Tuesday 26 May 2015

An Analysis of Media Narratives on Present Circumstances in Gaza

Robert Shortt, Gaza, Prime Time, May 7, 2015 (RTE Screen-grab).

Ireland’s principle broadcasting institution, RTE, ran a series of news reports by journalist Robert Shortt, which are concerned with the current troubles that the people of Gaza face, in the aftermath of ‘Operation Protective Edge’, last year’s war between Israel and several terrorist groups based in Gaza.

Shortt’s reportage echoes many of the recent accounts of the situation in Gaza found in the mainstream media. His reports form the basis of this article’s broader thematic rebuttal of current media coverage.

The most substantive report, ‘Inside Gaza’, was broadcast on ‘Prime Time’, RTE’s premium current affairs programme, on May 7th 2015 (RTE incorrectly posts the date as May 8th). The segment begins at 9:57 in RTE’s Internet Player.

An article, titled ‘RTE’s Gaza news coverage sponsored by Irish Aid’s pro-Palestinian proxy’ details possible breaches of broadcasting code in Shortt’s reports.

The report is introduced by David McCullagh, who accepted United Nations “estimates” of the civilian death toll, without mention of their true source — Hamas, which often used distorted figures for propaganda in the past.
“Last year Hamas and Israel fought a 50 day war in the Gaza strip. It was the third conflict in six years and the deadliest. The UN estimates that on the Israeli side 67 soldiers and four civilians were killed. On the Palestinian side, over 2,200 people were killed, including over 1,500 civilians, of whom 551 were children. Now many are warning that tensions are rising once again.”
Zaitoun Elementary School, 'New Crisis in Gaza', RTE News, May 9, 2015 (Screen-grab)

On the UN report: ‘attacking’ schools?

Shortt’s 11 and a half minute report highlights the suffering of children during and after the 2014 conflict. For example, he stated:
“Last July, Mara, her ten siblings, father, and mother, then heavily pregnant, fled the bombing of their home to find shelter in this UN school. Over a thousand people are still crammed into the classrooms of Zeitoun Elementary. Seven such centres were attacked by Israeli forces during the war causing 44 deaths, and 227 injuries.”
Shortt’s claim relates to the damage of seven schools studied in a UN Board of Inquiry report — its summary findings were issued on the 27th April. Shortt’s claim that Israel “attacked” seven UN schools is not credible. The report notes that one school (appertaining to ‘Incident (g)’ in the study) was not being used as a shelter, and the road outside another school (‘Incident (f)’) was struck, rather than the school itself. Moreover, the word ‘attack’ suggests an overt intentional wish to strike these UN civilian installations, which the UN report, although prejudicial in its own right, does not itself ascribe to Israeli actions.

Despite the specificity of the report, Shortt failed to properly identify the school in question. It may be an ‘United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East’ (UNRWA) school in Zeitoun (also spelt Zaitoun), called the ‘Shahada Al-Manar Elementary’, a site from which Hamas was identified to have fired weaponry, or ‘Zeitoun Preparatory Girls “B” School’. The UN report blames the IDF for a stray “projectile” striking the roof of the latter school, whilst stating that “militant activity was also noted” (Point D, 35) some hours earlier in the area, and that no IDF activity can be explicitly tied to the single strike. Therefore, to describe the school as having been “attacked” is misleading.

Shortt’s subsequent news report, discussed below, appears to reference the same building visually, but a sign identifies it as “Zaitoun Elementary Boys “B” School”, which was not one of the schools featured in the UN report, albeit related to the girls school of the same name. Shortt further remarks:
“Last week the UN dismissed Israeli claims that Hamas rockets were found in schools used as shelters but it admitted rockets were found in empty schools.”
Israel did not claim rockets had been found in schools actively used as shelters. Broad Israeli claims related to the use of active school shelters by terrorist groups, to launch attacks. Such claims were latterly disputed by witness testimony in the report but the conditions of the testimony can be deemed problematic with some justification, given potential conflicts of interest with the parties collecting it. Moreover, the word ‘dismissal’ is an undue and misleading description of the UN report’s findings. The UN report looked specifically at a small number of instances, namely those that involved UNRWA property (see Point 5 of the report), rather than provide an actual overview of the conflict:
“In its report, the Board noted that it was not within its terms of reference to address the wider aspects of the conflict in Gaza, its causes or the situation affecting the civilian populations of Gaza and Israel in the period before “Operation Protective Edge” was launched. Its task was limited to considering the ten incidents identified in its terms of reference.”
Furthermore it should be noted that inactive schools were not merely acknowledged to have been used for the storage of weaponry. Two of the three referenced sites were also used to fire against the IDF. Shortt’s report focuses on the area of Jabalia. The UN report notes an interesting event in relation to one of the area's local schools: it “was highly likely that an unidentified Palestinian armed group could have used the school premises to launch attacks on or around 14 July” (point 70) but Shortt does not appear to deem it necessary to mention such mitigating circumstance.

Shortt makes similarly misleading claims in an article on RTE’s site, which comes across as an apologia for the use of schools:
“Israel claims Hamas used school shelters to store rockets. But a report last week from the UN found the schools where rockets were located were empty and not the shelters where hundreds gathered only to come under attack once more.”
The UN report noted that the three schools in question were at summer recess so it is possible they could have been used if the war began at a slightly earlier date. They are designated civilian structures, so it is still a highly problematic matter to use them in war. Shortt et al. wish to dismiss the import of such unprecedented findings but they represent just a surface glimpse of long-established behaviour, e.g. from 2009:
‘United Nations Humanitarian Affairs Chief John Holmes told the UN Security Council, “The reckless and cynical use of civilian installations by Hamas and indiscriminate firing of rockets against civilian populations are clear violations of international humanitarian law.”’
The UN report’s findings add further credence to the long-expressed view that terror groups use human shields in civilian areas. The report only addressed three structures. An increasing number of international journalists have acknowledged that Hamas use human shields, while Ghazi Hamad, a representative of Hamas, grudgingly admitted they fired from civilian areas during the war, while civilians would have been resident.

It is time for the likes of Shortt, et al, to stop making excuses, whilst subtly inferring that Israel targets civilians intentionally, as per his claim (quoted above) that civilians were twice attacked by Israel.

