Technology Mag, IEEE Spectrum, Veers into ME Politics

Once more a professional journal has veered off the track into Middle East politics. In the December 2009 edition of IEEE Spectrum, a monthly publication of the world’s largest professional technology association, freelance reporter Sharon Weinberger’s cover story focuses on challenges facing Gaza’s sole power plant. Unfortunately, the article is short on technology content and long on skewed characterization of realities in Gaza. (The IEEE is the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, an organization of more than 350,000 engineers and scientists around the world.)

The cover headline — “Powerless in Gaza: amid bombings and embargoes, a lone generating plant struggles on” — signals where the story is headed, casting Gazans as victims lacking both electrical and political power who bear, in the author’s presentation, little if any fault for their own circumstances. The cover photo shows children playing in front of a building in Rafah on the border with Egypt, a wall pock-marked with bullet holes in the background. A blurb about the photographer states: “Zoriah shot this issue’s cover photograph in Rafah, an area of Gaza often targeted by the Israel Defense Forces.” (“Zoriah” refers to Zoriah Miller, an American photographer who has spent time, according to his college profile, “living with families in Palestine and the Gaza Strip…”)
Like the story that follows, that message (of Gaza “targeted” by Israel) and the photo image are politically-loaded and highly deceptive, projecting blame both directly and indirectly onto Israel for the difficult conditions in Gaza, including the plight of innocent children, while omitting the crucial context of aggression by Gaza that has brought Israeli counter-measures.
Weinberger, whose work was funded by The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund, a project of the far-left Nation magazine, relies for much of her story on Palestinian Rafiq Maliha, a manager of Gaza’s power plant who relates the hardships of his situation as he sees them. An Israeli spokesman is quoted only briefly in the closing paragraphs.
Chiefly, Weinberger’s account and that of Maliha neglect to include the fundamental role of Palestinian-initiated violence in preventing the normal functioning of facilities such as the Gaza power plant. Thus Gaza is said to have “endured a devastating run of strife, death, and dysfunction,” to have suffered “catastrophe” and to be “stuck in a kind of chaotic limbo” – with only the barest hint that Gazans are responsible for rocketing, terrorizing and killing Israelis, thereby triggering response.
Characterizing the 2008-09 Gaza conflict, Weinberger writes:
The most recent war, which began on 27 December 2008, brought yet another catastrophe to Gaza. Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, a three-week military offensive retaliating against Hamas for a series of rocket attacks that fell on civilian areas in southern Israel. (Emphasis added)
Suggestive of the general whitewashing of Hamas is the language here; according to the author, rockets weren’t fired or shot — but merely “fell.” Nor does the euphemistically termed “series” of rockets convey the barrage of 8,000 missiles fired into Israel since 2000. More than 3,000 of those landed in 2008 provoking Israeli action. The missiles fell not just on “civilian areas” but on civilian people, killing eight and injuring dozens. Another 21 people were killed as a result of terrorist attacks originating from the Gaza Strip.
(In a factual error, Weinberger erroneously inflates the Gaza war’s casualty toll, saying “1660 Palestinians” were killed. However, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, the number killed is 1419. According to the Israelis the number is 1166.)

In a similar obfuscation, according to Weinberger, construction of the Gaza power plant was set back “when the second Palestinian uprising, or intifada, began in 2000.” But that “uprising,” a terrorist onslaught against Israeli civilians, including waves of suicide bombings, did not simply begin. It was launched by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat, as PA Communications Minister Imad Faluji explained in 2001 when he said: “This intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat’s return from the Camp David negotiations, where he turned the table upside down on President Clinton… ” The repeated minimizing or omission of the role of Palestinians themselves as instigators of the violence that plagues Palestinian lives — and thwarts normal advances in infrastructure development — echoes the politically loaded message of the powerless-in-Gaza theme.
Diesel Fuel Disruption
Weinberger raises the problem of diesel fuel supplies for the power plant and cites Israel’s curtailing of those supplies and various ramifications of fuel shortages and interruptions. She writes:

Today one of the biggest problems is getting enough fuel. It’s one of the many problems you encounter running a power plant in a war zone.

But, indefensibly, the account neglects the primary role of Palestinian violence in disrupting fuel deliveries. There is no mention at all that crossing points between Israel and Gaza, such as Nahal Oz where fuel is transferred to a terminal inside Gaza, have frequently been rocketed and attacked by Palestinians, sometimes with lethal consequences. On April 9, 2008, for instance, two Israeli truck drivers were killed by terrorists at Nahal Oz. A week later, on April 16, 2008, three IDF soldiers were killed in a confrontation with armed Palestinian gunmen approaching the Gaza security fence south of the Nahal Oz fuel terminal. Three other soldiers were wounded. In many other incidents, mortar and rocket fire on Nahal Oz have interrupted deliveries.

Notably, in the same period, the IDF’s commander of Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration, Col. Nir Press, is quoted in an April 13, 2008 Jerusalem Post story saying he strongly disputed the claims of Rafiq Maliha who was alleging another fuel crisis. Press said Israel was continuously supplying fuel to Gaza, but for propaganda purposes it was not being distributed to gas stations and civilian use from the depot.

Weinberger omits all this.

