Israel has been forced to reveal what Palestinians and other observers on the ground have known for a long time: that the blockade of Gaza is state policy intended to inflict collective punishment, not to bolster Israeli “security”.
An Israeli human rights group has won a legal battle to compel the Israeli government to release three important documents. These outline state policy for permitting the transfer of goods into Gaza prior to the May 31 attack on the peace flotilla in which nine people were killed by Israeli forces. The group, Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, is demanding Israeli transparency. Meanwhile, Israel refuses to release documents on the current version of blockade policy which was “eased” after international condemnation following the flotilla attack.
The released documents, whose existence Israel had denied for eighteen months, reveal that the state approved “a policy of deliberate reduction” of basic goods, including food and fuel, in the Gaza Strip. Gisha Director Sari Bashi explains:
“Instead of considering security concerns, on the one hand, and the rights and needs of civilians living in Gaza, on the other, Israel banned glucose for biscuits and the fuel needed for regular supply of electricity – paralyzing normal life in Gaza and impairing the moral character of the State of Israel. I am sorry to say that major elements of this policy are still in place.” (Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, ‘Due to Gisha’s Petition: Israel Reveals Documents related to the Gaza Closure Policy’, October 21, 2010; http://www.gisha.org/index.php ?intLanguage=2&intItemId=1904&intSiteSN=113)
As Saeed Bannoura of the International Middle East Media Center reports, the Israeli government imposed a deliberate policy:
“in which the dietary needs for the population of Gaza are chillingly calculated, and the amounts of food let in by the Israeli government measured to remain just enough to keep the population alive at a near-starvation level. This documents the statement made by a number of Israeli officials that they are ‘putting the people of Gaza on a diet’.” (Saeed Bannoura, ‘Israeli government documents show deliberate policy to keep Gazans at near-starvation levels’, International Middle East Media Center, November 6, 2010 21:32; http://www.imemc.org/article/59843)
“This release of documents also severely undermines Israel’s oft-made claim that the siege is ‘for security reasons’, as it documents a deliberate and systematic policy of collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza.”
When Israel and the United States were reacting to Hamas’s election victory in Gaza in January 2006, long-time Israeli government adviser Dov Weisglass stated:
“The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” (‘Hamas readies for government, Israel prepares sanctions’, Agence France Presse, February 16, 2006)
The released documents contain actual equations used by the Israeli government to calculate the exact amounts of food, fuel and other necessities needed to do exactly that. (‘Submitted to Gisha in the framework of a Freedom of Information Act Petition, AP 2744/09 Gisha v. Defense Ministry’, Appendices B, C and D;http://gisha.org/UserFiles/File/HiddenMessages/ DefenseMinistryDocumentsRevealedFOIAPetition.pdf)
The policy is all the more disturbing, indeed repellent, given that almost half the people of Gaza are children under the age of eighteen. One might reasonably conclude that Israel has deliberately forced the undernourishment of hundreds of thousands of children in direct violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Media Response? A Polite Silence
Our searches of the Nexis newspaper database show that, as far as we could determine, not a single UK newspaper has reported the release of these damning Israeli documents. We widened our searches to include all English-language publications covered worldwide by Nexis. We found just two: one from the Palestine News Network on October 21 and one in Palestine Chronicle on November 6.
We were so surprised by the uniform silence across the English-language press that we asked US-based media analyst David Peterson to check our findings. He was able to do so, spelling out his search results as follows (email to Media Lens, November 11, 2010):
Major World Publications: zero
All News (English): two (the same two that we found, as mentioned above)
Broadcast Transcripts: zero
A search of the Factiva database (covering all major English-language newspapers and wire services) found the same results. Peterson commented:
“No mentions in any of the major English-language newspapers or wire services of the fact that someone had revealed the actual Israeli government policy towards the Gaza Palestinians is to force a ‘deliberate reduction’ in their access to the necessities of everyday survival.”
It takes a peculiar form of social malaise for this astonishing media silence to be maintained in ostensibly free societies.
The Fiercely “Independent” BBC
On November 11, an online BBC article reported on the Gaza blockade but made no mention of the released documents. (Jon Donnison, ‘UN: No change in Gaza despite easing of Israel blockade’ BBC news online, November 11, 2010 Last updated at 00:25; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11731695)
Reporter Jon Donnison wrote:
“The UN says there has been ‘no material change” for people in Gaza since Israel announced it was ‘easing’ its economic blockade of the Palestinian territory.”
Jon Ging, the head of UN operations in Gaza, said few people had noticed any difference:
“There’s been no material change for the people on the ground here in terms of their status, the aid dependency, the absence of any recovery or reconstruction, no economy.”
“The easing, as it was described, has been nothing more than a political easing of the pressure on Israel and Egypt.”
The BBC gave the final word to Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry:
“Why is the border blockaded? Because the territory has been overtaken by a declared terror movement.”
This assertion that the Gaza blockade is motivated by security concerns went unchallenged.
World News Today, presented by Zeinab Badawi on BBC4, broadcast a piece by Donnison along similar lines to his article. (BBC World News Today, BBC4, Thursday, November 11, 2010, 7pm;http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwxZXfRTdj0)
We wrote to Jon Donnison and asked whether he was aware that the Israeli human rights group Gisha had obtained Israeli government documents confirming that the collective punishment of Gaza is based on politics, not security. We asked him:
“Have you reported the release of these documents?
“Will you be pursuing it in a new article?” (Email, November 11, 2010)
We emailed again on November 16 but have received no response to date.
Compare and contrast the BBC’s performance on this story with a new Foreign Office-sponsored piece on the BBC by news presenter Zeinab Badawi:
“Transparency, accountability of government actions is absolutely crucial. And frankly that’s the role of the media. You know, shining a harsh spotlight on truths and sunlight, after all, is a very strong antiseptic, isn’t it?” (‘Zeinab Badawi says freedom of expression is cornerstone of democracy in Britain’, November 5, 2010; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rQM-kMPoy0&feature=player_embedded)
Badawi added that “the BBC’s constitution means that we absolutely, +absolutely+ cherish and protect and fight for our independence. We don’t even have an arm’s length relationship with the government, we just don’t deal with the government at all.”
Badawi continued the self-adulation:
“It [the BBC] really is a vital, vital tool for the dissemination of information in all sorts of ways. All these things have really served to underscore that freedom of speech that we have in this country. And I suppose the BBC best epitomises that tradition.”
“I’m very proud to be an employee of the BBC.”
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Write to Jon Donnison of the BBC
Write to his editors:
Jeremy Bowen, BBC News Middle East editor
Steve Herrmann, BBC News online editor
Write to Zeinab Badawi of the BBC