Gaza’s embargo

The report mentions the failure of promised donations to materialise, but fundamentally blames the present problems on the blockade, with Siobhan Powell, of (UNRWA) echoing the notion. Shortt says:
“Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza after a violent split between Palestinians in 2007. Hamas has ruled Gaza since.”
It is not wholly accurate to describe Israel’s action as a ‘blockade’, other than with respect to its maritime activity, which cut off access to the sea beyond a six nautical mile zone, due to efforts to smuggle weaponry into Gaza. A blockade tends to be defined as “The isolation of a nation, area, city, or harbor by hostile ships or forces in order to prevent the entrance and exit of traffic and commerce.” UNRWA however notes that “Israel allows most goods into the Gaza Strip except for items it defines as “dual-use” materials which could have a military purpose.”

Israel allows some Gazan produce to be exported internationally, through its borders, and has assisted farmers in recent years with a variety of projects. Export levels remain small but have shown signs of increasing in the aftermath of the 2014 war, a situation that looks set to continue by addressing security issues.

Israel’s actions over land would be more correctly defined as a partial type of ‘embargo’, a forceful diplomatic measure adopted by some nations to limit its interaction with a given territory. Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed the Agreement on Movement & Access, allowing for free access of people and goods into Israel. However, after the 2006 elections, Hamas refused to recognise Israel’s right to exist or to curtail its violence, which led to the EU and the Quartet suspending assistance arrangements in Gaza. Hamas would then enter into a state of revolt by violently throwing off the legal structures of the Palestinian Authority in 2007, the interim arrangement toward forging of a new Arab state, with it concomitant security arrangements.

With Hamas instigating further belligerent acts, a maritime blockade was formally announced in June 2008
“In accordance with the agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, entry by foreign vessels to this zone is prohibited. Israeli Notice 6/2008”
The embargo and naval blockade grew out of a worsening scenario with a belligerent seizing absolute control in a coup. As such it was and continues to be a justified measure, as the Palmer Report accepts.

Shortt on steel and cement

The limited reconstruction of Gaza should be blamed on Hamas and the international community for not ensuring that construction materials are utilised for their intended purpose. Shortt thinks differently:
“Rebuilding after a war is a huge task. Rebuilding after three wars in six years is a monumental task. Add to that a blockade and a temporary cease-fire, and it’s leading to frustration and a simmering sense of anger, which is stretching hope of return to any sort of a normal life here in Gaza to its limits.”
The destruction to some neighbourhoods nearer the Gaza border with Israel is considerable. The zones of conflict were limited however, so it is somewhat misleading to present all of Gaza as being in a near-complete state of destruction, and to present the entire enclave as being in need of reconstruction thrice-over, when there were substantive efforts to rebuild previously. In 2010 Israel significantly eased the embargo, allowing Gaza’s infrastructure to be improved, yielding results that were at times unexpected, given common perceptions of quality of life in the Strip. In 2013 Israel further eased restrictions on construction materials, until these materials were repeatedly found to have been exploited by Hamas for building terror-tunnels into Israel itself.

Shortt then presents, as an unsubstantiated claim, the notion that Hamas is using building materials to construct new tunnels to conduct assaults, when it is in fact rather more than just a mere accusation:
“Israel accuses it [Hamas] of continuing to use cement and steel to rebuild tunnels to launch attacks into its territory.”
The programme segment then leads to an apologia from a representative of Hamas. Dr. Hamad Ghazy, Hamas’ Deputy Foreign Minister, who, after indirectly justifying such acts as a defence, stated:
“We want to take precautions to prevent any possible aggression against our people, but ah we gave promises that all the building materials that come to Gaza go to people who need it. Hamas will not interfere.”
Despite the contradictory message, purposefully aimed at Western audiences, Hamas’ leaders have loudly pledged Hamas’ wish to build new tunnels, and rearm. Recent reports attest to an unpleasant reality that Hamas is intensifying its tunnel-building efforts, with the use of greater mechanisation.

Dual-use cement imports had been curtailed, due to its military usage. However, tens of thousands of tons of other building materials had been transported into the Gaza Strip since the end of the 2014 war, and Israel has in another respect liberalised the import of cement. UNRWA itself notes:
“Construction materials defined as dual-use are only permitted to enter for approved projects by international organizations and, since mid-October 2014, under the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM), an agreement between the governments of Israel and Palestine, for private sector use. The GRM, to which UNRWA is not a party, allows for private sector imports, and hence for shelter self-help for large scale reconstruction which was not possible prior to the establishment of the GRM”
The Jewish State had restricted the import of cement due to Hamas’ efforts to obtain such materials, often via the black market, but has since lifted its restrictions.

In another news report, entitled ‘New Crisis in Gaza’, broadcast on the RTE’s 6.1 (6 o’clock) and 9 PM news programmes, and otherwise repeated cyclically on the broadcaster’s ‘News Now’ channel, Robert Shortt states:
“In Gaza they call concrete ‘grey gold’. Building materials are in such short supply that people are literally taking sledge hammers to the remnants of buildings here, to extract the steel rods and break down the concrete rubble, in order to use it again.”
Similarly, Shortt wrote:
“The dull thud of sledgehammers can be heard as people break up collapsed concrete floors. Donkeys pull carts piled with twisted steel rods literally torn from the wreckage. Such is the shortage of building materials, Gazans are recycling everything they can use.”

Cement factory representative, 'New Crisis in Gaza', RTE News, May 9, 2015 (Screen-grab)

Shortt presents this story as if individual Arab-Palestinians are remoulding rubble with their bare hands. However, there is in fact an established localised industry recycling steel bars and concrete. Shortt indeed does mention a “concrete factory was destroyed during the war and rebuilt at a cost of four million Euro” but does not tie the point to the recycling of concrete.

To quote one pro-Palestinian source critical of Israel:
“Abu Ali Daloul is one of the main traders of recycled iron bars in Gaza. He bought tons of the iron bars removed from the rubble of the recent war. He fixes the bars and prepares them to be used again for construction purposes.

