Andre Oboler, Gaza: NGO’s, the Times, the World Bank, and the facts, Israpundit

A December 17 article Israeli sanctions ‘will ruin plans to rebuild Palestinian economy’ in the Times (UK) caused concern for many who care about fair reporting, human rights and effective assistance to the Palestinians.

The article stated that Oxfam, the World Bank and the Red Cross reported that Israeli restrictions on movement have “strangled the Palestinian economy.” It follows an angle initially provided in a December 14 press release by the NGO Oxfam. The press release was titled “For aid to be effective, donors need to insist Israel changes its policies towards occupied Palestinian Territories”.

The policy in question is the isolation of Hamas. Both the article and Oxfam press release lack the context provided in the December 17 World
Bank report
and the speech the World Bank’s Managing Director Mr. Juan-Jose Daboub gave in addressing the Donor conference.

The comparison of the World Banks detailed information and Oxfam’s selective information shows the gap we often find between NGO reporting and serious studies. The media’s role in promoting the NGO agenda rather than the facts in context is also evident.

What everyone agrees is that movement restrictions limit economic growth. This says nothing about the need for restrictions and is simply a factor in discussing the Palestinian economy. Mr. Juan-Jose Daboub addressing this at the funding conference and outlined two situations, the better of which naturally involved more donations, less restrictions and would “yield considerable growth rates and positively impact poverty levels”. The other scenario involved restrictions and a drop in donor funding. The Times article accurately provided these two scenarios, however, in explaining the situation both the Times and Oxfam have isolated the effects of restrictions from their root cause. When compared to the World Bank analysis there
is a problem in context, presumption of intentions and accuracy of the associated information, particularly in the Oxfam press release.

The World Bank Report notes that economic recovery and development must address “the aftermath of the illegal takeover of Gaza”. The Bank clearly calls the Hamas take over of Gaza illegal. The Bank explained their agenda “will be hampered by the lack of PA control over Gaza” in addition to the closures. In sharp contrast the Oxfam press release makes no mention of the role of Hamas in the closures. The NGO said donor governments “must push the Palestinian Authority to play its part in ending the isolation of Gaza, including doing its utmost to prevent attacks on Israel”. As long as Hamas illegally control Gaza, even the utmost the PA can do is not enough. One wonders why Oxfam, a Human Rights NGO, makes no demands of Hamas, not even the demand to uphold the right to life and end rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.

The World Bank report also said development plans “must address the impacts of the current closure regime”. This call recognizes the political and security framework and does not call for an end to the closures in isolation from other changes. Mr Daboub expressed the Bank’s commitment to support “a viable and peaceful two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict” and highlighted the need for “parallel actions by the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the donors”. Oxfam argues “Israel’s legitimate security concerns have not been met by the blockade of Gaza”, in doing so they deny Israel its position in the political standoff recognized by the Word Bank and demand a policy change from Israel alone.

Oxfam refer to “restrictions on humanitarian assistance that amount to collective punishment of 1.5 million Gazans” and calls on donors to “ensure that restrictions on aid are not being used as a weapon against Palestinian civilians”. This contradicts Mr Daboub’s statement that Israel, the PA and donors are all working to “shield the Strip’s 1.4 million people from the impacts of the current political stalemate”. Why does Oxfam refuse to recognize the political stalemate and indeed the broader political situation? And where did the extra 100,000 people come from? Oxfam’s accusations against Israel begin to look like a smear campaign.

Oxfam also claim Israel is “wrecking” projects, and specifically that work on the Beit Lahia sewage lake has “stalled… putting thousands of Palestinians at risk of being swamped with sewage”. At the conference (a mere three days later) the World Bank reported a diametrically opposed view, saying that “as a result of coordination with Israel…  work [on the lake]… is expected to be completed by March.” Again questions are raised both about Oxfam’s motivation in their press release and about the reliability of their “facts”.

So what does all this mean? For a start, the media used the World Bank and Oxfam to support a case against Israel. The case that was made takes the World Bank report out of context and selectively cherry picks from it, ignoring the parts that disagree. The same charge can’t be levelled at Oxfam as they published their press release in advance of the donor meeting. This however is itself a problem. NGOs should (like the World Bank has done) base their press releases on facts.They should not level accusations without a basis. Nor should they ignore context. The Oxfam press release reads as Hamas propaganda.

No-where is Hamas held accountable, and no where is it suggested that pressure be applied for Hamas to comply with the requirements of the quartet so the sanctions can be lifted. NGOs can play an important role in the region, but only if they take context into account and
behave in a fair and even handed manner.

Dr Andre Oboler is a Legacy Heritage Fellow at NGO Monitor in Jerusalem and runs the website Zionism On The Web which combats online misinformation about Zionism and Israel.

Originally published as: Andre Oboler, Gaza: NGO’s, the Times, the World Bank, and the facts, Israpundit, December 20, 2007

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