Muddying troubled waters
Arnold Roth, Jerusalem
When Ruth Pollard writing in Australia's newspaper of record [“Gaza's children live and die on contaminated water”, June 23, 2012] focuses on the suffering of Gaza’s children, she finds the answer to a multi-dimensional problem in a simple thesis: Israel continues to do illegal things, and tragically it is the children who are the first and main victims.
Her inaccuracies might matter less If she were writing a fund-raising brochure where all that counts is to touch the hearts of potential donors and get them to send money. But she is a professional journalist, and The Age/Sydney Morning Herald is a respected source of factual analysis. Readers have no reason to suspect that the claims in this article are false.
Start with this: “[T]he UN considers Israel's land and sea blockade of Gaza to be a denial of basic human rights and a contravention of international law.” But legal experts who have ruled on this issue after the complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 came to a different conclusion. The Secretary-General of the United Nations appointed a panel chaired by New Zealand’s Sir Geoffrey Palmer to analyze the 2010 clash between Turkish ship passengers and Israeli naval forces: the Mavi Marvara incident. It held that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza “was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.” [Source] Why does Ruth Pollard say the opposite?
She quotes a report called “Gaza's Children: Falling Behind" [online here], produced by Save the Children and Medical Aid for Palestinians. She says it found that "rates of sanitation-related diseases such as typhoid fever and watery diarrhoea, both of which can be fatal, have doubled in children since the blockade began." But the report did not say that. Setting aside for a moment the way the sponsors identify unhelpfully with the arguments of the Gazans, their report says diseases among Gaza Strip children under three have "increased" in "clinics serving refugees". How large an increase? It doesn’t say. It says nothing about children three and up. It does not connect the results to the post-blockade timeframe. And it does not claim to be based on independent data; instead it "combines data produced by Palestinian and international organisations" with unspecified "direct field research" and "recommendations of [health sector] experts.
About water, Ruth Pollard approvingly quotes Ahmed al-Yaqoub, a Hamas official in charge of water resources. He says “the economy in Gaza is getting worse and worse and more and more people are turning to agriculture to boost their income - this in turn has shifted more pressure onto the aquifer." He may well have said this. But it’s not the World Bank’s conclusion [source]. They say Gaza's economy has seen strong GDP growth since 2009; up 25.8% in the first three quarters of 2011 which leaves room for improvement but hardly qualifies as “worse and worse”. And while their report indicates nothing about al-Yaqoub’s claimed increase in agricultural activity, it does touch on Hamas' service inefficiencies and its over-drawing of Gaza’s “coastal aquifer [that] is causing a rapid decline of the groundwater table, seawater intrusion, and deterioration of the aquifer water quality”.
People who know Gaza’s realities from up close understand there is reason to be skeptical about any results offered up by the Gazan authorities. A terrorist organization, Hamas, is in charge there and they play by different rules. They openly conduct unlawful attacks on Israel’s civilians in pursuit of their declared goal to destroy the State of Israel. Their forces, according to the Australian government [source], fire Qassam rockets and mortar shells over here “on a regular basis”.
Our personal experience is that this is an understatement. Hamas sends religiously-inflamed men, women and children with bombs inside their clothing into our communities here in Israel with the intention of killing and maiming anyone and anything Israeli and/or Jewish. As indiscriminate practitioners of cold-blooded, hatred-driven terrorist warfare, they are especially toxic. Not so surprising that Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by the US, EU, Canada and Japan among others.
Ruth Pollard manages to tell her story without bringing in a single Israeli voice, and with no mention of either Hamas or any form of the word terror. Are these not factors in the water problem? Or in the state of children’s welfare? Does she imagine today’s relations between Israel and the Hamas regime are as congenial as those between the United States and Canada? Hamas almost gets mentioned at the very end when she touches on unnamed "armed groups operating in the strip". She says they, together with the Israeli military, use methods that cause "countless civilian deaths and injuries". It’s an exceptionally opaque way of presenting things. Do criminal gangs together with the police and security companies cause bank robberies?
Incidentally, with a life expectancy at birth of 74 years [source], Gazan children today can expect to live about ten percent longer than the world average [source], and much longer than people living in such places as Hungary, Bulgaria, Lithuania, People's Republic of China, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Let’s agree their lives are no picnic but there’s a good basis for better times ahead – if only their leaders would choose to go there.
Gaza’s population deserves clean water, adequate health care, plenty of electrical energy, a bright future, hope. Ordinary Israelis know this. Israel’s government does too. That those worthy objectives are not getting closer has more to do with Hamas and its terrorism-rich agenda than with any other factor. To look right past the Hamas factor – as too many agenda-driven observers do – does no favours to the suffering children.Arnold Roth’s daughter Malki, born in Melbourne, was murdered by Hamas terrorists in Jerusalem when she was fifteen. Her family established the Malki Foundation [www.kerenmalki.org] in her memory.