A guest post by blogger Daphne Anson
Reading the Guardian on Israel is always a queasy experience. Were it not for the fact that Harriet Sherwood’s Guardian report of 30 November headed “Israel accused over ‘cruel’ Gaza blockade” reflects the customary tone and thrust of her Jerusalem-based reports concerning Israel, I might have assumed that her willingness to swallow the detrimental assertions of a lynch mob of NGOs hook, line and sinker is just a case of Sherwood being green. Alas, I know better: the Guardian has an agenda, and one that’s in perfect harmony with that of the NGOs who are in the forefront of efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state. In reporting the latters’ report uncritically, with no genuine look at the countervailing facts, Ms Sherwood acts less as correspondent than as cheerleader.
“Gaza‘s 1.5 million people are still suffering from a shortage of construction materials, a ban on exports and severe restrictions on movement six months after Israel agreed to ease its blockade on the territory, according to a report from 21 international organisations”, her opening sentence tells us. “The loosening of the embargo has done little to improve the plight of Gaza’s civilians, according to the coalition, which includes Amnesty, Oxfam, Save the Children, Christian Aid and Medical Aid for Palestinians.” The usual suspects, then, well-known for their antipathy to Israel’s cause – though if we don’t already know that for ourselves we’d be none the wiser, for Ms Sherwood has not volunteered that salient fact. We have to have read the thoroughly researched reports and empirical analyses at the website of NGO Monitor to know who pushes their buttons and why they do and say the things they do.
Like the Guardian itself, the organisations named all peddle the familiar narrative of Palestinian victimhood and Israeli evil that the Guardian under Alan Rusbridger’s editorship has done so much to bolster. The report which they and the sixteen other NGOs involved (many of which are in the forefront of efforts to promote BDS and delegitimize Israel) have just issued, entitled Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza Blockade, tells us, according to Ms Sherwood’s précis:
“Israel agreed to ease its restrictions on goods and materials allowed into Gaza following its attack on a flotilla of aid boats in May, in which nine Turkish activists were killed. Since then the import of food and many other consumer items has resumed, although there is still a ban on exports and severe restrictions on construction materials. Israel argues that the latter could be used by militants for military purposes.”
This is a deplorably shallow and one-sided description. We don’t necessarily expect investigative journalism, but surely we deserve honest reporting. Ms Sherwood has omitted to remind readers (and if any readers need reminding, they are the Guardian’s!) that the “attack” was not on “a flotilla” – it was, by the law and custom of the sea, a legitimate raid on a particular vessel that had refused to cooperate with the Israeli authorities. The flotilla sailed under the auspices of the IHH, a fundamentalist Islamic group with direct links to terrorism. Antisemitic chants had preceded the flotilla’s sailing. “Go back to Auschwitz!” was an audible taunt from the vessel when contacted by Israeli coastal radio operators and asked to put into Ashdod so that its cargo, avowedly of humanitarian supplies for the people of Gaza, could be searched and assessed prior to being sent to its destination overland. Israeli commandos had been brutally beaten with iron bars as they attempted to go aboard, and responded accordingly.
It’s true that there is still a ban on exports – although as Ms Sherwood tells us at the end of her report – strawberries and carnations for European markets are allowed out. (To be precise, starting from last Sunday, 2.5 tons of strawberries and 2,000 blooms are being exported to Europe via the Kerem Shalom crossing.) She tells us, again précising the NGOs’ report, that: “imports of construction materials are 11% of the 2007 pre-blockade levels” and that “Despite having agreed to allow in materials for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to rebuild its schools and clinics damaged or destroyed in the three-week war in 2008-09, Israel has permitted only 7% of the necessary amount.”
While big-noting the report is part and parcel of what we have come to expect from the Guardian, ever-zealous to highlight something, however tenuous, that might damage the image and interests of the Jewish State, in many respects the NGOs – like the Guardian in its enthusiastic airing of their indictment against Israel – have been overtaken and outsmarted by events. Its assertions are nicely diluted by Israeli governmental statistics, more specifically by those of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). Thus, since the beginning of this year, 78 projects, largely concerned with education, health and infrastructure, have been approved for funding – 64 of them since Israel’s easing of the blockade. This past Sunday, 286 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid and commercial products crossed from Israel into Gaza, along 21 imported vehicles. In October, 2569 Palestinians left Gaza through the Erez crossing.