David I. Roytenberg

Humanitarian Aid

According to Ynet, yesterday a young boy was killed by Hamas “police” in Rafah. He was part of a crowd trying to stop a truck full of humanitarian aid that was being stolen by Hamas for its own purposes. Perhaps because the boy was a member of a prominent Gaza family, or perhaps because people are starting to believe the Hamas regime may really be ending, the reaction was angry and public. His family threatened revenge against the killer of their son and set fire to tires in front of the “police station”.

This incident got me thinking about the news coverage I’ve been watching over the weekend from Gaza. As I mentioned in an article last week, the news on CTV television is very different from the news I read and watch daily from English language media in Israel.

On the CTV national news on December 24, the main story from Gaza was an interview with a senior official from the World Health Organization about wide-spread hunger in Gaza. This followed hard on the heels of the UN Security Council resolution passed on Thursday. According to the announcement on the UN web site the resolution called for “immediate, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance at scale directly to the Palestinian civilian population throughout the Gaza Strip”.

Until last week, every interview that I saw with humanitarian NGOs in Gaza had the same message: There is no substitute for an immediate ceasefire.” These stories often included commentary that suggested that Joe Biden was risking his chances of winning next year’s election by continuing to oppose a ceasefire. The dire implications for Israelis of a permanent ceasefire were never discussed. Sometimes it would be added that Israel opposed a ceasefire before its objective of destroying Hamas was achieved.

Now that the weeks-long diplomatic effort to get a ceasefire resolution through the security council has failed for now (sadly, not before getting Canada to shift its vote on the issue), the new message on both CTV and CNN last night is that vast quantities of aid are essential and that Gazans are starving. Given the language of the UN resolution on “unhindered delivery”, I would have thought that the hijacking of humanitarian aid and the murder of Palestinian civilians by Hamas would have made it into a story about the dire shortage of food in the territory.

When I look at these stories, I am reminded of what NGO spokespeople were saying earlier in the war when the IDF first went into Gaza. At that time, the story was all about how the hospitals would not be able to operate because Israel had cut off fuel supplies to the Gaza strip. As Israel approached the Shifa hospital, doctors in the hospital were interviewed and talked about the risk that premature babies would die due to a lack of power for incubators. However, when Israel dropped off fuel for the hospital, the chief of the hospital said that Hamas had forbidden them to take it. They reported that three of the babies had died. No evidence for this has ever been offered.

As I’ve mentioned previously, doctors interviewed from Shifa while Israel was approaching the hospital, also said that there was no Hamas presence there, something which proved to be untrue once Israel entered the Shifa complex. In a tour led by the IDF spokesman inside al-Shifa he remarked that the electricity was working and there did not seem to be a fuel shortage.

I am not saying that people in Gaza are not in difficulty. Israel is doing terrible (but necessary) things in Gaza. But I do wonder why journalists who have found that sources of information are unreliable continue to platform these sources uncritically. In the early days of the pandemic, the World Health Organization seems to have supported China’s efforts to cover up information about the source of COVID 19 that point to a leak from a lab in Wuhan as a likely origin for the pandemic.

We know that the WHO has caved in to political pressure or been actively complicit in promoting inaccurate information in the past. Given that, the least we can expect of a journalist who is interviewing someone from the WHO is to challenge their position with facts from the news of the day, that humanitarian aid is not getting to the people it’s supposed to help.

Now that Israel has exposed the fact that every hospital in norther Gaza was also a Hamas military installation, a news report on ABC from December 23 has Dr. Richard Peeperkorn, the representative of WHO’s office for the West Bank and Gaza, reporting that there are no operational hospitals in Northern Gaza. This story about a health crisis does not mention the fact that the hospitals were sheltering Hamas weapons, leaders and equipment, but they emphasize that Israel entered the hospitals, which is the implied cause of the disruption in health services. This same story also cites Care International on widespread hunger in Gaza.

In writing this article, I’m trying to make two points. The first is that our journalists seem not to be doing their job. The coverage seems slanted either due to cowardice or laziness or bias. I know of lots of people in the journalism field who are dedicated to rooting out hidden facts and exposing the duplicity of the powerful. But these motives and skills seem curiously lacking when covering the duplicity and hidden facts around the behaviour of Hamas and its collaborators.

The second point is that as consumers of media, we have no choice but to be skeptical and on guard every time we read or tune in. We can’t go in assuming that we will be getting a fair or accurate report. We have to listen for what is omitted as much as for what is included. This is hard work, but it’s essential, if we want to understand what is really happening on the ground in Gaza.

It’s equally important for our awareness of what is happening in the culture here in Canada. When we see sloppy and uncritical reporting that bolsters the cause of Hamas, and complete silence on events that support Israel’s version of events, this also tells us something about the society we live in, and the likely attitude of ordinary Canadians who are getting their information from those news sources.

If ordinary Canadians are persuaded that Israel is “at war with the Palestinian people and not Hamas”, as I’ve heard often when Canadian journalists interview “pro-Palestinian” spokespeople, they are more likely to harbor feelings of resentment toward Canadian Jews, who support Israel. This is not a matter for political debate alone. It bears on the future viability of the Jewish community in Canada.

There was a story on CNN over the weekend about Israel’s use of 2000 pound bombs in Gaza. The story relied on an external group that “used artificial intelligence” to analyze the size of the impact craters of the bombs and their “blast radius.” The on air report claimed that the study shows that Israeli bombing was “inherently indiscriminate.”

The written version of the story linked above does not use that language. Nevertheless it seems biased to me. The air of scientific objectivity conceals the fact that the study’s aim was to refute a key claim by Israel that they are dong their best to minimize civilian casualties, something which most stories about the harm being done in Gaza simply ignore.

I sent a link to the story to the tip line at Honest Reporting. I’ll let you know if I hear back. Meanwhile I’m curious about your thoughts on this story and the overall coverage of the war that we are seeing on CNN.

This article was originally published on Canadian Zionist Forum.

About the Author
David Roytenberg is a Canadian living in Ottawa, Canada, with a lifelong interest in Israel and Zionism. He spent 9 months in Israel in 1974-75 on Kibbutz Kfar Glickson and is a frequent visitor to friends and family in Israel. He is married and the father of two sons. David is Secretary of MERCAZ Canada and the chair of Adult Education for Kehillat Beth Israel in Ottawa. He wrote monthly about Israel and Zionism for the Canadian Jewish News from 2017 to 2020.
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