As fresh evidence continually emerges of Israel’s destruction of civilian infrastructure during the latest USA-backed Israeli invasion of Gaza, Hamas yesterday confirmed it was providing cash relief worth nearly £40 million (over $50 million) to civilians who had lost family members, homes or businesses during the invasion.
Around 1,300 Gazans were killed during the three-week long bombardment and invasion, and more than 21,000 buildings and homes were either wholly or partly destroyed, including at least 219 major factories and several industrial sites, including food processing plants. Surveyors of the destruction have said that around £2 billion of damage was caused during the assault.
Mindful of the growing world-wide call from politicians and civilians alike for Israel to face war-crimes charges, its political leadership are insisting that the war was only against Hamas. Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert yesterday said that his military had done “everything in order to avoid hitting civilians.” “I do not know of any military that is more moral, fair and sensitive to civilians’ lives than the IDF,” he said.
However, Gaza’s civilian infrastructure - already severely weakened by Israel’s economic blockade over the past year and a half - has now been catastrophically damaged by open warfare, and has driven Gaza ever closer to complete aid dependency on its Israeli occupier.
“They are destroying the infrastructure of the economy,” said Amr Hamad, head of the Palestinian Federation of Industries. “They want us to be dependent on their economy.”
One of the most obvious civilian targets was the al-Badr flour mill in Sudaniya, in northern Gaza. Before the invasion - after Israel halted imports of flour into Gaza in early November 2008 - it was the largest flour mill in the Gaza Strip, being the last mill that had a large store of wheat.
Before dawn on the 10th January the mill’s main production lines were completely destroyed by an Israeli air strike, and by shells from tanks and USA supplied Apache helicopters.
Rashad Hammada, 55, co-owns the factory with his brother. The Hammada brothers have personally lost at least $3m from the attack, and Rashad says that, even if new machinery could be imported, it would take six months to a year to build a new production line. Palestinian shops are now forced to import flour from Israel, at 50% higher cost.
“I’m really surprised with the Israelis. They encouraged us to build, and then they destroyed it,” said Hammada.
Meanwhile, the BBC came under renewed pressure yesterday after it defied the pleas of charities, ministers, religious leaders, and 11,000 members of the public to become the only terrestrial broadcaster not to transmit an appeal on behalf of the Disasters Emergency Committee to raise aid for providing food, medicines and shelter to the civilian victims of the invasion.
The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), which is an umbrella organisation for 13 globally respected humanitarian aid agencies, provides highly effective media-based appeals for aid relief in the case of emergencies across the world. Traditionally, the two main terrestrial television channels, the BBC and ITV, coordinate to provide free air time to the DEC for its periodic emergency appeals. However, the BBC’s refusal has caused so much public anger that the two other terrestrial channels, Channel 4 and Five, have decided to join ITV in its decision to broadcast the appeal without agreement with the BBC. The three-channel wide appeal will be broadcast this evening.
This is the second time that the BBC has refused to allow the DEC air time for aid appeals in the region. The BBC also refused the DEC air time for its appeal for the victims of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006, citing the same defence that airing such an appeal would breach its impartiality.
More than 50 MPs will today back a motion in the House of Commons, urging the BBC to reverse its decision. The government’s international development secretary Douglas Alexander, communities secretary Hazel Blears, and health minister Ben Bradshaw, have all criticised the BBC decision, and justice minister Shahid Malik said he had not met anyone who supported it.
The BBC today acknowledged that, as of last night, it had received over a thousand telephone complaints, and over 11,000 complaints by email, over its refusal to show the aid appeal.
Over the weekend, thousands of people demonstrated against the decision outside the BBC’s Broadcasting House in central London, and last night demonstrators staged a sit-in protest after occupying the BBC’s Scottish headquarters in Glasgow. Speaking at the protest, Keith Boyd from the Stop the War Coalition, said that people there were putting three demands to the BBC. “First, we want the appeal broadcast on the BBC. Second, we want the director who made the decision not to show it to resign. And third, we want the BBC to show news coverage of this protest to show the depth of feeling their decision has provoked.”
Yesterday also, Alex Salmond, the Scottish First Minister, added his voice to those calling for the BBC to reconsider.
At a central London fund raiser last night, for the British aid agency Medical Aid for Palestinians, it was not hard to find attendees who were critical of the BBC. Actor and Oscar nominee Samantha Morton said she would never work for the BBC again if the corporation failed to show the emergency appeal. Former BBC journalist Rageh Omaar said he thought that the BBC’s Director General had “panicked politically”.
Separately, David Hind, the chief executive of the Charity Commission, said the BBC’s refusal would have a direct impact on the money raised. “I can’t see how members of the public will confuse a humanitarian appeal for people in desperate need in Gaza with unbalanced reporting,” he said.
The head of the worldwide Anglican church, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, has also urged the BBC to broadcast the appeal, and the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, accused the BBC of “taking sides” in the conflict.
“This is not a row about impartiality, but rather about humanity. This situation is akin to that of British military hospitals who treat prisoners of war as a result of their duty under the Geneva convention. They do so because they identify need rather than cause. This is not an appeal by Hamas asking for arms, but by the Disasters Emergency Committee asking for relief. By declining their request, the BBC has already taken sides and forsaken impartiality,” he said.