Monday, July 09, 2012

9-Jul-12: Things you might learn from contemplating the destruction of people's homes

Gaza City: Scene of the residential neighborhood demolition
[Image Source]
The report below, describing high-handed treatment of its own people by the Hamas regime, was published yesterday (Sunday) evening on the website of the independent Palestinian newsagency Maan.
Gaza govt begins demolition of homes        
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- The Gaza government on Sunday began the demolition of several homes in Gaza City, saying they are built on government land. Abu Al-Abed Abu Omra, whose house is threatened with demolition, told Ma'an that police officers arrived late Saturday night and told residents to evacuate their homes in order to facilitate the demolition. He said that there are more than 120 families living in the 15-dunams area under threat, near Gaza's Al-Azhar University, and they have been there since 1948. He called on the Gaza cabinet to provide the families with homes in neighboring area al-Sheikh Ijleen in exchange, which he said had been promised to them. The families had rejected an offer to move to the southern areas of Deir al-Balah and Karni as they are too close to Israel's dangerous no-go zone surrounding the barrier, he said. In February after authorities demolished a number of homes in the Hamami neighborhood in Gaza City, a municipality engineer told the US-based Electronic Intifada website that the authorities intended to widen a 40-km coastal road to and install a sewage and water network. The engineer, Hatem al-Sheikh Khaleil, said the project was in cooperation with the Lands Authority and the Palestine Telecommunication Company, funded by a German grant. The website quoted municipal officials as saying the al-Rashid coastal road was too narrow to absorb the amount of traffic it receives, especially in the summer.  
Several aspects of this are worth thinking about.

Given the human misery involved and the fact that you can't hide the destruction of a residential neighborhood from the prying eyes of the media, where are the reports (other than Maan's)? Where are the online photographs? (If any of our readers can point us to some, we will be happy to re-publish or link to them here.)

Road traffic has grown to such an extent that Gazan homes need to be razed? Whose vehicles are causing this pressure on the roads, and how does this square with Gaza's alleged resemblance to a concentration camp?

The destruction of sixty-year-old residential buildings certainly required the use of bulldozers. Given the obsessive and entirely unconstructive focus by foes of Israeli policies on Caterpillar Inc., would you not think there would be an outcry against the cynical actions of the Hamas regime and their bulldozers, whoever's bulldozers they were? We see no mention on the web of such an outcry.

The demolition is said to benefit Paltel. That's an especially interesting connection. Paltel is a subsidiary of a wealthy Virgin Islands holding company called APIC in which Tareq Abbas, son of PA president Mahmoud Abbas, is one of the two senior managers (see APIC's 2010 financial report). APIC's second largest shareholder is Palestine Investment Fund, better known as PIF

A year ago, Jonathan Schanzer published some revealing findings about how PIF works and the light this throws on rampant Palestinian Arab corruption at the highest levels:
One egregious example is the Palestine Investment Fund... The bylaws were established so that its operations would be transparent, since the PIF effectively functions as a sovereign wealth fund... In recent years, however, Abbas changed the charter, installed his own choices for board members, placed the PIF under his full control, and neglected to have the PIF audited by outsiders. Today, Prime Minister Fayyad has zero oversight of the PIF, despite his celebrated mandate for transparency. As the largest donor to the PA, the US has a right to oversee the PIF. The PIF contributes dividends to the PA every year. The PA also borrows from this fund, currently worth at least $1 billion, when it cannot pay salaries. In return for money borrowed, Abbas has been repaying the PIF with land that will be used for additional businesses that enrich his inner circle. Oversight of the PIF is long overdue. Mohammed Dahlan, a former PA official, charges that $1.3 billion has gone missing from the fund. Another former official claims that if Congress were to demand an accounting of the PIF, it would cause an "explosion," revealing corruption at the highest levels of the Palestinian Authority. The fact that Hamas recently took full control of the PIF's assets and offices in Gaza adds to the concern.
As for Paltel itself, the World Bank was sufficiently troubled by the way it acquired its business to discuss it explicitly in a published report tellingly entitled "West Bank and Gaza: Improving Governance and Reducing Corruption". The very first of the case studies it presents (starting on page 35) happens to concern Paltel:
Case Study One: The Telecoms Sector in West Bank and Gaza |  Palestine Telecommunications Co. PLC (Paltel)... was awarded a 20-year license for operations in all ICT market segments, with a 10-year exclusivity arrangement for the landline segment and 5-year exclusivity for the mobile segment... However, the process by which the license was awarded to Paltel, and the payment terms associated with the license, was not transparent. The license was awarded without a tender process, since the PA was still a nascent body and had not developed formal bidding systems. An initial license deal brokered with another company was retracted and subsequently an agreement was signed with Paltel... The lack of transparency associated with the payments made by Paltel to the PA for acquiring the license and non-disclosure of the annexes of the license left room for speculation on the relationship between Paltel and the PA. [More]
So does any of this matter? Probably yes, to the people who were kicked out of their homes yesterday. But also probably no in light of how riddled with corruption and lack of transparency Palestinian Arab society is today and always has been. Is it realistic for anyone to expect honest, crusading journalists to look into something as extraordinary as the Hamas government riding roughshod over their own suffering brothers? Evidently not. Not even Maan digs beneath the surface of this report. Perhaps they should.

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