Revisiting the BBC’s 2013 PA funding audit story

In December 2013 the BBC News website reported the conclusions of EU auditors in relation to funds transferred to the Palestinian Authority. Audiences were told that:

“European auditors say the EU should stop paying the salaries of thousands of Palestinian civil servants in the Gaza Strip who are not going to work.

The auditors examined about 1bn euros (£840m; $1.3bn) of EU spending in Gaza between 2008 and 2012.

They called for a major review, saying money spent on civil servants there should go to the West Bank instead. […]

The EU pays about one-fifth of the salaries of the PA’s 170,000 civil servants, both in the West Bank and Gaza, under a programme known as Pegase.

Hans Gustaf Wessberg of the European Court of Auditors said overall EU funding had played an important role in supporting vulnerable families, and maintaining health and education services in Palestinian areas.

But he pointed out that “the payment of civil servants who do not work does not meet one of [the EU’s] main objectives to provide public services to the Palestinian people”.

When Hamas took control of Gaza, President Abbas decided to keep paying the salaries of the estimated 61,000 civil servants and members of the security forces who stopped reporting for the jobs, so long as they stayed home and did not work for the rival administration.”

Since the EU auditors’ report was published over three years ago there has been no follow-up reporting on that story from the BBC and audiences were not informed whether or not the recommendations were implemented. 

Last week – apparently in light of a recent EU announcement that, for the first time, its 2017 contributions would not include funding for PA civil servants in the Gaza Strip and an earlier UK announcement to the same effect – the Palestinian Authority decided to make some changes.

“The cash-strapped Palestinian Authority announced on Wednesday it was slashing by nearly one third the salaries of tens of thousands of government employees in the Gaza Strip who have been sitting idly since the rival Hamas militant group took over the coastal territory a decade ago. […]

In the West Bank, government spokesman Yousif al-Mahmoud said a reduction in foreign aid had forced the Palestinian Authority to cut Gaza salaries by 30 percent. “Without this step, the government cannot pay the salaries of its employees,” he said.

Affected workers expressed shock, anger and frustration as they gathered outside Gaza banks. In Gaza City, nearly 200 people joined a protest outside a Bank of Palestine branch. “The salary is our children’s right,” said one of the banners.”

On Saturday, a demonstration was held in Gaza City.

“Tens of thousands of Palestinians protested in Gaza City on Saturday against recent salary cuts announced by the Palestinian Authority.

The decision on Wednesday by the West Bank-based PA to impose pay cuts on its civil servants in the Gaza Strip has sparked anger among government employees affected. Demonstrators at Saturday’s protest, the largest since the 30 percent cut was announced, called on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to sack his government. […]

On Friday, PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah defended the salary cuts, saying they were necessary in order to “manage financial crises suffered by the Palestinian government due to reductions in international funds,” […]

Hamdallah also blamed Hamas for the economic situation in the Gaza Strip, while also calling on the terror group to return to control of Gaza to the PA, “the only representative of the Palestinian people.”

Hamas “keeps its income for himself, while the PA has spent more than 17 billion dollars in the Gaza Strip during the last 10 years,” he said. […]

Hamas condemned the PA salary reductions as “abusive and irresponsible,” while the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group said they were “illegal and unacceptable,” according to Ma’an.

On Friday, the Islamic Jihad terror group held a rally in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis protesting the pay cuts, which demonstrators said were mean [sic] to “drown” the residents of Gaza…”

Although tax payers in the many countries which donate aid to the Palestinian Authority – including of course Britain – would no doubt welcome some objective, in-depth, fact-based reporting on the subject of the perennial PA budget deficit and the related issues of prioritisation of payments to civil servants in the Gaza Strip who have not worked for nearly a decade, payments to families of terrorists and salaries for imprisoned terrorists, those topics remain firmly off the BBC agenda.  

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BBC report on EU audit of PA – starring Israel

PA’s salaries for terrorists in the news again – but not at the BBC

Updates on a Hamas story under-reported by the BBC

A new backgrounder on a topic disregarded by the BBC

On November 13th the Wall Street Journal published an editorial concerning an issue serially absent from BBC coverage. Titled “Ending Aid to Terrorists“, the article opens:

“In his eulogy recently for Israeli statesman Shimon Peres, President Obama spoke of the “unfinished business” of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Now he or Donald Trump have an opportunity to advance the cause—by backing legislation to stop the flow of U.S. tax dollars to Palestinian terrorists.

