No BBC reporting on latest power crisis in the Gaza Strip

The past few days have seen a number of demonstrations in the Gaza Strip over power shortages exacerbated by a technical fault which shut down the electricity supply from Egypt. The Times of Israel reports that residents have been suffering power outages for up to twenty hours at a time.

“Hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in Rafah, Khan Yunis and in refugee camps in the central Strip, calling for a resolution to the energy crisis.

Gaza residents have been enduring electricity shortages for years, but the situation intensified last week when power lines from Egypt went down, with the Egyptians citing “technical problems.”

There is also a shortage in the supply of fuel for the lone power station in Gaza, due to a dispute between the Palestinian Authority administration in the West Bank and Gaza rulers Hamas.

On Monday, Gaza protesters burned pictures of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. Activists from Abbas’s Fatah party have accused the Hamas military wing of provocation during the protests.

The Gaza Strip currently only produces some 28 percent of the electricity it consumes. Out of 212 megawatts used by Gazans, 60 are produced in the territory, 120 are produced in Israel and 32 in Egypt.”

There has been no BBC coverage of this latest power crisis or the demonstrations. As readers may recall, the BBC also showed no interest in reporting the shut down of the Gaza power plant in July of this year, despite the fact that the facility featured heavily in BBC reporting both during and after last summer’s conflict between Israel and Hamas.  

The BBC reporting on the subject of the Gaza Strip’s power supply has repeatedly misinformed audiences with regard to the source of the chronic crisis. For example in August 2014 Yolande Knell produced a report in which she inaccurately told viewers that:tankers Kerem Shalom

“Tight border restrictions limited fuel imports. Although power cuts were common in Gaza before, now they’re much worse.”

As recently as July 2015 the BBC News website promoted a filmed report on the topic of the Gaza power plant with a synopsis which inaccurately told audiences that:

“The blockade of Gaza has long made maintenance and importing parts very difficult. It also limits fuel imports.”

Perhaps then it is little wonder that a story which contradicts the BBC’s inaccurate, politicised narrative of a power shortage in the Gaza Strip due to Israeli-imposed limits on fuel imports (which do not in fact exist) is of no interest to the self-styled “standard-setter for international journalism”.

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BBC silent on latest Gaza power plant shut down

The extensive multi-platform coverage promoted to BBC audiences on the anniversary of the beginning of last summer’s conflict between Israel and Hamas included a filmed item titled “Gaza conflict one year on: The power plant“.

The inclusion of that topic was not surprising: the Gaza Strip power plant was featured extensively – though not always accurately – in BBC coverage of the conflict and some correspondents were quick to promote the notion that damage to the power plant’s fuel storage tanks was intentional and deliberate. Even after the circumstances of the July 29th 2014 incident became clear, the BBC made no effort to correct the inaccurate impressions given to its audiences at the time.Knell infrastructure

Last week the Gaza power plant was in the news again when, as AFP and others reported, production came to a halt.

“The Gaza Strip’s sole power plant has halted production, the Hamas-run energy authority said Tuesday, in the latest dispute with the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority over fuel tax. […]

“The levying of fuel taxes by the finance ministry in Ramallah is preventing the (Hamas) energy authority from running the power station,” a statement from the authority said.

The PA must “lift all taxes on fuel” to get the plant up and running, it said.

Hamas pays the PA for fuel imported to Gaza, but is short of cash and had been unable to cover the additional costs in tax.

In December, Qatar stepped in and donated $10 million (nine million euros) to the PA to cover the tax, effectively exempting Hamas from paying it.

But that money has dried up, and the PA is insisting Hamas begin paying the tax again, the Islamist movement says.

Hamas shut the power plant in March over the same dispute.”

Last summer’s reporting on the topic of the Gaza Strip power plant included descriptions from BBC correspondents of the potential effects of the plant’s closure on civilian life.

“And it is Gaza’s only power plant so there are electricity cuts in Gaza City, there could be problems with water supply because many of the area’s water pumps also rely on that power plant. So if that was a deliberate Israeli attempt to cause economic pain – which is certainly how most Palestinians will see it – then it could be fairly successful.” –Chris Morris, BBC WS ‘Newshour’, 29/7/14.

“It [the power plant] would to serve electricity for the civilian in Gaza almost 2 million people who are, I mean, suffer and when you are talking about electricity we are talking about water supply, water treatment plant, water sewage plant and we are talking about hospitals, we are talking about the schools. All aspects, all basic of our life requirements are not existing.” – Interview with the power plant manager, Yolande Knell, BBC television news, 15/8/14.

