Two nights ago, I noticed that COGAT, the IDF unit which administers the Gaza siege, was taking credit in a Facebook post for organizing a “fun day” for 23 Gaza children in Israel. There were pictures (with the children’s faces pixellated) of them enjoying sun and fun at an Israel environmental center and water park called Sachneh.
The post noted the event involved the collaboration of the Israeli medical relief NGO, Road to Recovery and the Gaza relief group, Smile of Hope. It appears the Israeli group has organized such outings previously, as it displays pictures of a similar 2013 day at the beach. The Gaza children in these pictures have even been further exploited as ads for the Metzerplas irrigation systems produced by the Israeli Kibbutz Metzer. They wear hats with the company’s name emblazoned above the brim.
The Israeli NGO’s mission is to arrange for medical care for Palestinian children. It’s media page touts articles praising its work in Christian evangelical publications, Israeli media, and the U.S. pro-Israel Tablet Magazine. Among them is an article praising an IDF Brig. Gen. for his volunteer efforts for the group.
Given that providing Israeli medical care for Palestinians is a major hasbara selling point Israel uses to burnish its humanitarian image, and given that many of those whom Israel treats are recruited to spy on behalf of the Shin Bet, it’s reasonable to suspect the motives of such groups. But even if one accepts them at face value as sincere, the truth is that these acts of charity are nothing more than individual disjointed transactions that benefit individual Palestinians; and do nothing to alleviate suffering in a systemic fashion.
This message of normalization is reinforced by the group’s website mission statement:
Today, amid one of the most deeply-rooted political and cultural conflicts, Road to Recovery is bridging the divide with an initiative of hope. Our organization is a nonprofit organization of volunteers who believe that peace among Israelis and Palestinians can only come about through engagement and personal involvement, placing humanity before politics.
The deep-seated barriers of distrust that exist between Palestinian and Israeli societies only serve to perpetuate the conflict. Our volunteers seek to break down these barriers on a personal level, transporting Palestinian patients on round-trips from the West Bank and Gaza to hospitals throughout Israel for treatment, hospitalization and check-ups.
Another yellow, if not red flag, is that Road to Recovery’s website does not list its staff or board of directors. It is quite rare for non-profits to deny access to the public about matters that are important to know for the sake of transparency.
I’ve sought information about Smile of Hope with little success. They maintain a Facebook page which hasn’t been updated since 2012. No one answers at the phone number listed there.
An article in an Arabic language media site wrote that the Gaza outing was organized through the good graces of Qatar. That nation maintains relations with both Israel and Gaza. It offers hundreds of millions in reconstruction aid to Gaza; and offers intelligence coöperation to Israel in its battle against Iran.
I do not understand why Hamas permitted this event, especially given that the IDF exploited it to score hasbara humanitarian points. Perhaps, it felt it had little choice given that it was beholden to Qatari petro-dollars.
The Israel outings was attacked from two sides after word surfaced: the far-right gossip site, Rotter, attacked the IDF for permitting the children of terrorists to enjoy fun in Israel. Among the more distressing comments were:
- How many terrorists sitting in jail cells or who murdered Israelis were just like them in their youth?
- The nation is committing suicide.
- The chief of staff prosecutes a soldier for killing a terrorist, then brings the children of terrorists here??
Electronic Intifada also criticized the project as a “propaganda stunt.” I join Ali Abunimah in affirming that no one denies children with cancer the right to enjoy a day at the beach. But the pleasure of 23 children should not be exploited by an Israeli army laying siege to 1.4-million Gazans. It should not be exploited by an Israeli army which murdered 500 children in 2014.
As a further example of the quality of COGAT’s PR, it boasted in a tweet that yesterday it permitted 1,470 people to pass to and from Gaza. That’s 1,470 out of 1.4-million!! If Gaza was not under siege, if it was a normal country, one could expect tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people to cross into and out of Israel each day. And COGAT wants a medal for 1,470?!
Shortly after these critical pieces were published COGAT censored the Facebook post and removed it. However, it did not remove the tweet it published about the outing. I attempted to call several phone numbers for COGAT and it appears quite insulated from outside contact. I entered voice mail hell and never reached a live human being.