From Massacre Myopia to Blockade Blindness
by Nima Shirazi | July 2, 2011 | Foreign Policy Journal
On June 27, former IDF prison guard Jeffrey Goldberg approvingly quoted an excerpt from a recent anti-Gaza Flotilla opinion piece by Irish columnist Kevin Myers. Myers’ snide commentary is full of historical revisionism, factual errors, total fabrications, racist anti-Arab and Palestinian stereotyping, and an adolescent overuse of silly scare-quotes:
The last ‘aid flotilla’ to Gaza carried a large number of Islamists who wanted to provoke: and aided by some quite astounding Israeli stupidity, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
Now another convoy is under way, and again with an utterly disingenuous plan to bring “assistance” to the “beleaguered Gazans”, some of who, funnily enough, can now cross into Egypt any time they like, and buy their explosives and their Kalashnikovs in the local arms-bazaar.
And as for human-rights abuses: why, nothing that Israel has done in the 63 years of its existence can possibly compare with the mass-murders of Fatah members by Hamas firing-squads over the past five years.
Myers’ ignorance about the goals and participants of last year’s flotilla and the upcoming one is revealing. His ignorance about the Rafah Crossing is embarrassing. His comments about “beleaguered Gazans” are hideous and shameful. His weird comparison of more than six decades of ethnic cleansing, land theft, occupation, apartheid, colonization, military aggression, war crimes, assassination, and collective punishment with a few years of Palestinian factional violence is bizarre.
(Myers notably does his hasbaric best by only mentioning Hamas violence against Fatah – of which there has been plenty – as if the latter was an innocent victim of the other. For example, on May 24, 2006, the BBC reported that a member of Hamas had been shot and killed after being one of three men abducted by Fatah gunmen. In early October 2006, Hamas official Muhammad Odeh was shot and killed on his way to pray at a nearby mosque. In December 2006, the New York Times reported that “gunmen forced a prominent Hamas militant to his knees on Wednesday, then shot him dead outside a courthouse where he worked, in the southern Gaza Strip.” Later that month, Fatah members opened fire at a rally of about 200 Hamas supporters in Nablus, wounding nine. A couple weeks later, Ynet reported that “three Palestinians, all members of the same Hamas-affiliated family, were killed in the Gaza neighborhood of Sabara Saturday evening in exchanges of fire with members of a Fatah-affiliated family” and “seven Palestinians identified with Hamas were kidnapped in Gaza and the West Bank.” On January 30, 2007, the Jerusalem Post reported that senior Hamas official “Hussein al-Shabasi was shot and killed on his way out of one of the mosques in the city, in the first incident of violence since the cease-fire was signed between Hamas and Fatah.” Reports that “dozens of Fatah members” in Gaza were executed by Hamas for violating a Hamas-imposed house arrest – the only instance of what might be considered “mass-murders” – come exclusively from Fatah-run media. Even the highest estimation of casualties pales in comparison to what Israel inflicted upon Gaza during its winter massacre of 2008-2009.)
Myers seemingly justifies his dismissal of the injustice suffered by Palestinians in Gaza by writing, “According to Mathilde Redmatn, deputy director of the International Red Cross in Gaza, there is in fact no humanitarian crisis there at all.”
This supposed “proof” that the situation in Gaza is no big deal and everyone who cares about Palestinians there must be driven simply because they are virulent anti-Semitic Israel-haters has been racing around the internet lately without any fact-checking or critical research. The origin of the story can be traced back to the IDF Spokesperson’s website, which quoted a “Mathilde Redmatn” as saying the following:
There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza…If you go to the supermarket, there are products. There are restaurants and a nice beach. The problem is mainly in maintenance of infrastructure and in access to goods, concrete for example. Israel has the legitimate right to protect the civilian population…
It should first be pointed out that “supermarkets” with “products”, “restaurants”, and (through some sick, Islamic curse of geography) a stretch of sand near water does not invalidate the fact that there is a humanitarian crisis, and not just because most of those “products” are smuggled in through tunnels, and not the result of Israeli kindness. Also, as has been pointed out before, the Warsaw Ghetto had a lively “marketplace” in which people wore “coats” and sometimes the oppressed and imprisoned residents even went to the “theatre” where they’d watch “performers” like Diana Blumenfeld, Izak Moszkowicz, Leah Krause-Miller, and Aizik Samberg. No one would argue that these facts disprove the contention that there was a “humanitarian crisis” in the Ghetto, in which food restrictions entitled Jewish ration card holders to a mere 300 calories per day.
