The New York Times opinion pages (like the news pages) are sharply skewed against Israel. A recent CAMERA study demonstrated that The Times runs more than twice as many columns predominantly critical of Israel and sympathetic to the Palestinians than the reverse.
Nicholas Kristof adds to the tally of distorted commentary on Israel in his March 7th New York Times Op-Ed. He writes that Israel, Hamas and Egypt all contribute to suffering in Gaza (“Winds of War in Gaza“). But Israel is his target as he freely states, all the while admitting that: “True, Hamas’s misrule is central to the problem, but we don’t have influence over Hamas; we do have influence over Israel.”
By Kristof’s own statement, “central” to the cause of the calamity faced by Gazans is Hamas and he could shine a journalistic light on this. After all, he knows the value of intense New York Times focus on an issue. He, for instance, wrote extensively about Darfur in past years arguing for the importance of the journalistic “spotlight.”
His choice to blame Israel and go easy on Hamas raises questions:
Why does he retreat from putting Hamas in the spotlight and providing the full facts about Palestinians?
Why does he focus attention on several sympathetic human interest cases about Palestinian difficulty in his column for which he blames Israel, but omits any specific instances of hardship which can be attributed to Hamas or Egypt?
Why does he ignore essential information that underscores Israeli efforts to alleviate hardship for Gazans, including that:
- Israel has opened the way for the export of produce from Gaza into Israel.
- Israel has just last month allowed 45 tractors into Gaza for farmers, 50 trucks and 15 buses.
- Israel has increased the number of permits allowing merchants to cross out of Gaza from 3,000 to 5,000 monthly.
- Over 56,000 tons (or roughly 1,300 truckloads) of construction materials have crossed into Gaza from Israel.
- Israel has expanded the number of permits for residents to exit Gaza for academic study and familial visits as well as to pray in Jerusalem.
- In January, over 1,200 Gaza residents crossed into Israel for healthcare reasons.
Also concealed from readers:
- The Rafah crossing from Gaza to Egypt has been closed since January.
- 30,000 Gaza residents are waiting to cross into Egypt including students and those seeking medical treatment.
Why does Kristof apply notably inflammatory language to Israel, asserting that:
- “Israel sustains a siege that amounts to economic warfare on an entire population” and an “economic stranglehold,”
- “Israel conducts a “strategy of collective punishment.”
For whatever reason, the columnist opted to smear Israel in a lopsided account that disregards all evidence that disproves his case, including statements from the United Nations. In addition, he ignores the role of Egypt, the bad governance and poor security situation implemented by Hamas and the failure of donor states to fulfill their commitments.
Kristof’s scapegoating of Israel, in fact, fails the distressed Gazans he claims to support by concealing, instead of exposing the true causes of their difficulties.
Alleging that Israel engages in “economic warfare” against Israel, Kristof writes:
Senior Israeli officials understand that the economic blockade has undermined the independent business community that could counter Hamas. So Israeli officials have been saying the right things recently about easing the blockade, but not much has changed.
Perhaps then Kristof missed the fact that just last week Israel opened the way for the export of Gaza produce into Israel for the first time since 2007, when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. As Reuters reported March 5 that Israeli officials said:
…the measure was designed to help a Gaza economy devastated by last year’s war with Israel, and to make up for a shortfall in produce from Israeli farmlands left fallow during the current Jewish lunar calendar year in accordance with biblical law.
The move was welcomed by Jamal Abu al-Naja, director of the Gaza Vegetable Production and Export Association….
[Israel] has allowed Israeli transit of Gaza-produced vegetables and Palestinian merchants to the occupied West Bank, and for Gaza farmers to bring tractors in via Israel since November.
COGAT, the Israeli military agencies that oversees civilian interaction with Gaza, said a shipment of tomatoes and eggplants would be brought in from the territory on Sunday.
“Future stages are expected to include a wider variety of vegetables, totalling 1,000 to 1,500 tonnes. Each tonne is valued at approximately 3,000 shekels ($750),” COGAT said in a statement, adding that the imports were scheduled to run the duration of the Jewish calendar year that expires in September.
In addition, contrary to the picture of an Israeli-imposed “economic stranglehold” that Kristof paints, in fact Israel has facilitated the entrance of significant amounts of building materials. In a Feb. 17 press release, COGAT, the Israeli government body responsible for coordination with the Palestinian areas on humanitarian issues, announced further steps to promote the civilian reconstruction of Gaza. It detailed:
The main steps are allowing the transfer of 45 tractors for farmers, enlargement of the monthly quota for permits for merchants (from 3000 to 5000), enlargement of the daily number of the merchants permitted to cross from Gaza to practice commerce in Judea and Samaria and in Israel (from 400 to 800), and expansion of the agricultural and industrial export from Gaza, such as textile products and furniture, and more.
