woensdag 1 januari 2014

Amnesty International over de Gaza blokkade


Ik heb onlangs een update geschreven over de situatie in de Gazastrook. Dat viel niet mee, want betrouwbare bronnen zijn moeilijk te vinden en sommige berichten roepen evenveel vragen op als ze beantwoorden.


Wie ‘Elder of Ziyon’ is, is me niet bekend. (Amnesty weet het nu waarschijnlijk wel want die hebben met hem gebeld, en het lijkt me niet waarschijnlijk dat dit onder zijn ‘schrijversnaam’ gebeurd is.) Wat ik van de Elder meen te weten is dat hij (of zij...) een vrij rechts geörienteerde Israelische Jood is, althans dat leid ik af uit zijn blog. Maar hij heeft het vrijwel nooit over politieke of ideologische standpunten of argumenten; zijn strijdwapen tegen de (doorgeschoten) Israelkritiek is vooral de feiten. Die stroken vaak niet met de berichtgeving over het conflict of met kritische persberichten van ngo’s die we doorgaans een hoge betrouwbaarheid toedichten. Elder brengt alleen feiten en kritiek voor het voetlicht die ten gunste van de Israelische positie spreken, maar ze lijken vrijwel altijd hout te snijden. Zie vooral ook het tweede ontnuchterende artikel hieronder (beide stukken zijn van 4 december) over het beleid van Amnesty’s Midden-Oosten sectie, die als motto lijkt te hebben: ‘Barbertje moet hangen’.






I have noted here many times that Israel has no restrictions of diesel and petroleum into Gaza, outside of the physical amount that can be transferred via the pipeline at Kerem Shalom. (As far as I can tell, that pipeline has never reached capacity.)

The current Gaza fuel crisis started when Hamas decided in 2011 that it didn't want fuel from Israel and instead chose to run Gaza's power plant with Egyptian fuel, sold by smugglers at lower prices that reflected the subsidy that Egypt gives all its petroleum. When Hamas' Muslim Brotherhood patrons lost power, Hamas lost its source of fuel as the smuggling tunnels were closed.

Now, instead of paying market prices (and PA taxes), Hamas chose to let the Gaza power plant shut down, causing a cascading crisis as water treatment plants, water pumps and other essential infrastructure gets shut off. This was a cynical decision on Hamas' part, as they gambled that the resulting media coverage about the crisis they started would pressure Egypt, Qatar, the PA and perhaps Gulf countries to provide fuel at a discount again.

Amnesty International chooses to blame Israel, though.


Israel must immediately lift its blockade on the Gaza Strip, including by allowing the delivery of fuel and other essential supplies into the territory without restrictions, said Amnesty International today. 

“This latest harsh setback has exacerbated the assault on the dignity of Palestinians in Gaza and the massive denial of rights they have experienced for more than six years because of Israel’s blockade, together with restrictions imposed by Egypt,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

“The blockade has collectively punished Gaza’s population in violation of international law. The power plant shutdown has further affected all aspects of daily life, and the Israeli authorities must lift the blockade immediately, starting by allowing urgently needed fuel supplies into the Strip and working with all relevant parties to avert a prolonged humanitarian crisis this winter.” 

“The reason for the flood of sewage was the blockade,” a resident of al-Zaytoun told Amnesty International. “The question is, why is the blockade being allowed to continue? What is our crime? There is no justification for this situation. We just want to live like any other people in the world.”


I'll put it in large letters so Amnesty can understand:



At the very end of the anti-Israel screed, Amnesty decides to do a little CYA:


Continuing disputes between the Hamas de facto administration in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority over payment and taxes are also a factor in the current crisis. Both authorities must co-operate so that the power plant again receives a steady supply of fuel and can resume operations.


This isn't the first time Amnesty chose to ignore facts and blame Israel for Gaza's fuel woes. But this is even worse, as it starkly reveals Amnesty's anti-Israel bias.

My only question is - what exactly is it demanding Israel do to help provide fuel for Gaza? Already Israel agreed to pump free fuel from Qatar via Kerem Shalom, in a story I broke first:

Qatar recently offered to transfer to Hamas large amounts of fuel which it holds in storage tanks in Egypt, but the Palestinian Authority has objected. According to the Paris accords reached with Israel, it is entitled to collect value added tax on goods coming into the territories. Israel has agreed to transport Qatari oil from Israel, after unloading it in Ashdod, but the proposal has met with opposition. Over the last few days, intense negotiations have been held between Qatar, the Hamas government and the Palestinian Authority, in an attempt to resolve the problem and overcome the dire fuel shortage in Gaza.


So what exactly does Amnesty expect of Israel? Free fuel? Should Israel invade Gaza to physically place fuel into the power plant (if Israel is the legal occupier of Gaza, then the answer is probably yes!)

This press release proves one thing: Amnesty's bias against Israel is systemic and embedded. There is no way to spin this absurd, counter-factual press release as anything other than pure antipathy for Israel.

