NPR Complicit in UNRWA Underreporting of Aid Trucks

Last month, United Nations officials called on Israel to open its Kerem Shalom border crossing with the Gaza Strip in order step up the amount of aid reaching the Palestinian coastal territory. Now that Israel has indeed taken that step, a U.N. official went on National Public Radio to underreport the amount of aid entering through that terminal, and Mary Louise Kelly of “All Things Considered” collegially played along.

Thus, on Nov. 22, NPR’s Awa Batrawy reported (“Egypt’s Rafah border with Gaza is key for aid coming in and people leaving for safety“):

U.N. humanitarian relief chief Martin Griffiths has called on Israel to open one of its border crossings with Gaza so more aid can reach people.

“People need to know that there will be aid coming tomorrow or the next day,” he said, adding that around 60% of trucks entering Gaza before the war used to pass through Israel’s Kerem Shalom border during the years of blockade.

“So please, Kerem Shalom. Please Israel, give us that for our crossing point,” Griffiths said in comments to reporters last week in Geneva.

On Sunday, Dec. 17, in response to American efforts, Israel did in fact open the Kerem Shalom border crossing for the first time since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre in Israel, enabling humanitarian goods to enter the Gaza Strip directly from Israel after undergoing a security check.

Indeed, on Dec. 18, John Kirby, U.S. National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, said in a press briefing:

I think you know, on Friday, before [NSC Advisor] Jake [Sullivan] left Israel, he was told by the government of Israel that they had made the decision to open its border crossing at Kerem Shalom for direct delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza. 

This is a significant step and something, again, that we’ve been asking Israel to do.  On Sunday, the crossing opened, and for the first time since the 7th of October, assistance flowed directly from Israel to Gaza.  Yesterday, almost 80 trucks went through Kerem Shalom.  So, in total, between that and what went through out of Rafah, nearly 200 trucks entered Gaza yesterday.

That number grew as the days went on. As NBC detailed (“How the White House persuaded Israel to open the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza,” Dec. 22):

On Sunday, the first day Kerem Shalom was open for trucks to enter, 79 crossed, followed by 64 the next day, 60 the day after that and 120 on Wednesday, the most daily crossings so far, the official said.

COGAT, the Israeli authority responsible for administering the Kerem Shalom crossing, provided a higher figure for the number of trucks which crossed through Kerem Shalom on Wednesday, Dec. 20, citing 75.

But even according to the lower figure cited by NBC, by the end of Wednesday, Dec. 20, the fourth day of the crossing’s operation, 323 trucks entered the Gaza Strip from Kerem Shalom. Yet, that very same day, Phillippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general for UNRWA, misrepresented hundreds of trucks as “few.” He told Mary Louise Kelly of “All Things Considered”: “We need the full opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing in Israel. Two [sic] days ago, it reopened. Few trucks came in” (“Top UN relief agency rep describes increasingly desperate conditions in Gaza“).

Further down in the interview, Lazzarini’s “few trucks” inexplicably morphed into 46 trucks. Pointing a finger at Israel for allegedly dragging its feet, the UNRWA official charged:

We could have much, much more if Israel would allow more trucks to come in. Today, for example, we had only 46 trucks coming from Kerem Shalom and a hundred trucks coming from Rafah.

But even his upward revision of “few” to 46 falls far short of the 64 trucks which actually crossed on Dec. 20.

Moreover, in a significant and highly relevant development which took place on Dec. 20, the day Lazzarini spoke with Kelly, Israel and the World Food Program facilitated the first convoy of Jordanian aid into the Gaza Strip via Israel’s Kerem Shalom. This new channel, approved by Israel, enabled the passage of 40 trucks carrying 750 tons of goods. But Lazzarini was silent about this step, even as he accused Israel of not allowing enough trucks to cross.

Relatedly, JNS slammed the U.N. for cutting Israel’s role out of the Jordanian convoy (“Omission of Israel’s aid role ‘unfortunate,’ says UN spokesman“). JNS reported:

“A humanitarian convoy filled with life-saving food has crossed from Jordan into Gaza for the first time since conflict broke out in the Middle East,” the United Nations posted at 11:28 a.m. The tweet omitted Israel, through which the delivery passed between Jordan and Gaza, and which facilitated the delivery.

The United Nations linked to an article from the World Food Programme about the delivery, which also omitted the Jewish state.

Nearly 24 hours later, the United Nations sent out a new tweet: “A humanitarian convoy filled with life-saving food has crossed from Jordan via Israel into Gaza for the first time since conflict broke out.” The old tweet remains live, and the new tweet continues to link to the World Food Programme article.

The next day, Dec. 21, NPR’s Kelly, along with colleagues Michael Levitt and Tinbete Ermyas, published excerpts of the Lazzarini interview on NPR’s website, editing it for brevity and clarity, but not timeliness or accuracy. They added four paragraphs of introductory text. By then, of course, even more trucks had entered Gaza through Kerem Shalom. As Haaretz reported Dec. 21 (“White House: 200 humanitarian aid trucks entered Gaza over past 24 hours“):

U.S. National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby said that around 200 trucks carrying humanitarian aid entered the Gaza Strip over the past 24 hours.