The concrete rubble are transported to stone breaking workshops in order to be turned into pebbles for use on road paving projects. Abu Lebda is a stone breading [sic] workshop which recycles concrete rubble and provides brick manufacturers with pebbles to make bricks with

Malaka concrete bricks factory brings the pebbles from Abu Lebda’s stone breaking workshop and puts the amounts in its stores hoping the cement to pass through the crossings to be able to produce bricks suffecient to rebuild Gaza.”
Moreover, the recycling of steel and concrete building materials has become commonplace the world over, for environmental reasons. Shortt, however, would sooner have the viewer believe that this is a remarkable, near-unprecedented phenomenon!

An anti-Israel NGO, called Gisha, reported in January that quite substantive amounts of concrete had entered Gaza since the end of Operation Protective Edge, but very little has been used to rebuild Gazan homes, despite the fact that Gaza’s residents are entitled to free building materials if their homes are damaged. The materials were in fact sold to Hamas, and requisitioned by Hamas.

Dr. Mona el-Farra

In the Prime Time report, Shortt proceeds to discuss the more personal effects of the embargo upon Dr. Mona el-Farra, a leading member of a highly partisan NGO called the ‘Middle East Children’s Alliance’ (MECA):
“But the blockade goes deeper. Gazans cannot travel freely across their borders. Dr. Mona el-Farra was prevented from travelling to Ireland in March to speak at a conference.”
The conference in question was organised by SIPTU in Dublin. SIPTU, Ireland’s largest trade union, has long pushed for a strong anti-Israel agenda, and supports a boycott. Some made a fuss of her non-attendance at the time. Sinn Féin-IRA leader, Gerry Adams, took up el-Farra’s cause with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, but the conference, far from advocating a fair just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, actually promoted a boycott of Israel, and a one-state solution, which would destroy the self-determination of the Jewish People, in a region that is otherwise Judenrein.

Therefore, it was no surprise that el-Farra proceeded to blame Israel for not letting her travel through its borders. She suggested it was because her voice is ‘loud’. However, neither she nor the programme makers noted that both Egypt and Israel denied her passage from Gaza, nor that both states have a right to control their borders, particularly when belligerent groups lie in wait beyond these barriers!

It should be noted that the Palestinian Authority constitutes the body responsible for the issuance of Gaza’s passports, as established in the Interim agreement with Israel. It is left unsaid in Shortt’s report, but Hamas has accused its Fatah/PLO rivals of frustrating the efforts of academics and campaigners to travel from the Gaza Strip, since 2008.

For the children?

Notably, Robert Shortt’s reports focused to a significant extent on the welfare of children. He states:
“Its against this backdrop of continuing violence and confrontational politics that children like Mara attempt to grow up.”

Like many Gazan children, she has seen the horrors of war. Psychological support has helped her re-adjust.”
Similarly, to quote a promotional webpage:
“Dr El Farra was prevented from travelling to Ireland in March to speak at a conference on Gaza. Her main concern is the impact of the conflict on the children of Gaza.”
Dr. el-Farra comments further on the predicament of Gaza’s children, who suffer the effects of war:
“The direct impact is the children don’t sleep well at night, having nightmares. Different sorts of phobias. Some of them lost speech. Some of them are afraid of dark nights or back to bedwetting again.

Some cannot focus at school. They became very irritable and they cannot focus at school. And this of course has another effect which is social problems. Have restless children, quarrelous, aggressive children.

There’s no life at the moment in Gaza. You are coming as visitor but I live here, and I go everyday to the refugee camp areas, and I can see the frustration on peoples faces and souls and minds.

My concern is the youth. They will start looking for radical solutions, getting involved with more radical Islamist groups like ISIS”
In this context, Israel’s influence on Gaza, through embargo and war, is blamed for these disturbing behavioural traits. Oddly however, neither el-Farra, or the programme makers, mentioned the extent to which Hamas radicalises Gaza’s children, with thousands of youngsters going to training camps. Even some Gaza-based anti-Israel NGOs are objecting to Hamas’ use of children in this way:
“local human rights groups are accusing Hamas of exploiting children for political purposes.

“We are not disputing the right of an occupied people to resist, but it must be done by adults, not children,” one human rights activist told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The camps are making young people aggressive instead of educating them and teaching them to abide by the law,” the activist said.”
Thus, problematic unsocial behaviour in children can equally be attributed to radicalisation. Hamas and other Arab-Palestinian factions have engaged in such behaviour, which is illegal under international law. The issue is far from recent, e.g. with the use of children in the First Arab Revolt of 1936.

Despite el-Farra’s/MECA’s professed wish to see the welfare of Arab-Palestinian children improve, the vocal defence of terrorism, and use of children for emotive conflict propaganda, may explain why they turn a blind eye to the abuse of children on their very doorstep, an abuse that even has expression in Gaza’s media. “Every Muslim mother must nurse her children on hatred of the sons of Zion” is one of Hamas’ many statements on the desired outcome of parenting.

Schools have long been a source of radicalisation in the Arab-Palestinian territories. Even children attending UNRWA’s own putatively civilian schools can experience the force of radicalisation. The headmaster of Zeitoun Elementary Boys school openly celebrates genocide and massacre. Shortt visited the school but seemingly such behaviour didn’t deserve mention!

El-Farra frets about the possibility of Islamic State becoming popular in Gaza. While the Western media presents ISIS in justifiably strong terms, due to its extraordinary bloodlust, Hamas’ speech is notably more extreme with respect to its advocacy of the genocide of all Jews, leading to the distinct possibility that the Sunni group’s bloodlust is only impeded by arguably the most sophisticated counter-terror force in the world.

Does responsibility lie with Arab-Palestinian rule?

Shortt’s coverage suggests Israel treats Gazans worse today than say a year ago. Arguably the opposite is the case. Shortt failed to report on various developments. For example, Israel facilitates the mass transit of construction materials into Gaza. Israel is doubling the water delivery to Gaza, after a crisis due to illegal drilling in the Strip’s coastal aquifer. Israel is also helping to increase the supply of electricity in the region, and may have indirectly engaged in discussions with Hamas, to construct a pipeline going from the Jewish State to Gaza to reinforce the electricity supply.

