Online magazine Salon published an article (“74% of Gaza homes destroyed by Israel in summer 2014 war have not been rebuilt, as violent repression escalates,” Feb. 9, 2016) that contained little news but instead rehashed many anti-Israel falsehoods. Author Ben Norton, who seems to have a penchant for anti-Israel rants as numerous Salon items indicate, uses a January U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report as his news hook but cherry-picks details and quotations from it and then veers completely off into old and disproven claims about the 2014 Gaza war.
Norton telegraphs his bias when his first sentence declares that, “Almost 18 months after Israel’s summer 2014 war in Gaza,” reconstruction or repair has not even begun on the vast majority of damaged Gaza homes. Norton calls Operation Protective Edge “Israel’s summer 2014 war in Gaza.” Even OCHA, notoriously unfriendly to Israel, refers in the report to the “2014 Gaza-Israel hostilities” and neither the article nor the report mentions the cause of the fighting: the incessant and deadly rocket, missile, and terrorist attacks launched against Israelis from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
The article states that “roughly 160,000 of the homes that were damaged have been repaired, but hundreds of thousands more remain.” While this huge number might be technically accurate, the OCHA report itself declares the fighting “destroyed 11,000 homes and severely damaged or rendered uninhabitable an additional 6,800 homes.” The remaining 142,200 homes suffered only “minor” damage. The hyperbole-dependent author does not include this essential fact.
Norton quotes U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “The humanitarian situation in Gaza remains perilous,” but skips the rest of Ban’s statement cited in the OCHA report, “…chronic security and governance challenges and funding shortages have slowed the pace of reconstruction …. [which] cannot be accomplished without critical support from donors.” Ban’s anti-Israel bias becomes increasingly plain whenever he seems to minimize or excuse Palestinian terrorism or avoids talking about Palestinian rejection of repeated “two-state” offers. Yet even he lays the blame for the slow pace of reconstruction on the poor governance of Hamas and the failure of donors —primarily Arab and European— to fulfill their commitments.
An informed observer might surmise that Hamas’ efforts, materials, and probably some of the funds earmarked for reconstruction, have been concentrated on rebuilding tunnels from which to launch terrorist attacks on Israel. In the last few weeks, 11 Hamas operatives have been killed when tunnels they were working on collapsed. Norton is apparently not that informed observer nor does he seek to enlighten his readers.
In an Aug. 22, 2015 article, The New York Times, again, not renowned as a cheerleader for Israel, reported:
Israeli, Palestinian and United Nations officials acknowledge that cement has flooded Gaza’s black market, with some undoubtedly ending up in the militants’ underground tunnel network.
Mr. Hassaina [Mofeed M. Al Hassaina, the Gaza-based minister of housing and public works], other Palestinian leaders and United Nations representatives all said that Israel had done its part in reasonable time and had allowed cement into Gaza. Empty coffers, they said, are the primary problem.
The Salon article then resuscitates a number of discredited assertions about the 2014 conflict. The author posits an inflated figure of “over 2,250” Palestinian deaths, claiming “approximately two-thirds of whom were civilians.” In fact, analysis of the actual fatalities —Norton’s figure is high— shows that casualties were disproportionately males of fighting age. An Israeli study shows that only 36% of Palestinian fatalities were civilians, 44% were known terrorist operatives and another 20% were unidentified males of fighting age, 16-50. Credible audits of casualty figures show nothing approaching Norton’s figure of two-thirds civilians but this is a canard the media frequently trot out, based on early claims from the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry which was instructed to term all Palestinian Arab casualties “civilian.”
The author parrots anti-Israel groups like Amnesty International that accuse Israel of “intentionally targeting civilian areas and engaging in war crimes.” By citing a “source,” he can promote the smear.
But, Norton neglects to cite more credible sources that refute these false charges. Not only did Israel employ innovative tactics to significantly reduce civilian casualties, but no less an authority than then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey declared, “Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties,” and listed Israel Defense Forces measures such as the “roof-knocking” and the dropping of warning leaflets as part of their attempts to protect civilian lives. Dempsey even spoke about an American military delegation visiting Israel to learn lessons “to include the measures they took to prevent civilian casualties.” In similar asymmetric conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military and coalition allies have, by the U.N.’s own estimate, inflicted a higher percentage of civilian casualties than the IDF in any of the recent Gaza conflicts.
Again, Norton uses the tactic of repeating the assertions of others to put forward inaccurate statements when he writes, “For close to a decade, the Israeli government has imposed a blockade on Gaza that U.N. experts have for years said is illegal.” What U.N. experts would these be?
In fact, the U.N. “Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Inquiry on the 31 May 2010 Flotilla Incident,”known as the Palmer Report because it was chaired by formerNew Zealand Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer andformer Colombian President AlvaroUribe, determined the blockade was and is legal:
Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza. The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.
Like any other country, Israel seeks to control its borders, including those with Gaza. And Gaza’s border with Egypt at Rafah is controlled by Egypt. Egyptian authorities often restrict or close the Rafah crossing, charging Hamas, which runs the Strip, with supporting anti-Egyptian terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula affiliated with the Islamic State or al-Qaeda. Norton neglects to include this in his piece, as well.
The author echoes another U.N. report that claims “Gaza will be ‘uninhabitable’ by 2020” and of course, that’s Israel’s fault too. Interestingly, this new report is not much different from a previous report from 2012, two years before the 2014 Gaza conflict that supposedly caused this latest “uninhabitable” prediction. It too speculated Gaza would not be “a livable place” by 2020.
Yet, a year before the 2012 “unlivable place” report, Mathilde De Riedmatten, Deputy Head of Sub Delegation in Gaza for the International Red Cross said, “There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. If you go to the supermarket, there are products. There are restaurants and a nice beach.” Is it possible that the U.N. just keeps regurgitating these same doomsday assertions? And what will they say when 2020 rolls around? If there is some basis to the warning of long-range deterioration of living conditions in the Strip —over-use of ground water, salt-water infiltration into the aquifers, inadequate sewage treatment, accumulating un- or under-treated sewage, inadequate economic development/over-dependence on international aid— isn’t it primarily the result of unproductive choices by the Palestinian leadership, by Hamas and those who support it, to focus not on building up Gaza but continuing their efforts to destroy Israel? If “uninhabitability” looms over the Gaza Strip, it is the fault of Palestinian leaders and their followers.
Norton ends his screed as he began, with obvious bias, “Since 1967, Palestinians have lived under illegal Israeli military occupation. Violence and repression is an everyday reality for Palestinians living under occupation, but in recent months, in particular, it has escalated.” Here he does not even pretend to back up his false assertions with any citations.
Palestinian Arabs do not live under Israeli military occupation of any kind. Israel removed every soldier and civilian, including disinterring dead Israelis, from Gaza in 2005. Even Hamas leaders acknowledge and sometimes insist that Gaza is not occupied. Ninety-seven percent of Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank live under the direct control of the Palestinian Authority and any Israeli military presence in the area is not illegal under international law.
Ironically, when he claims that violence is an everyday reality in recent months, Norton should be referring to the hundreds of attacks —stabbings, shootings, stonings and car-rammings— that have been perpetrated on Israelis by Palestinian terrorists. This current wave of Palestinian violence has been accompanied by a deluge of bad journalism, and this Salon piece is sadly no exception.