BBC refuse DEC aid appeal appeal

From the Guardian:

The BBC has refused to broadcast a national humanitarian appeal for Gaza, leaving aid agencies with a potential shortfall of millions of pounds in donations.

ITV and Sky have followed suit.

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an umbrella organisation for 13 aid charities, launched its appeal today saying the devastation in Gaza was “so huge that British aid agencies were compelled to act”.

The DEC is made up of, amongst others, the British Red Cross, Concern, Actionaid, Care International and Save the Children.  They undertake appeals for donations through media channels – like the BBC.  In order for the DEC to undertake an appeal, an emergency must meet certain criteria:

Three principles have been adopted to provide a guideline for trustees and others involved in deciding whether a national joint appeal is the appropriate response to a particular emergency:

  1. The disaster must be on such a scale and of such urgency as to call for swift international humanitarian assistance.
  2. The DEC agencies, or some of them, must be in a position to provide effective and swift humanitarian assistance at a scale to justify a national appeal.
  3. There must be sufficient public awareness of, and sympathy for, the humanitarian situation so as to give reasonable grounds for concluding that a public appeal will be successful.

In the past, the DEC has appealed for donations from the public to mitigate emergencies in Darfur, Chad, the Sudan, and Bangladesh.  They also launched an appeal after the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004.  A BBC spokesperson, quoted in the Guardian piece, said

The BBC decision was made because of question marks about the delivery of aid in a volatile situation and also to avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in the BBC’s impartiality in the context of an ongoing news story. However, the BBC will of course continue to report the humanitarian story in Gaza.

The BBC holds that it’s not the first time it has refused to broadcast a DEC appeal, the implication being requests from the DEC are taken on a case by case basis.  In 2006 they refused a DEC appeal for aid to Lebanon during the humanitarian crisis sparked by Israeli air-strikes and a ground invasion of Southern Lebanon.  At the time they  said:

“We really have to think about what the political sensitivities of the situation are”

The DEC state in the press release issued today:

the devastation wrought in the Gazan territory (is) so huge that British aid agencies were compelled to act.

It’s a bit depressing, but hardly surprising that they felt it necessary to add:

DEC aid agencies (are) non-political. “We work on the basis of humanitarian need and there is an urgent need in Gaza today. Political solutions are for others to resolve, but what is of major concern to us all is that many innocent people have been affected by the situation – and it is them that we seek to help.”

It’s even more depressing that the BBC won’t run with it. Emergencies in the Congo and in Chad were politically loaded, too, it’s just that the political entities involved were odd little African ones whose motives were so obscure to Western audiences that partisanship couldn’t possibly be an issue.  With Israel and Palestine, however, it’s a diplomatic issue between equals.

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5 responses to “BBC refuse DEC aid appeal appeal

  1. While the actions of the BBC and others are unquestionably cowardly, they bring into focus the inherent political nature of international development and aid. Is it really appropriate to turn to charity as a response to the latest conflagration in Palestine? Where exactly is such money likely to go, and what consequences will it take with it?

    The Fatah dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) has been appointed the role of managing humanitarian aid to Gaza, collaborating (a word that ought not be used lightly) with Israel in the transfer of supplies through the faucet-like openings in Gaza’s thickly drawn border. Although not without difficulty – the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday accusations by a PA official of Hamas intercepting and reselling food and medical supplies, sighing through newsprint at the never-ending callousness of Hamas. But should the PA’s role in rebuilding Gaza be accepted unblinking?
    The behaviour of the PA in the course of the Gaza offensive was offensive in itself. Publicly blaming Hamas for the war, PA President of dubious legality (his term officially ended on Jan 8 ) Mahmoud Abbas, cut any threads of respect the Palestinian public may have held for him. Demonstrations in the West Bank against the war were politically frought affairs, with any overt support for Hamas quickly quashed by the PA’s armed men. The singularity of voice heard at demonstrations from London to Lahore was confused by Fatah’s scrambling megaphony. By preventing civil backlash in the West Bank, the PA effectively facilitated Israel’s actions in Gaza in a way that has left the people on the streets of Ramallah and Nablus disillusioned and worn out. Yet Fatah remain Israel’s ‘partners for peace’. Abbas received President Obama’s first international phonecall. In the coming months he will dance the steps dictated by Obama and whichever of the three proven war-mongers emerges as the new Israeli leader in next month’s election in (lest we forget) ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’. He is, ultimately, the man notionally in charge of the money DEC is appealing for.

    So who are DEC? According to themselves, an ‘umbrella organisation which launches and coordinates responses to major disasters overseas’. Disasters such as ‘floods, earthquakes and famine’. How does the situation in Gaza fit here – an avoidable, man-made disaster designed over months with the current outcome in mind? Civilian centres, homes, hospitals, schools bombed. A refugee crisis averted by the simple precaution of precluding all places of refuge.

    By allowing the situation in Gaza – indeed the narrative of Israel/Palestine – to be framed within the problematic of ‘disaster’ we buy fatalistically into the notion that this is an ‘intractable’ problem, a fundamentally unsolvable issue, it’s Gordian roots tangled so far into the threads of time that we can only accept it and deal with sporadic, inevitable explosions when they occur – such as now. Were this seen instead as a classic land dispute within a colonial framework would we be so quick with our ‘relief’? Would we perhaps turn to international law – to Article 55 of the Geneva conventions, perhaps, which states:

    To the fullest extent of the means available to it the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate.

    and look to Israel to foot the bill for the devastation it has wrought? Instead of donating kindly to DEC’s charities such that UNWRA can rebuild the school it has already built once with international aid, might we point to

    Article 50
    The Occupying Power shall, with the cooperation of the national and local authorities, facilitate the proper working of all institutions devoted to the care and education of children.

