Gaza Witness: A Conversation With Ashley Bates

Yesterday Ta’anit Tzedek hosted an incredibly powerful conference call with journalist/blogger Ashley Bates, who spoke to us from Gaza City. If you didn’t make the call, you can listen to it yourself by clicking here. Ashley’s personal testimony provided an extremely important antidote to the misinformation about Gaza that we’ve heard bandied about – particularly since the flotilla crisis.

At the opening of our conversation, I asked Ashley to address the claims of the Israeli government that “there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza” and that no one is starving as result of Israel’s blockade. I also asked her to address press reports that cite the upscale Roots Restaurant and well-stocked market stalls in Gaza City as proof that things are not nearly as dire as critics are claiming.

Ashley validated the reports that these kinds of goods are indeed available in the more affluent areas of Gaza. She added, however, that the only ones who can afford them are internationals such as herself or a relatively small number of affluent Gazans. She pointed out that the Gazan economy has completely collapsed as a result of the blockade, causing widespread unemployment and poverty for an overwhelming number of citizens. Ashley herself can afford to live a relatively comfortable life in a rented Gaza City apartment. Unlike most Gazans, she could purchase her own electric generator – so she is unaffected by the daily eight hour blackouts that are a familiar part of life in Gaza.

Ashley said that she saw no signs of starvation, but it was clear to her that the nutritional needs of Gazans are not being met. Eight out of ten Gazans are on some form of international aid. In the refugee camps, Gazans are essentially living on diets devoid of fruits and vegetables. As a result, anemia and malnutrition is on a sharp rise – particularly among children.

She also witnessed considerable numbers of homeless Gazan families, whose homes were destroyed during Israel’s military assault in December 2008. The majority of them have moved in with relatives or friends and live in very cramped quarters. Others rent apartments they cannot afford, relying upon the largess of landlords. Still others are forced to live in unstable, partially destroyed residences or in tents next to the rubble of their former homes (see pic above).

Ashley said she was not qualified to to comment as to whether this all constitutes a “humanitarian crisis.” She did, however, call it “a crisis of human dignity” – and it is clear to her that these circumstances are a direct result of the blockade.

It is also becoming clear to me that the world is becoming less and less inclined to buy the Israeli government’s calculated misinformation campaign about the blockade. Yesterday, blogger Richard Silverstein posted an extremely telling e-mail missive that the Israeli PR org The Israel Project recently sent out to its members:

Subject: In the “messages that fail” department, please see this…
Date: Tue, 15 Jun 2010 13:36:40 -0400
From: Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi
To: Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

As to research on saying that there isn’t a “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza and that no one is starving, we will have that on what Luntz and Greenberg are testing next week. But you don’t need that data to know it is a complete dead-end of a message. Reporters and leaders all over Washington are complaining about this and some say they see Israel and cold and heard hearted. Given that 6 more flotillas are headed to Israel (including one of Jews from Germany and one of Jews from the UK) we need to make sure we understand this well.

Watch this from Jon Stewart. Watch to the end and listen to how they react to when Krauthammer uses the message…ouch!

http://vimeo.com/12350665

Clearly we need to be saying that “While no one is starving in Gaza because Israel delivers so much aid, there IS suffering in Gaza. We want the suffering to stop. That is why Iran-backed Hamas must stop using supplies for rockets and Hamas must release Gilad Shalit. Hamas must be accountable for their actions and for the suffering they are causing their OWN people.”

On a good note, the topic in the US tonight will shift to energy. Alternative energy is obviously a great topic for Israel as Israel has much to say that could help on this.

Thanks!

Jennifer

Spin notwithstanding, it’s an amazing admission. (You know, it’s often occurred to me that if Israel spent just a fraction of the time and energy it spends on public relations to actually own up to its responsibility for this crisis, we might see some real progress toward a resolution).

In the meantime, thank God for sane witnesses such as Ashley Bates. Please listen to the call.


2 Comments on “Gaza Witness: A Conversation With Ashley Bates”

  1. Laurence Seeff says:

    Hey Brant,

    You cited Free Gaza as a reliable source of info due their humanitarian aims.

    Get a hold of this!

    The thing is that we don’t need these documents to know Free Gaza’s aims. Even though they are registered as a “humanitarian organization,” in their own mailings they have made it very clear that they are not – and they say this explicitly on their own web site:
    GOALS
    There is a time when silence is complicity and inaction is unacceptable. Free Gaza is neither a “protest group” nor an aid agency. Our mission and our work are political. We are a Palestinian and international effort dedicated to the principle of non-violent direct action. We are engaged in active, civil resistance against the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine, and the violence this occupation uses to sustain itself.

