* On the fifth anniversary of his kidnapping in Israel, the Red Cross in Gaza finally ask Hamas to show signs that Gilad Shalit remains alive; Palestinian mob attack Red Cross HQ in response.
* After four years renting 15 rooms for his entourage in five-star luxury at EU taxpayers’ expense, Tony Blair is moving out of the American Colony Hotel into a purpose-built seven-storey building now under construction in Sheikh Jarrah: the millionaires’ row of East Jerusalem.
* The Irish Independent: “What is it about Israel that prompts such a widespread departure from common sense, reason and moral reality? As another insane flotilla prepares to butt across the Mediterranean bringing ‘aid’ to the ‘beleaguered’ people of Gaza?”
* The New York Times: “Two luxury hotels are opening in Gaza this month. Thousands of new cars are plying the roads. A second shopping mall – with escalators imported from Israel – will open next month. Hundreds of homes and two dozen schools are about to go up.”
* “We have 100 percent vaccination; no polio, measles, diphtheria or AIDS,” said Mahmoud Daher, the World Health Organization representative in Gaza. “We’ve never had a cholera outbreak.”
* This website contained a world exclusive last year, revealing the opening of a luxury shopping mall in Gaza (and shortly before that of an Olympic-size swimming pool and a water park) at a time when virtually the entire world media was alleging that there were no construction materials (or water) and hence no new buildings and goods in Gaza. Since then, one by one, most media (with the notable exception of the BBC) have dropped their previous misreporting and acknowledged that life in Gaza is better than most places in the world, and substantially better than many other places in the Arab world. Yesterday’s New York Times cover story (attached below) is the latest such example. (It is also on the cover of today’s International Herald Tribune.)
Here is a new video showing the situation in Gaza as not described by the BBC:
This dispatch is split in two for space reasons. The other part can be read here: “How could the Left not fall for the Arab-lesbian-blogger hoax?”
I attach nine articles of interest. Among the writers of these articles, Mark Steyn, Ethan Bronner, Benny Morris, Kevin Myers, Matthew Kalman and Kelly McParland are all subscribers to this email list
1. In rare move, BBC apologizes for anti-Israel dog story
2. “Cost-cutting exercise sees Blair move – into millionaires’ row” (By Matthew Kalman, UK Independent, June 27, 2011)
3. “How can do-gooders possibly think that Gaza is the primary centre of injustice in Middle East?” (By Kevin Myers, Irish Independent, June 24 2011)
4. “A construction boom in Gaza’s lingering ruins” (By Ethan Bronner, NY Times, June 25, 2011)
5. “Palestinians pelt Gaza Red Cross office with eggs” (Agence France Presse, June 24, 2011)
IN RARE MOVE, BBC APOLOGIZES FOR ANTI-ISRAEL DOG STORY
By Tom Gross
In a rare move, the BBC News website has apologized for running an entirely fake story about Israel on June 18, under the headline “Jerusalem rabbis ‘condemn dog to death by stoning’”.
The BBC acknowledged that they had made “grave errors” and added “We failed to make the right checks. We should never have written the article and apologise for any offence caused.”
In its apology, the BBC blamed sensationalist elements in the Israeli media for the story.
(It can be read here: www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2011/06/story_removal.html, accompanied by many readers’ comments.)
What the BBC (and other media) didn’t acknowledge is that day after day, in their eagerness to discredit Israel, they repeat anti-Israeli stories, often by far left journalists in Ha’aretz, or by Israeli tabloid papers, neither of which represent a fair and balanced portrayal of Israel.
It is as if CNN scoured British publications like The New Statesman and The Daily Star for “accurate and representative” stories about Britain.
Among past dispatches on the BBC, please see:
[Tom Gross adds: Along with Britain and Sweden, Ireland has one of the most anti-Israel governments and media in the European Union, so this piece stands out.]
HOW CAN DO-GOODERS POSSIBLY THINK THAT GAZA IS THE PRIMARY CENTRE OF INJUSTICE IN MIDDLE EAST?
How can do-gooders possibly think that Gaza is the primary centre of injustice in Middle East? By Kevin Myers
The Irish Independent
June 24 2011
What is it about Israel that prompts such a widespread departure from common sense, reason and moral reality? As another insane flotilla prepares to butt across the Mediterranean bringing “aid” to the “beleaguered” people of Gaza, in its midst travelling the MV Saoirse, does it never occur to all the hysterical anti-Israeli activists in Ireland that this is like worrying about the steaks being burnt on the barbecue, as a forest fire sweeps towards your back garden?
I took part in a discussion about the Middle East last weekend in the Dalkey Books Festival. It was surreal. Not merely was I the only pro-Israeli person in the panel of four, but the chairwoman of the session, Olivia O’Leary, also felt obliged to throw in her three-ha’pence worth.