Even worse, it shows that Amnesty's concern over actual human rights of Gazans is dwarfed by its bias against Israel. Downplaying the roles of Hamas and Egypt in the crisis, and instead demanding Israel do something it already does, actually increases Gaza's suffering because it distracts from the reality and the actual steps needed to bring fuel to Gaza.

Amnesty should be embarrassed by such an absurd statement. Decent reporters, NGOs and governments should call Amnesty to task for abandoning its true purpose and instead choosing to use its "human rights "platform to incite against Israel.

Because that is what this is - incitement. 



My conversation with an anti-Israel Amnesty spokesperson



I called Amnesty this morning to ask about the outrageous report they issued that I discussed earlier today. I waited about five hours for a response before posting my article.

I then received a phone call from Deborah Hyams, Amnesty researcher and media contact.

Hyams explained to me that the Amnesty press release was meant to not only discuss the current exacerbation of the fuel shortage since November 1, but to look at the longer history of Israel's closure and restrictions on exports to Gaza, to explain the "root causes," from Amnesty's perspective.

When I asked specifically about why Amnesty was calling for Israel to lift restrictions on fuel when there are in fact no restrictions, she said that there are restrictions on some types of fuel. In fact, she told me, it was because Israel refused to provide industrial fuel for Gaza's power plant that Hamas was forced to smuggle regular diesel from Egypt. She did admit that price was a factor.

I explained to her my understanding that Hamas actually retooled the power plant to handle regular diesel smuggled from Egypt because they didn't want to pay Israel and they felt that with the Muslim Brotherhood in power they would have an unlimited supply of subsidized, cheap fuel from Egypt.

Hyams insisted that Israel has restrictions, today, on industrial diesel to Gaza. That is not my understanding and I told her that I've read COGAT reports since at least 2011 where they said that they can pump heavy duty diesel for the power plant and Hamas has refused. (Actually, I documented that Israel has provided heavy-duty diesel to Gaza since 2009.)

I pointed out to Hyams that, even if everything she said was true, the current crisis has nothing to do with Israel - Hamas decided it didn't want to pay the normal prices according to agreements between Israel and the PA as it has done in the past. She disagreed, saying that the current fuel outages must be looked at from a larger historical perspective and that Israel is the party most responsible for supplying Gaza with fuel under its legal obligations as an occupier; although she knows some disagree about whether Gaza is occupied by Israel, Amnesty's position is that it is. (We've discussed the hypocrisy of Amnesty vis a vis occupation in the past.)

I pressed on, saying that the press release is clearly taking advantage of a crisis that was not precipitated by Israel but the response essentially ignored all other parties but Israel. She admitted that the immediate trigger of the crisis was Egypt's closing of the tunnels (not really, since that happened over the summer and Hamas decided to stop paying the PA's taxes in late October.) However, this press release was pretty much a way for Amnesty to focus the world on Israel's role in the closure of Gaza.

It was a surreal conversation. Hyams didn't say it explicitly, but in effect she said that the current crisis with the sewage and water problems was an excuse to call attention to the fact that Israel has the primary responsibility for Gaza, according to Amnesty. Amnesty mentioned the other parties with responsibility (in wishy-washy language at the very end of the press release after paragraphs of blaming Israel) but the power problems are, in Amnesty's view, primarily an Israeli responsibility.

Immediately afterwards I called up Guy Inbar from the IDF COGAT unit and asked him if there were any restrictions on any specific type of fuel to Gaza - industrial, petroleum, cooking gas, anything. His answer was an unequivocal "no." The reason Gaza has no fuel is the PA/Hamas disagreements, not because of Israel.

Deborah Hyams is part of the problem. As NGO Monitor has documented:


Hyams has an extensive background in radical anti-Israel activism:

·                  In 2001, Hyams volunteered as a “human shield” in Beit Jala (near Bethlehem), to deter Israeli military responses to recurrent gunfire and mortars targeting Jewish civilians in Jerusalem.

·                 Hyams employs demonizing language regarding Israel: In 2008, she was signatory to a letter claiming Israel is “a state founded on terrorism, massacres and the dispossession of another people from their land.” Hyams also stated in 2002 that “[some] of Israel’s actions, all the way back to 1948, could be called ‘ethnic cleansing’.”

·                 In a 2002 Washington Jewish Week article, "Hyams said that while she does not condone suicide bombings, she personally believes they 'are in response to the occupation.'" In another instance she defended violence stating "occupation is violence...and the consequence of this action must result in violence [against Israelis]."

·                 Hyams has worked for some of the most radical political advocacy NGOs in the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the Alternative Information Center (AIC), Jews for Justice in Palestine and Israel (JPPI), Rachel Corrie Foundation, and Ma’an Network. Any of these affiliations should have been a red flag for Amnesty.


It is clear that at least in the Middle East, Amnesty is run by people with an anti-Israel agenda, where human rights, and even basic facts, are trumped by antipathy towards Israel.



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