It is of course stating the obvious to say there are very limited opportunities for the people of Gaza, and that many are likely to feel a deep sense of despair. However, although conditions are extremely challenging after the damage caused by war, further Israeli initiatives, for business and reconstruction, were initiated during the latter months of 2014.

Shortt focuses on Israel’s blameworthiness for the present circumstances blighting the Gaza Strip, but what of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority themselves? The viewer only hears mention of “dysfunctional Palestinian politics”. Perhaps he hints at a topic that goes beyond Hamas’ rejectionist stances. He may refer to factionalism and corruption but viewers are not advised even though it relates strongly to the topic at hand. Is blameworthiness attributable to non-Jews of less interest to the viewer?

It is acknowledged that political factionalism has played abidingly negative role on conditions in Gaza from the very outset.

Other than previously mentioned issues, such as the dispute over passport issuance, there have been continued disagreements between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority over the payment of trans-state energy bills, which has resulted in power cuts of up to 18 hours per day. Such a measure would have a profoundly destructive impact on any economy. Likewise, the PA is believed to be intentionally slowing the payment of wages to State employees in Gaza, which constitute a substantive source of revenue to the localised economy. Lack of pay for many months has led to protests. There have been reports that Hamas is imposing another tax on imports, the monies from stressed private sectors will go into the pockets of long-unpaid members of Hamas.

Hamas have claimed that the Palestinian Authority demanded control of 50% of the monies pledged by international donors, to aid reconstruction in Gaza, whilst also stating that they rebuffed an Israeli offer to lift the embargo, and open up Gaza’s territory for shipping and air travel, in return for a long term truce. Both Fatah/PA and Hamas have of course their own agendas in attempting to commandeer billions of dollars in promised international aid.

Shortt on facts?

As we have seen, Shortt’s capacity to place blame on Israel was achieved due to significant omissions of basic fact inconvenient to his narrative. Shortt closed his Prime Time report with these troubling sentiments:
“Gaza is hemmed in by the sea and Israel. Its people are caught between dysfunctional Palestinian politics and the constant threat of war. The tide of violence breaks regularly here. Summer is coming. People fear what it may bring.”
Tellingly, Shortt made no mention of the fact that Israel’s embargo and maritime blockade is made in partnership with Egypt. This is a normative approach for the media, which largely ignores Egypt’s crucial role. Egypt has long appreciated the threat that Hamas poses to its security, as a military faction of the long proscribed Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Whilst the Arab nation did temporarily allow access through its borders, Egypt’s policy had broadly been harsher than that of Israel, giving little assistance at all.

Be that as it may, conditions for the people of Gaza are harsh. Siobhan Powell of UNRWA stated:
“There are no jobs so people can’t provide food for their families. It’s why we have such a dependency on assistance.”
Such a claim is an exaggeration, with the employment rate of Gaza largely remaining at 55% in recent years. Beyond the hyperbole, it is one of the highest rates in the world. The international community, including UNRWA, et al, blame Israel for such circumstance. And yet, in Israel’s defence, it does foster assistance programmes, continues to provide water and electricity (sometimes at its own peril), and supplies the assistance that keeps Gaza fed, the fuel to provide comfort and transport, and the materials to at least tentatively rebuild.

Shortt’s closing statement illustrates the problem with these normative media narratives — they flatly refuse to place any meaningful blame at Hamas’ door. Any sensible evaluation would surely conclude that when Israel withdrew from Gaza, Hamas, via the electorate’s assistance, took the opportunity to perpetuate conflict. Israel had to act to cut off a lethal belligerent operating freely on one of its borders.

The international community decry the wars with Hamas, and they decry the suffering of the populace. A highly vocal number claim that Israel should release Gaza from its embargo, and somehow peace will be found! All such a strategy will do is give Hamas carte blanche to wage a greater scale of war. As a result, Gaza’s civilians and the Israeli populace near Gaza’s border, will suffer all the more. There is no option for peace, other than Gaza being rid of Hamas, but the common ideological blind spot, which Shortt appears to suffer from, has to blame Israel for not only for its own legitimate defensible actions, but for the pain Hamas visits on the populace that voted it in on a mandate of continued strife.
“We shall not rest until our entire holy land is liberated … To the Zionists we promise that tomorrow all of Palestine will become hell for you” (Memri)

Also published at Crethi Plethi.

RTE’s Gaza News Coverage Sponsored by Irish Aid’s Pro-Palestinian Proxy

Focusing on gun held by IDF interviewee, RTE, Prime Time, May 7, 201515 (RTE screen-shot)

RTE, Ireland’s monopolistic public service broadcaster, ran a series of news reports by veteran RTE journalist Robert Shortt, relating to the current difficulties that the people of Gaza experience, in the aftermath of ‘Operation Protective Edge’, the 2014 war between Gaza’s belligerent groups and Israel.

The most detailed report, ‘Inside Gaza’, was broadcast on Prime Time, RTE’s premium current affairs programme, on May 7th 2015 (RTE’s Internet player May 8th date is incorrect). The segment begins at 9:57 in the Internet Player. Robert Shortt’s visit to Gaza was also featured in radio programming (cf. World Report, Radio One, May 3rd) and in RTE’s news articles.

To summarise, the Prime Time report asserts that a humanitarian crisis is on the horizon, due to a lack of promised international donations and Israel’s embargo. Shortt reinforces the latter as the primary reason for Gaza’s weak recovery, and he suggests little reconstruction occurred after prior wars. There is no mention that Israel has supplied large amounts of construction materials, including cement. Shortt presents the stance that Hamas has diverted cement and steel, to build tunnels, as an Israeli claim rather than fact, even though Hamas acknowledges it. There is no mention of Egypt’s embargo in the reports.

Shortt repeatedly used the word ‘attack’ in relation to the findings of the UN Board of Inquiry report into the incidents at seven UN schools. This is a wholly misleading assertion, as the report does not make findings of intent to harm and kill in the schools inspected. In fact, the sole finding of intent in the UN report asserts that the injury and death caused at one school was in error whilst pursuing terrorists. Shortt also appeared to infer that the IDF purposely targets civilians, when he spoke of “the shelters where hundreds [of civilians] gathered only to come under attack once more.”