Israeli settlers on the West Bank were on stolen land, she sniffed. Palestinians in their refugee camps had title deeds to the ancient properties. The UN had repeatedly condemned Israel. Brian Keenan, who was held hostage by Arab terrorists for four years, then detailed Israeli human-rights abuses, to loud cheers.
Israel – and its sole defender on the panel (is mise) – were then roundly attacked by members of the audience. But what was most striking about the audience’s contributions was the raw emotion: they seemed to loathe Israel.
But how can anyone possibly think that Gaza is the primary centre of injustice in the Middle East? According to Mathilde Redmatn, deputy director of the International Red Cross in Gaza, there is in fact no humanitarian crisis there at all. But by God, there is one in Syria, where possibly thousands have died in the past month.
However, I notice that none of the Irish do-gooders are sending an aid-ship to Latakia. Why? Is it because they know that the Syrians do not deal with dissenting vessels by lads with truncheons abseiling down from helicopters, but with belt-fed machine guns, right from the start?
What about a humanitarian ship to Libya? Surely no-one on the MV Saoirse could possible maintain that life under Gaddafi qualified it as a civilised state. Not merely did it murder opponents by the bucketload at home and abroad, it kept the IRA campaign going for 20 years, and it also – a minor point, this, I know – brought down the Pan Am flight at Lockerbie. Yet no Irish boat to Libya. Only the other way round.
And then there’s Iraq. Throughout the decades of Saddam Hussein, whose regime caused the deaths of well over a million people, there wasn’t a breath of liberal protest against him. Gassing the Kurds? Not a whimper. Invading Kuwait? Not one single angry placard-bearing European liberal outside an Iraqi embassy.
Destroying the drainage systems of the Marsh Arabs? Silence. Manipulating UN oil-for-food programme so that thousands died? Nothing.
Next, Saudi Arabia, whose revolting practices cannot be called medieval without doing a grave injustice to the Middle Ages. It is led by savages who have studiously turned their backs on knowledge – even as they sip their Krug and their Bollinger in their €100m apartments in Belgravia. They behead and behand, they torture and they mutilate, and they have spent billions on their foul madrasahs teaching young Muslims right across the world to hate us kaffirs. But what demonstrations are there outside Saudi embassies? What flotillas to defend the human rights of the millions of immigrant serfs, who toil without any rights in Saudi homes and in the oil industry?
There isn’t a single Arab country, not one, with the constitutional protection that Israel confers on all its citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity or sexual orientation. And no, I don’t like the settlements on the West Bank, but really, by any decent measure, it is simply not possible to gaze upon the entire region, reaching from Casablanca to Yemen, and then to point indignantly and say: “Ah yes, Gaza: that’s where the one great injustice lies.”
The last ‘aid flotilla’ to Gaza carried a large number of Islamists who wanted to provoke: and aided by some quite astounding Israeli stupidity, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
Now another convoy is under way, and again with an utterly disingenuous plan to bring “assistance” to the “beleaguered Gazans”, some of who, funnily enough, can now cross into Egypt any time they like, and buy their explosives and their Kalashnikovs in the local arms-bazaar.
And as for human-rights abuses: why, nothing that Israel has done in the 63 years of its existence can possibly compare with the mass-murders of Fatah members by Hamas firing-squads over the past five years.
The colossal western intellectual dissonance between evidence and perception on the subject of Israel at this point in history can perhaps only be explained by anthropologists.
This dissonance is perhaps at its most acute in Ireland, where no empirical proof seems capable of changing people’s minds. Israel, just about the only country in the entire region where Arabs are not rising up against their rulers, is also the only country that the Irish chattering classes unite in condemning. Rather pathetic, really.
COST-CUTTING EXERCISE SEES BLAIR ON MOVE – INTO MILLIONAIRES’ ROW
Cost-cutting exercise sees Blair on move – into millionaires’ row
By Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem
The Independent (London)
June 27, 2011
After four years in five-star luxury, Tony Blair is moving out of the American Colony Hotel into a purpose-built seven-storey building now under construction in Sheikh Jarrah: the millionaires’ row of East Jerusalem.
The new building will replace the 15 rooms Mr Blair’s team rents at the American Colony for more than £1m each year. Since he was appointed as representative of the Middle East Quartet in 2007, his office and accommodation for his dozen-strong staff have been located on the fourth floor of Jerusalem’s best known hotel.
The former prime minister’s departure will remove a steady source of income from the American Colony just as hotel bookings in the region begin to plummet in response to the wave of unrest sweeping the Middle East.
The lease at the hotel originally expired on 30 June, but has been extended to the middle of the month to allow the completion of building work at the new location on Nablus Road.
When The Independent visited the new building on Sunday it was still under construction. Workers were hanging off the outside of the building fitting aluminium window frames. The site is screened by a high metal fence and at least five CCTV cameras, suggesting that Mr Blair’s team have already installed some of the watertight security systems necessary to protect the former prime minister.