An Israeli government document released as a result of a lawsuit in 2010, entitled Food Consumption in the Gaza Strip – Red Lines, “meticulously details the minimum caloric intake required, based on age and sex, to keep Gazans hovering just above malnutrition levels, and specifies the corresponding grams and calories of each type of food allowed into Gaza.” In 2007, Gaza’s UNRWA Operations Director John Ging stated that “the entire civilian population in Gaza” was subject to “human suffering and misery” and said his agency was “unable to provide more than 61 per cent of the necessary calories to refugees.” According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, “between 2007 and 2009 the caloric intake per capita in Gaza and the West Bank decreased by 18 percent.”
Nevertheless, the “no humanitarian crisis” story was then picked up by outlets like CNN, Ha’aretz, Jerusalem Post, Miami Herald and elsewhere. As Myers’ despicable article demonstrates, it’s still being trotted about to this day.
However, the name of the person who was supposedly quoted is actually “Mathilde De Riedmatten” – a minor difference, sure, but one that proves that every subsequent news outlet has simply parroted the IDF line without question or due diligence. The reason this is important is that Mathilde De Riedmatten, who is deputy head of the ICRC’s sub-delegation in Gaza, gave an interview in late May which is posted on the ICRC website. Here is the entire thing (emphasis added):
Gaza: no end in sight to hardship and despair
Mathilde De Riedmatten, deputy head of the ICRC’s sub-delegation in Gaza, talks about the situation in the coastal enclave and about how ordinary Gazans manage to carry on with their daily lives.
How would you describe the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip today?
The ICRC is concerned about the fact that the 1.5 million people in the Strip are unable to live a normal and dignified life. Almost no one can leave the Gaza Strip, not even to go to the West Bank, where many Gazans have family or previously had work.
Health-care facilities are suffering from the restrictions imposed by Israel on the transfer of medical equipment, building materials and many basic items needed for maintenance. Water and sanitation facilities have been under strain for many decades. The fact that they remain even barely in working order is due to the efforts of certain humanitarian organizations. Buildings that have been in need of repair for several years and the many buildings that were destroyed during the Israeli military operation in Gaza in 2008-2009 cannot be repaired or rebuilt as long as basic building materials, such as concrete, are not allowed into the Gaza Strip in meaningful quantities.
Violence claims civilian lives in the Strip on a regular basis. In recent months, many people have been killed or injured in escalating violence and sometimes even in open hostilities. Security incidents in the area between Gaza and Israel frequently result in loss of life or in destruction of property or livelihoods. We deplore the civilian casualties and continue to remind all parties that civilians must be spared the effects of the hostilities. Every feasible precaution must be taken to avoid civilian casualties.
ICRC staff constantly monitor the situation of civilians, such as farmers and rubble collectors, who have no alternative but to live and work in areas close to Israel. The area along the fence extending 300 metres into Gaza has been declared a no-go zone by the Israel Defense Forces. A far bigger area, extending nearly one kilometre into the Gaza Strip, is considered dangerous because of the Israeli military’s incursions and use of live ammunition. Whenever civilians suffer direct harm in such incidents, we document the cases and raise our concerns bilaterally and confidentially with the parties concerned.
Can you tell us more about the economic situation?
Gaza is more dependent than ever on outside aid. For young people – fully 50 per cent of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents are under 18 years of age – there is a crushing lack of prospects, and it is a constant struggle for them to maintain hope in the future.
The strict limits on imports and the almost absolute ban on exports imposed by Israel make economic recovery impossible. The unemployment rate currently stands at nearly 40 per cent. It will remain ruinously high as long as the economy fails to recover. This difficult situation exacerbates the considerable hardship already caused by the collapse of previously prosperous branches of the economy.
Over the years, access to land suitable for agriculture has been eroded by restrictions imposed in the areas near Israel and the levelling of land and destruction of trees by the Israel Defense Forces. To make matters worse, the high price or even total lack of some farm inputs such as fertilizer, pesticides, etc., and the lack of export opportunities have weighed heavily on the primary sector. In addition, many fishermen have lost their livelihood as a result of Israel reducing the area at sea within which it allows fishing to three nautical miles from Gaza’s coastline.