To Shortt’s credit, he did allow some voice to Israeli views, with the interview of two Ìsraeli individuals in the middle of the segment, which provided some perspectival balance with the opinions of those Arab-Palestinians interviewed. However, his narrational voice, which carries greater authority for viewers, provided a prejudicial account, belying the superficial sense of balance their voices bring. Indeed he went as far as to undermine the views of the of two Ìsraelis featured, by broadly accusing Israeli people of being narrow-minded, and caring little for the welfare of Arab-Palestinian children:
“On the other side of the border, everything is seen through the prism of the threat posed to Israel, including attacks on [Gaza’s] UN schools.”
It would not be unreasonable to argue that the report breaches the codes of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. The BAI’s ‘Code of Fairness, Objectivity & Impartiality In News and Current Affairs’ states that:
“Views and facts shall not be misrepresented or presented in such a way as to render them misleading. Presenters should be sensitive to the impact of their language and tone in reporting news and current affairs so as to avoid misunderstanding of the matters covered.” (Page 11, section 19)
The article ‘An analysis of media and NGO narratives on present circumstances in Gaza’ provides an in-depth study of the many inaccuracies in Shortt’s reportage from Gaza.

Dr. Mona el-Farra, interviewed on RTE's Prime Time (RTE screen-shot).

The Middle East Children’s Alliance

Shortt’s reports focus on the suffering of children, with extended commentary by Dr. Mona el-Farra, of the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA).

MECA is reported to have funded the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which has a record for promoting and giving active terrorists cover. One might think MECA is soft on terrorism, but it appears to be even worse than that! El-Farra, MECA’s Director of Gaza Projects, asserted that MECA refused funding from USAID because (to quote NGO Monitor):
“it came with the condition that they promise “not [to] give any help or any aid whatsoever for the families of the militiamen, or their relatives, or anyone related to ‘terrorist attacks’” because “we consider it resistance”.”
MECA’s founder, Barbara Lubin, was caught telling a story that comes across as a modern day equivalent of an anti-Semitic blood-libel, which she latterly distanced herself from, and MECA has failed to verify:
“I met a mother who was at home with her ten children when Israeli soldiers entered the house. The soldiers told her she had to choose five of her children “to give as a gift to Israel”. […] Then these soldiers murdered five of her children in front of her. The concept of “Jewish morality” is truly dead. […] We have to end the Zionist state. We’ve got to charge the war criminals. We have to boycott Israeli goods.”
The above is the sort of statement that undermines the oft-asserted claim, by anti-Israel critics and activists, that criticism of Zionism and Israel does not equate with anti-Semitism, or indeed self-hatred in this particular case. MECA normatively present stark one-sided propagandistic narratives, such as with the organising of a notorious exhibit supposedly of artwork by Arab-Palestinian children, of dubious provenance.

El-Farra is a contentious figure in her own right, who unfortunately receives uncritical treatment in the mainstream media the world over, despite the fact that she is hardly a balanced commentator. For example, she hysterically claimed Israel intended to violently attack the May 2010 flotilla, despite the fact that there was a violent fracas on one ship alone, the Mavi Mariner, its crew having planned to attack boarding IDF soldiers:
“Israel meant to attack the flotilla and it is trying to cover up this reality with propaganda,” Mona el-Farra, a doctor in Gaza, told Socialist Worker. “Israel is committing crimes against humanity.”
The use of such a propagandist group should be a problematic matter for news programme makers. It is unethical to make no mention of MECA’s intense political advocacy and its likely support of terrorism.


Robert Shortt’s news-reports focused on the purported intensification of the crisis situation inside Gaza. His May 7th Prime Time report begins and similarly ends in an apocalyptic fashion:
“Hopelessness, impatience and anger threaten a fragile ceasefire. Many now fear the ghost of war will return. […]
The tide of violence breaks regularly here. Summer is coming. People fear what it may bring.”
The reports cited unnamed NGOs warning of a downward spiral, which, it is claimed, could lead to violence over the Summer period. Subsequently, only one NGO is referenced, Dr. el-Farra’s MECA. Shortt tweeted on the 5th of May:
“Dr Mona El Farra @MECAForPeace couldn’t come to Dublin. So we went to #Gaza.”
El-Farra was not granted permission to leave Gaza by both Egypt and Israel, although she only blames the Jewish State. Shortt’s tweet suggests a rather less than impartial motive for travelling to Gaza, given the focus of the exercise was to interview a noted propagandist who is a senior member of a trenchant anti-Israel NGO.

The troubles in Gaza are nothing new, often being stimulated by Hamas’ choice of going to war, and its refusal to co-operate with Israel. Shortt and MECA appear to have shaped the ongoing and substantive difficulties in Gaza as turning toward a dramatic low-point, when, in some respects, matters appear to be improving, albeit slowly, with respect to Israel’s actions. The limitations on the supply of cement have been relaxed, exports are modestly increasing, and there have been increases in both the water and electricity supplies.

These matters received no coverage in the reports however, and while mention of criticism of Hamas was referenced, little was said about Hamas’ various unhelpful contributions to the local economy.

Less than forthcoming

Near the very end of the closing credits for the 7th May Prime Time programme, it is written:
Made with the support of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund.”
Prime Time's acknowledgement of the involvement of the
Simon Cumbers Media Fund (RTE Screen-grab).

The blink and the viewer would miss it statement would raise questions about the objectivity of any news report so funded by an organisation external to the broadcaster itself. The involvement of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund was not noted in any other way for the viewing audience.

The report was seemingly promoted over that of other programme segments, perhaps indicating the importance that RTE’s editors attached to the material. There was no mention of assistance by the Simon Cumbers Media Fund in the promotions.

It is arguably a breach of broadcasting guidelines to make the statement so inaccessible to viewers, and to present the nature of this outside organisation’s contribution to the programme in so ambiguous a fashion. RTE’s own guidelines on sponsorship, in the subsection ‘Editorial Integrity’, note that:
“The presence of sponsorship must be clearly indicated to the programme audience. Furthermore a sponsor must not have any editorial input or involvement in programming or scheduling, nor should there be reasonable grounds on the part of the viewer to believe that input or influence does exist. For these reasons the broadcaster must carefully consider the suitability of any potential sponsorship arrangements.”
While the dimension of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund’s input is unclear, an analysis (see below) of their activities, and relationship to Irish Aid, would suggest influence in financial and editorial terms.

