Ha’aretz‘s Amira Hass is back after her leave of absence, but she’s still apparently out to lunch when it comes to fulfilling her journalistic duties. Thus, instead of challenging questionable assertions by UNRWA director John Ging, she conducts a softball interview, giving his absurd comments a pass. (“UNRWA head in Gaza: Israel’s policy strengthens extremists,” Nov. 16, 2008).
Arguing that Israel’s security-related arguments for restrictions on imports into the Gaza Strip are not credible, Ging asserts: “If the platform is security and the desire to break the cycle of violence, Israeli policy has destructive, counterproductive consequences.” He points to what he sees as an example of this ostensibly destructive policy : “I ask the Israelis, why don’t you allow the entry of cement, even during the cease-fire, so we can build new schools and reduce the crowdedness in classrooms?”
Even if Ging was ignorant of the answer to his own question, journalistic fairplay requires Hass, the Hebrew-speaking Israeli journalist, to fill in the facts. As Amir Rappaport reported in Ma’ariv on Oct. 24, 2008 (and translated by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs):
There are few high-rise building sites in Gaza these days, but the demand for cement is huge. Copying Hizbullah in Lebanon, Hamas is building enormous underground installations – ammunition bunkers, tunnels, and command posts.
Responding to the intelligence reports, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai has reduced the flow of cement from Israel to Gaza and is weighing a total halt.
Security officials say Hamas is building tunnels beneath the centers of major cities to enable freedom of movement for its forces should the IDF enter.
In addition, outside the cities, Hamas is constructing tunnels beneath the major entry roads into Gaza, to be filled with explosives and then detonated beneath IDF convoys.
The underground construction also includes hundreds of Kassam and Katyusha rocket launching positions that are protected from air attack.
In light of Hamas’ problematic use of cement, wouldn’t Israel’s supply of the material to the terror organization yield “destructive, counterproductive consequences,” to use Ging’s own words? Where is Hass the reporter when it comes to pointing out the obvious?
Hass, whose self-imposed leave of absence was reportedly due to stress from the job, is apparently careful to spare the UNRWA director any undue stress of his own. She reports:
Ging, who has lived and worked in the Strip for three years, has become well acquainted with residents’ feelings in the community. His experience tells him that a state of dependence and poverty leads to deep frustration and desperation.
“We are not talking about how to keep people alive, but about quality of life, not only physically but materially. This way, the people’s mindset and emotional state are liable to be harmed,” he said.
Ging said he continues to be surprised by how people cling to their humanity, even having “lived so long in uncivilized conditions,” and continue to hope their children develop and grow in better conditions.
Hass may have asked what UNRWA itself has done to solve the refugee problem, or to ease their “frustration and desperation,” a topic discussed earlier this month by hundreds of European parliamentarians in Paris.
Etgar Lefkovits, who covered the Paris conference, noted in the Jerusalem Post Nov. 10:
While UNRWA’s 25,000-strong almost exclusively Palestinian staff care for 4.5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants, the UNHCR [the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which handles all other refugees around the world] employs a staff around 6,300 people to help nearly 33 million people in more than 110 countries.
The event also dwelt on UNRWA’s definition of Palestinian refugees, which includes not only refugees themselves, but also their descendants, which critics say only serves to perpetuate the refugee crisis . . . .
“The root of the problem is that these people are refugees because those who are dealing in the industry of hate are misusing them,” said Paulo Casaca, a member of the European Parliament from Portugal.
“They are kept on a hate-machine,” he said. “Instead of helping the refugees, we are helping those who want to [use] the refugees against the State of Israel.”