Palestinian Workers’ Strike Causes Fuel Shortages, LA Times Myopia

On Monday, Jan. 28, it seemed the Los Angeles Times’ Richard Boudreaux decided not to let contrary facts or developments get in the way of his pre-determined storyline. In particular, while Palestinian worker strikes spelled fuel shortages at hospitals and water treatment plants, Boudreaux reserved blame only for Israel. He also seems ignorant of the fact that on Sunday (Jan. 27), Israel pledged not to interfere with food, medicine and fuel supplies.

His article, headlined “Despite break, crisis builds in Gaza: Palestinians may have shopped in Egypt, but services such as power and water deteriorate amid Israeli blockade,” begins:

Malah abu Lashin lay in the intensive care unit of Nasser Children’s Hospital here Sunday, her frail 20-month-old body attached to a ventilator, an oxygenator and an intravenous pump.

The lifeline that kept those devices functioning was equally fragile: a tenuous flow of electricity from a generator with just enough diesel in the tank to last 10 hours.

“If the power goes off, we can pump those machines by hand,” said Anwar Sheikh Khalil, the hospital’s director. “But we could not keep her alive that way indefinitely.”

Malah’s doctors are struggling to help her overcome a congenital muscular weakness and breathe on her own before Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip causes the lights to go out.

Gazans defied the blockade last week by toppling a border fence and pouring into Egypt to shop. But vital public services — including medical care, electricity, water supply and sewage treatment — remain severely crippled by Israeli sanctions, according to Palestinian officials and international relief agencies.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, repeating an assurance made last week, told Palestinian leaders Sunday that he would not allow a humanitarian crisis to develop.

But Palestinian health officials and foreign relief workers say Gaza is already in crisis. They say shortages of some items, particularly medicines, have become more acute in Gaza, since the border breach Wednesday prompted Israel to halt the limited shipments it had been allowing.

The scene which Boudreaux describes, along with other allegations in his article, were essentially repeats of many of the tendentious and questionable reports of the previous week. By Monday, Jan. 28, when this article was published, those fallacious charges were rendered anachronistic. Why? Because the day before, Sunday, Jan. 27, Israel announced that effective immediately, the fuel and other supplies would be restored to pre-October 28, 2007 levels — or 2.2 million liters of fuel per week (Jerusalem Post, Jan. 27). As the Jan. 28 New York Times article begins:

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel promised the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, on Sunday that Israel would no longer disrupt the supply of food, medicine and necessary energy into the Gaza Strip and intended to prevent a “humanitarian disaster” there. (“Israel Vows Not to Block Supplies to Gaza”)

Likewise, a syndicated CanWest article by Matthew Fisher reported: “Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem on Sunday that Israel would immediately resume humanitarian shipments of food, medicine and gas to Gaza . . . .”

Although Boudreaux notes that Olmert repeated a promise that he would prevent a humanitarian crises, nowhere does he report the development that Olmert pledged not to disrupt supplies of food, medicine and energy.

Water Woes

Boudreaux claims a United Nations report blames Israeli fuel cuts for water and sanitation problems, but the UN directs blame to the Palestinians themselves. He writes:

According to a United Nations report, fuel cuts have disabled water pumping stations, depriving 40% of Gaza’s people of running water, and waste treatment plants, forcing them to dump nearly 8 million gallons of untreated sewage a day into the Mediterranean.

Notably, the UN report cites a Palestinian strike – not Israel – as responsible for the water problems:

Gaza’s water authority, the Coastal and Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU), has not received any supplies of diesel this week because of the distributors’ strike. As a result, Gaza’s three sewage treatment stations are unable to operate normally.

Likewise, the independent Palestinian Ma’an News Agency reports: “The Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (GCMWU) remains shut down as Palestinian fuel distributors are on strike against the Israeli sanctions.”
Strike to Medical Care, Too

While Boudreaux also blames Israel for fuel shortages to hospitals, international aid organizations again point a finger at the Palestinian distributors’ strike. The UN News Service reported Jan. 29:

WHO is also concerned that Gaza’s fuel distributors are on strike in response to the Israeli border restrictions, which means the territory’s health care facilities are not getting the fuel they need. A team of UN staff is planning to meet with representatives of the Distributors Union tomorrow to encourage them to allow the fuel to flow.

Nevertheless, according to Boudreaux, it’s Israel’s fault that the life of 20-month-old Malah abu Lashin is on the line at Nasser Children’s Hospital in Gaza City. (Not the fault, of course, of Hamas members who stole diesel fuel supplies meant for hospitals.) The hospital is forced to rely on the generator with its meager power supply, he says, due to Israel’s restrictions on diesel fuel to the Gaza Strip, necessary for producing electricity.

He writes: “Gaza’s only electricity plan, which serves Gaza City, has instituted rotating power cuts that last as long as 12 hours to conserve reduced shipments of industrial diesel fuel from Israel.” Yet, as mentioned above, the day before the state reinstated fuel shipments to previous levels. Moreover, Boudreaux fails to remind readers that the majority of Gaza’s electricity needs – 137 MW out of an estimated demand of 230 MW – are met directly by Israel and Egypt. Thus, with diesel fuel supplies back up to 2.2 million liters per week, Gazans have 78 percent of the 230 MW of electricity they say they need. With that number, there’s no rational reason why hospitals should be suffering from fuel shortages.

Factual Error
In a factual error which requires correction, Boudreaux writes that “Israel began reducing the flow of electricity. . .across Gaza’s borders after the militant Islamic movement Hamas, which had won parliamentary elections in 2006, seized full control of the territory in June.” In fact, Israeli plans to institute cuts in the 120 MW of electricity it supplies to the Gaza Strip have consistently been delayed and blocked by the attorney general and High Court. The Los Angeles Times’ Ken Ellingwood and Rushdi abu Alouf wrote, for example, on Dec. 12, 2007:

Defense officials in Israel drew up plans to reduce the flow of Israeli generated electricity into Gaza in response to the persistent rocket attakcs, by they held off this month after the nation’s Supreme Court asked for a fuller explanation of how the action would avoid harming civilians.

Recently a federal judge slammed the Los Angeles Times for the “manufacturing” of facts in its coverage of the baseball steroid scandal. Unfortunately, here also, in its coverage of the situation in Gaza, the Times struck out on the facts.

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