Notably, there has been no BBC coverage whatsoever of the power plant’s most recent closure, the effects of that on civilian life in the Gaza Strip or of the long-running dispute between Hamas and the PA which led to this latest shut-down.

BBC airs inaccurate report by Yolande Knell on Gaza infrastructure

Viewers of BBC television news were recently treated to a long report by Yolande Knell on the topic of infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. The same report also appeared on the BBC News website on August 15th under the title “Yolande Knell meets Gazans working to restore utilities“. Unfortunately, viewers were unable to glean much factual information from a report replete with inaccuracies and omissions.Knell infrastructure Knell opens:

“Gaza took a pounding during recent Israeli airstrikes. This is the third conflict here in five years and it’s been the most deadly and destructive. Israel says it’s targeted militant sites, but civilian infrastructure’s not been spared.”

Accurate and impartial presentation of the topic would of course have demanded that at this point Knell clarify to viewers that Hamas and other terrorist organisations deliberately locate their terrorist facilities such as missile launchers and weapons stores in civilian residential areas, thereby increasing the likelihood of damage to both civilians themselves and the infrastructure serving them. Knell continues:

“Gaza’s only power plant was shelled two weeks ago, setting its fuel tanks on fire. The Israeli military says it’s investigating but the effects are clear.”

Whilst the investigation into that incident is still ongoing, what is clear – and has been since it occurred – is that the power plant was not intentionally targeted by Israeli forces. After a short interview with the power plant’s manager Knell tells viewers:

“The manager, Rafik Maliha, has been here since the electricity plant opened a decade ago. It was supposed to make use of the latest technology to meet rising demand. Instead, it’s faced constant challenges. It’s been caught up in previous fighting between Hamas which controls Gaza and the group’s sworn enemy Israel. Tight border restrictions limited fuel imports. Although power cuts were common in Gaza before, now they’re much worse.”

This is far from the first time that the BBC (and specifically Yolande Knell) has inaccurately told its audiences that Gaza’s electricity supply problems – which predate this conflict by a long time – are the result of Israeli border restrictions and it would appear that the BBC is beginning to believe its own spin. In fact – like the shortage of medical supplies which Yolande Knell and others have also inaccurately attributed to Israeli policy – the fuel shortage in the Gaza Strip is the product of disputes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

“Though it may be hard to believe, 1.5 million Palestinians have lived without electricity throughout most of the day in 2013. For the past two weeks, residents of the Gaza Strip have endured a cycle of six hours of electricity followed by a 12-hour power outage. Last Wednesday, the power went out at 6:00 am and was finally restored only late that evening.

This current crisis is not the result of a tighter “Israeli siege” or anything of the sort; it is caused by disputes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority over the price of fuel since the tunnels connecting Gaza and Egypt were shut down or destroyed.

Recent Egyptian military activity rendered out of commission hundreds of tunnels that once connected Sinai and Gaza and were used to import one million liters of fuel into Gaza each day. As a result, Hamas has no choice but to purchase fuel from Israel via the Palestinian Authority at prices similar to those found in the Israeli market, namely over seven shekels ($2) per liter of gasoline. That is a major problem for private car owners.

The more acute problem is that fuel is needed to operate the Gaza power plant that generates the majority of the local electricity. The Palestinian Authority purchases a liter of fuel for the power plant for approximately 4 shekels from Israeli gas companies and has tried to sell it to Hamas for almost double, including excise tax.

Hamas has rejected those prices outright and stopped purchasing fuel for its power plant. The dramatic consequence was that the power plant has shut down and the electricity supply has been completely disrupted. The PA refuses to waive the excise tax, a critical part of its own budget. And the residents of Gaza are the ones who suffer.”

Knell fails to inform viewers that throughout the entire recent conflict – and of course before it – fuel of various kinds has continued to enter the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom crossing, including 4.44 million liters of fuel for Gaza’s power plant.

Knell’s report then returns to the Gaza power plant manager who gives BBC viewers the mistaken impression that Gaza’s entire electricity supply depends upon his establishment.

“It [the power plant] would to serve electricity for the civilian in Gaza almost 2 million people who are, I mean, suffer and when you are talking about electricity we are talking about water supply, water treatment plant, water sewage plant and we are talking about hospitals, we are talking about the schools. All aspects, all basic of our life requirements are not existing.”