Since the 1990s, as the U.S. and other countries have sent billions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians, Palestinian leaders have paid hundreds of millions of dollars in rewards to those who carry out bombings, stabbings and other attacks in Israel. These payments, codified in Palestinian law, are an official incentive program for murder that in any other context would be recognized as state sponsorship of terror. But the U.S. and other Western states have looked the other way while continuing to send aid, giving Palestinian leaders no incentive to stop.

Senators Lindsey Graham,Dan Coats and Roy Blunt have introduced a bill to end U.S. economic aid unless Palestinian leaders stop rewarding terrorists. It’s called the Taylor Force Act, after the 28-year-old U.S. Army veteran stabbed to death in March by a Palestinian in the Israeli city of Jaffa. Other American victims of recent Palestinian terrorism include 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel and 18-year-old Ezra Schwartz.”

The JCPA recently produced a backgrounder concerning the PA’s allocation of benefits to terrorists and their families which includes much useful

“Official legislation of the Palestinian Authority places all Palestinians (including Israeli Arabs) imprisoned in Israel for terror crimes on the PA payroll to receive a monthly salary from the PA. The legislation defines “prisoners” benefiting from this requirement, as “Anyone imprisoned in the occupation’s prisons as a result of his participation in the struggle against the occupation.”  The PA also pays by law monthly allocations to the families of Palestinians who lost their lives in the context of this struggle (referred to as “Martyrs”), including those who were involved in carrying out terror attacks.

While ordinary prisoners, such as car thieves, do not receive a salary, every person committing acts of terror is on the PA payroll. The salary goes directly to the terrorist or the terrorist’s family, and prisoners receive pay from the day of arrest. More than 5,500 Palestinian prisoners serving time for terror-related offenses are recipients.”

This issue is obviously of interest to governments and tax payers in the many countries which donate aid to the Palestinian Authority – including of course Britain. Additionally, familiarity with this issue is key to understanding both the eternal PA budget deficit and the background to the Palestinian terrorism which the BBC has spent much of the last year reporting. Nevertheless, it continues to be a topic which is serially disregarded by the BBC.

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PA’s salaries for terrorists in the news again – but not at the BBC

BBC sidesteps the story of PA electricity debt to Israel

The latest chapter in a long-running saga played out over this last week when the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) found it necessary to make short, temporary cuts in the power supply to Jericho, Bethlehem and Hebron.hevrat hashmal

“The IEC says the Palestinian authorities have racked up a debt of 1.74 billion shekels ($460 million), which the company can no longer absorb. Of that sum, the IEC says NIS 300,000 ($79,350) is owed by the Palestinian Authority. […]

 “I don’t know of any company that would be agree to do nothing about a NIS 1.74 million debt owed by another company,” IEC Chairman Yiftah Ron Tal said. “The time has come to put an end to the situation in which the debts just bloom. We weren’t left with any choice. We’re limiting electricity in a proportionate way. I call on those with authority to help us to collect the debts.””

The additional NIS 1.4 billion ($371 million/ £264.6 million) of the debt is owed by the Palestinian-run Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDECO).

On April 6th a temporary agreement was reached:

“The deal struck Wednesday morning will see the PA pay off NIS 20 million of that debt and give negotiators one week to reach an understanding over settling the rest of the money owed.

If no deal is reached in time, according to a report by Channel 10, then the power cuts will resume.”

As readers may recall, in the past Israel has sometimes tackled the same long-term problem of the PA’s unpaid debts to the IEC by withholding tax transfers and on those occasions the BBC has reported the story with alacrity – but while failing to inform audiences of the scale of the debt and the reasons for its accumulation.

Despite the current pertinence of the topic of the Palestinian Authority’s financial priorities for British tax-payers, the BBC elected not to report this latest chapter in the ongoing saga of the foreign donor funded PA.

BBC report on EU audit of PA – starring Israel

As regular readers will be aware, we have in the past raised here the subject of the BBC’s failure to address the issue of the culture of financial mismanagement and corruption which has long been a feature of the Palestinian Authority. For example, in response to a BBC report on ‘wealth disparity’ in the PA which was broadcast on BBC television in October, we noted:

“In its attempt to explain the Palestinian Authority’s current – and seemingly evergreen – budget deficit, the report does briefly touch on the subject of salaries and benefits paid to members of the inactive Palestinian Legislative Council but fails to sufficiently clarify to viewers that in addition, an estimated 60,000 PA employees (some 40% of the total) reside in the Gaza Strip where the PA has not functioned for over six years. The report also makes no mention of serious allegations of corruption which are far from new – but were recently highlighted by European auditors – or of the fact that some 6% of the PA budget is spent on salaries for imprisoned terrorists, including those affiliated with Hamas.” 