The Quartet will lease the new building from the influential Nashashibi family, who have constructed the block from local sandstone and smoked glass on land owned for decades by their family. Mr Blair and his team spend about one week in four in Jerusalem. He spends the rest of his time working for his foundation, and on commercial activities.
Officials say the move is intended to reduce costs and simplify security, though with a lease costing the Quartet about £750,000 a year, the new building will not be cheap. Sub-tenants from carefully-vetted organisations will occupy some of the space in order to offset the cost of the lease.
A spokesman said: “Yes, the Office of the Quartet Representative will be moving out of the American Colony Hotel, to an office building elsewhere in East Jerusalem this summer. This will reduce our office costs and provide more suitable office accommodation.”
The move also suggests Mr Blair and the Quartet are digging in for a long haul and may be expanding their operations.
The building will house sleeping accommodation for Mr Blair and his travelling advisers, including the 24-hour security detail provided by the Scotland Yard diplomatic protection unit, but it is not clear who will provide housekeeping and laundry services.
A CONSTRUCTION BOOM IN GAZA
Tom Gross adds: Since there is little new news here, Ethan Bronner comments on the ups and downs of the local economy, carefully gauging how different parties will spin his reporting. One wishes he would just report what he found and leave it at that.
Although Bronner doesn’t say so explicitly, it is clear from his piece that Hamas is largely to blame for the “lingering” problems.
A Construction Boom in Gaza’s Lingering Ruins
By Ethan Bronner
The New York Times
June 25, 2011
GAZA — Two luxury hotels are opening in Gaza this month. Thousands of new cars are plying the roads. A second shopping mall – with escalators imported from Israel – will open next month. Hundreds of homes and two dozen schools are about to go up. A Hamas-run farm where Jewish settlements once stood is producing enough fruit that Israeli imports are tapering off.
As pro-Palestinian activists prepare to set sail aboard a flotilla aimed at maintaining an international spotlight on Gaza and pressure on Israel, this isolated Palestinian coastal enclave is experiencing its first real period of economic growth since the siege they are protesting began in 2007.
“Things are better than a year ago,” said Jamal El-Khoudary, chairman of the board of the Islamic University, who has led Gaza’s Popular Committee Against the Siege. “The siege on goods is now 60 to 70 percent over.”
Ala al-Rafati, the economy minister for Hamas, the militant group that governs Gaza, said in an interview that nearly 1,000 factories are operating here, and he estimated unemployment at no more than 25 percent after a sharp drop in jobless levels in the first quarter of this year. “Yesterday alone, the Gaza municipality launched 12 projects for paving roads, digging wells and making gardens,” he said.
So is that the news from Gaza in mid-2011? Yes, but so is this: Thousands of homes that were destroyed in the Israeli antirocket invasion two and a half years ago have not been rebuilt. Hospitals have canceled elective surgery for lack of supplies. Electricity remains maddeningly irregular. The much-publicized opening of the Egyptian border has fizzled, so people remain trapped here. The number of residents living on less than $1.60 a day has tripled in four years. Three-quarters of the population rely on food aid.
Areas with as contested a history as this one can choose among anniversaries to commemorate. It has been four years since Hamas took over, prompting Israel and Egypt to impose a blockade on people and most goods. It is a year since a Turkish flotilla challenged the siege and Israeli commandos killed nine activists aboard the ships, leading to international outrage and an easing of conditions. And it is five years since an Israeli soldier, Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit, was abducted and held in captivity without even visits from the Red Cross.
In assessing the condition of the 1.6 million people who live in Gaza, there are issues of where to draw the baseline and – often – what motivates the discussion. It has never been among the world’s poorest places. There is near universal literacy and relatively low infant mortality, and health conditions remain better than across much of the developing world.
“We have 100 percent vaccination; no polio, measles, diphtheria or AIDS,” said Mahmoud Daher, a World Health Organization official here. “We’ve never had a cholera outbreak.”
The Israeli government and its defenders use such data to portray Gaza as doing just fine and Israeli policy as humane and appropriate: no flotillas need set sail.
Israel’s critics say the fact that the conditions in Gaza do not rival the problems in sub-Saharan Africa only makes the political and human rights crisis here all the more tragic – and solvable. Israel, they note, still controls access to sea, air and most land routes, and its security policies have consciously strangled development opportunities for an educated and potentially high-achieving population that is trapped with no horizon. Pressure needs to be maintained to end the siege entirely, they say, and talk of improvement is counterproductive.
The recent changes stem from a combination of Israeli policy shifts and the chaos in Egypt. The new Egyptian border policy has made little difference, but Egypt’s revolution and its reduced policing in the Sinai have had a profound effect.