Because Israel retains effective control over the Gaza Strip, in particular by maintaining authority over the movement of people and goods, it must fulfill its obligations under the law of occupation and allow the civilian population to lead as normal a life as possible.
Israel eased the closure in June 2010. Has that had a positive effect on the lives of ordinary people in Gaza?
The restriction on the movement of people out of Gaza remains unchanged. The current Israeli permit system, combined with rigorous controls, means that only people in need of medical attention who fulfill strict security criteria are allowed to leave either through the Rafah crossing into Egypt or through the Erez crossing into Israel. Very few other people are allowed out of Gaza.
The entry of goods into Gaza is also still highly restricted, not only in terms of quantity but also in terms of the particular items allowed. Long delays are frequent. Some goods that are allowed in are so expensive that their availability hardly matters to the vast majority of the population, who could never afford them. Although there has been media coverage of the export of certain cash crops such as carnations and strawberries, the actual level of exports from the Gaza Strip remains close to zero. Imports of construction supplies and raw materials are still mostly banned, even though they are vital to the territory’s infrastructure and economic recovery.
Unless there is political change that results in freedom of movement for Gazans, increased imports of a variety of goods and significant exports, there will be no improvement.
How can the ICRC help mitigate the effects of the closure?
To help families make ends meet, we have developed cash-for-work programmes and launched projects that provide farmers with tools and seedlings to improve crop yields.
We are also doing what we can to make sure that injured and sick people receive proper medical attention by providing support for the emergency services of the Ministry of Health and the Palestine Red Crescent Society. The Society provides pre-hospital emergency care and counselling services alongside the many other humanitarian tasks it performs within the Gaza Strip. The ICRC also provides support for the Artificial Limb and Polio Centre, the only facility of its kind in the Gaza Strip, which treated over a thousand patients in 2010.
Our water and sanitation engineers are focusing their efforts on the treatment of wastewater. At a plant that was recently completed in Rafah, some of the treated wastewater can safely seep into and replenish the aquifer, which remains the only source of clean water in the Gaza Strip. Thanks to the latest upgrades at the plant, treated wastewater could soon be used for agricultural purposes such as irrigating trees.
Hardly the rosy picture Myers (and Goldberg, due to his endorsement) are trying to paint. Nevertheless, the “no humanitarian crisis” nonsense continues and Israel’s stalwart defenders ignore the facts in their never-ending quest to whitewash Israeli crimes and pretend that peace and humanitarian activists – even Jewish ones – are Islamic terrorists or aligned with them.
Furthermore, if Myers and those who agree with him are so enamored with what the International Committee of the Red Cross has to say about the situation is Gaza, they should read its own June 14, 2010 press release, in which the ICRC states plainly that the Israeli blockade of Gaza is illegal:
The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.
While the ICRC points out its position that “the dire situation in Gaza cannot be resolved by providing humanitarian aid,” it calls upon the “international community…to do its part to ensure that repeated appeals by States and international organizations to lift the closure are finally heeded.”
The goal of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla – past and present – is not simply to bring aid (or “aid”, as Myers puts it) to the besieged territory; rather, a primary goal is to draw public and political attention to the situation in the hope that by physically challenging such a violation of international law, the blockade will end. The organizers of and organizations involved with the flotilla openly state as much.
One wonders if this comes down to semantics. Myers says there is no “humanitarian crisis” but describes violent actions by Hamas against Fatah as “mass-murder.” It would be unsurprising if Myers agreed with the Israeli press‘ description of the brutal murder of five members of the Fogel family, Israeli settlers living in the illegal colony of Itamar in the West Bank, as a “massacre.” In that case, how would he describe the killing of over 1,400 Palestinians in 22 days? One can assume that their deaths elicit no sympathy from Myers, as they must be merely collateral damage during what the New York Times innocuously refers to as the “Israeli antirocket invasion.”
Or should that be “collateral damage”?
Nima Shirazi is a political commentator from New York City. His analysis of United States policy and Middle East issues, particularly with reference to current events in Iran, Israel, and Palestine, can be found in numerous other online and print publications, as well as his website, WideAsleepInAmerica.com. He is a contributing columnist and newsletter editor for Foreign Policy Journal. Read more articles by Nima Shirazi.