Indeed, RTE subsequently took the step of clearly informing viewers in the introduction to a related report by Robert Shortt, entitled “New Crisis in Gaza” (broadcast 9th May). The RTE news presenter Úna O’Hagan stated:
“This report by Robert Shortt was supported by the Simon Cumbers Media Fund.”
The Prime Time report was not updated in a similar fashion, at the date of this article’s publishing.

Irish Aid’s connection to the Simon Cumbers Media Fund

The Simon Cumbers Media Fund appears to be a form of proxy organisation for Irish Aid, Ireland’s overseas development programme run by the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Simon Cumbers website acknowledges Irish Aid started and funds their group:
“In 2005, a little over a year after the tragic death of Irish journalist Simon Cumbers, Irish Aid established the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to honour his memory. The aim of the Fund is to assist and promote more and better quality media coverage of development issues”
The same website features a section entitled ‘About Irish Aid’, which explains that the fund acts as a media wing of Irish Aid:
“The media play a crucial role in promoting public understanding of global issues. The Simon Cumbers Media Fund was established by Irish Aid in 2005 in memory of the late Irish journalist and cameraman, Simon Cumbers. Irish Aid has invested in the Fund to help create a space to broaden and deepen coverage of global development issues in Ireland. The Fund is intended to facilitate coverage which presents a balanced and realistic picture of the challenges — and also the opportunities — that developing countries face, and of progress achieved.”
Some of Shortt’s news coverage briefly refers to Gaza’s funding by Irish Aid, for example, with respect to the funding of UNRWA’s projects in Gaza, Shortt notes that “€4million of Irish Aid will support its work this year.”

Irish Aid’s website refers to the organisation’s mission statement as:
“To help achieve our goal of eradicating poverty and hunger in the world’s poorest countries, the Government allocates significant funding to our aid programme.”
‘Palestine’, rather than say a contested territory, much of which is termed ‘Judea and Samaria, more latterly called the ‘West Bank’, is one of Irish Aid’s fourteen “partner countries”, although this designated territory has not in fact constituted a sovereign state since the Bar-Kokhba Revolt, which was crushed by Rome in 135 AD.

With such a peculiar account of history implicit on the naming Irish Aid applies, it is unsurprising that they almost wholly adopt the pro-Palestinian narrative over a whole host of issues, including the indefensible water apartheid charge:
“Occupation and the impact of the ongoing conflict are amongst the primary obstacles to development in the occupied Palestinian territory. Restrictions on the movement of people and goods, the lack of access to land and water resources, the separation of the West Bank and Gaza, the Gaza blockade and the fragmentation of the West Bank continue to disrupt progress.
We recognise that long-term, sustainable development in Palestine is closely linked to a successful outcome to the Middle East Peace Process, which remains a key foreign policy priority for the Government. We now provide more than €10 million annually in support to the Palestinian people to help them deliver on their development priorities, to support the promotion of human rights and to meet immediate humanitarian needs.”
Such a crass one-sided narrative reads like the kind of screed featured on propagandistic websites like Mondo Weiss, rather than a state-run developmental fund. If the above was truly the case, one must wonder why the Palestinian Authority has repeatedly rebuffed near 100% territorial concessions from Israel. Could it not be that a century of war-like genocidal pan-Arab incitement has made peace a very distant dream? Unfortunately, Irish Aid has long used revenue from the Irish tax payer, and other states including the UK, to campaign in a highly politicised fashion against Israel, by funding prejudicial and intentionally demonising NGOs, the sort of groups that perpetuate hostility rather than try to heal it.

Irish Aid supports groups with highly problematic records, e.g. Irish charity Trocaire, attempts to bring trenchant pro-Palestinian propaganda into Ireland’s education system. Al Haq’s leading figure, Shawan Jabarin, has ties to the PFLP, a particularly blood-thirsty leftist Arab-Palestinian terror group. Irish Aid is a major contributor to the PCHR, which uses inciteful invective, such as the charge that Israel is pushing for the “Judaization of Jerusalem.”, describing the rededication of an important synagogue as a “war crime”. An NGO called Miftah advanced an old anti-Semitic blood libel, claiming Jews use Christian blood in Passover matzah bread.

Little wonder then that the groups Irish Aid funds advocate ‘right of return’, namely the end of Israel’s status as a principally Jewish state through a mass demographic influx. Ireland ostensibly commends a two-state solution, based upon the principle of two states for two peoples, but it can be inferred that the Irish State supports the effective end of a sovereign state, even though it is not founded on international law in any genuine sense.

In harmony with Irish Aid’s funding, the Simon Cumbers Media Fund publishes one-sided articles supportive of the ‘right of return’, and criticism of the security barrier which was largely instrumental in bringing the savage Second Intifada to an end in 2005.

Codes of conduct

Despite being seasoned reporters and producers, working on material to be broadcast on RTE’s flagship current affairs show, the programme makers breached both the BAI’s codes and RTE’s own professed standards, on fairness, balance, accuracy, and objectivity, in a very overt fashion. Severe breaches of objectivity are not new to Prime Time.

Number 25 of the section ‘Objectivity & Impartiality Rules’, in the BAI’s ‘Code of Fairness, Objectivity & Impartiality In News and Current Affairs’ booklet (page 12) notes:
“Each broadcaster shall have and implement appropriate policies and procedures to address any conflicts of interests that may exist or arise in respect of anyone with an editorial involvement in any news or current affairs content, whether such person works on-air or off-air.”
Thus, it would seem that RTE did not implement appropriate procedures to avoid serious editorial conflicts. The terms of Section 26, of the same booklet, indicate that the makes of Prime Time were remiss in not calling the audience to the attention of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund’s involvement before, during, or immediately after the segment, and not specifying the nature of their involvement:
“Any personal, professional, business or financial interest of anyone with an editorial involvement in news or current affairs content that calls into question (or that might reasonably be perceived as calling into question) the fairness, objectivity or impartiality of a programme or item, shall be brought to the attention of the audience. To this end broadcasters shall satisfy themselves that they are in a position to be aware of the relevant interests of the personnel concerned”
The BAI’s ‘Code of Fairness, Objectivity & Impartiality in News and Current Affairs Guidance Notes’ (July 2013), addresses the issue of objectivity in a more explanatory fashion. The booklet discusses the involvement of outside parties in news and current affairs coverage, stating (page 24):
“It is also important that broadcasters take appropriate measures to ensure, insofar as possible, that independent producers or freelance staff do not have any interests which could undermine the fairness, objectivity and impartiality of the output they produce for the broadcasters.”
The BAI notes (page 20), with respect to news originating from social media Internet sites:
“Potential for bias: is the information emanating from a lobby or representative group? Are there any political/religious/commercial affiliations?”
The BAI’s point however is equally applicable to other sources of information, such as Dr. el-Farra, a senior member of ‘Middle East Children’s Alliance’, a highly politicised NGO. According to Shortt, her opinions on Gaza were the sole or principle purpose of his team having decided to visit the region.

