Tuesday, December 29, 2015

29-Dec-15: Gaza and what manipulative, highly-politicized foreign aid can buy

The red carpet is constantly out for visitors to Shujaiyeh
neighborhood, Gaza City. This non-Photoshopped photo is from nearly
a year after the destruction [Photo Credit: Dan Cohenvia 972Blog]
Gazan suffering. It's a vastly potent issue that drives much of the passion on the Palestinian Arab side.

With bitter wintery weather setting in fast, why are so many Gazan Palestinian Arabs still waiting for homes destroyed in 2014's summer battle with Israel to be reinstated and/or replaced?

Some digging around by reporters for the Wall Street Journal today offers surprising insights: "Politics Slows Rebuilding in War-Ravaged Gaza Strip | Political differences among Gulf Arab states play large role in who gets aid" [Rory Jones and Abubakr Bashir | Wall Street Journal, December 29, 2015]

It frames the question in terms of the very different fates experienced by a pair of Gazan brothers and their two adjoining residences. They are Abdelraziq Harara, 53, and and Jihad Harara, 65, two Palestinian Arab everyman-like unknowns who happen to have lost their neighboring Gaza homes in the storm of war that swept over them in July 2014. That's when the densely-populated Shujaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City became the center of fierce fighting involving the terrorists of the rocket-rich Hamas regime and the IDF. More than 140 Hamas rockets had been fired in the general direction of Israel from the Harara brothers' neighborhood in the 12 days commencing July 8, some of them reaching well into Israel's centers of population in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and .

Open-air prison? [Source]
Israel's patience got stretched thinner and thinner. Then it ended. At that point, Israel took some extraordinary preliminary measures before commencing a much-needed counter-offensive. Starting on July 16, 2014, and with the intention of minimizing the loss of civilian lives, the IDF
by means of leaflets, loudspeaker announcements, telephone calls, text messages and radio messages, told the residents to leave and relocate in central Gaza City until further notice... By 19 July, OCHA reported that while the majority had not left their homes,and ignored the warnings, up to half had gone as bombardments intensified. Israel condemned Hamas for using "human shields". According to Amnesty International, the UNRWA shelter facilities were overflowing and many of the residents had nowhere to go. Residents interviewed later also cited confusion due of lack of electricity and communications. The official Israeli view was that Hamas had compelled residents of Shujai'iya to stay behind in the face of IDF warnings to evacuate prior to the IDF assault, holding civilians as "hostages".Jordanian-Palestinian politician Mudar Zahran wrote that a Gaza medical worker had told him "Hamas militants blocked exits, shot people as they were running and forced the rest to return to their homes and get bombed". [Wikipedia]
Serious air, tank and mortar fire began on the night of July 19, 2014. Then shortly afterwards, Israeli ground forces entered the neighbourhood. Much destruction ensued.

Concentration camp? [Source]
Fast forward to today's WSJ analysis.

While Abdelraziq Harara's house is almost completely rebuilt, the immediately-adjacent lot, where his brother Jihad Harara's house once was, remains desolate. Same street, same family, completely different outcome. Why? As the WSJ article makes clear, the answer is: very poorly managed money, and the cynical manipulation this makes possible.

Soon after the end of the 2014 fighting, foreign donors were convened in Cairo for a one-day hand-over-the-money conference aimed at raising enough money to reverse the damage suffered by the Gazans. We noted here ["27-May-15: The cheque for Gaza is in the mail, or whatever"] that
the fund-raiser was an incredible success. The organizers had hoped to raise $4 billion, but ended with pledges to Gaza of an incredible $5.4 billion,.. And you have to take your hat off in recognition of the donors' selfless generosity. Some of them may be astronomically wealthy but let's give credit where it's due: they really wanted to help. Their fraternal ties to the Arabs of the Gaza Strip provided a powerful incentive to do the right thing. As we noted, major pledges of funding came from Qatar ($1bn). Saudi Arabia ($500m), Turkey ($200m), United Arab Emirates ($200m), the European Union ($568m), the United States ($212m) and the United Kingdom ($32m).
Successful as it all seemed to be, seriously negative signs were not hard to find even then. We suggested what this meant for Gaza's teeming masses and the desperately-needed cash that seemed to have been raised:
[T]he United States which pledged $277 million has handed over 84% of that. The European Union promised $348 million, and 40% has shown up so far which, compared with the Arabs, is not too shabby... [On the other hand] Qatar is spending tens of billions of dollars on getting ready to host the 2022 FIFA soccer World Cup. Of the $1 billion it pledged to its Gazan brothers, it has delivered 10 percent. The Saudi Arabians have produced just one-tenth of the $500 million they promised. Turkey pledged $200 million and has sent $520,000. Kuwait, not to be outdone, also pledged $200 million - and has not sent a penny. The unimaginably rich United Arab Emirates said it was giving $200 million; the World Bank says it has no data for how much arrived... ["27-May-15: The cheque for Gaza is in the mail, or whatever"]
With due modesty, it turns out we were right. As today's WSJ piece, written 14 months after ours. demonstrates, a mere
$1.2 billion of the $3.5 billion has been delivered, with Gulf states dispensing only about $170 million. Like other donors, Gulf governments have attached conditions on how their aid money is spent, according to Palestinian, United Nations and World Bank officials. “Donors have different requirements and priorities,” said Bashir Rayyes, who coordinates the Gaza aid effort for the United Nations and reports to the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank. Chief among these differences is their views about Gaza’s rulers. While Qatar supports Hamas, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have grown more aggressive in recent years in their opposition to Hamas... [Wall Street Journal, December 29, 2015
Gas chamber? [Source]
There's a self-serving quote in the article from a Hamas politburo member, an Islamist regime insider by the name of Ziad al Zaza:
"Each one of these countries wants a say in Gaza... We will never allow anyone to have a say in Gaza except the Palestinians."
Zaza, who knows how these things work, is a former Hamas deputy prime minister and finance minister. Other than his last three words, we think he ought to be believed... and the homeless of Gaza ought to be pushing him out of power as fast as they can.

