Israel turns UN praise into propaganda

Man wearing face mask holds barbed wire

Palestinian employees at the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, transport food rations to refugee families in Deir al-Balah, the central Gaza Strip, on 31 March. 

Ashraf Amra APA images

UN officials are lauding Israel despite how it keeps Palestinians on a drip feed of basic health services as they deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

António Guterres, the UN’s secretary-general, has even celebrated the cooperation between the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian Authority in curbing the threat of the new coronavirus.

His praise has – predictably – been exploited for propaganda purposes by Israel’s foreign ministry.

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s Middle East envoy, has described the coordination as “excellent.”

The UN humanitarian coordinator Jamie McGoldrick has echoed his colleague’s praise.

Fig leaf

Not only is the UN applauding the so-called security coordination between the Israeli military and the PA, it is also providing a fig leaf for Israel to cover up its continued attacks on the Palestinians’ right to health.

Israel has a legal duty to guarantee that right. As the occupying power, Israel is obligated under international law to ensure necessary health infrastructure for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Instead, for more than a decade, Israel has repeatedly undermined and damaged Gaza’s health system, systematically restricted shipments of food, fuel, medicine and building supplies into the Strip, at one point even calculating the minimum number of calories that each person could consume without starving.

On top of imposing a devastating siege, Israel has launched three major assaults, leveling entire neighborhoods and killing thousands of Palestinians. It has severely hampered reconstruction after every invasion.

“Movement and access restrictions, now a state of exception imposed globally by the pandemic, have been a daily reality for Palestinians in Gaza for nearly 13 years,” Al Mezan, a human rights group in Gaza, stated this week.

In the West Bank, Israel has persistently attacked Palestinian communities, seized equipment for the construction of field clinics, confiscated food parcels meant for quarantined families, raided homes in the middle of the night and continued its arbitrary arrest of minors.

All of those activities expose Palestinian communities to a higher risk of contracting the virus.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, commented on one such raid in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, by comparing Israeli forces to “hostile aliens with no relationship to humanity.”

Ashrawi made no mention, though, of how the Palestinian Authority routinely cooperates with the Israeli military occupation.

The PA’s police state apparatus plays a primary role in suppressing Palestinian dissent on behalf of the Israeli army, by frequently arresting activists and sharing intelligence with their Israeli interrogators.

Now, Israel is patting itself on the back as it wins praise from the United Nations for providing the bare minimum for people it keeps under occupation and siege.

Occupation propaganda

COGAT, the bureaucratic arm of Israel’s military occupation which oversees the collective punishment of Gaza’s two million inhabitants, often takes to Twitter to boast of transferring test kits and other equipment to the Strip.

Such transfers are presented as acts of goodwill:

Allowing a few items to reach Palestinians is hardly impressive, though, given that COGAT controls the movement of goods in and out of the Gaza Strip.

OCHA, a UN monitoring group, has also remarked on the “close, unprecedented cooperation” between the Palestinian and Israeli authorities since the start of the current health crisis.

The group has given Israel credit for facilitating the importation of 10,000 test kits by the Palestinian Authority and for holding a training for medical staff at occupied East Jerusalem’s al-Makassed hospital.

These supposed examples of generosity provided ripe material for COGAT to exploit for PR purposes:

COGAT also restricts the movement of millions of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank through military checkpoints.

Checkpoints cause misery for Palestinians on a daily basis. Yet COGAT has celebrated how their upgrading will “improve the quality of life of the region’s population.”

Meanwhile, a report prepared by human rights groups has pointed to Israel’s “chronic impunity” over its killing and maiming of Palestinian health workers.

The report was signed by Al Mezan in Gaza and the UK-based charities Medical Aid for Palestinians and Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights.

Chronic impunity “makes recurrence more likely,” it stated.

Israel also regularly denies or delays the issuing of travel permits to Palestinians seeking medical treatment outside of Gaza.

So why is the United Nations applauding Israel for doing the bare minimum for the population it attacks and oppresses?

As the celebrated Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani wrote, “They steal your bread, then give you a crumb of it, then they demand you to thank them for their generosity… Oh their audacity!”


Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.