Also published at Crethi Plethi.

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Concerns over the UN Board of Inquiry Report on the Treatment of UNRWA Facilities in the 2014 Gaza War

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visits an UNRWA school, February 2012, Gaza.

The United Nations’ ‘Board of Inquiry’ issued a report to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, in February of this year. He issued a summary of the report’s findings, on the 27th April, which asserts that Israeli military action killed and injured Arab-Palestinian civilians, who had sought refuge in six United Nations schools during the 2014 conflict in Gaza and its environs, between Israel and an assortment of terrorist groups, including Hamas, the ruling authority of the Gaza Strip itself.

Whilst stating that it was standard procedure not to issue such ‘Board of Inquiry’ reports, Ki-moon justified the publication of a summary on grounds of interest. The study was widely reported upon in a prejudicial fashion.

Questions of intent

The report did not make findings of intentionality on the part of Israel. Findings of criminality were noted to be beyond the purview of the UN Board’s report. However, the report recommended that Israel take greater care in future conflicts, suggesting a belief that the strikes were conducted in error:
“The United Nations should request the Government of Israel to give a commitment that, in the event that it plans any future military operation in proximity to United Nations premises, it will provide advance warning, sufficient to enable the United Nations to ensure the security and safety of its personnel or other civilians attending its facilities, and ensure that coordinating procedures are such that confusion or misunderstandings concerning UNRWA as well as other United Nations installations are excluded.” (Section 99, C)
The response to the UN summary was rather predictable, with numerous media outlets describing the incidents as actual “attacks” causing death and injury to Arab-Palestinians in seven (rather than six) UNRWA schools. The report also found that unidentified terrorist groups used several schools to store weapons, and to fire from those sites. This was a notable revelation but some media outlets emphasised that the report found the schools used in this manner were empty at the time. Institutions treating the story in this manner include Al Jazeera and Irish public service broadcaster RTE. Intent, on the part of Israel, to harm and kill was unfairly inferred, while the more probable intent of the relevant terror groups was minimised.

The notion that the IDF intended to attack is hard to justify, in view of the fact that all seven incidents did not constitute protracted attacks. Several involved a single strike, typically with a non-precision guided shell, in environments where fighting had taken place. Extracts of the incidents detailed in the report are quoted:
“Incident (a): Injuries occurring at and damage done to the UNRWA Maghazi Preparatory Girls “A/B” School on 21 and 22 July 2014” […] the school was struck at roof level by direct fire from an IDF tank, likely involving a 120 MM High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) Multi- Purpose (MP) or High Explosive (HE) projectile. Injuries were caused to a man and a child sheltering at the school, as well as damage to the school premises.
The following day, two mortars hit the roof of the school after its evacuation, causing no injury.
“Incident (b): Injury occurring at and damage done to UNRWA Deir El Balah Preparatory Girls “C” School on 23 July 2014 […] Between 05:45 and 06:15 hrs in the morning of 23 July 2014, the medical isolation room on the third floor of the school was hit by a projectile, which passed through a window and two walls of an elevator shaft, partially striking the external veranda wall and exiting the school grounds. Three displaced persons, among the approximately 40 sleeping in the room at the time of the incident, suffered light injuries. No one was killed. There was relatively minor damage to the school.”
Incident (c) relates to the graver event involving fatalities at Beit Hanoun. It is discussed in some depth in the sub-section “On the veracity of testimony”.
“Incident (d): Injuries occurring at and damage done to Zaitoun Preparatory Girls “B” School On the night of 28/29 July 2014 […] On 29 July, at approximately 01:30 hrs, a projectile struck the roof of the school, penetrating the ceiling and striking the wall immediately adjacent to the door of a classroom in which approximately 40 people were sleeping. Seven residents were injured.”
Incident (e) relates to a graver event, involving fatalities, at UNRWA Jabalia Elementary Girls “A” and “B” School, on the 30th of July. The report notes that a volley of four shells struck the school: “At approximately 04:45 hrs, the school was hit by a barrage of four 155 MM high explosive (HE) projectiles, an artillery indirect fire weapon.” The IDF did not deny the strike, and have ordered an investigation. They stated the fire was aimed at another more legitimate target. Credence may be given to this claim because the report acknowledges the ordinance which struck the school is used in indirect fire weaponry that aims at targets that are not in direct sight.

Incident (f) involves the deaths of civilians at UNRWA’s Rafah Preparatory Boys “A” School on the 3rd of August. A single precision-guided missile struck the road outside the school. The IDF acknowledged responsibility for the killings, but claimed the deaths were caused in error while it was pursuing three Islamic Jihad fighters on a motorcycle, who were passing by the school gate. The UN report agreed with this assertion, stating “The Board found that the missile had been directed at a motorcycle carrying three individuals.”

Incident (g) of the report noted more extensive damage done to UNRWA’s Khuza’a Elementary College Co-educational “A” and “B” School, between the 17th of July and the 26th of August. However, the buildings on the site were empty, and the IDF found material that suggested it had been used as an Islamic Jihad command centre and observational post for a period of time. The UN report did not contradict this perspective in its findings.

Issues of balance

Whilst the UN ‘Board of Inquiry’ report is more balanced than might be expected, given the UN’s prejudicial treatment of Israel in recent decades, it is nonetheless problematic for a number of reasons.