In fact, of course, the Gaza Strip has two additional sources of power. Egypt supplies some 27 megawatts on a regular basis and recently increased that supply by a further 7 megawatts in light of the current power crisis in Gaza. In line with the terms of the Oslo Accords, Israel continues to supply the Gaza Strip with 120 megawatts and although several instances of power supply lines being damaged by terrorist missile fire occurred during Operation Protective Edge (unreported by the BBC), those lines were repaired by the Israel Electric Corporation.  Coincidentally, the debt owed to Israel’s electric company by the Gaza Strip stands at around 220 million shekels.

After an interview with members of a family in Beit Lahiya, Knell moves on to the topic of water and sewage. Despite her descriptions of damage caused during Israel’s ground operation, she fails to mention that Hamas refused a ceasefire two days before that operation commenced.

“Entire neighbourhoods of Gaza were reduced to rubble during the ground invasion by Israeli armed forces. In Shuja’iya in the east they said they destroyed tunnels used by Palestinian fighters. But they also damaged underground water and sewage systems. Already these were in a fragile state. The blockade of Gaza enforced by Israel and Egypt had made maintenance hard. Now there’s contamination and widespread water shortages.”

Like the electricity crisis, Gaza’s problems with water and sewage long predate the recent conflict. The responsibility for water and sewage in the Gaza Strip lies with the Palestinian Water Authority – established in 1995 as a result of the Oslo Accords – and so for almost two decades those utilities have been under Palestinian control. For the past seven years, of course, the Palestinian Authority has had no influence in the Gaza Strip and Hamas has done little in terms of maintenance of water and sewage systems, with piping for sewage projects even having been misappropriated for the purpose of manufacturing missiles. Knell continues:

“Across Gaza emergency efforts are underway to fix or just to patch up basic infrastructure, often in incredibly difficult circumstances. Here the workers are struggling to restore basic water supplies. They’ve got miles and miles of broken pipes. Hospitals are already seeing diseases spreading as more Gazans displaced by this conflict are forced to put up with dire living conditions. And here, the growing problems with Gaza’s infrastructure can be a matter of life and death. The machines in this intensive care unit are now relying mostly on generators which are meant to be used for back-up purposes only.”

Knell then interviews the director of Shifa hospital, but predictably refrains from popping down to that hospital’s basement to ask the Hamas leaders ensconced there for well over a month about their years of neglect of Gaza’s infrastructure, their short-sighted policy decisions which have left the civilian population without sufficient electricity supplies and their diversion of concrete, piping and other materials which could have been used to improve Gaza’s neglected utilities to terrorism.

Of course the real aim of Knell’s report is not to inform BBC viewers why Gaza’s infrastructure is so badly neglected. Her entire report is in fact yet another contribution to the BBC’s ongoing advocacy campaign for Hamas demands concerning the lifting of border restrictions – as can be seen in her conclusion.

“For years Gaza has struggled. But the latest conflict has left it on life support. A temporary truce is giving some breathing space. As Egyptian negotiators try to secure a longer term ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians, now the hope for the future is a deal that can address security concerns and open up Gaza’s borders so a full recovery can begin.”

An accurate and impartial report on this issue would have to include the provision of information to audiences as to why the demand to “open up Gaza’s borders” is precisely one of the “security concerns” which now need to be addressed. As is the case with all other BBC reports on this topic, weapons smuggling, the rearming of terrorist groups and well over a decade of terrorism from the Gaza Strip are not included on the menu. 

BBC’s Knell amplifies UNRWA’s political campaigning on R4’s ‘The World Tonight’

The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ claims that:

“When it comes to daily news, The World Tonight takes international events seriously and covers them in depth. Using the BBC’s international network of correspondents we report on what is going on, put it in context and provide a forum for debate on the big issues facing us all.”

The December 20th edition of that programme included a report from the Gaza Strip by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell – available for listening here from about 39:38. 

The world tonight 20 12

Presenter David Eades introduces the segment: 

“This week a powerful winter storm has swept across the eastern Med. In the Gaza Strip it’s inflicted further hardship on people already enduring power cuts for much of the day because of fuel shortages. Aid agencies are warning of a deteriorating humanitarian situation as Israel and Egypt impose tight border restrictions and divisions between the Hamas government and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank are exacerbating Gaza’s problems, as our correspondent Yolande Knell has been finding out.”

