The director of Human Rights Watch has criticized Israel for touting its emergency aid efforts for earthquake-devastated Nepal while it continues to block reconstruction in Gaza.
“Easier to address a far away humanitarian disaster than the nearby one of Israel’s making in Gaza,” Kenneth Roth tweeted in reference to Israel’s announcement that it was flying 260 Israeli army medical and military personnel to Kathmandu.
“End the blockade!” Roth demanded. Earlier this month, 46 international aid agencies urged sanctions on Israel if it did not end the tight siege on Gaza that has prevented the rebuilding of a single home in the eight months since Israel’s devastating assault last summer.
“The blockade constitutes collective punishment; it is imposed in violation of [international humanitarian law] and, according to the UN, may entail the commission of war crimes,” the report, signed by Oxfam and Save the Children, among others, states.
Despite the fact that more than 100,000 people whose homes Israel destroyed remain without permanent shelter, “no permanent housing has been rebuilt,” it adds.
More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed as a result of the Israeli assault, including 547 children. At least 11,000 Palestinians were injured.
Despite the urgency of the aid agencies’ pleas for Gaza, the report was virtually ignored by world media.
US ambassador joins in
The latest reports put the death toll from Saturday’s earthquake in Nepal and dozens of aftershocks at more than 3,000 people, with much of the devastation concentrated in the capital Kathmandu.
Meanwhile, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro was also quick to exploit the tragedy, tweeting that the US and Israel “have [the] same response: announce immediate rescue & relief assistance.”
Shapiro has been utterly silent about Israel’s tight blockade on Gaza that continues to prevent relief and assistance.
Israel’s use of international disaster aid to burnish its blood-soaked image is a well-worn routine and amounts to official policy.
“You are being sent to an important mission,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the army personnel bound for Nepal. “This is the real face of Israel – a country which does all in its power in such moments.”
In 2013, Israel deployed assistance teams to the Philippines after thousands were killed by Typhoon Haiyan.
It mounted a sophisticated multimedia propaganda effort, including a dedicated Twitter account and YouTube videos, to boast about its efforts.
The Electronic Intifada blogger Benjamin Doherty termed this kind of propaganda “bluewashing.”
Doherty, writing before Israel’s latest devastating attack on Gaza, noted that Israel’s much-touted aid efforts were far from exceptional, and in the context of events in its own region, minuscule:
A humanitarian catastrophe in Syria has pushed millions of refugees into neighboring countries, while Israel has made small efforts to provide health care to a few Syrians. The Israeli army’s minuscule efforts to provide relief for a handful of Syrians are over-exposed in the world media, while refugee camps and cities in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon are overcrowded with Syrians escaping violence. There is no other country that does so little and makes so much noise about it.
Israeli effort unexceptional
Indeed, dozens of countries and aid agencies are rushing assistance to Nepal. Given the relatively large size of its military budget, Israel’s contribution to the relief effort is not out of line with what other countries are offering.
In addition to supplies, the UK has sent seven search and rescue crews, four search and rescue dogs and a team of trauma doctors.
Qatar announced it had set up an “air bridge” with several aircraft flying large amounts of relief materials and a field hospital. Turkey has also offered to send a fifty-bed field hospital.
Iran said it was already working with its neighbors to send urgently needed supplies and rescue teams.
Pakistan has dispatched four C-130 military transport aircraft carrying relief supplies and a 30-bed hospital.
Despite the outsize publicity for its aid missions, Israel actually “ranks near the bottom among leading free-market economies in providing foreign aid to developing nations,” according to a Hebrew University study.
Aid missions to countries including Rwanda, Armenia, Turkey, Haiti, the Philippines and Macedonia in recent decades have helped “bring respect to Israel,” Reserve General Shuki Shemer, the Israeli army’s former chief medical officer, observed in 2013. “Missions overseas contribute to Israeli hasbara.”
Hasbara – the Hebrew word for “explanation” – has come to mean state propaganda in the context of government efforts to improve the country’s image.
Indeed, this was a specific recommendation of the Reut Institute, the Israeli think tank which created the roadmap Israel and its allied organizations have used to sabotage and attack the Palestine solidarity movement and fight so-called “delegitimization.”
“In relation to the struggle against delegitimization and re-branding Israel, Tikkun Olam has great significance because it creates a dissonance with the demonized image of Israel that is advanced by the delegitimizers,” Reut said in its influential 2010 report on how to fight Israel’s critics.
Tikkun olam is a Hebrew phrase meaning “repairing the world” that forms an ethical value in many modern interpretations of Judaism.
It is also the banner under which Israel, the self-described “Jewish state,” carries out its aid missions and thus becomes a convenient tool of hasbara.
Israel may seek to demonstrate it believes in repairing the world, but it definitely does not believe in repairing Gaza.
The earthquake in Nepal has thrown light on an international practice that some say amounts to human trafficking.
As part of its “rescue,” Israel is evacuating 25 babies born to Nepalese surrogate mothers, nine of them prematurely.
“Many Israeli male couples have fathered children with the help of surrogate mothers in Nepal because surrogacy is illegal in Israel for same-sex couples,” The Guardian reports.
Israeli government officials said they would be fast-tracking the interior ministry paper work to allow the babies, who are Nepalese citizens and would not be considered Jewish under Israeli law, to enter the country.
The usual procedures require DNA tests to prove that a baby’s father is Israeli.
There has been a push to legalize surrogacy for gay couples in Israel in order to get around this problem and to recruit them into Israel’s war against the so-called “demographic threat” from Palestinians.
“Legalizing surrogacy for gays in Israel would allow ‘Jewish eggs in Jewish mothers,’ Fred Hertz has argued.
Jewish gay activists see surrogacy for same-sex couples as important for “maintaining the demographic advantage over non-Jews,” Hertz, a lawyer and pro-Israel LGBT advocate, has explained.
While the babies are being airlifted out of the country, there is no word on the fate of their mothers.
Commercial surrogacy, where people from rich countries pay for women in desperately poor countries to carry a baby for them, is a rapidly growing industry in places including India, Thailand and Nepal, which has a per capita GDP of just $730.
The practice of commercial surrogacy is illegal in many European countries. Non-commercial surrogacy is allowed in some European countries. Some US states allow commercial transactions, but the attraction of countries like India and Nepal is that they are far cheaper.
A 2010 article in Mother Jones on India’s “rent-a-womb” businesses described “gestational dormitories” in what amount to “baby factories,” and allegations that women face procedures that may endanger their health.
India has recently enforced new restrictions on its $1.5 billion dollar a year commercial surrogacy industry.
Last summer, Thailand launched a probe after nine surrogate babies were found in circumstances that suggested they were being trafficked to, among other places, Australia.
The poorly regulated global industry gained notoriety last year after an Australian couple was accused of abandoning a baby whose gestation they had contracted with a woman in Thailand, after learning that the boy, named Gammy, had Down Syndrome.
Thailand is considering outlawing the practice.