    Since the set-up of the Palestinian Authority under the terms of 1993’s Oslo accords, Israel has largely divested itself of any such obligations, with the PA taking up the slack of civic infrastructure, its famously leaky coffers fed by billions in international aid. The Irish Dept of Foreign Affairs proudly declares on its website that ‘In 2007, over €7.5 million was provided by Irish Aid to meet the humanitarian and development needs of the Palestinian people’. While this is utterly laudable, deeply well meaning and in tune with Ireland’s international renown for its commitment for international charity, can we be sure such money – our money – is well spent? With such an investment, one would expect some small degree of return in the form of power or say, but in this, as in most aspects of the Palestinian question, it is Israel who dominate. With no hint of irony, the Jerusalem Post reports in the article cited above that ‘…Israel had given permission to more than 150 trucks loaded with food and medicine to enter the Strip’. Which was nice. Israel, having been excused of its legal responsibilities by an international willingness to blink first and blink eagerly, nonetheless maintains control of the flow of this aid through its absolute control of Gaza’s physical borders. It controls the cake. It’s management of the flow of aid has allowed it to maintain Gaza’s population at a level of bare survival that precludes anything that could be mistaken for a viable society. It will continue to do so until, it seems to hope, the will of a people is broken and they humbly accept a conditional allowance of meek survival.

    Indeed, DEC says that in Gaza ‘1.1 million people are dependent upon aid to survive’.

    It is a horror to imagine what would happen to 1.1 million people should their means of survival be removed, and this is the quandary European governments and NGOs find themselves in, but shouldn’t we be asking: why should 1.1 million people depend on aid to survive?

  2. I agree, I think, but I have a few questions. Under the terms of Oslo, is Israel technically speaking an occupying power in Gaza? I realise that ‘Under international law the test for occupation is “effective control,” which exists if the occupying power “has a sufficient force present, or the capacity to send troops within a reasonable time to make the authority of the occupying power felt’. Not having read the details, this seems a bit confusing: first, to be an occupying power a power has to be an occupying power (ie the already occupying power has to pass the test for ‘effective control’ to be an occupying power?); if we excise the first ‘occupying power’ from that clause, I have to ask if Britain isn’t in effective control of Ireland, being a hell of a lot more equipped militarily than we are – they could start airstrikes any day and we couldn’t do anything about it. So if that could be explained I’d like it.
    Second, strictly (and I’m not condoning it) speaking, the Israeli High Court of Justice found in 2007 that:
    “[W]e note that since September 2005 Israel no longer has effective control over what takes place within the territory of the Gaza Strip […] Under these circumstances, the State of Israel bears no general obligation to concern itself with the welfare of the residents of the Strip or to maintain public order within the Gaza Strip, according to the international law of occupation”. A petition against this finding states that this is a ‘superficial’ interpretation of ‘effective control’ , the test established under international law to determine the existence of a situation of occupation, and that ‘the HCJ ruling asserts that the fact that “the military government that previously existed in the territory was abolished” and “Israeli soldiers are not present in that area on an ongoing basis and do not direct what goes on there” is sufficient to show that Israel is not in “effective control” of the Gaza Strip’. They go on: ‘ Israel retains control over Gaza’s airspace, territorial waters and land borders, in addition to the civil population registry, meaning that Israel, rather than the Palestinian National Authority or any other authority, has the power to grant citizenship and issue identity cards. The HCJ did not acknowledge that the exercise of these administrative powers is constitutive of “effective control”‘. What I’d like to know is: have these kinds of administrative controls been accounted for in international law – in other words, have they been found to constitute effective control, such that Israel is in fact an occupying power, legally, and must, legally, adhere to the conventions you mention?
    I agree with you wholeheartedly on a moral level, and it is outrageous that 1.1 million people must depend on aid to survive, my question is mostly: how to buttress the natural outrage I feel at a powerful aggressor waging war on a caged populace with real argument?

  3. It might be said that much effort since Oslo has been made by Israel to disengage, legally, from direct occupation and the HCJ ruling is instructive as regards the intentions behind this. But the reality on the ground, under the ground and in the air is of control – effective control – through a massive infrastructural architecture of occupation (for the best analysis of this see Eyal Weizman’s book Hollow Land http://www.versobooks.com/books/tuvwxyz/w-titles/weizman_e_hollow_land.shtml).
    At any rate, the HCJ’s judgement was prior to Operation Cast Lead and any new judgement would need to consider the situation exclusively at the present moment rather than under the terms of Oslo, subsequent to the September 2005 disengagement or any other time. If a hypothetical investigator or judge of international law wanted to visit Gaza to make such a consideration, it is instructive to ponder – how would he or she get there?

  4. Pingback: BBC gets confused over Gaza appeal « One Year to Change the World

  5. Find out more about British Red Cross work in Gaza at
    http://www.redcross.org.uk/TLC.asp?id=90152
    or to donate to our appeal go to http://www.redcross.org.uk/gazacrisis

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