    We do bring medicine, supplies, and doctors to besieged Gaza as we can, but this is utterly insufficient. Although humanitarian aid is very much needed, especially now in Gaza, focusing on humanitarian efforts alone is a form of complicity in Israel’s malevolent quest to destroy the Palestinian people.
    They have said, in an email to their supporters, that they are against humanitarian aid!
    While many potential funders recognize the significance of our work, for various reasons they have not come through with funding. Most prefer their financial contributions go toward to humanitarian aid for Palestine. But Palestine is not a charity case! There are hundreds of millions being pumped into Palestine by aid agencies that are unable or unwilling to address the political issues, or by donor countries that shirk their political, legal, and moral obligations, by throwing money at Palestine.

    This aid is paying for Israel’s occupation by alleviating Israel of the responsibility to care for the people it occupies. We firmly believe that activists and people who care about Palestine should not be raising money for humanitarian aid but should focus on direct action to confront the Israeli policies that leave Palestinians in need of this aid.
    So, yes, Free Gaza had already admitted to its own members a number of times that it was not a humanitarian aid agency.

    In fact, it does nto even advocate peace! In another mailing sent out to members, Free Gaza said that they support a “third intifada”:
    The third Intifada being urged now has to be our intifada too. As Israel steps up its destruction of the Palestinian people, we need to step up our reconstruction of our resistance, our movements, of our communities in our own counties, where so many of us live in alienation and isolation. We need to be the third intifada – people here need more and say repeatedly that they need more than the demonstrations, because they are not stopping the killing here
    ….The third intifada needs to be a global intifada.

    Even though it may be possible to read this last article as merely a call to nonviolent resistance, the usage of the term “intifada” indicates that Free Gaza had no problem with the methods of the first two.

    And, indeed, they have explicitly supported violent resistance too! As yet another of their articles says,
    On the Right of Resistance

    We are often told that resistance is either unwarranted or impossible. Liberal apologists for Israel, such as Thomas Friedman, are constantly demanding that Palestinians lay down their arms, all the while exhorting Israelis to pick them up in ever increasing acts of violence and degradation.

    …But even mainstream “peace” movements in the West try to delegitimize resistance by calling on both Palestinians and Israelis to renounce overt acts of violence, equating Palestinians who commit suicide bombings with Israelis who send F-16s, D9 military bulldozers, and Apache attack helicopters to level entire neighborhoods.

    The problem is that the usually random and individual acts of violence by Palestinians against Israelis are not equal to the myriad structural oppressions and cruelties imposed on Palestinians through Israeli government policies. No Palestinian fighter jets bomb Israeli cities – because Palestine has no fighter jets….

    Even immoral and self-defeating acts of violence against Israeli civilians (such as some suicide bombings are) cannot be equated with the daily humiliations, terror, and death that Israel inflicts on Palestinians by deliberate policy.

    This is not to say that any and all acts of resistance are acceptable. Clearly they are not. But it grows tedious to continually hear well-meaning, but otherwise clueless, Westerners try to equate the two sides of this conflict. I am past tired of hearing white people passively whine, or shrilly demand, “Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?”

    With respect, just because some people have chosen to remain ignorant of the long and deep history of Palestinian nonviolent resistance – from the 1936 Boycott to Bil’in today – does not mean that it does not exist.
    The 1936 “boycott” resulted in the deaths of hundreds – it was hardly non-violent, and Free Gaza knows that very well as they extol how wonderful it was. Not to mention that they say here that some suicide bombings are acceptable!

    (Now would be a good time to take screen shots of these postings before Free Gaza erases them.)

    Of course Free Gaza is not a humanitarian group. It is explicitly political; and it tacitly supports violence. These facts should be brought up to every nation that has recognized it as a charity – and given it tax benefits that charity agencies normally get.

    • Lawrence,

      I’ve never written anywhere that Free Gaza is a reliable source of info or that they have humanitarian aims. As you cite, Free Gaza clearly has a partisan, political agenda – and they’re never been particularly secretive about that.

      For the record, the org I’ve most consistently promoted for their humanitarian work in Gaza is ANERA. You can learn more about this important NGO (and contribute to its efforts) by clicking here.


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