Any fair story about fuel for the Gaza power plant would also include Hamas’s theatrical public relations gambits claiming lack of fuel for the plant. In January 2008, Hamas staged a parliamentary session by candle light — but, in fact, the meeting was being held in day light with curtains drawn for dramatic effect.
 Staged Hamas candle ph
Hamas also staged candle-lit vigils in downtown Gaza City. During this propaganda campaign, Israel and Egypt continued supplying 75% of Gaza’s electricity and Israel’s Foreign Ministry observed:

While the fuel supply from Israel into Gaza has indeed been reduced, due to the Hamas rocket attacks, the diversion of this fuel from domestic power generators to other uses is wholly a Hamas decision – apparently taken due to media and propaganda considerations.

A Jerusalem Post account from February 7, 2009 by Justus Reid Weiner (“A Free Lunch for Hamas“) stated:
CLA (Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration) commander Col.Nir Press spoke candidly of Hamas’s “well-oiled media and propaganda machine which has succeeded in creating humanitarian ‘crises’ out of thin air.” He gave as an example Israel’s decision to suspend fuel supplies in early 2008 after a Palestinian attack on the Nahal Oz fuel depot. Before restricting the supply, Israel filled all gas tanks in Gaza to their maximum. Yet, “taking advantage of this as a PR opportunity,” Hamas refused to draw on the fuel and “sent hundreds of people to gas stations in Gaza to stand with buckets in a long line.”

Tony Blair, former British prime minister and current Quartet peace envoy, explained that “most people don’t understand – that we’re trying to urge Israel to get fuel into Gaza, and then the extremists come and kill the people bringing the fuel in. It’s a crazy situation.” Thus, time and time again, the aid that Israel has allowed to enter Gaza fails to reach the intended recipients: Palestinian civilians in need.
Weinberger omits any mention of repeated Hamas manipulations of the distribution of fuel to its own people and its machinations aimed at garnering sympathetic media coverage.

In fact, it is Israel’s intentions and policies that are cast as questionable. The author writes:

Israel continues to insist that the weekly fuel ration is enough. That fuel enables the plant to produce about 65 MW, according to Israel’s estimates; Inbar insists that this is “the needed amount for the humanitarian needs of the civil population.” Assuming the situation remains stable, Israel will provide “enough power supply for the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza.” Israeli spokesman Inbar did not say how Israel determines the amount required for these needs.” (emphasis added)
The repeated statement that Israel “insists” it is providing enough fuel suggests these assertions are actually questionable. Likewise Weinberger’s reference to the Israeli spokesman not saying “how Israel determines” the power supply for the Gazans’ needs also casts doubt on Israel’s claim it is providing sufficient fuel. Why insinuate there’s some mystery about how Israel determines the needs, instead of clarifying with the spokesman?
Israel knows what is needed because it has long worked and coordinated aid with Palestinian officials and others. The very existence of the CLA — the Gaza coordination and Liaison Administration — whose focus is the needs of Gazans is testimony to this. Israel has looked extensively at the issue of electricty needs, related fuel deliveries and the complex matter of balancing its own responsibility to avoid humanitarian difficulties in Gaza against penalizing a terrorist regime for its assaults on innocent Israeli civilians. There was even a Supreme Court deliberation and ruling on the matter issued on January 27, 2008 that underscores the coordination with Palestinians and aid organizations. Among its observations:

19. It should be emphasized that, in the course of the hearings on the petition, the State reiterated its obligation to monitor the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, and in this framework, we were made aware by various affidavits on behalf of the Respondents that this obligation is carried out with total responsibility and seriousness, and that the defense establishment assesses the situation on a weekly basis, which is based, inter alia, on contacts with Palestinian electricity and health officials, as well as contacts with international organizations. In this context, it should be noted that from the hearing on this matter before us, as in other cases in which an immediate response was needed for issues related to humanitarian needs, it was clarified that the parties could reach understandings and arrangements in this area of activity. Indeed, the solution in the form of contacts between the persons in charge on behalf of the defense establishment and the officials who maintain contact with them and point out to them the vital basic needs is the best way to find rapid solutions for concrete problems that arise from time to time. This is evidenced also by the fact that prior to our hearing on the matter, the State announced at its initiative the renewal of the supply of regular diesel fuel, which is necessary, inter alia, for the movement of ambulances and the operation of hospital generators, in the same amounts that were supplied prior to the reduction of the supply, as well as the renewal of the supply of industrial diesel fuel. These facts indicate that the State, indeed, monitors the situation in the Gaza Strip, and allows supply of fuel and electricity in the amount needed for the vital humanitarian needs in the area.

Additionally, there is no mention in the IEEE Spectrum piece that Gazans could have dramatically improved their lot at many points, as, for example, in 2005 when Israel pulled out of the area completely, leaving behind million-dollar greenhouses intended to help Gazan agricultural development. Instead, as is well known, many of the greenhouses were quickly destroyed by Gazans and the rocket barrages and other violence against Israel intensified. This was only the latest in a long history of Israel’s efforts to improve the lives of Gazans being thwarted for political ends.

Missing from the article too is any comment on the striking situation in which Israel is simply expected to provide — as it does — more than 60% of Gaza’s electricity, even though the government of Hamas seeks to destroy Israel, denigrates the Jewish people in odious anti-Semitic terms, teaches its children the same bigotry and has been doing all in its power to make ever-wider swathes of territory around Gaza uninhabitable by Israelis.
Perhaps publication of the Gaza story was a dec ision by editors who know little about the full facts of the Arab-Israeli conflict and were unaware of the shortcomings of the Weinberger account. Whatever the background,  IEEE Spectrum was used as a vehicle to convey a distorted picture. Hopefully the many members of IEEE who appreciate the complexity of the issues and the relevant facts glaringly missing from the December article will convey their concerns to the publication.

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