On December 3rd a filmed report also shown on BBC television news programmes appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website under the grammatically challenged title “Refugees in the Gaza Strip vent their angry over cuts in aid“.
BBC Arabic’s Shuhdi al-Khashef (also Shuhdi Khashif) opens the report by saying:
“Refugees in Gaza react with anger to some unwelcome news. The UN’s Relief and Works Agency has cut off food aid to more than nine thousand families in the Gaza Strip, saying their living conditions have improved.”
This is actually a fairly old story (raising the question of why BBC Arabic has suddenly latched on to it now) which has been featured in local and regional media for some time. In September Alray reported:
“United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has stopped to serve 9.500 families in Gaza with food aid since the beginning of 2013.
Director of UNRWA operations in Gaza Robert Turner said “in our efforts to improve the efficiency of targeting poor families, we continue to make a comprehensive study of the cases benefited from emergency food aid during 2012 to work accordingly in 2013,”
He explained Wednesday during a meeting with a number of journalists that “the positive results have applies as from the first distribution cycle for this year: 5,430 families have been added to the list of beneficiaries of food aid while food ration offered to 4002 families increased,”
But Turner indicated that “the results which show that some families turned to qualify for a smaller amount of food aid or they do not qualify at all have been applied yet,”
Results showed that 9558 families reclassified to be non-poor, and thus became ineligible for food aid, whereas 1723 below absolute poverty line have been registered to receive aid ration, Turner added.”
So what is “non-poor”? Well according to an article from Al Hayat quoted by Palestine Today in October, the UNRWA poverty survey addressed the issue of whether those receiving free food aid were the owners of property and various consumer goods.
” […] poverty survey addressed whether refugee owns a house or a car or appliances, including a refrigerator and a washing machine and a microwave and television…”
Interestingly, the BBC’s correspondent chose not to make that aspect of the story sufficiently clear.
Piling on the pathos, Shuhdi al-Khashef then conducts a short interview with one of the people apparently affected.
“Abu Nasser Mereih lives in a one-bedroom crumbling home in the Jabaliya refugee camp with his wife and six children. He is ill, has no work and relies on UN handouts.
SaK: Do you receive any aid from UNRWA?
ANM: Yes, we receive aid.
SaK: What do they offer you?
ANM: Flour and other basic food supplies. They give us 40 shekels and cut off 40 shekels. They are offering food supplies now. They have threatened to cut the aid.
SaK: They are cutting the aid despite your bad circumstances?
ANM: I don’t know.
SaK: Did they tell you why they are cutting aid?
ANM: I don’t know…I don’t know what to say.”
Al-Khashef makes no attempt to explain to viewers why there are still Palestinian refugee camps such as Jabaliya in a territory ruled for over eight years by Palestinians. Neither does he raise the pertinent question of why the Hamas regime – which has millions of dollars to spend on digging a cross-border tunnel – fails to provide social welfare to its poorer citizens.
Al-Khashef then interviews an UNRWA official.
SaK: “The UNRWA says it’s increasingly struggling with its financial situation.”
Official: “The UNRWA is facing a huge crisis which is expected to last for the next three months. It is short of 55 million dollars but we are offering regular aid to 830,000 people in Gaza and that is an unprecedented number that we are attending to, especially with the continued siege”.
Al –Khashef fails to make it clear that UNRWA’s evergreen financial crisis is at least in part due to the failure of Arab donors to meet their (decidedly modest) commitments. He goes on:
“Six years ago Israel tightened border restrictions after the take-over by Hamas which it views as a terrorist group.”
Once again the BBC fails to make Hamas’ terror designation sufficiently clear to audiences. Hamas is in fact defined as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, the European Union, Canada and Japan – as the BBC’s own profile of Hamas clearly states. In addition, Australia designates Hamas’ Izz al Din Al Qassam Brigades as a terrorist organization, as do New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
“Import restrictions have since been eased but with very few exports there is little industry and poverty and unemployment remains high. With heavy reliance on international aid, people feel the effects of any cuts.”
Whilst he avoids saying so directly, al-Khashef clearly implies that his claimed “very few exports” are due to the “tightened border restrictions” he has mentioned in the previous sentence. In fact, there is no restriction on exports whatsoever and Israel provides information and training to farmers from the Gaza Strip in order to help them bring their produce to export standard.
“The export of all products has been approved for sale abroad. Since the beginning of 2012 through July 2013, over 842 tons of fruits, vegetables and spices were exported abroad from Gaza through Israel. Additionally, more than 12.2 million flowers have been exported from Gaza abroad during this period.”
With regard to goods imported to the Gaza Strip, crossings operate at lower than maximum capacity and there are no restrictions other than those on dual-use goods.
“Israel has invested 80 million [shekels] to expand Kerem Shalom to accommodate up to 450 trucks daily. However, due to demand on the Palestinian side, the average number of trucks that enter Gaza each day remains between 300- 350.”
“All civilian goods are allowed into Gaza with the exception of weapons and “dual use” items—items that can easily be appropriated for terrorist activities.”
Shuhdi al-Khashef’s superficial report is dumbed down to the extent that it contributes nothing to audience understanding of the background to this story. Instead, it simply reinforces trite existing myths, themes and stereotypes of the genre so frequently promoted in BBC reports about the Gaza Strip.