What exactly do those “tight border restrictions” touted by Eades entail? In fact the only restrictions in place are those prohibiting the import of weapons (as, one imagines, is the case at most international borders) and dual-use goods which can be used for military purposes to the Gaza Strip. Even those dual-use goods can be imported into the Gaza Strip with special co-ordination and on condition that their use is supervised. All other goods can enter the Gaza Strip freely. Eades, however, deliberately misleads listeners by failing to provide that vital context.

Knell opens her report by setting the scene:

“The streets looked more like rivers in Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip last week. Cars and donkey carts were driven cautiously through flood water as the region saw some of the most severe winter weather in decades. Now, at the Jabaliya elementary school, more than thirty families are still taking shelter.

‘They brought us in a bulldozer’, Amna Abu al-Ish tells me. ‘We woke our kids, their beds were flooded. The water reached up to my waist. It’s ruined everything.’ A neighbour – Ibrahim Nasrallah – shows me how rainwater mixed with sewage came into his house from all directions.

What really slowed down the emergency effort here was the delay in getting heavy equipment working to remove the water.”

As was also the case in reports she produced last week on the same subject, Knell neglects to inform listeners that Israel facilitated the entry of water pumps (which are not defined as dual use goods, by the way, and hence could have been acquired by the Hamas government in advance) into the Gaza Strip the day after the storm began, together with fuel of various types and cooking gas. Knell continues:

“For weeks Gaza has had serious power shortages with just a few hours of electricity a day. The power cuts got dramatically worse after Egypt cut off smuggling tunnels that were bringing supplies of its cheap, subsidised fuel under the border.”

Once again, Knell neglects to provide sufficient context to audiences and apparently finds it unnecessary to comment on the dysfunctionality of a government electing to import fuel through smuggling tunnels rather than by conventional routes. As we have noted here on previous occasions, the current power crisis in the Gaza Strip is the solely the result of a dispute between Hamas and the PA. 

“This current crisis is not the result of a tighter “Israeli siege” or anything of the sort; it is caused by disputes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority over the price of fuel since the tunnels connecting Gaza and Egypt were shut down or destroyed.

Recent Egyptian military activity rendered out of commission hundreds of tunnels that once connected Sinai and Gaza and were used to import one million liters of fuel into Gaza each day. As a result, Hamas has no choice but to purchase fuel from Israel via the Palestinian Authority at prices similar to those found in the Israeli market, namely over seven shekels ($2) per liter of gasoline. That is a major problem for private car owners.

The more acute problem is that fuel is needed to operate the Gaza power plant that generates the majority of the local electricity. The Palestinian Authority purchases a liter of fuel for the power plant for approximately 4 shekels from Israeli gas companies and has tried to sell it to Hamas for almost double, including excise tax.

Hamas has rejected those prices outright and stopped purchasing fuel for its power plant. The dramatic consequence was that the power plant has shut down and the electricity supply has been completely disrupted. The PA refuses to waive the excise tax, a critical part of its own budget. And the residents of Gaza are the ones who suffer.”

Instead of providing BBC audiences with the detailed background necessary to properly understand the situation, Knell elects to amplify the political agenda of UNRWA, saying:

“But a spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees Chris Gunness says that ultimately, the precarious situation in Gaza is created by seven years of tight border restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt.”

The broadcast then cuts to Gunness saying:

“The fact that there was fuel coming in from Egypt, and the fact that suddenly stopped, added enormously to it, but big picture: if we ended the blockade – it’s another one of those underlying trends which could easily be dealt with simply by allowing proper amounts of fuel to come into Gaza. And beyond that, there has to be sustainable economic recovery. There’s nothing the people of Gaza want more than the dignity of economic self-sustainablity.”

Of course there are no restrictions whatsoever on “proper amounts of fuel” entering the Gaza Strip and Gunness knows that perfectly well, but this is far from the first time that UNRWA has cynically exploited the Gaza power crisis as PR material for political campaigning against border restrictions designed to limit terrorist activities which, interestingly, that UN agency never bothers to mention. Likewise, of course, neither Gunness nor Knell bother to clarify to audiences that “economic self-sustainability” could indeed have been achieved in the Gaza Strip after Israel’s withdrawal in 2005, had the Strip’s ruling regime not opted to continue and escalate terror attacks against Israel instead. 

