Gaza clearly needs help in battling COVID-19. Its medical services have already been weakened by a prolonged blockade and a series of Israeli attacks.
Questions should nonetheless be asked about the motives of some organizations which claim to be aiding Palestinians. They include Friend Ships, a Christian evangelical charity registered in the US state of Louisiana.
Friend Ships recently posted on Facebook that it was “donating thousands of personal protection supplies to Gaza” to fight the new coronavirus.
Far from displaying a desire to protect Palestinians, the organization has long sided with their oppressor, Israel.
In 2006, for example, Friend Ships’ founder Don Tipton supported Israel’s attack on Lebanon.
Friend Ships has worked closely with Ran Ichay, an Israeli diplomat and former minister.
Ichay is a resident of Gush Etzion, a bloc of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. All such settlements are illegal under international law.
Ichay has played a prominent role over the past few years in propaganda activities designed to help Israel tighten its grip on East Jerusalem. By doing so, he has been seeking to make the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes appear reasonable.
Meanwhile, Friend Ships has featured in a 2018 video portraying the Israeli military as a humanitarian agency. In the video, a Friend Ships representative suggests that Israelis in the Golan Heights have been generous toward victims of the conflict in Syria.
The video neglects to point out that the Golan is actually part of Syria and that it has been occupied by Israel since 1967.
Don Tipton has acknowledged that Israel has facilitated the establishment of a Friend Ships camp in Syria. Israel provided protection so that a Friend Ships team could enter Syria under the cover of darkness.
The Israeli military has been “behind us and they are watching us, over us, and they have publicly guaranteed our security” in Syria, Tipton stated during 2017.
He has called Israel’s army “the lion of the tribe of Judah.” The comment is inherently anti-Semitic as it suggests that a military known for committing crimes against humanity represents Jews throughout the world.
As well as claiming to assist Gaza with the fight against COVID-19, Friend Ships is building a field hospital in the Strip.
The hospital will be situated next to Erez, an Israeli military checkpoint. Although the group is promising cancer treatment, maternity services and support for people experiencing trauma, the hospital’s location has raised suspicions.
Israeli troops have frequently sought to apply pressure on Gaza patients seeking to cross Erez for treatment that is unavailable within the Strip.
Muhammad Salem, a sports teacher in Gaza, lost his son Wissam four years ago. Aged 5, Wissam had brain cancer.
When the father and son tried to travel via Erez for treatment, Muhammad was told that he must become an informer to the Israeli military. Muhammad refused to do so and his son was blocked from traveling. His son died a few months later.
“Israel always tries to bully patients and the people accompanying them,” said Muhammad. “I find it frightening that a hospital is being set up very close to the Israeli checkpoint.”
Friend Ships did not respond to requests for comment.
Understandably, many people in Gaza would welcome any new medical service.
A straw poll of 70 people in Gaza aged between 25 and 50 revealed that 80 percent of respondents would be in favor of the Friend Ships hospital provided that it will benefit local patients. The respondents nonetheless expressed concerns about the hospital’s location.
Fatma Saleh, a 55-year-old who has cancer, said “I cannot wait” until the Friend Ships hospital opens. As she has been blocked from traveling for treatment by Israel, she described the hospital under construction as “my last hope for recovery.”
Khalil al-Hayya, a senior figure in Hamas, argued that “going through the Erez crossing and receiving treatment inside Israeli hospitals is more dangerous than receiving treatment from foreign doctors in a hospital near Erez.”
“At least the hospital is on Gaza’s land and everything can be under the control of Gaza’s security forces,” he stated by email.
“If the people working in the hospital provide medical services in a nonpolitical way, then they are welcome and we will be grateful. But if we find any breaches of our national or security interests, we’ll immediately ask them to leave.”
Friend Ships is becoming active in Gaza against the backdrop of Israel’s attempts to politicize and propagandize humanitarian aid.
For the past few years, Israel has been smearing the charity World Vision by alleging that some of its funds have been diverted to Hamas’ military wing.
Hamas, for its part, discovered in 2018 that an Israeli commando squad had infiltrated Gaza under the cover of an international aid group.
Friend Ships cannot be viewed as an impartial charity. Its pro-Israel outlook and its close relationship with the Israeli military cast serious doubts on whether the organization really wants to help Palestinians.
Hamza Abu Eltarabesh is a journalist from Gaza.
Additional reporting by David Cronin.