As previously noted, the report was only released as a summary. There are no plans to ever have the two hundred and seven page study published. It is clearly problematic for any major agency to publish findings that are not fully substantiated. It is near-impossible to substantiate why the UN Board found all the incidents to be attributable to the IDF, when there is noteworthy evidence to the contrary.

If the decision by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, to publicise details of the report, was motivated by public interest, it would surely have been convention to issue the report in its entirety, in order to allow readers to evaluate its findings. Such a move would have been in the interests of the UN, assuming the findings were based upon secure evidence. The decision to instead issue a summary would have likely been motivated by two primary considerations: either some of the report’s findings are based on contentious claims, or some evidential material not included in the summary would have worsened its relationship with Hamas. Ban Ki-moon stated in his covering letter that the actual report:
“…contains a significant body of information the disclosure of which would prejudice the security or proper conduct of the Organisation’s operations or activities.”
The ‘United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East’ (UNRWA) is of course the principle UN “Organisation” operating in Gaza. In the past, UNRWA’s Gazan branch has been criticised for politically modifying its position, to be in line with the wishes of Hamas. One issue of note was the controversial decision to back-pedal on the decision to teach the Holocaust in its school curriculum, due to Hamas’ objections based on an outright denial of the event!

It would not be unfair to suggest that Hamas has long kept UNRWA on a short leash. Despite the fact that UNRWA members often demonstrate support for Hamas, and it is accepted that many UNRWA employees are Hamas members, grave threats against UNRWA staff at gunpoint are not unknown. Thus, if the full report was redacted over security concerns, it is reasonable to infer that the summary may give a somewhat partial position.

The report relied to a substantial extent on UNRWA witness testimony, where there would have been a desire to downplay the involvement of some UNRWA employees with Hamas, and/or UNRWA failings to secure its own civilian structures to prevent their usage by combatants. A gloss was also placed on some of UNRWA’s more objectionable actions. The report asserts that the UNRWA did not hand weaponry stored at UN facilities to Hamas, but were in fact handed back to unnamed individuals, after contacting the Hamas-run police force.

The UN summary notes the contribution of unnamed non-governmental organisations to the report’s findings. Such organisations typically present a prejudicial image of the conflict in analyses.

The summary findings are also rather inconsistent. Ban Ki-moon asserts that the three schools used by belligerents for the storage of weapons were not in use. This was fortuitous, since the war occurred during school summer recess, as noted in the summary. However, it nonetheless appears that some schools may have not been wholly disused at the time, with the admission that the grounds of one school, where a terrorist group fired rockets, was open for usage by children.

On the veracity of testimony

The report also relied on anonymous non-UNRWA witness testimony, often obtained by UNRWA staff themselves. The neutrality of such staff can be questioned, due to the sympathy and affiliation of some with Hamas. Such a situation would possibly lead to selection bias, with the picking of witnesses that provide accounts favourable to Hamas’ agenda. Moreover, testimony obtained in an oppressive intimidatory environment is problematic, where reprisals against critics are not uncommon.

To take one example, the report blames Israel for perhaps the most infamous strike on a school during the war, at Beit Hanoun, which led to the death of 12 to 14 civilians, despite evidence that terrorist groups were fighting in close proximity to the school, and may have struck it. The summary notes that there was fighting very close to the school for several days, and also notes the repeated warnings from the IDF to UNRWA, to evacuate the compound over a three day period, with terrorist fighters acting in an area in very close proximity to the school:
“The Board noted that most witnesses described shelling in the vicinity of the school as a daily occurrence and that some of the residents at the school were injured as a result of shrapnel from the shelling outside the school. The Board also noted that an UNRWA security official testified to having received multiple calls from Israel’s Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA) during the three or four days prior to the incident indicating that, according to the IDF, rockets were being fired from and around the school and that it needed to be evacuated. On the other hand, the Board noted that witnesses interviewed by UNRWA had said that there was no militant activity either inside or in the near vicinity of the school, though rocket launching could be heard from areas further away.” (Section C, 27)
The report notes these contradictions but the authors of the summary and/or report appear to place greater weight on subsequent witness testimony that denies these strongly fact-based assertions, due to its conclusion: “The Board found that the incident was attributable to the IDF.” The shaping of witness testimony is a crucial strategy for dictatorial entities. Significant effort has to be made to protect witnesses against illegitimate threatening influence, to obtain accurate views in such regions.

The report also contradicted a prior public statement by UNRWA, which asserted that a Hamas rocket hit the school in Beit Hanoun, making its conclusions harder to accept.

UNRWA complicity with belligerents

The report summary contains a passage that discreetly acknowledges wrongdoing on the part of some UNRWA staff:
“The United Nations should request the Government of Israel to give a commitment that, at any time that it believes it has information that United Nations premises have been misused for military purposes or that UNRWA staff are involved in militant activities, such information will be promptly conveyed in strict confidence to the senior management of UNRWA or other United Nations entity…” (Section 99, b)
In another incident, three IDF soldiers were killed, with seven others wounded, in a heavily booby-trapped UN clinic that was situated on top of a Hamas tunnel. The scale of the endeavour may suggest that there was some level of complicity between certain UNRWA staff and Hamas or Islamic Jihad. Unfortunately, this serious incident was not investigated by the UN Board of Inquiry.

A broader perspective

To place the scale and number of strikes on Gaza’s schools in some perspective, three of the strikes resulted in serious harm to the civilian populace of Gaza. Two of these incidents appear to be attributable to Israel, with a combined death toll of approximately 30 individuals, but were carried out in error. The other incident at Beit Hanoun may have involved Hamas. Of the other four incidents, one caused substantive damage while a school complex was known to be empty, and the other three caused injury to a modest number, and relatively minor damage. The responsibility for these events is disputed.

According to UNRWA’s own figures, Gaza’s education infrastructure is considerable. There are 640 schools in Gaza, 221 of which are run by UNRWA, which in total serve approximately 450 thousand students. According to the World Health Organisation, illiteracy among Gazan youth was less than 1% in 2010, while the Gaza Strip plays host to five universities. By contrast, in neighbouring Egypt, the adult illiteracy rate is over 20%.

Also published at Crethi Plethi.