New York Times Errs on Cause of Gaza Water and Medicine Shortages

A March 12 story in the New York Times attributes a shortage of medicine and water in the Gaza Strip to “a blockade by Israel and Egypt,” even though Israel’s security restrictions do not prevent medicine and water from entering the Strip, and are not responsible for the shortages. Instead, shortages of medicine are a direct result of political decisions by the Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank government, and water shortages stem from the overpumping of water from the aquifer under the crowded Gaza Strip.

The piece, “The Mideast Plan Is Nearly Ready. Will either Side Read It?” by Mark Landler, refers to Gaza as a territory that “has been racked by shortages of medicine and water after years of a blockade by Israel and Egypt.” Of course, the laying out of a sequence in this way — x happened after years of y — will be taken to indicate a direct, causal relationship between the two. (A serious newspaper wouldn’t assert that “schools shut down after days of heavy rain,” for example, if the shutdown was actually due to a teacher strike.)


As Amira Hass indicated last month in Haaretz, Mahmoud Abbas’s government is responsible for a scarcity of medicine in the Gaza Strip. “The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority government is responsible for the purchase of medicaments, but fails to send them regularly to Gaza,” said Hass, a strident critic of Israel, in a Feb. 8 story.

She continued, “Some argue that the shortages are politically motivated, constituting part of the pressure the PA applies on Hamas. The question of why Hamas spends money on rearmament and on electricity for mosques and not on public health is being asked, but not openly.”

The latter point was echoed by the New York Times itself in a Feb. 14 editorial about suffering in the Gaza Strip. Though the editorial, as most Times editorials on the subject of the Arab-Israeli conflict, did not spare Israel, the piece acknowledged that in the Gaza Strip “Money that should have gone to hospitals and medicine has been spent on futile confrontation with Israel and digging tunnels….”

The Palestinian Authority’s primary responsibility for shortfalls in Gaza’s medical supplies is not news. As IRIN news agency noted back in 2011, in an article also published by the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency,

The main reason for the worsening shortages of essential drugs and medical supplies in the Gaza Strip is that the Palestinian Authority ministry of health in the West Bank has not delivered enough drugs and medical supplies to Gaza, according to the World Health Organization, international aid organizations and Gaza health ministry officials. 
WHO did not attribute the shortages to Israel’s more than three-year blockade of the Strip. “Israeli authorities are not blocking the entry of drugs and disposables to Gaza. They recognize these are priority items for humanitarian needs,” said WHO head in Jerusalem Tony Laurance.

The newspaper made a similar error in August 2016, when a reporter stated that Gaza hospitals are perennially short of medicine, equipment and well-trained staff because of Israeli restrictions on travel and trade.” After CAMERA contacted editors, the newspaper explained in correction that “an earlier version of this article overstated the impact of Israeli restrictions on travel and trade in the Gaza Strip. Although they have made the import of some medical equipment difficult, the import of medicine is not restricted.”


About Gaza’s water shortages, Nidal al-Mughrabi at Reuters noted last January that

The causes of the problem are multiple, but stem largely from the contamination of the aquifer. Gaza’s main water source contains 55 to 60 million cubic meters of water over the course of a year, but demand from Gaza’s two million population exceeds 200 million cubic meters. That means the aquifer is over-strained, allowing seawater from the Mediterranean to seep into it, along with sewage and chemical run-off.

A World Bank feature story on Gaza’s water crisis likewise begins as follows:

Adnan Ghosheh, Senior Water & Sanitation Specialist, remembers a time not so long ago when everyone in Gaza could drink water from their tap. That was in the late 1990s, but so much water has been pumped out of the natural aquifer underneath Gaza since then that seawater has seeped in, making it too salty to drink. These and other factors mean that only 10% of Gaza’s population has access to safe drinking water, compared to 90% in the West Bank or about 85% in MENA in general.

Haaretz journalist Zafrir Rinat, in a story citing hydrologist Ahmed al-Yaqoubi, similarly explained earlier this year that “population growth and low rainfall has led to overpumping in recent years” in the Gaza Strip, which has caused saltwater intrusion.

After interviewing World Bank water expert Adnan Ghosheh, Haaretz‘s Hass reported that “irreversible damage has already been done to parts of the Coastal Aquifer in the Gaza Strip as a result of overpumping and seawater seepage, according to a senior water-sanitation specialist at the World Bank.”

It is clearly incorrect to attribute shortages of medicine and water to a naval blockade by Israel and Egypt and other restrictions. CAMERA has called on the New York Times to set the record straight with a correction informing readers that shortages of medicine and water are primarily a result of decisions by the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority and years of overpumping from Gaza’s aquifer, respectively.

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