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Friday, May 26, 2006

Unhappy Birthday

Christian Aid claims to uphold Israel's right to exist. The declared aim of Hamas is to put an end to Israel's existence. Why, then, is Christian Aid effectively engaging in advocacy for Hamas?

'Christian Hate?' celebrates its first birthday today. Time for a big Thank You to everyone who has given me much-needed encouragement me by quoting, linking, commenting, mailing or just reading. Please don't ease up on the support, because sites like this one are, if anything, needed even more now than they were a year ago (though it's not all bad news - see the next post).

I started blogging to oppose the anti-Israel bias of Christian Aid. I've broadened my focus since then in response to developments such as the divestment campaign in the Anglican Communion, but Christian Aid gives as much cause for concern as ever. My question above is prompted by the 'Parliamentary briefing on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories' which the charity issued on 28 April.

First, under the rubric 'who runs the country?', a word on the fact that such a document exists at all. Christian Aid gets a hefty slice of its funding from the state, and here it is spending its cash on lobbying the legislators who are supposed to be elected to control the state. Is this not a case of the tail trying to wag the dog in a somewhat less than democratic way? The late, great Sir Humphrey Appleby would have appreciated the arrangement, though doubtless feeling that the truly classy mandarin does his or her own twisting of politicians' arms, rather than outsourcing the job to middlepersons as the DfID seem to be doing here.

That's just an aside, being in the nature of the funny old game called Politics - and not even I would suggest that CA made the rules. The content of the briefing is my main concern. Advocacy for Hamas: an overwrought exaggeration surely? Put it to Christian Aid and they will say that their advocacy is solely for ordinary Palestinians faced with poverty. But let's look at the devil in the details.

The anti-Israel spin is blatant from the first sentence onwards...

'Since the beginning of April 2006 more than 20 Palestinians have been killed, with an average of 150 Israeli shells falling on the Gaza Strip every day from the air, sea and land. On 17 April ten Israelis were killed by a suicide bomb in Tel Aviv.'

Israeli shells fall on Gaza, but no rockets launched from Gaza fall on Israeli villages. Fatality figures invite us to conclude that Israeli state violence is twice as bad as Palestinian terrorism, eliding any moral distinction between terrorist attacks whose aim is to kill civilians and military retaliations against the terrorist organizations, in which civilians are certainly killed far too often but are not the targets. Throughout the briefing Israel is reproached for anything it does to defend itself against terror (shelling, border closures, the separation barrier, denying funds to Hamas) as if this were always merely a pretext for heaping misery on the Palestinians. We get the usual glib formula:-

'While Israel has legitimate security fears, this does not justify its policy of collective punishment against people living in Gaza.'

And once again the question of how Israel should address its 'legitimate security fears' (in plain English, how it should go about protecting its citizens' lives from murderers) goes unanswered. Unless the following qualifies as an answer:-

'The Quartet powers, including the European Union, have rightly voiced their horror at the Tel Aviv bombing, as has Christian Aid. They correctly call upon the Palestinian Authority (PA) to do everything within its power to confront militant groups and bring about an end to such attacks.'

Some might feel the fact that a 'militant' (the word 'terrorist' is not part of CA's vocabulary) group is running the PA, and mobilizing its paramilitaries against the security forces, makes this rather less likely than it would otherwise be, but the briefing offers no assessment.

For good measure, we also get a straightforward lie:-

'During Israel’s elections, the country’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, spoke openly of both annexing the Jordan Valley and continuing Israel’s policy of acting unilaterally.'

Claims that Olmert talked about annexing the Jordan Valley abound on pro-Palestinian sites (also at the scrupulously unbiased BBC). Their basis is a TV interview which he gave on 7 February. But what did he actually say? MSNBC reports thus:-

'Olmert did not mention the string of small settlements in the Jordan valley. Instead, he said, “It is impossible to abandon control of the eastern border of Israel,” he said, without referring to Israeli sovereignty or the string of small settlements there.'

- and similarly, on 9 March this exchange occurred up in an interview he gave to the Israeli press:-

'And the Jordan Valley?

'"In any case, our security border will be along the Jordan. There are strategic considerations for this that we cannot relinquish."'

(via this by no means Israel-friendly site)

So Olmert considers that the border along the Jordan is strategically important for Israel's ability to defend itself (and who will say he is wrong?) and therefore wants to maintain military control there. But as regards annexing territory along the valley, here is how the Jerusalem Post commented on the second interview:-

'He pointedly did not sign off on remarks made Saturday night by Avi Dichter, No. 5 on Kadima's list, that the settlement blocs that Israel would retain also included the Jordan Valley, Ofra-Beit El, Karnei Shomron-Kedumim, and Kiryat Arba-Hebron.

'Olmert made clear that Dichter's remarks should not be seen on par with the broad guidelines that he himself set. "Dichter is perhaps a candidate to be in the next government, depending on how things develop, but he is not poised to be prime minister," Olmert said. '

- whilst an AP report says of the first interview:-

'he did not refer directly to Israel maintaining sovereignty or settlements there, leading some analysts to speculate that Olmert might consider making the valley a special security zone.'

CA is at liberty to think Olmert misguided in planning anything short of a full withdrawal, and equally to suspect him of having a hidden agenda. It does not have the right to represent him as having 'spoken openly' of annexing an area constituting a quarter of the West Bank, when this is simply untrue. If the claim was made in good faith based on sloppy research, I can only suggest CA tightens ups its act before it sends out any more parliamentary briefings.