Knell continues:

“Lorries line up on the Israeli side of the Kerem Shalom crossing. It’s the one official entry point for commercial goods into the Gaza Strip and there’s a complicated security system. The supplies are offloaded by forklift trucks and checked with a scanner.”

No effort is made by Knell to inform audiences of the reasons which make that security system necessary, including a long history of crossings being deliberately targeted by terrorists. Knell goes on to once again misrepresent Hamas’ terrorist designation:

“Israel views Hamas as a terrorist group and the two sides don’t deal with each other directly. Instead, goods are taken through a checkpoint run by the Palestinian Authority which has its own deep political differences with Hamas. These got worse with a dispute over fuel taxes.”

Again, Knell’s choice of euphemistic language does nothing to adequately inform audiences of the facts behind that dispute. She continues:

“Guy Inbal [sic] represents Israel’s Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Palestinian Territories.”

Listeners then hear COGAT spokesperson Major Guy Inbar saying:

“The situation today in Gaza is especially because of Hamas interest who decided not to buy the fuel from Israel and only to smuggle it from Egypt. There is another alternative which is buying the fuel from Israel, through the Palestinian Authority, which Hamas decided not to do because of internal conflict.”

Knell goes on:

“On the Hamas-run side of the crossing, a few lorry-loads of fuel come through for the private sector, and in the past few days there’s finally been some for Gaza’s sole power plant too. It was donated by Qatar.”

Knell does not mention that during a previous crisis, 30 million liters of diesel were also donated by Qatar in 2012, but have been mostly confiscated since then by Egypt. Neither does she make it clear to listeners that last weekend Israel facilitated the entry of 400,000 liters of diesel destined for the Gaza power plant into the Gaza Strip.

Knell then visits the power plant and interviews an anonymous member of staff.

“At the power plant the cooling towers are working again, for the first time since the start of November.”

Staff member: “Actually the power plant was shut down for more than forty days and since Sunday we are receiving some fuel – just sufficient for half the capacity of the power plant. It would reduce the crisis, so instead of having six hours of supplies of electricity, we might get eight hours of supply of electricity.”

Knell: “And how long will these donations last for? Will it see Gaza through the winter even?”

Staff member: “We are talking about a supply of fuel for one month and after this month we’ll have the same situation as before. We’ll be forced to shut down unless there will be a solution.” sewage Gaza pic

Knell rounds off:

“Back at the Jabaliya refugee camp the inspection of the flood damage continues. Businesses as well as households are counting the costs. With no sign of a long-term political fix, there’s a sense that Gaza will lurch from crisis to crisis.”

Programme presenter David Eades adds his own conclusion:

“Yolande Knell reporting on yet more hardship for the citizens of the Gaza Strip as winter sets in.”

If this report – rich in pathos and propaganda, but fact and context poor – is what editors of ‘The World Tonight’ consider to be “taking international events seriously” and “covering them in depth”, then licence fee payers have every reason to feel short-changed. The background to fuel crisis in Gaza – which had created flooding even before the recent bad weather – is not properly explained and no attempt whatsoever is made to “put it in context” as far as the organisational dysfunctionality of the Hamas government is concerned and that regime’s continued prioritisation of terrorism over the welfare of the residents of the Gaza Strip. 

The same lack of adequate background and context are displayed in a written report on the same trip to the Gaza Strip – titled “Floods, blockade and political rifts deepen Gaza misery“which Knell produced for the BBC News website on December 20th . 

Knell floods Gaza

Although marginally better than the audio version,  that report also promotes many of the same inaccuracies as the above radio report and introduces other ones.

“Israeli restrictions on Gaza were increased after the Islamist movement Hamas, which had carried out scores of deadly attacks against the Jewish state, took over in 2007. Although they were later eased, exports are still very limited, weakening the economy.”

In fact, whilst exports to PA controlled areas and Israel are limited, there are no limitations whatsoever on exports to Europe, the US and the rest of the world and Israel actively helps Gazan farmers in that field.

Were the BBC – and Yolande Knell in particular – to cease the lazy and damaging practice of rote amplification of the political agenda of compromised NGOs and aid agencies (rather than doing any real investigative reporting of its own), it might actually begin to meet the BBC’s remit to “build a global understanding of international issues” by ending the habitual whitewashing and soft portrayals of the Hamas regime which is responsible for the situation of the residents of the Gaza Strip.