Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Speaking of Ging - a real journalist talks to him

After I wrote my post on John Ging, I received an email pointing to a great interview with Ging, along with follow-ups, from Israeli journalist Adi Schwartz.

Schwartz asked what journalists are supposed to ask, and he did not back down when the answers were slick but nonsensical.

It is a long article. Here are some highlights:
I had two long face-to-face meetings with Ging in the last month. After them, and in between, we continued emailing each other with additional questions and answers.

“I want to open a new chapter in the relationship of UNRWA with the Israeli public”, says Ging. “I have come to realize that there are key misunderstandings of UNRWA’s role. We haven’t communicated effectively and we haven’t been providing answers to questions that arise. I perfectly understand the Israeli negative view towards my organization and I understand that there is a basis for people to be skeptical. There are tough questions to be answered, and they should be addressed. There hasn’t been the depth of discussion that would enable people to make a better informed opinion”.

...But Ging is optimistic. The good news, he says, is that only a minority of Gazans are extremists, whereas the majority is committed to a peaceful two-states solution. “I hope that also on this side people will reignite talks and know that on the other side there are people who in their core share our universal values”.

Not everyone is so optimistic. Reporters for The New York Times spent some two weeks in Gaza last July, and published this large reportage. In it they say,

“Ask Gazans how to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – two states? One state? – and the answer is mostly a reflexive call to drive Israel out… ‘All the land is ours’, says Ramzi, a public school teacher from Rafah, ‘we should turn the Jews into refugees and then let the international community take care of them’… Abdel Qader Ismail, 24, says ‘we believe in Israel’s right to exist, but not on the land of Palestine. In France or in Russia, but not in Palestine. This is our home’.”

Why do you think Israelis should care about the humanitarian situation of someone who wants to turn them into refugees?

“There are tens of thousands of extremists in Gaza, but I can bring more than tens of thousands who would say that there is need for a just solution for this conflict. The State of Israel is here to stay and anyone who is professing an alternative agenda is not acceptable by our standards and we categorize these people as extremists”.

So Hamas would be defeated in case of an elections?

“The moment you try to simplify the politics of the region, you fall into many traps. I am saying that an overwhelming part of the population is good and descent, and demonstrated its capacity to peacefully coexist”.

What are the signs for that? Where are the articles they write, the demonstrations, the NGO’s that are actively pro-peace?

“Why do the parents of Gaza send their children to our schools? and in the business community, with the smallest opening in the last months, the tunnel industry has collapsed. That’s standing up for what is right and what is lawful. It shows that they have intent to do commercial business with their neighbor”.

The fact that people gave up a dangerous route of commerce shows they are committed to peace?
“Yes, otherwise they would continue work with the tunnel”.
Say what? Because they prefer to get goods of better quality and less cost from Israel, that proves that they are moderate?
Why don’t you resettle the refugees?
“This is not our mandate. I am by mandate given for action, not to resolve the conflict. The question of the refugees is an issue that should be decided upon in the negotiations between the parties themselves”.

Gaza is under Palestinian control. Have you tried to initiate a resettlement project there together with Hamas?

“Why would I do that? You are asking me to solve one of the protracted issues of the conflict. This is not our mandate”.

Every reasonable person understands that Israel will never let into its territory 4.8 million Palestinians, because it will stop being the State of the Jewish People. Not settling the refugees is not a neutral act: You thus perpetuate the conflict, and even make it worse, since every day the number of refugees increases.

“UNRWA gets its mandate from the General Assembly. Our mandate is to act, not to solve the conflict”.

I asked Ging again if any western journalist ever visited a [UNRWA-run human rights] class and published his impressions. He said that Donald Macintyre from The Independent visited and published this story. But from reading the story, it is obvious that Macintyre did not visit such a class. It remains a mystery to me why Ging said that Macintyre visited such a class, and how come no journalists visited such an obvious success story of UNRWA.
 Ging had very harsh words towards Israel during operation Cast Lead. He gave numerous interviews to newspapers and TV stations around the world, calling upon the international community to do all it can “to stop immediately” the violence and the killings. Here is one example for an interview to the BBC:
Since Ging said time and again during our meetings that his main concern is humanitarian and not political, and that he is not taking sides in the conflict, I asked him if he ever gave an interview to the BBC, calling upon the international community to “stop immediately” the rockets fired to Sderot or the suicide attacks in Israeli cities. He sent me two examples of such interventions: one is a speech he gave in Cleveland US in March 2009, where he said that an Israeli mother, who does not know if her child will be picked off by a rocket fired aimlessly from Gaza is a victim of terrorism. The second was an event in Kibbutz Zikim in the south of Israel, where in front of about 50 people Ging condemned the rockets being fired into Israel. 
So – on the one hand we have a live interview, given to an internationally respected broadcaster, viewed by tens if not hundreds of millions of people all around the world. And on the other hand, we have two small events attended by a few dozen Israelis and Americans. That’s ridiculous! There is no comparison in the content either, since I asked Ging whether he called upon the international community to “stop immediately” the violence, and there is no such call in the examples he sent me. If I were supposed to be convinced that UNRWA is a neutral a-political agency, these examples are not doing a very good job.
(h/t Nadav)