The publication of the results of an EU audit of its financial support to the Palestinian Authority on December 11th finally prompted the BBC News website to take note of some of the issues above in a report titled “EU ‘must stop paying Gaza officials’ – auditors” which appeared on its Europe and Middle East pages. 

BBC art EU audit

Despite this ostensibly being an article which concerns the European Union and the Palestinian Authority, the BBC saw fit to introduce a gratuitous mention of Israel into the story.

“Many Gaza civil servants had not worked since the Islamist movement Hamas came to power in 2007, the auditors added.

Hamas, which won parliamentary elections the previous year, ousted forces loyal to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction, and set up a rival government.

Israel subsequently tightened its blockade of the territory, with Egypt’s co-operation, to weaken Hamas and end rocket attacks.

The move has contributed to the 1.7 million people in Gaza suffering severe socio-economic hardship, with 80% dependant [sic] on aid.”

In other words, the BBC wants audiences to understand that “severe socio-economic hardship” in the Gaza Strip is attributable at least in part (although notably it fails to mention any other factors which have “contributed” to the situation) to the restrictions enacted by Israel in 2007 as a response to escalated missile fire on Israeli civilians.

This theme is by no means new: we have seen the BBC claim on several occasions that poverty in the Gaza Strip is the result of Israeli attempts to curb terror attacks against civilians by exercising its right to control its border with a hostile entity. We have however not seen the BBC suggest to its audiences that “severe socio-economic hardship” is the outcome of the decision made by the Hamas regime to engage in terrorist activity towards its neighbour and its choosing to spend funds on weaponry and military projects rather than on a social welfare programme or investment in economic development. 

The most recent statistics concerning poverty in the Gaza Strip according to the CIA Factbook  describe 38% of the population as being below the poverty line in 2010. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics cited 38.8% of the population of the Gaza Strip as being below the poverty line in 2011. As the graph below (with added dates/events) shows, poverty levels were actually higher before the introduction of the partial blockade in 2007. 

Poverty line Gaza Strip

The BBC article also quotes the unsourced figure of 80% of the 1.7 million population of the Gaza Strip being “dependent on aid” in both its text and its photo caption. That would mean a figure of 1.36 million aid-dependent people, whereas another recent BBC report quoted a UNRWA official as saying that his organization provides for 830,000 people. 

Later on in the BBC report, reference is made to the current power crisis in the Gaza Strip.

“The auditors also said they had identified weaknesses in the European Commission’s methods for allocating EU funds.

Their report said it was unclear what had happened to 90m euros allocated to pay for fuel taxes and keep Gaza’s only power plant running.

The territory is currently facing an electricity crisis because a shortage of fuel forced the plant to shut down on 1 November. This has caused blackouts lasting 12 to 16 hours a day, disrupted health services and sent raw sewage flooding into the streets.”

Notably, no clarification is provided for audiences concerning the background to that “electricity crisis”, which – as we reported here last month – is actually the result of a dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority and hence has garnered no interest among BBC reporters.

The subject of misappropriation of EU funding to the Palestinian Authority is one which is probably of considerable interest to many BBC audience members. Hence, it is all the more regrettable that when the BBC finally does get round to doing some reporting on the issue, it wastes column space on the inclusion of gratuitous smears against Israel which only serve to hamper audience understanding of the real issues at hand.

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BBC report on PA financial crisis focuses on ‘wealth disparity’

Among the filmed reports offered to readers of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on October 26th 2013 was an item from its business section titled “Palestinian Authority second worst for wealth disparity” by Ola Naguib

PA economy report 1

In its attempt to explain the Palestinian Authority’s current – and seemingly evergreen – budget deficit, the report does briefly touch on the subject of salaries and benefits paid to members of the inactive Palestinian Legislative Council but fails to sufficiently clarify to viewers that in addition, an estimated 60,000 PA employees (some 40% of the total) reside in the Gaza Strip where the PA not functioned for over six years. The report also makes no mention of serious allegations of corruption which are far from new – but were recently highlighted by European auditors – or of the fact that some 6% of the PA budget is spent on salaries for imprisoned terrorists, including those affiliated with Hamas

The subject of the terminally ailing finances of the Palestinian Authority is certainly one which would probably be of considerable interest to BBC audiences – especially those in the donor countries supporting the PA. However, there is far more to the subject of the PA budget deficit than “wealth disparity”, as some in depth, accurate and impartial reporting would reveal.