So far, it's just the old story of anti-Israel bias. But something more is evident now that was less clear (at least to me) a year ago: to describe CA's bias as pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel in a broad sense is no longer adequate. Consider the views expressed here:-

'Meanwhile in Strasbourg, Mr Abbas said in an interview with AP that Hamas "can't survive" if it continues to ignore international demands that it refrain from violence and recognise Israel. "They should adapt to international standards, they should be part of the international community. Without that I don't think they can survive, I don't think they can deliver," he said. Mr Abbas added: "Whether it is reasonable to expect a change or not we have to give them a chance. They've been in office less than a month and a half. They should take their chance." '

Hamas is ignoring international standards and must adapt to them: clear demands from the PA President, which true friends of the Palestinians, committed to a two-state solution, should be able to endorse. They are not endorsed anywhere in CA's briefing. Instead, its central concern is that Hamas and its supporters should not suffer the consequences of failing to adapt which Mr Abbas predicts. For practical purposes, it is the international community which should adapt to Hamas. And this in spite of the fact that the demands addressed to Hamas - drop the violence and recognize Israel - correspond to CA's professed official position.

David Aaronovitch has written in the Times that 'the Palestine Liberation Organisation is no longer the organisation of choice for fashionable leftists, having been replaced by the Islamic Resistance, better known as Hamas'. The briefing reveals CA as dedicated followers of fashion. In a document which is replete with criticism of Israel, not a single word is critical of Hamas. In place of any demands addressed to Hamas, we find this piece of Hamas-friendly humbug:-

'[The suspension of funding for the PA] also sends out the message that democratic Palestinian elections are open only to political parties approved and sanctioned by the international community.'

It does nothing of the sort. The elections were obviously open to Hamas, and Palestinians exercised their right to vote for it. Now donor governments are exercising their right to decline to bankroll an organization whose policies and activities they consider fundamentally unacceptable. A vote for Hamas was a vote to do without the funding. CA effectively demands for the Palestinians the right to be both beggars and choosers, even when the choosing denies Israeli Jews the basic choice of living in their own state. Sorry, but that's not the way it works.

Imagine if a British general election brought the British National Party to power. The international community might well react in ways that severely dented British living standards. Would CA criticize the international community, or would they feel that the blame lay fairly and squarely with the racist extremists of the BNP and the people who voted for them?

The briefing makes much of the poverty resulting from the funding crisis, and that the situation is critical is clearly not in dispute. My problem is with the way it manipulates the poverty issue for purposes which are flagrantly political.

Here is the passage that really gives the game away:-

NGOs are not replacement service providers
Palestinian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are concerned that donor countries are attempting to use them as replacement service providers to the Palestinian population. In a statement they warned that: ‘Efforts by certain international bodies to use Palestinian NGOs to implement their political agendas and bypass the Palestinian Authority are rejected outright.’
They also rejected ‘attempts to influence the civil sector to assume a governmental apparatus role…’
Christian Aid does not believe that NGOs should act as a substitute for the PA, whether to provide social services, run government ministries and public systems or to pay civil servants’ wages. According to the fourth Geneva Convention the duty to meet the basic needs of those living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is that of the occupying power, namely the state of Israel.

Again, the demand is for beggars to be choosers. Palestinian NGOs are naturally entitled to reject the role of service providers (how far this rejection reflects the influence of Hamas within their ranks is another question). But then they are hardly in a position to complain if the governments offering to fund the services decide that if they can't give their cash away on their own terms they'd rather not do so at all. CA's only concern, one might think, should be that services should reach the poor people who need them, whatever the delivery mechanism. Think again! The passage quoted reveals a quite different, and eminently political, agenda: the imperative to shore up the authority of the Hamas-run PA.

There is a pragmatic case to be made that the Israelis should deal with Hamas in their own best interests, lest still worse organizations take its place. Jonathan Freedland has argued this in the Guardian. I'm not convinced. Apart from anything else it smacks altogether too much of 'we need to talk to Herr Hitler in case he loses out to somebody really unpleasant'. The immense boost which it would give to Hamas's prestige might or might not serve to reduce the appeal of Islamic Jihad and al Qaida. A more predictable consequence would, it seems to me, be the fatal undermining of Mahmoud Abbas. Realistically, there are no better Palestinian leaders than him waiting in the wings, and it would be folly to cast him adrift unless and until he becomes a spent force in any case.

Be that as it may, I believe it is a case that can be made in good faith. But it is a very different case from the claim that Israel is morally obliged to bankroll an organization committed to its destruction, and that the Palestinians are entitled to be insulated from the consequences of supporting such an organization. That is the claim advanced by CA's briefing, and it is absurd. Israel is entitled to safeguard its own existence no matter how many Palestinians vote against it.

In conclusion, here is another CA golden oldie:-

'In previous publications, Christian Aid has demonstrated how occupation is the underlying cause of Palestinian poverty.'

On one level, this is just crassly simplistic. The causes of Palestinian poverty are many and complex. Some reach back long before 1967, some have come into play much more recently. Some involve Israeli actions, some involve the actions of the Palestinians themselves, their leaders and their allies. Some very significant causes fall under the heading of the refusal of Palestinians to live at peace with their neighbours, and the election victory of Hamas now constitutes one of these.

But at a deeper level this assertion has implications that make it worse than crass and simplistic - implications that make Christian Aid undeserving of aid from Christians. At this point let us remind ourselves that Hamas upholds the authenticity of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Haven't the Jews been the 'underlying cause' often enough already?

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