats, by employees of NGOs and "humanitarian" agencies like those providing BBC with the fuel for its serious allegations. They're also used for the transfer of medical supplies, equipment, food and other goods for Gaza's civilian population. But those gates are also under almost daily fire and the thugs of Hamas have taken advantage of them to infiltrate bombers, snipers and assorted other death-minded jihadists into Israel without let-up. See for instance the article on Wafa al-Bis, a 21-year-old Palestinian woman "with a lovely face and a quiet voice"; because of awful home-inflicted burns, she had to get medical treatment in a Beer Sheva hospital; she turned this privilege into an attempt to blow herself and fifty Israelis into the world to come. She failed only because she was caught by Israeli security, as the related video story above describes.
  • Are Israel's security measures pleasant? Probably not. Is this a humanitarian crisis? Only if you feel the need to manufacture one.
  • In view of the above, the real question is why do the international aid agencies persist in accusing Israel of creating crises? It must be frightening for them to work under Hamas, but if it's fear that prevents them from speaking out and telling it like it is, or that causes them to fabricate and mislead, this too is something they should admit.
Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip by means of a stunningly violent putch against Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas last summer. Since that time, Hamas has illegally grabbed hold of humanitarian shipments which entered Gaza and applied them for their own purposes - and certainly not for the benefit of Gaza's Palestinian-Arab population. Their gunmen routinely fire on the border crossings that make the supply of humanitarian aid for Gaza's population possible. For this and every other reason, it's time for the "humanitarian" agencies to address their complaints to Hamas. It has responsibility for virtually everything that happens and fails to happen in the Gaza Strip today.

A press conference arranged by NGO Monitor today made some strong criticisms of the aid agencies and their "worst humanitarian crisis" criticisms. A summary of the main points:
  • The facts, corroborated by numerous international bodies including the UN, UNESCO, WHO, WTO and IMF, show a significant increase in virtually every indicator of quality of life in Gaza. Infant mortality rates, life expectancy, general health indices, literacy rates, women’s participation in the workforce, GDP, electricity and running water availability, and the number of colleges, hospitals, schools and day-care centers all rose between 1967 (when Gaza came under Israeli control) and the “Oslo Process” of the mid-1990’s. A decade of authoritarian rule, corruption and mismanagement by the Palestinian Authority have erased only some of those gains.
  • The aid organizations speak with utter confidence. But their data are suspect, weak, and unverifiable. Amnesty's only ‘researcher’ in the region, for instance, is Donatella Rovera. She works in Europe and has very limited first-hand knowledge of events. The confident assertions of international law principles and breaches are outside their fields of competence and should be set aside.
  • A good part of the data on which the complains are based come from reports written by John Dugard about whom we wrote a few days ago. Without being unnecessarily offensive, Dugard should not be believed on anything that concerns Israel.
  • Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and the subsequent continuous - and growing - waves of rocket and mortar attacks on bordering Israeli towns, communities, schools and home are either ignored or mentioned in passing. When did you last see an Amnesty report or a Christian Aid brochure that reveal what Israelis are going through as the price for living near the Hamas regime? There have been more than 4,000 rocket attacks on Israel since ‘disengagement’ in August 2005; some 500 since January 2008. Is this irrelevant to the context? No, it's absolutely relevant, and ignoring it reveals the state of mind of those venting their spleen against Israel.
  • The organizations making humanitarian claims to attack Israel all come equipped with long and disgraceful histories of displaying a clear political agenda against Israel. The names are worth remembering: Christian Aid, Medecins du Monde UK, Oxfam, Save the Children UK, Trocaire.
Bottom line: when aid agencies play politics, there are two kinds of loser. One is the very individuals most needing humanitarian aid. Gaza's abused masses, treated as a political football for sixty years, are the world's most outstanding example of this. The second is the generosity of the supporters and providers of the funding; their innocent and well-intentioned goodwill is being cynically abused by the aid industry's agenda-driven bureaucrats.

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