Here, paraphrasing the WSJ team's findings, is what's known now about how certain super-wealthy Arab countries are playing their Gaza "relief aid" hand:
  • Qatar, encouraged by Hamas to do this, has set up its own foreign-aid office in Gaza. In this way, it hires contractors and laborers directly to carry out road, school and home reconstruction. Still, it has managed to spend only a fraction of the $1 billion it pledged in Cairo.
  • Saudi Arabia, for its own reasons, has no interest in seeing Hamas benefit from aid. So its funds are channeled via UNRWA. And, if you're wondering, it too has delivered just a tiny part of what it promised in Cairo last year.
  • United Arab Emirates is sending some of its aid money to Gaza via Mohammed Dahlan, who was a powerful (and phenomenally wealthy) figure under Yasser Arafat. It's calculated to cause problems. Hamas see Dahlan as a rival. Fatah insiders say he has been trying to overthrow the Palestinian Authority's president Mahmoud Abbas. Just the right guy.
  • Kuwait is also bypassing Hamas, and said to be sending its contribution via the Palestinian Authority. So how much have they already sent? According to the WSJ, oh, about exactly zero.
Qatar's man in Gaza gives the whole messy affair some revealing context:
Ahmad Abu Rass, who heads the [Qatari government] office, said Doha [the Qatari capital] won’t shell out more cash in Gaza until other donors step up efforts to fulfill their pledges. A half-hearted aid effort only sows more despair among Gazans and sets the stage for another round of fighting, making any aid a wasted investment, he said. [Wall Street Journal, December 29, 2015
Let's say that differently: no foreign aid serves Hamas better than foreign aid that never arrives. That's because Hamas has no interest at all in aiding its people - only in leveraging their plight for malevolent Islamist purposes. 

As poorly understood as this is by large parts of the mainstream media and by foreign governments (which it certainly is), ordinary Gazans comprehend it in practical and down-to-earth ways:
Abdelraziq said he and other displaced Gazans would take cash from Israel if it meant living in their own homes again soon. They don’t care about politics, he said... As Qatar’s maroon-and-white flag flew above a completed house nearby, [his still-homeless brother] Jihad said he had no control over what country aided him or why. He just hoped the money would come soon. “If the Israelis built the house, I’d fly the Israeli flag.” [Wall Street Journal, December 29, 2015
Not exactly what Hamas wants people to hear.

But then the messaging of its dominant fat-cats ["23-Nov-14: Gaza's wealth and where it is - and is not - going"] has always been strong on blunt threats and on real and threatened terror/fear - and considerably lighter on the basic business of taking care of the people they rule.

By the numbers. Source: WSJ
(The revealing WSJ graphic - note that we we removed a small part of it to simplify the message - sums up the Arab "largesse", contrasting it sharply with aid from Western sources.)

Describing accurately and fully how this works is a rare and tricky thing. Complex, often interwoven interests affect and are affected by it. That trickiness contributes to spiraling hyperbole - the need to reach for ever more evocative ways of depicting it, and never mind how outlandish or fact-free. The headlines we included in the screen shots above hint at the creative spirit behind much of the failed reporting and the supremely irresponsible rhetoric.

Understanding why so much misery goes on for so long in Gaza despite the phenomenal sums of money that have been channeled into countless relief efforts, special funds and emergency humanitarian appeals, remains Mission Almost-Impossible. Chronic distortion of facts is an essential part of the whole sad and endless process.

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