Those steps are in addition to the ones implemented in October 2014, which included the expansion of permits for people to cross into the Strip for reasons relating to its reconstruction, agricultural export from Gaza to Judea and Samaria (to date, over 2600 tons of agricultural products have been exported), the exit of residents of Gaza for academic studies, and passage of medical teams from Gaza to Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem for fellowships. Furthermore, the exit of BMC from Gaza to Judea and Samaria for commerce has been approved as well as familial visits between Gaza a
nd Judea and Samaria for residents above the age of 60. Residents of Gaza have also been permitted to attend prayers at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
So far, as a part of the reconstruction mechanism, over 62000 tons of construction supplies have entered via Kerem Shalom Crossing. Additionally, 43000 residents have already purchased materials for the reconstruction their homes, a process which is ongoing. Furthermore, 50 trucks and 15 buses have been transferred into the Gaza Strip.
What kind of “open-air prison,” intended to cause an economic siege, allows for the monthly passage of thousands of merchants?
“Israel pretty much seals off Gaza – journalists are a rare exception,” alleges The Times journalist. And yet, in January 2015, 11,826 people crossed from Gaza to Israel, including 5,670 merchants, 2,038 individuals with humanitarian reasons, and 681 foreigners. The same month, 15,205 tons of construction material entered Gaza.
Also in January, 1,489 Gazans applied for permits to cross into Israel for healthcare reasons. Israeli authorities accepted 1,202 of those applicants, delayed 235 and rejected just 52. In other words, over 80 percent of those Gazans who sought permits to enter Israel for healthcare were successful immediately, and over 96 percent were successful eventually. In 2011, monthly average, 872 applied Gazans applied for entrance to Israel for healthcare and 721 were accepted immediately.
Meanwhile, the Rafah crossing from Gaza to Egypt remained closed in the days before Kristof’s Op-Ed, as it has been since January 22, when it was open for a brief three-day period. So, as Egypt continues to demolish more than 1,000 homes on the Egyptian side of Rafah to secure its border and Israel continues to allow the passage of goods and people, one has to ask Kristof. Who is “seal[ing] off Gaza,” as he puts it, Israel or Egypt?
The United Nations reports that 30,000 Gazans, including patients and students, are waiting to cross into Egypt, but Kristof doesn’t name or interview a single one of them. He claims his focus on Israel is because “we have influence over Israel.” We also have influence over Egypt, with an American aid package of $1.5 billion annually, but Kristof sees no need to trouble readers with alleged Egyptian bad behavior.
In the past, a New York Times Op-Ed editor had argued that his department will grant Palestinians a pass until they achieve statehood. The same “excuse” cannot be applied to Egypt.
Reconstruction Underway, Ignored
From reading Kristof, one would have no clue that tens of thousands of Gazans have received construction material to rebuild their homes despite the putative “blockade.” He writes: “Six months after the latest war, the world has moved on, but tens of thousands remain homeless – sometimes crammed into the rubble of bombed-out buildings.”
While reportedly 100,000 Gazans are still displaced – and are residing with host families, or in pre-fabricated housing units, makeshift shelters, or rentals – Kristof fails to note that the reconstruction process is underway. As the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in its monthly humanitarian bulletin reports:
As of 4 February, over 60,000 individuals requiring construction material for shelter repairs have been cleared to purchase materials under the temporary GRM [Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism], agreed between the Israeli and Palestinian governments and facilitated by UNSCO. Of these individuals, around 40,000 had procured construction materials by that date. More shelter repair assessments continue to be submitted to the Ministry of Civil Affairs for processing. A total of 56,009 tons (or roughly 1,300 truckloads) of construction materials have been imported by 14 private sector vendors, of which over 43,561 tons have been procured by individuals.
Thus, if Israel is allowing in significant amounts of construction material, why is progress so slow?
As the United Nations recently reported in its monthly humanitarian bulletin:
The frustration of the Gaza population is heightened by the slow disbursement of funds pledged by member states during the October 2014 Cairo Conference for the reconstruction of Gaza, a factor that severely handicaps the ability of humanitarian and development actors to face the enormous recovery and reconstruction workload….
Participants had pledged $5.4 billion, and “the bulk of this commitment remains undelivered, as donors remain unconvinced that Hamas genuinely wants to rebuild Gaza’s homes, and not Gaza’s tunnels,” wrote Daniel Taub, Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, recently in The Guardian. He noted:
The second impediment to reconstruction is the failure of Palestinian governance in Gaza. Under the GRM, agreed between the Palestinian Authority, the UN and Israel, the PA bears primary responsibility for coordinating reconstruction, leading both private sector and public sector works. A power struggle for control of the Gaza Strip between Hamas and the PA has degenerated into violence and recriminations, and taken precedence over the rebuilding effort.
The secretary general of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, was in no doubt about the cost of this political dispute, telling the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper: “The internal differences and the absence of cooperation between the PA and Hamas are behind the delay in reconstructing the Gaza Strip.”
By masking the true causes of paralysis in Gaza, individuals and organisations claiming to be committed to the well being of Palestinian civilians have instead become accessories to the perpetuation of their suffering.
Kristof can count himself among this group.