In the newly opened Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel, 120 trucks entered the Gaza Strip, while 71 trucks entered via Rafah on the Egyptian border.

Strikingly, that day, the number of trucks crossing from Israel into Gaza (via Kerem Shalom) greatly exceeded the number of trucks from Egypt to Gaza (via Rafah). That noteworthy fact belies Lazzarini’s assertion in the following exchange that Israel is largely at fault for the failure of more trucks to cross through Gaza. Kelly backs his charge, editorializing that Israeli accusations of U.N. failures preventing the passage of trucks through Rafah are “frustrating.” The following text is from the abridged online interview, published Dec. 21, the day that more trucks arrived in Gaza from Israel than from Egypt (“An inside account of delivering aid to Gaza: ‘Each time it’s getting more desperate’“):

Kelly: I interviewed the president of Israel, Isaac Herzog, yesterday and I asked him about aid. He was very critical of the U.N. He essentially blamed the U.N. for the bottleneck in getting aid into Gaza. He says the U.N. could be getting more aid in if you wanted. How do you respond to that?

Lazzarini: Well, that’s true. We could have much, much more if Israel would allow more trucks to come in.

Today, for example, we had only 46 trucks coming from Kerem Shalom and a hundred trucks coming from Rafah. So basically, despite the reopening of the crossing, we do not have overall additional trucks coming into the Gaza Strip. What we need is something much more meaningful because what we are getting today is far from enough to respond to such a crisis.

Kelly: I just want to stay on for this for a minute because it’s obviously incredibly frustrating to hear Israel is blaming the U.N. I just heard you say, you know, if Israel would open the crossings and keep them open, we could get more in. How do you break the impasse?

Lazzarini: Listen, you have many bottlenecks. First of all, you have still ongoing bombardment — roads which have been destroyed, trucks which have been destroyed.

When trucks come in, they are not allowed to go to the final destination. They have to download and then you have to re-offload.

If we would let trucks go into the final destination, you can let trucks come in in the hundreds, and this would not be a problem. So the bottleneck is a series of issues related to the conflict but also to administrative procedure.

The broadcast version of the interview contains President Isaac Herzog’s statement about the U.N. failure to better facilitate the passage of trucks:

They could have tripled the aid to Gaza. They could have brought many more medication. They could resolve their differences with their local partners and got it in. But the blame is put on Israel, and the media will always put on Israel. So please, dear media, go and check. How come tens of thousands of humanitarian aid and trucks do not go into Gaza every day?

In her Atlantic Council interview with President Herzog (right), Kelly (at left) erroneously states that Kerem Shalom crossing is closed

Not only does the online version not include Herzog’s statement. It also fails to provide the correct hyperlink of Kelly’s interview with Herzog in which the Israeli president points a finger at U.N. failures in increasing aid. Rather, the hyperlink over the phrase “I interviewed the president of Israel, Isaac Herzog, yesterday” leads to an unrelated story about West Bank violence.

In that Dec. 19 interview, Kelly embarrasses herself by wrongly stating that Kerem Shalom isn’t open:

Herzog: You know, everybody was blaming Israel for the lack of humanitarian aid for Gaza. I’ll give you some facts, OK? So in order to enable the humanitarian aid to go to Gaza, we have to screen the aid going in food trucks. Israel has multiplied many fold its ability to scan and screen the trucks through the Nitzana crossing, and today we can bring three hundred, even four hundred trucks a day into Gaza. That means tens of thousands of humanitarian—of tons of humanitarian aid. Unfortunately, for the last two weeks when this is available only one-third—only one hundred trucks a day—come in through the United Nations’ efforts with its partners. And there’s a question: Why is it happening? Has nothing to do with Israel. But within the premises and responsibility of the United Nations, they could have tripled the aid to Gaza. They could have brought many more medication. They could resolve their differences with their local partners and got it in. But the blame is put on Israel, and the media, we know it’s put on Israel. So please, dear media, go and check how come tens of thousands of humanitarian aid and trucks do not go into Gaza every day.

Kelly: Thank you. I will note for the record that the United Nations, as you know, has pushed back against that claim. They say that the challenge for them is that Israeli bombing has made it impossible to safely—

Herzog: Has nothing to do with the bombing, nothing. We have humanitarian routes. It’s got to do with the relations—their relations with the Egyptians and other partners and their supply –

Kelly: And I will also note just for the record—

Herzog: —and their supply chain.

Kelly: —thank you—for the record that the US argues that the challenge is that Israel has not reopened the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Herzog: We have opened Kerem Shalom in the last few days and there is a major effort going through Kerem Shalom. And we’ve done it although it’s a risky area. And we are protecting people there who are risking their lives in order to enable. We’ve also—you know, we are supplying water to Gaza, although the infrastructure was totally Palestinian but they blew it up with their missiles. We’re doing a lot of stuff.

And I checked myself. I went and even checked the boxes of the aid, open it up to see the quality. It’s basic quality, but I think international community, which likes to complain, this is their chance now, seriously, to upgrade the quality of the products that come in through the United Nations. (Emphasis added.)

“For the record,” as Kelly four times berated Herzog, NPR’s reporting on humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip likewise could use an upgrade in the quality of the products.

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