For the past year, Israel has allowed most everything into Gaza but cement, steel and other construction material – other than for internationally supervised projects – because they are worried that such supplies can be used by Hamas for bunkers and bombs. A number of international projects are proceeding, but there is an urgent need for housing, street paving, schools, factories and public works projects, all under Hamas or the private sector, and Israel’s policy bans access to the goods to move those forward.
So in recent months, tunnels under the southern border that were used to bring in consumer goods have become almost fully devoted to smuggling in building materials.
Sacks of cement and piles of gravel, Turkish in origin and bought legally in Egypt, are smuggled through the hundreds of tunnels in double shifts, day and night, totaling some 3,000 tons a day. Since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian security authorities no longer stop the smugglers. Streets are being paved and buildings constructed.
“Mubarak was crushing us before,” said Mahmoud Mohammad, a subcontractor whose 10-man crew in Gaza City was unloading steel bars that were carried through the tunnels and were destined for a new restaurant. “Last year we were sitting at home. The contractor I work for has three major projects going.”
Nearby, Amer Selmi was supervising the building of a three-story, $2 million wedding hall. Most of his materials come from the tunnels.
Karim Gharbawi is an architect and building designer with 10 projects under way, all of them eight- and nine-story residential properties. He said there were some 130 engineering and design firms in Gaza. Two years ago, none were working. Today, he said, all of them are.
Another result of the regional changes is the many new cars here. Israel allows in 20 a week, but that does not meet the need. Hundreds of BMWs, pickup trucks and other vehicles have arrived in recent months from Libya, driven through Egypt and sold via the unmonitored tunnels. Dozens of white Kia Sportage models, ubiquitous on the street, are widely thought to have come from the same dealership in Benghazi, Libya, that was looted after the uprising there began.
Hamas’s control of Gaza appears firmer than ever, and the looser tunnel patrols in Egypt mean greater access to weapons as well. But opinion surveys show that its more secular rival, Fatah, is more popular. That may explain why an attempt at political unity with Fatah is moving slowly: the Hamas leaders here are likely to lose their jobs. The hospital supply crisis is a direct result of tensions with Fatah in the West Bank, which has kept the supplies from being shipped here.
Efforts by fringe Islamist groups to challenge Hamas have had little effect. And it has been a year since the government unsuccessfully sought to impose tighter religious restrictions by banning women from smoking water pipes in public. On a recent afternoon in the new Carino’s restaurant – with billiards, enormous flat-screen televisions, buttery-soft chairs – women without head coverings were smoking freely.
But such places and people represent a wafer-thin slice of Gazan society, and focusing on them distorts the broader and grimmer picture.
Samah Saleh is a 21-year-old medical student who lives in the Jabaliya refugee camp. Her father, an electrician, is adding a second story to their house now that material is available from the tunnels. Ms. Saleh will get her own room for the first time in her life, but she views her good fortune in context.
“For the vast majority in Gaza, things are not improving,” she said. “Most people in Gaza remain forgotten.”
PALESTINIANS PELT GAZA RED CROSS OFFICE WITH EGGS, ROCKS
Palestinians pelt Gaza Red Cross office with eggs
Agence France Presse
June 24, 2011
GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories (AFP) – Palestinians today threw eggs at the international Red Cross office in Gaza to protest against a call for Hamas to show signs a captured Israeli soldier was still alive.
Dozens of angry protesters also chanted slogans against the International Committee of the Red Cross and ripped down and destroyed the Red Cross sign over the office.
They were protesting over a call earlier on Thursday by the ICRC, demanding that Gaza rulers show proof that Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured five years ago, is alive.
Hamas, while not directly rejecting the Red Cross call, said Shalit would be freed only once Israel released Palestinian prisoners.
“We will only consider resolving the Shalit issue if the issue of Palestinian prisoners in the occupation’s prisons is resolved,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.
Indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas for a deal that would see 1,000 Palestinians, including 450 with Israeli blood on their hands, released in exchange for Shalit have been stalled for over a year.
Shalit was 19 when he was captured on June 25, 2006, by three armed groups, including Hamas, along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. He has been held ever since at a secret location in the Palestinian territory.
He has not been allowed visits by the Red Cross, and the last sign of life was in October 2009 when Hamas released a video of him calling on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do everything to free him.
“The total absence of information concerning Mr Shalit is completely unacceptable,” said Yves Daccord, the ICRC’s director general.
“The Shalit family have the right under international humanitarian law to be in contact with their son.”
But the protest, organized by a Palestinian prisoners organization, said the Red Cross should focus on the plight of the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails.
“The world and its Red Cross cry for one Israeli prisoner and try to forget thousands of Palestinian prisoners,” one banner said.
The Red Cross has regular access to all Palestinian prisoners.
Israel has accused the Red Cross of not doing enough to secure access to Shalit.